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Justin Lane parcel primed for parks, affordable housing, creative space and more

Monday, November 5, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The five-acre North Austin parcel known as the Justin Lane tract looks to be the home of a variety of new uses in the near future, including affordable housing, creative space, parkland and mixed-use development.

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, a resolution passed under consent directs the city manager to issue a request for proposal for the property located at 6909 Ryan Drive by Aug. 31 of next year. Among the priorities for the RFP are making the property accommodating for nearby transit access as well as offering creative flex space, quality parkland and a still-undetermined amount of affordable housing.

The parcel’s proximity to the Crestview rail station also makes it a priority site for advocates of affordable housing.

Justin Lane is one of four city-owned parcels placed at the top of the city’s priority list for the current budget year following a switch to a “portfolio” approach that allows staff to focus on a handful of the more than a dozen parcels owned by the city and in need of redevelopment.

The priorities listed in the resolution generally follow the recommendations of a working group that convened earlier this year made up of residents of four neighborhoods surrounding the property: Brentwood, Crestview, Highland and Midtown.

Council Member Leslie Pool, whose district includes the Justin Lane parcel, said during last week’s work session that she’d like to see more than 25 percent of the residential units built on the property offered at rates that qualify as affordable.

“It’s not very big, but we’re trying to get a lot of quality amenities and housing and parkland in this one small space,” she said. “The policies also track with (transit-oriented development) requirements and I have hope of including affordable creative space, which is also a Council priority.”

Christine Maguire, manager of the city’s redevelopment division, said the priority is to receive bids from more than one master developer so the city has a variety of options and can negotiate for the best set of community benefits possible. That would differ from the process at the Colony Park project in Northeast Austin, where only two bids were offered and one of the entrants withdrew soon after submission.

“Successful procurement means multiple offers that we are then as a Council and staff comparing apples to apples,” Maguire said. “We need to have a clearly articulated north star that really does involve community input. When we get proposals back is when Council will have an opportunity to approve a preferred proposer, and then there’s the negotiation of a public-private partnership which is really real estate gap financing, so if there are proposals that want to provide a greater percent of affordability but that require lower cost, longer term financial participation … that is certainly something that will be part of future conversations.”

Ongoing growth around the Justin Lane tract prompted Council Member Jimmy Flannigan to ask Maguire what involvement adjacent property owners could have in the RFP process. Maguire said the city can only solicit for its own land, but that any bids submitted by nearby developers that would look to incorporate the city tract into a larger development plan would be considered when the proposals are evaluated.

The prospect of creative space could provide some help to the city’s arts community, which has been identified as being pushed out of the city due to a growing affordability crisis.

Austin Creative Alliance CEO John Riedie, who has pushed for the creation of a cultural land trust to secure space for creative use in the city, said the addition of creative flex space at Justin Lane would be a positive step.

“Artists need all sorts of spaces right now,” he told the Austin Monitor. “For the Ryan Drive parcel, arts education, rehearsal and studio spaces are ideal. We always hope for live/work spaces, too.”

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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