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Design Commission likes ZaZa hotel-apartment project
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves
The planned downtown Hotel ZaZa tower, which is slated to open in 2015 on the edge of Republic Square, breezed through Austin’s Design Commission on Monday night, as commissioners gave their unanimous blessing to place the project under a central urban redevelopment (CURE) zoning overlay.
The 24-story tower is a partnership between Hotel ZaZa and Gables Residential, splitting its space between 160 hotel rooms and 215 apartments, with a seventh-story ballroom and restaurant overlooking Republic Square. Hotel ZaZa, which has properties in Houston and Dallas, is a smaller hotel known for its high-end variety of theme suites.
Gables Residential said the boutique hotel and apartment space combination would add a new active element to the edge of Republic Square at 4th and Guadalupe.
Jennifer Wiebrand of Gables Residential said, “Hotel ZaZa is a boutique hotel, and hoteliers have an appetite that residential developers don’t necessarily have (for) active spaces.”
The project will be located next door to The Plaza Lofts on the half-block that once served as the home to the Ginger Man pub and Fox & Hound tavern.
Architect Sylvan Schurwanz of Ziegler Cooper said moving the zoning from CBD (central business district) to CBD-CURE (central urban redevelopment) was imperative to make all the elements of the project work. CURE zoning is a fairly new zoning district designed to provide flexibility and incentives for development within designated boundaries, including downtown.
“It adds to the hotel. It adds to the vitality of the streetscape. It adds to the street condition,” Schurwanz told the Design Commission. “And it adds additional value as far as property and tax revenues.”
The zoning change will move the floor-to-area ratio from 8-to-1 to 12-to-1. An additional exception will allow the project to use the alley for loading and unloading, an area Wiebrand pointed out already is home to seven Dumpsters.
Landscape architect Daniel Woodroffe, who led the presentation team, talked about a building with entrances that would interface with the park and interact with an eclectic mix of businesses in the warehouse district. Schurwanz said the architect went to great lengths to provide an active ground-level perimeter, with the hotel entrance opening onto Fourth Street.
Commissioners had a number of initial design concerns, which were incorporated into the commission’s final vote. Architecture professor Dean Almy agreed the project plans were impressive, but he was concerned the denser massing might not be compatible with the low-rise warehouse district next door.
“All of this is fantastic,” Almy agreed. “What worries me a little bit is the immediate drop in height. Even though you’re doing everything you should be doing, as far as meeting the legal description, I just have an overriding concern personally with the massing.”
Wiebrand said the project team was very aware the tower needed to be approachable from all sides, even choosing to camouflage the garage. Almy urged the team to consider an additional lobby entrance to provide even more traffic.
Both Almy and Chair James Shieh wanted to see more articulation on the project and more activity from the initial floors, which would not be stepped back the same way the upper levels of the tower would be.
Wiebrand said the building’s hotel ballroom should add some life and vibrancy.
Long-time Commissioner and architect Juan Cotera continued to push on the garage issue and especially the quality of the garage construction. He asked how the space in the garage might be reconfigured for other purposes.
Hotel ZaZa has agreed to the city’s Great Streets Development Program, which is designed to transform downtown streets and sidewalks into great public spaces by providing financial assistance to private developers for implementing streetscape features that go beyond the city’s minimum requirements. Woodroffe said plans call for narrowing Fourth Street by a lane and adding a more pedestrian-friendly experience. Other commissioners expressed some concern about garage entry and exit.
At the time of the final vote, which was to support the zoning change, additional conditions were added: special consideration for pedestrian safety as it crossed with vehicular traffic; strongly considering the scale and massing between tower and the warehouse district; and adjusting the floor-to-floor heights in the parking garage to allow for adaptive re-use.
Outlining the community benefits provided in exchange for the zoning appeared to practically be an afterthought. Former Chair Bart Whatley outlined a number of benefits from the project: 3-star green building; two levels of below-grade parking; and compliance with the Great Streets program. There was no discussion about affordable housing or other community benefits.
The vote was unanimous in favor of the zoning change.
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