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Planning Commission recommends Taco PUD redesign

Monday, September 9, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

After a lengthy discussion surrounding the redesign of the South Lamar planned unit development – known as the Taco PUD for its location on the site of the former Taco Cabana at 211 South Lamar Blvd. – the Planning Commission unanimously recommended the changes to City Council.

The project went through a lengthy and contentious process in 2013, and has been largely quiet since becoming a planned unit development. In its newest design iteration, the building would remain a maximum of 96 feet tall, but the composition of the space would be altered. Instead of 175 residential units, the plan now has 27 luxury condos, 108 hotel rooms and 18,000 square feet of commercial space. All parking would be put underground to allow for an increased setback from the property line.

In addition to changes on-site, the new PUD proposal would scrap the $439,000 fee-in-lieu payment for affordable housing and instead pay $1.2 million to the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department and donate $2.5 million to Foundation Communities to pay for 80-90 units of affordable housing on South Lamar. The developer has already selected a property at 1508 South Lamar Blvd. and put it under contract for this use.

“I think we have a really good proposal,” Steve Drenner of the Drenner Group, who was representing the applicant, told the Planning Commission at its Aug. 27 meeting.

The Planning Commission agreed, voting unanimously to recommend the changes to Council.

Members of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, however, did not agree that the new design was an improvement over the one Council approved in 2013. “We believe the new project is inferior to the original,” said Bruce Wiland, treasurer of the neighborhood group. “The entire project could be 96 feet high as we read the language.”

According to the posted amendment, the development will have two buildings: One can rise to 96 feet; the other will be permitted a maximum height of 86 feet, an increase from the original 78 feet.

Commissioner Greg Anderson agreed that allowing 96 feet at this site did not make sense. He called it “another great sign of our broken (Land Development Code)” and said that the code should allow for the building to exceed that limit multiple times over to allow for affordable housing and increased density on-site.

Affordable housing in the area was a point of concern shared by other commissioners. However, with the news from Drenner that the new proposal would offer Foundation Communities a nearby site on which to offer subsidized units, the project was unanimously applauded.

“I think that the Drenner Group … working with Foundation Communities is brilliant,” said Commissioner Patricia Seeger, who noted that affordable housing is “desperately” needed in the area.

The project, Seeger said, is a great example of a compromise to allow a developer to create their preferred design and maximize the potential of the site while still providing for the rest of Austin.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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