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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, August 24, 2018 by Jo Clifton
Council OKs Shady Lane project on first reading
Council approved multifamily zoning for the Flats on Shady at 1125 Shady Lane on first reading Thursday, with only District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria dissenting. The developers at Barton Creek Capital plan to build about 300 units, with 15 of those units dedicated to people making 60 percent of the median family income.
The property is in Renteria’s district, and his sister, Susana Almanza, was among those neighborhood members who asked Council not to approve the zoning change. Almanza is currently challenging her brother in his run for re-election. She also ran against him when he was initially elected in 2014.
Staff and the Planning Commission recommended the Multi-Family Residence – Moderate-High Density (MF-4) zoning for the Shady Lane property, which is surrounded by properties zoned for commercial and multifamily use. Staff noted that the request was a lower intensity than the Multi-Family Residence – Highest Density (MF-6) zoning granted for the ThinkEAST Planned Unit Development.
But area residents with single-family homes in the Govalle-Johnston Terrace neighborhood, including Almanza and her longtime associate Daniel Llanes, told Council that they did not approve of the project.
“We don’t want our neighborhood to become a renters’ neighborhood,” Llanes said. He also claimed that the project was “density for density’s sake.”
According to Dave Anderson of the Drenner Group, who represents the developers, 55 percent of Austinites are renters, but in this area renters represent just 47 percent of the population. In response to Llanes, Anderson said the project is “housing for housing’s sake.”
The neighborhood’s emphasis on not wanting renters drew the ire of District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, the only renter on Council. “I really take issue with how renters are being characterized in this conversation,” he said.
“And, as I have often spoken, I am a renter myself. I am the only renter on the Council, and I don’t think that makes me less of a part of my neighborhood. I don’t think that makes me less valuable to my neighborhood. And if people think that – because that’s what I’m hearing – and to say that it is somehow better to have unaffordable single-family homes than it is to have even market-rate affordability and some restricted-income affordability, it’s very difficult for me to square that,” he said.
Flannigan then pointed out that owning a house or a condo is not something everyone can do. With a majority of people in the city being renters, he said, “I think we need to be respectful of everybody in the city, regardless of your income, regardless of homeownership.”
Flannigan then made the motion to approve the zoning change on first reading.
After the hearing, Anderson told the Austin Monitor his clients at Barton Creek Capital picked the property with the idea that they would keep the rents as low as possible.
“There is an opportunity here for exactly this kind of product because of the lack of rental units, because this area of town has more homeownership than many areas of town.” The developers wanted to offer a project “that complements the existing ThinkEAST PUD but doesn’t try to duplicate it,” Anderson said.
Among the specific concerns neighbors expressed, the most frequent was about additional traffic. Anderson said the developers would pay for traffic improvements, including funding a new dedicated right turn lane on Bolm Road between Shady Lane and Airport Boulevard.
Image courtesy of the city of Austin.
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