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Powell Lane

BoA grants variance to keep heritage trees and affordable housing

Thursday, May 2, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In North Central Austin, developers are working with Central Health and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin to combine nine lots to create an affordable housing complex.

The 258-unit complex, located at 411 and 601 E. Powell Lane and seven addresses on East Wonsley Drive, will offer 90 percent of the units to those at 60 percent of the median family income for 40 years, according to Tracey Merino of JCI Residential, a multifamily development firm.

In order to maximize the number of units on the site, Merino came to the April 8 meeting of the Board of Adjustment to request a variance to decrease the setback from 25 to 15 feet and increase the building height from 30 to 38.9 feet.

According to Merino, the buildable area on the site is limited due to the “unusual number of heritage trees that are on this infill urban site.” There are 47 protected and heritage trees growing on the 8-acre site.

Originally, the idea was to construct efficiency dwelling units, but after a Council hearing last September, the plans changed to incorporate more two- and three-bedroom units. The result is an expanded footprint due in part to increased square footage, but also the augmented parking requirements.

“I think this is an excellent project, very strong, exactly what the city needs. Great location to have it happen,” said Chair William Burkhardt. Board members unanimously supported his sentiments with a vote to approve the variance requests.

Although the board members supported the motion, a few voiced concern on the dais regarding building height. The proposed development site abuts two single-family lots, which Board Member Darryl Pruett suggested might loom over the property line if they are constructed with three stories instead of two. Board Member Melissa Hawthorne asked if the developers had spoken to the adjacent property owners to get their support for the request for the increased height.

Merino said he had a letter of support from one of the property owners who owns a duplex and a vacant lot next to the site. He said a third lot owned by Central Health has a less than 1 percent probability that it would be developed into a single-family home and there are ongoing discussions on how to convert it into a property with additional community amenities, like a food truck court or an additional park.

There will be a trail installed along the western edge of the property between the multifamily complex and the single-family lots that leads to Georgian Acres Park. Kurt Goll, the president of JCI Residential, reminded the board that “we’ve donated over $200,000 to the park.” While the city has set aside some money to complete Georgian Acres Park, JCI’s donation to the Austin Parks Foundation will help close the gap in funding.

Board Member Eric Goff noted that having a trail run between the property line and the complex “is some evidence that would make the compatibility on the western side easier.”

Despite the board’s overall support for more affordable housing, Board Member Yasmine Smith cautioned the developers to be conscientious of who is offered access to these units. “Remember those Austinites when you’re putting people in them houses,” she said.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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