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South Austin zoning could be a game-changer

Tuesday, December 3, 2019 by Jo Clifton

“This is going to be a game-changer for South Austin,” Council Member Pio Renteria told his colleagues, as they voted to allow a developer to turn an industrial site near the intersection of Interstate 35 and Ben White Boulevard into a mixed-use residential development with 400 apartments and more than 12,000 square feet of retail.

Although some Council members still had questions, they unanimously approved on first reading the new zoning for about 65 acres at 600 Industrial Boulevard at their Nov. 14 meeting. The property, which sits amidst other mostly industrial properties, will be redeveloped under a planned development agreement.

Attorney David Hartman represented Keller Capital, which plans to develop the property after making numerous promises to the neighborhood, including flood mitigation and sidewalks. The owner has also agreed to a restrictive covenant to prevent traffic from being more intense than that projected by the Big Red Dog engineering firm.

In addition, the site will include 5 percent affordable housing, and the developer will work with Habitat for Humanity to make that happen, Hartman said. He pointed out that the site currently has no drainage infrastructure or water quality controls. He said the developer would do water quality controls under current regulations and plans to retain more water than would normally be required. He emphasized that the developer would also spend more than a quarter of a million dollars on buffered bike lanes and sidewalks proposed to go from the project to the bus stop on Ben White Boulevard.

The Planning Commission gave its approval for the project on a 12-0 vote. Hartman said the project supports the neighborhood plan by “focusing on mixed-use development in this area” and “providing a dramatic gateway to Austin.” He said the developer had changed the height request from 90 feet to 85 feet in deference to a neighborhood request.

In their basis for recommending the zoning change, staffers wrote that the property is located “in the middle of a viable industrial and manufacturing district. … Over the past five years, the industrial district where the site is located has undergone and is experiencing change. During this time, there have been seven approved zoning change requests to allow mixed use and dense residential development. While these requests were mostly in alignment with the South Congress Combined Neighborhood Plan, they are probable precursors of development that will change the fundamental heavy commercial/industrial character of the area. Although most of these were within a quarter-mile of South Congress Avenue, the 600 Industrial Boulevard zoning case … is another indicator of this change.”

Mario Cantu, who spoke on behalf of the neighborhood contact team, reiterated that the zoning change would be “a game-changer here. This is going to be, I call it, a free-for-all zoning. If you look at some of the history here … within a mile distance you’re looking at 22 construction supply houses of various types currently right now. Of course, it’s home to skilled workers with families. The industrial area is one of the few districts of its kind still functioning well in our city.”

Cantu went on to express concerns he and his neighbors have about air quality and flooding, noting that the developer has promised to deal with flooding concerns. He noted that his group had worked with developers in the past, but this is the first time they had worked with a developer proposing 85 feet in height.

He said they had worked out an agreement covering flood mitigation, evacuation procedures, security, trees, road closures, and the inclusion of 400 apartment units for the site, which would be set forth in a restrictive covenant with the developer.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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