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Wednesday, April 27, 2016 by Syeda Hasan
Potential Shoal Creek development sparks debate among neighbors
In Austin’s Shoal Creek neighborhood, residents are divided over the prospect of a massive new mixed-use development. While some welcome the growth, others say the proposal hasn’t been properly vetted. But taking a walk around the Shoal Creek neighborhood, one can clearly see that, for or against, the residents are all concerned.
Along a quiet residential street called Ridgelea Drive off West 39th Street, nearly every home has a lawn sign that reads “Build a Better P.U.D.”
“PUD” is short for “planned unit development,” and Shoal Creek residents are concerned about one that has been proposed for land just about a mile from their neighborhood. MileStone Community Builders wants to develop a 75-acre tract of land near 45th Street and Bull Creek Road. The site, called the Grove at Shoal Creek, would include thousands of square feet of retail, housing and office space.
“I feel like it’s going to be too large the way it’s proposed at this point,” said Ellen Reeder, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 14 years. She figured it was just a matter of time before the land was developed but said that she has concerns about the Grove, namely traffic. An analysis conducted by the developer shows that building on the site would more than double the number of vehicle trips per day along Bull Creek Road.
“I don’t mind having a new neighbor who has restaurants and shops and more houses, more people who live around here. But I would like it to be scaled down,” Reeder said.
Other residents welcome the growth. Natalie Gauldin helped create Friends of the Grove, a neighborhood group that has mobilized in support of the PUD.
“Our position is that we’re allowing city experts, city staff to review the plans, and then we will support the plans once staff has approved and recommended them,” Gauldin said.
But that review process has been fraught with controversy. Last month, a neighborhood group called the Bull Creek Road Coalition raised concerns over what members saw as a sudden end to the transportation review for the PUD.
Grayson Cox is the group’s vice president. “One of the neighborhoods within the coalition hired a traffic engineer of their own to help look at this just from an independent perspective, and seemingly right after that happened, there was a big push from the developer to get this review wrapped up as soon as possible,” Cox said.
MileStone has challenged that claim, but the controversy prompted City Council Member Leslie Pool to reach out to the city manager. Her district sits right across 45th Street from the proposed development.
“It’s really unprecedented in its size and complexity, and so it deserves an unprecedented level of review,” Pool said.
Pool is asking the city manager to reopen certain aspects of the developer’s traffic analysis for city staff to review.
“Our staff had devoted a lot of hard work and expertise to the review, but then it seemed like the developer began to pressure them to hurry up and finish, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” she said.
MileStone noted that it has held more than 50 public meetings about the project and has regularly gathered feedback from city officials. According to an emailed statement from the company, the project’s master plan incorporates many of the requests the company has received through community outreach, including “improving our design in regards to connectivity and compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.”
But Pool remains skeptical.
“I agree the developer has indeed held many, many, many meetings,” she said. “Has he listened to the concerns of the people who live adjacent to that property and reflected them in his proposal? That would be my question.”
Council Member Sheri Gallo thinks the developer has done that. The Grove at Shoal Creek sits in her district.
“Many changes from the beginning have been made in the plan that directly respond to neighborhood feedback,” Gallo said.
For example, Gallo continued, some nearby Oakmont residents asked that buildings adjacent to their neighborhood be scaled down, and MileStone changed its design. She also noted that developers typically pay into a fund that helps the city mitigate the increased traffic brought on by their project. Gallo said that in this case, MileStone has offered to pay upfront.
“The owner of the property was willing to go ahead and fund the full improvements to that intersection at 45th and Bull Creek and also do some road improvements throughout those area roadways that front the property,” she said.
Gallo expects city staff to issue its recommendations on the PUD within about a week. The project will then be considered by the Environmental Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission. Ultimately, it will have to be approved by Council before MileStone can break ground.
Update: A lawsuit filed this morning could complicate that city review. The district court suit, filed on behalf of Cox and Bull Creek Road Coalition, alleges the city denied residents’ rights to petition and requests an expedited council vote on the PUD.
You can read the full filing below.
This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.
Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
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