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Planning Commission recommends rezoning for half of Castle Hill Graffiti Park

Thursday, January 30, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Two projects intending to replace the internationally famous “Graffiti Park” came before the Planning Commission on Jan. 28. However, only the 10-condo Colorfield project at 1006 Baylor St. received the commission’s recommendation.

When the Historic Landmark Commission approved the demolition of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery – nicknamed Graffiti Park – in 2018, the site was divided into two parcels. Between the two properties, the owners plan to develop 22 condos.

The lower part of the site at 1006 Baylor is owned by Bryan Cumby of Mid-City Development. The proposed project for this area will be 12 three-bedroom condos, two of which will be 4,400 square feet and the rest of which will average around 3,000 square feet. To achieve this plan, Cumby requested a zoning change from high-density multifamily residence (MF-5) to the highest density multifamily residence (MF-6).

The upper portion of the lot at 1109 W. 11th St. is owned by Victor Ayad, who previously owned the entire parcel when it operated as an outdoor art gallery. Ayad requested an identical zoning change, but according to Alice Glasco, who was representing both applicants, the project is not yet designed. She told commissioners the eventual building will be anywhere from three to 12 units.

“Why was this change requested?” Commissioner Awais Azhar asked. “Here we have a conceptual design but a zoning request has already been issued.” Azhar said his concern stemmed from having multiple unknown variables, including the overall unit count. Commissioner James Shieh agreed, saying, “The project is in its infancy at this point.”

With so little ironed out on Ayad’s portion of the site, the commission pushed for his consideration to include affordable housing units and pedestrian access from the Blanco Street alleyway that dead-ends above the property down to Baylor Street. However, in a 3-6-1 vote, the commission failed to recommend the rezoning of this portion of Graffiti Park. Commissioners Robert Schneider, James Shieh, Jeffrey Thompson, Todd Shaw, Awais Azhar, and Fayez Kazi voted against approving the recommendation and Commissioner Yvette Flores abstained from the vote. Commissioner Claire Hempel was off the dais.

Cumby’s section of the property, which has been in site plan review for nearly two years, received the commission’s recommendation for rezoning, with a caveat that a conditional overlay accompany the rezoning to prevent construction within 25 feet of the property line on the alley side. The commission voted 7-3 to recommend the rezoning with Hempel off the dais and Shaw, Thompson and Schneider voting against the motion.

The conditional overlay was offered in response to concern from the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, whose members said there was a need for access along the southern edge of the property to connect Blanco and Baylor streets.

While the neighborhood was generally supportive of the design for the condos on Baylor Street, they told commissioners that connectivity was an important concern that has not been addressed. Neighbors said a pedestrian passageway is a community benefit they have been pushing for since 2007 when the property was first upzoned from MF-4 to MF-5.

Cumby said he was in favor of contributing financially to installing pedestrian access, but explained that he was not willing to write a “blank check” without having an idea of the project and its costs.

Glasco told commissioners that there was an agreement between both property owners and the neighborhood to continue to explore pedestrian access, but that the alleyway was not something either owner can independently develop.

“From Blanco to Baylor, the city owns (that),” she explained. At this point, she said the Austin Transportation Department has not provided an indication of the feasibility of bringing the alley passage through to Blanco Street. “We can’t compel the city to construct it,” she said.

“I’m a little reticent to let go of the access,” Commissioner Conor Kenny said. “It’s a little hard for me to swallow these 3,000- and 4,000-square-foot units without any concrete community benefit.”

Commissioner Shaw said he would like to see community benefits in the form of affordable housing. He said, “Doing the math here, we’ve got a 48 percent increase in floor-to-area ratio and we’re going to give that without any benefit for affordable housing at all?”

Other commissioners supported the idea of affordable housing but encouraged it in the plans for the upper half of the property that does not yet have concrete design plans.

Both projects now head to Council for a final decision. Commissioners Carmen Llanes Pulido and Patricia Seeger were absent from the discussion.

Photo by [CC BY-SA 4.0].

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