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Thursday, May 17, 2018 by Jo Clifton

‘Snoopy PUD’ a model for future development

After many months of work, hearings, arguments and tweaks to its design, the “Snoopy PUD,” also known as the 425 W. Riverside Drive Planned Unit Development, and also known as the “Hooters PUD,” has finally made it through the City Council approval process.

The new zoning will allow a building of up to 195 feet for office space, some retail and the possibility of residential uses. The developer has agreed to a green roof, participation in Austin Energy’s Green Building program, planting at least 100 caliper inches of native trees, as well as native landscaping, at least 15 percent of which “shall be pollinator-friendly species as identified by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.”

The developer has also committed to “water quality and storm detention ponds designed as an amenity,” rainwater harvesting, and a space for public art.

And because of all the work done not only by the developer’s team, but also members of city staff and the city’s Planning and Environmental commissions, the end result should be a model for future development under the South Central Waterfront Plan, according to Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the Planning and Zoning Department.

However, there was a disagreement between Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Jimmy Flannigan over $50,000 that Tovo insisted should go into the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department’s affordable housing trust fund for a specific group. That group, the South Central Austin Community Development Corporation, has not yet developed an eligible program to receive the money. Tovo was a founder of the predecessor group.

Those arguments got all the attention, the tweets and the inches of newspaper ink, obscuring the fact that the developer, Ronald A. Nelson, managed, with the help of Armbrust & Brown attorney Richard Suttle, to make it through the entire process with unanimous Council support.

They did that in spite of the fact that although the South Central Waterfront Plan, which includes the property, has been adopted, the accompanying regulating plan is still in the adoption process and is expected to take another year. Without the regulating plan, the developer could not move forward except with a PUD.

Council adopted the South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan in 2016 to expand the open space and increase pedestrian access to 118 acres south of the river at Congress Avenue as well as increase affordable housing units in new housing developments. The South Central Waterfront Advisory Board is working on the regulating plan.

As Andrea Bates of the Watershed Protection Department told the city’s Environmental Commission, “This project played a very key role in refining” the city’s proposal for the South Central Waterfront. As the Austin Monitor reported in January, the Environmental Commission unanimously endorsed rezoning of the site despite its reluctance to encourage PUDs in the waterfront district.

Rusthoven explained that even though the regulating plan is not yet part of the code, the PUD complies with the South Central Waterfront Plan. In fact, he said going through the process with this PUD allows the city to show that different parts of the waterfront plan “are in fact doable for the developer.”

“As a matter of fact,” Rusthoven said, working on the PUD “gave us some good ideas that they offered to do that weren’t in the plan … some things like streetscaping and landscaping things that they agreed to do … which the city has adopted.”

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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.

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

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