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Friday, June 3, 2016 by Vicky Garza

Grove PUD plan punted back to developers

After getting the thumbs-down from the Parks and Recreation Department last week, the Grove at Shoal Creek Planned Unit Development has been put in a two-week timeout by the Environmental Commission to give the developer time to address some outstanding environmental issues.

The postponement was approved 6-4-1 despite a recommendation in support of the PUD plan from the Planning and Zoning and Watershed Protection departments. Commissioners Brian Smith, Andrew Creel, Michael Moya and Richard Grayum voted against the motion, with Hank Smith abstaining.

The motion, brought forth by Commissioner Peggy Maceo, outlines 10 issues that the commission would like the Grove developer, ARG Bull Creek Ltd., to work with city staff to resolve, including “reducing the total development to 2.1 million square feet,” down from 2.4 million.

ARG Bull Creek had originally proposed 2.9 million square feet of development for the property at 45th Street and Bull Creek Road, which staff could not support, said Jerry Rusthoven, manager of the Planning and Zoning Department.

He said that staff negotiated a maximum of 2.4 million square feet, with an additional 130,000 square feet that would not count against the total if it was affordable housing, which means ARG Bull Creek could develop up to 2.53 million square feet.

By comparison, with traditional zoning, the site would yield 1.9 million square feet of development, said Rusthoven.

Additionally, the commission wants to see the developer “comply with at least three-star green building requirements.”

Commissioners are also asking the developer to sit back down at the table with the Parks and Recreation Board and Parks and Recreation Department to “obtain superiority in regards to parkland.” Along with that, the developer was tasked by commissioners to “remove the (2 acres of) flex space from the parkland,” which is parkland that does not yet have an established location, and incorporate those 2 acres into the parks plan so the commission will know where they will be.

Trees were a big concern as well, with commissioners asking for “a list of all the trees on the property, including those 8-19 inches” in diameter. They also asked that the developer protect 100 percent of the critical root zone of all trees on the site.

Regarding traffic, commissioners told ARG Bull Creek that they want it to “evaluate the impact that increased traffic to the site would have on air quality and noise” and “evaluate the potential to tie in public transit to the site and develop other incentives to significantly reduce the number of car trips per day.”

One of the most common concerns of citizens who spoke out against the project was drainage. In light of that, the commission requested that the developer “create a drainage plan to ensure the safety of the surrounding properties” and “draft a contingency plan to address unresolved drainage issues after the site is built out.”
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One of the most outspoken opponents of the PUD, president of the Bull Creek Road Coalition Grayson Cox, said, “Drainage is a huge issue. We heard a lot about meeting the code. We’re not here just to meet the code; we’re here to be superior to the code.”

Commissioners heard hours of testimony from residents passionately for and against the project, which stretched the meeting into the wee hours of the morning.

Many supporters of the project cited the affordability crisis and transportation issues as reasons not to delay the project.

Several residents from nearby Westminster Manor said that they liked the amenities promised by the developer and are looking forward to another building, which will be built in the Grove.

Three members of the Parks Board — Jane Rivera, Francoise Luca and Alison Alter — spoke before the commissioners to brief them on why they voted not to recommend the PUD.

“The developers are in a hurry to push this through; you should not be in a hurry,” advised Luca, who is also vice president of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association. “We as a city have only one chance to get this right.”

The final speaker, Roy Waley, vice chair of the Sierra Club, signed up as neutral, saying he was “for the environment.” Waley said that it’s close to being a good project, but he’d still like to see the development a little bit greener, with more park space, more trees, greener building standards and on-site solar. “Let’s make it possible to do this and be profitable for the builder,” Waley said.

The Grove at Shoal Creek will be put on the Environmental Commission agenda again at its June 15 meeting.

Project rendering courtesy of ARG Bull Creek Ltd. This story has been corrected to reflect the accurate spelling of Roy Waley’s name.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

Planned Unit Development: A zoning classification designated by the city to allow greater flexibility for projects within its boundaries.

Planning and Zoning Department: Planning, preservation and design services are under the purview of this department.

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