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Planning panel OKs apartment project on site of RunTex store

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Planning Commission gave the go-ahead for the proposed Broadstone at the Lake Planned Unit Development on Lady Bird Lake.

 

The commission voted 5-3 to approve the zoning, agreeing with staff’s recommendation for PUD-NP district zoning on the property to make way for a 220-unit apartment building and parking garage. Commissioners Danette Chimenti, Jean Stevens and Myron Smith voted against the zoning recommendation.

 

The Environmental Board already gave the project a thumbs up but the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board did not.

 

If approved by Austin City Council, the proposed PUD will encompass a site the northeast corner of South First Street and Riverside Drive, the long-time location of the flagship RunTex running store and just across the Colorado River from City Hall. Developers have chosen to seek approval for additional height through the PUD process that, if approved, would allow them to build to 75 feet, instead of the allowed 60 feet.

 

Developers hope to build a mixed-use development on the 1.53-acre site that will consist of retail space, a three-story parking garage with two level underground and about 220 residential units. They argue that the constraints of the site place significant barriers, making the PUD process their best option for development.

 

Planning Commission ex-officio member Jeff Jack explained that though he had to signed a nondisclosure form after being privy to discussions between the applicant and a local group, Save Town Lake, he would give some information that he had “gleaned” through the process.

 

“What we are seeing is a precedent-setting situation of every site having something special so that it can be pushed through the PUD ordinance, as opposed to obeying the restrictions in the Waterfront Overlay,” said Jack.

 

Attorney Michael Whellan, who represents the developer, Phoenix-based Alliance Residential Co., said, “This is not our preferred method. If the density bonus program had been implemented, we would be here with the density bonus program … the PUD is the only process we have to get an additional story of height.”

 

Waterfront Planning Advisory Board Chair Brooke Bailey told the commissioners why they had voted unanimously against the PUD.

 

“I get that it is not going to be a RunTex forever,” Bailey said. “But what we would like to maintain is some sort of nice view. Yes, there is going to be a building there, but we would at least like it to be something of a high quality and something that does not detract from the vistas that you have when you are coming into the city.”

 

Bailey also questioned some of the proposed community benefits. “What they are calling a plaza we kind of looked at as an entrance to the building,” said Bailey. She also expressed mistrust about the availability of public seating along South First and whether it is realistic to project storefronts that are only 12 feet deep.

 

Cory Walton, who is a Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association officer and a member of Waterfront Planning Advisory Board, opposed the PUD. Walton emphasized the need for “clear, predictable parameters” for development.

 

“That means no PUDs,” said Walton, who advocated sticking to the 60-foot height limit for the area, as recommended by the neighborhood plan.

 

Alliance Residential Managing Director Brandon Easterling defended the company’s request to increase the height of the apartment building, and use the city’s PUD process as a tool to do that. “There should absolutely be a density bonus program. There should be predictable outcomes for developers. We don’t have either one of those.”

 

“We have a PUD process,” said Easterling. “I would very much prefer to not go through this process.”

 

Both Easterling and Whellan balked at a suggestion that the project be sent to the Residential Design Compatibility Commission before heading to Council, explaining that after seven months of the current process, they were eager to complete it.

 

Commissioner James Nortley, who voted in favor of the zoning change, said he focused solely on the zoning, and City Council was in a better position to look at the bigger picture. Nortley thought 75 feet was an appropriate height, considering the buildings in the area, and that the increased density in the area would be a community benefit.

Though not permitted to vote at the commission, Jack wasn’t shy about giving his opinion before the vote.

 

“The 34 units that they are going to be able to build if they get their 75 feet will put them in the position to have a significant additional profitability per year upward of $300,000. … When you take a look at all of the things proposed as community benefits, what does it add up to?” asked Jack. “If we are going to give them a bonus, shouldn’t there be some balance?… We’re not getting it in this project.”

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