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Environmental Board gives green light to project

Monday, June 22, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week the Environmental Board recommended a waiver for a new building on Shoal Creek downtown.

The waiver will allow encroachment into the 70-degree angle of the city’s waterfront overlay. Though the Environmental Board is required to hear about the waiver, it isn’t technically required to weigh in. It is ultimately up to the Planning Commission to approve or deny the waiver.

Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak said he believed it was the first time such a waiver had been before the Environmental Board. Development Services Department staff reviewer Nikki Hoelter agreed. “This is kind of an odd process,” she said. 

Taking the new challenge in stride, the Environmental Board approved the waiver unanimously 6-0, with Board Member James Schissler recused.

Hoelter explained that the variance would allow the proposed structure at 202 Nueces St. to be built outside the building envelope stipulated by the overlay. She said that while the building would go past the 70-degree angle, it meets waterfront overlay design standards and therefore would not contribute to the “canyon effect” along Shoal Creek that the overlay is designed to prevent.

Lesniak said that while part of the reason for the overlay is aesthetic, from an environmental standpoint it opens up the creek to more natural sunlight. That, he said, provides some benefit to the riparian and aquatic environments of the creek.

Matt Green, with developer the Kor Group, explained that while a few portions of the building would breach the envelope, his team had designed the building so that the tallest parts are farthest from the creek. He told the board that the building, as a whole, “was designed in the spirit of the overlay.”

Because the building is part of the Greenwater Treatment Plant redevelopment project, the applicant for the waiver is the city of Austin. The Planning Commission is scheduled to review the project, which is slated to be a mix of condos and a hotel, at its Tuesday meeting.

Chair Mary Gay Maxwell said that when she saw the waiver had been approved by the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board, her mind was put at ease, “because they’re the ones really charged with looking at this very closely.”

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