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Tuesday, October 18, 2016 by Jack Craver
Grove developers threaten to kill project
ARG Bull Creek Ltd. is ratcheting up pressure on City Council members to approve the Grove at Shoal Creek, a massive planned unit development it hopes to build on a 75-acre lot at the corner of Bull Creek Road and 45th Street.
In a letter addressed yesterday to Mayor Steve Adler and all 10 members of Council, Jeff Howard, an attorney for the developer, states that the company will abandon its plans for a planned unit development if Council adopts a number of changes to the project offered by Council Member Leslie Pool, the leading opponent of ARG’s proposed project.
If ARG ditches the PUD application and instead pursues conventional zoning, the developer warns, the resulting project will be a group of expensive single-family homes rather than a mixed-use development that includes affordable housing, office space, retail and more parkland than would be required under conventional zoning.
Among the many amendments Pool has proposed, the one the developers view as the most unworkable would reduce the number of daily vehicle trips the project is allowed to generate by 25 percent, from roughly 24,000 to roughly 18,000.
That limit, argues Howard in the letter, would result in a nearly 50 percent reduction in office space, a 33 percent reduction in retail development and a 25 percent reduction in residential units.
Pool and the Bull Creek Road Coalition, a neighborhood coalition that Pool used to lead and that opposes the current Grove proposal, have said they do not object to the amount of housing proposed for the site. Instead, they want less commercial space on the site.
ARG has countered, however, that if it reduced vehicle trip counts only by reducing commercial space, the commercial development allowed would be too small to create the necessary “critical mass” of retail.
In addition, Howard argues in the letter, Pool’s proposed limits on vehicle trips and commercial space would leave the project about the same size as it would be under conventional zoning. But under conventional zoning, he points out, the developer would avoid the many investments in community benefits it has promised in exchange for PUD zoning, including traffic mitigation, parkland and housing reserved for residents making 80 percent of the median family income.
Pool responded by email that the ARG letter includes a number of “questionable claims,” and she accuses the company of trying to “bully the council into doing what will make the developers the most profits.”
Pool, whose district borders the site of the proposed development, writes that the great majority of the surrounding neighbors oppose the current proposal. “I believe it would be best for everyone involved if the developers actually tried to work with the residents instead of resorting to these types of tactics,” she adds.
Pool is in the midst of a re-election battle in which she faces opponent Natalie Gauldin, an avowed supporter of the proposed project.
Sara Speights, president of the BCRC, also dismissed ARG’s claims as “fear-mongering” and suggested that ARG owner Garrett Martin is bluffing. Conventional zoning would not not offer him nearly the profit potential that he would receive from the PUD, including under the Pool amendments, she argued.
“We’ve done some financial analysis, and we think it’s highly unlikely that that would be in the best interest of his investors,” she said.
Council Member Sheri Gallo, in whose district the Grove site is located and who has been a supporter of the proposed project, could not be reached for comment Monday evening. Gallo is also running for re-election and is facing an opponent, Alison Alter, who has made opposition to the ARG proposal a central part of her candidacy.
Council Member Greg Casar, who has been an outspoken proponent of increasing housing stock throughout the city, particularly for low-income residents, did not view the letter as a shocking development. He said that the PUD process is a “negotiation” and that the duty falls to Council to “negotiate hard for community benefits” from the developer.
Council Member Delia Garza, who has also pressed for the creation of affordable housing and has backed a number of developments that drew opposition from neighborhood groups, said that she is not supportive of some of Pool’s amendments but that she does not appreciate what she views as a “threat” from the developer.
“I would hope that they would respect the process,” she said. “It’s any Council member’s prerogative” to offer amendments.
Council members will be discussing the Grove twice this week, first at a work session today, during which they will focus on the parkland the project offers, as well as its environmental impact. Council will also take up the project during its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, which is expected to attract large groups of supporters and opponents of the proposed project, as it did when Council first took up the item last month.
Rendering courtesy of ARG Bull Creek Ltd.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Leslie Pool: Austin City Council member for District 7