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Grove PUD promises housing for teachers

Thursday, January 28, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though the Grove at Shoal Creek Planned Unit Development hasn’t made much progress through the city’s boards and commissions yet, that hasn’t stopped developers from moving forward in some respects.

Yesterday, ARG Bull Creek Ltd. announced plans to set aside 19 affordable homes specifically for Austin Independent School District teachers, which the group says is a “historic” first for the state. The program will ensure affordability for those units over the next 99 years, through a community land trust or restrictions administrator who will be in charge of managing future sales of the property over the long term.

How the units will be distributed among AISD’s 6,353 teachers remains to be seen, but a spokesperson for the development told the Austin Monitor that it would be up to the school district to decide.

And how, exactly, is this possible? According to the developers, while Fair Housing laws protect against discrimination against protected classes (like race, gender and family status), there are other programs in place (and in Texas) that allow for “special opportunities” for other classes, such as veterans, first responders and, yes, teachers.

As positive as this all might seem, neighborhood groups who are worried about the PUD still have concerns. Grayson Cox, who is the vice president of the seven-neighborhood Bull Creek Road Coalition, spoke with the Monitor about those concerns on Wednesday afternoon.

“We very much want affordable housing on this site, but affordable housing is just one component of what makes a good and superior (development),” said Cox. “We want to make sure we are looking at the larger picture here, and we want that larger picture to include affordable housing. … But that needs to be part of a larger development plan.”

Cox said that BCRC has always supported affordable housing on the site. However, he said, “It’s not necessarily going to change our overall opinion of the project at this time, simply because we don’t believe that the scale of office and retail that’s proposed – and contributes a lot to the nearly 20,000-vehicles-per-day (increase) – … we don’t think that amount of development is needed in order to include an abundant amount of housing and an abundant amount of affordable housing on the site.”

Cox said BCRC is most concerned with plans for regional office retail, the traffic it will bring and the level of usable park space that is planned for the development. He points out that the “touted” 18 acres of park and open space is not all usable and includes things like detention ponds and the bottom of creek beds.

According to a press release about the housing, “The idea to initiate an affordable housing program for AISD at The Grove at Shoal Creek was suggested to ARD Bull Creek’s Garrett Martin by AISD Board of Trustees Julie Cowan and Amber Elenz.” That statement explains that the average annual salary for AISD teachers is about $46,000, which means a home of about $200,0000 is affordable.

The press release also stresses the benefits of building affordable housing in West Austin. A recent HousingWorks Austin study affirmed that affordable housing in the west of the city is hard to find. And, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year means that might be a cause for concern for the city.

In addition to the 19 affordable teacher units, the Grove is planning to build 76 other affordable homes for ownership, 104 affordable units for rent and accessory dwelling units for at least 20 percent of the single-family units in the PUD. Although details are still be worked out regarding approximately how long that affordability will be retained, developers plan for the affordable units to also maintain their affordability “long term” through a community land trust or shared-equity model.

If approved by the city, the 75-acre PUD at 45th Street and Bull Creek Road will be built out to include about 1,515 residential units, including single-family homes, town homes, condominiums, apartments and assisted living for seniors.

Currently, the Grove PUD has yet to go through the extensive rezoning process that all planned unit developments must undergo to determine “superiority” before land is rezoned. However, City Council is scheduled to take up a code amendment today that is not-so-secretly aimed at this development. If it is approved, and if the rezoning is not endorsed by the city’s land-use commissions, rezoning for the land will require the approval of nine Council members instead of six.

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