Planning Commission recommends Sekrit Theater move forward with tiny housing development
The Planning Commission recommended a rezoning Tuesday for an East Austin venue known as Sekrit Theater that will enable the owner to turn the two-acre plot into a tiny housing development, with some conditions.
The owner, Austin artist Beau Reichert, requested the rezoning of 1145/1147 Perry Road from Family Residence (SF-3) to Townhouse & Condominium Residence (SF-6).
Reichert told the Austin American-Statesman in 2017 that he was putting the property up for sale for $3.5 million due to ongoing conflicts with the neighbors over parking and noise. For the past decade, he has been building small structures out of reclaimed materials and the property has become a community and creative hub.
The artist has since found a way to preserve the popular property by turning it into a tiny house development. He hopes to build all of the homes himself out of reclaimed materials, as he did with his own home. The lot will include 22 tiny houses – with plans for four of those to be affordable units – that will all face a central green space, include rain gardens and keep some of the existing structures on the plot, including the iconic greenhouse.
“I had two friends at the time I bought the place; now I have tons of friends. Tourists from all over the world come to my place every day,” said Reichert. “Everybody that comes to the theater wants to live at my house, and this is a new idea and concept that would allow people to live there.”
Between 20 and 30 of the artist’s friends came to the meeting to speak in support of Reichert.
“This man will make us all proud. He will do things that the rest of the country will follow; we will be a forefront for the tiny house movement,” said 30-year Austin business owner Jane Clarke.
The Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Contact Team had submitted a letter with four conditions they wanted the developer to meet, all of which the developer had agreed on except for the fourth.
“We’re not here to oppose this, but at the eleventh hour we had a little glitch on item four on our letter,” said Daniel Llanes, chair of the neighborhood team. Item four specified that if the project failed, was left incomplete or was sold, that the agreement be considered void and the property revert back to its original SF-3 zoning. Llanes named other projects such as Springdale Farm or Ted’s Trees, which had the same events transpire.
Planning and Zoning Assistant Director Jerry Rusthoven and staff did not support the rollback requested by the neighborhood and called the action “ineffective.”
Items one through three on the neighbors’ list included a request that the new housing development be capped at 11 units per acre, that four of the units be designated as rental or affordable units, and that all new units have a footprint of 400-1,000 square feet, respectively.
The requested SF-6 zoning allows for up to 12 units per acre. The neighborhood contact team originally asked that the developer bring the unit number down to 10 per acre, but the two parties agreed on 11, for a total of 22 new units.
Nevertheless, in an attempt to get as many housing units as possible into the development, Commissioner Greg Anderson made a motion to approve the project without the agreed-upon unit-per-acre cap.
Llanes said the neighborhood wanted to be careful about setting the precedent with something like this which they weren’t entirely comfortable with.
“You know precedent isn’t a thing up here for us in zoning cases, right?” said Commissioner Conor Kenny, who called the condition inflexible.
“It is a thing for us, it makes a difference,’’ Llanes said. “My neighborhood is the most gentrified in Texas.”
Commissioner Karen McGraw pointed out that at the previous meeting, Kenny gave a passionate speech about respecting the neighbors’ wishes when they came to an agreement with the developers.
Chair James Shieh commented that he also appreciated seeing the neighborhood and the developer come to terms together and supported the item.
As for the second item on the list, the commission is legally unable to call for the four affordable units under SF-6 zoning with the current Land Development Code. However, the developer was willing to enter into a private restrictive covenant with the neighborhood and promised to do so.
Commissioner Patricia Seeger made a substitute motion to approve the staff members’ recommendation along with items one and three given by the neighborhood. The motion passed 8-3-1, with Commissioner Fayez Kazi abstaining and commissioners James Schissler, Kenny and Anderson opposed.
Anderson told the crowd that the “no” votes were still in favor of the housing development.
“We were just trying to get more homes in there,” said Anderson. “We need thousands and thousands of units, and I think every time we nix some here and we nix some there, you might think we’re living in a market that is overabundant on housing.”
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City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.