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New apartments could be coming to Northwest Austin shopping center

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

A popular shopping center in Northwest Austin could be redeveloped to include hundreds of apartments.

The 17-acre site at 9828 Great Hills Trail, owned by Great Hills Retail Inc., currently includes a shopping center, restaurants, a movie theater and a bank. It will be up to City Council to decide whether to allow for new types of development there.

“Right now, they have the right to do more intense commercial (development) there,” Council Member Alison Alter said. “What they don’t have the right to do is build any residences, and that’s what they’re asking for.”

Alter represents District 10, where the property is located. She questioned whether the roads around the site could support traffic from a large apartment complex. Developers want the area to be rezoned so they can build 372 apartments, as well as more retail and restaurants.

Amanda Swor is the director of entitlements and policy at the Drenner Group, which represents the property owner. She said none of the businesses on-site are going to close right away, and the plan is to redevelop the space in phases, as individual leases end. Swor said developers are willing to work with businesses that wish to end their leases early.

The first phase of construction could affect a movie theater and Manuel’s Mexican restaurant.

“We’re hearing a lot about Manuel’s and Arbor Cinema, in particular, as beloved by the neighbors,” she said, “and we’ve been hearing from the neighbors that they really want to see those particular businesses continue.”

While there is some opposition, the area has been identified by the city as a good fit for denser development. It’s part of what Austin calls an “activity corridor.” The idea is to build in a way that allows people to live, work and shop without having to travel long distances.

At a meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission last month, Commissioner Jim Duncan said redevelopment there was “long overdue.”

“It’s a great location for a wonderful project,” he said.

One thing the development isn’t expected to include, at least initially, is low-cost housing. Some commissioners said they hoped the project would participate in Austin’s density-bonus program, which grants developers certain privileges in exchange for affordable housing.

Swor told commissioners at the meeting that affordable housing could come down the line.

“Phases going forward, I would anticipate, would participate in a bonus program that would be able to incorporate that deeper level of affordability,” she said.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal at a community meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Great Hills Market, Suite 550. The zoning case is set to go before Council tomorrow, but that could be postponed.

This story has been updated to correct Amanda Swor’s title at the Drenner Group.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News.

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