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Flats on Shady Lane gets final approval

Thursday, April 4, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan has a message for Austinites who think that their neighborhoods are getting more than their share of rental housing: You’re not alone.

Last Thursday, as he made the motion to approve zoning that will allow developers to build the Flats on Shady Lane that will add about 290 apartments to the Govalle-Johnson neighborhood, Flannigan said, “A lot of people in a lot of neighborhoods think they have all the density and are getting all the density. But it’s not limited to one part of town.”

He said zoning cases are lined up to come before Council that will add nearly 2,000 units to one neighborhood in his district during the first six months of this year. “So that happens all over town and nobody likes change. Change isn’t fun, but we’re all experiencing change.”

Council approved the new zoning unanimously on second and third reading, with Mayor Steve Adler absent.

The only person speaking against the zoning change was neighborhood advocate Daniel Llanes, who also opposed the project last August. At that time he said, “We don’t want our neighborhood to become a renters’ neighborhood.” He also claimed that the project was “density for density’s sake.”

Dave Anderson of the Drenner Group, speaking on behalf of the developer, said the units would focus on providing housing for the “missing middle.”

Anderson noted that the city’s Strategic Housing Blueprint calls for adding 135,000 housing units over the next 10 years. He said that includes 25,000 workforce housing units that rent for between 80 and 120 percent of median family income, with 75 percent of the new housing units recommended to be within a half-mile of an Imagine Austin center. The Flats on Shady Lane fits this description, he said.

Anderson explained that this particular neighborhood has a very high proportion of home ownership – 55 percent – unlike many Austin neighborhoods.

The developer, Barton Creek Capital, pledged to make 5 percent of the units restricted to renters making 60 percent of the median family income for 40 years. That pledge, he said, would be backed up with a private restrictive covenant between the developer and Habitat for Humanity.

The developer has also signed a restrictive covenant with the city promising to abide by recommendations from the Austin Transportation Department. That includes funding a dedicated right-turn lane on Bolm Road between Shady Lane and Airport Boulevard. Neighbors have expressed particular concern about increased traffic as a result of the new apartments.

The tract is in Council Member Pio Renteria’s district. He voted against the zoning change last August when it first came before Council. At that time, he was running for re-election and his sister, Susana Almanza, was running against him for a second time. On Thursday, Renteria said he was changing his vote because the developer had agreed to pay for the right-turn lane, which would ameliorate traffic problems.

Anderson told Council his clients are planning to build garden-style apartments, which means that there will be no parking garage, which lowers the cost. The 8 acres where the project will sit is currently undeveloped, so there are no residents to be displaced, he noted.

Council Member Kathie Tovo wanted to make sure that the units made available for low-income families would in fact be suitable for families, which to her means they should be units with two and three bedrooms.

After consulting with his client, Anderson said 25 percent of the units restricted to low-income renters would be two- or three-bedroom units “to match the overall ratio of the property.” That works out to 3.6 units, and Anderson said the developer would provide four such units for low-income renters. Tovo pushed to make the number higher, but Anderson and his client were not amenable to that.

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