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Alley vacation granted despite protests

Thursday, June 11, 2020 by Jo Clifton

City Council voted unanimously on June 4 to grant vacation of an alley between East Eighth and East Ninth streets in order to facilitate construction of a multifamily complex, in spite of a request from neighbors in an adjacent residential building to postpone consideration of the matter.

An alley vacation is a type of easement in which the city transfers the right of way of a public alley or street to a private property owner. After the alley is vacated, the public may no longer use it.

The Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation plans to build a 24-unit affordable senior housing complex at 809 E. Ninth St. and asked the city to vacate a 572-square-foot alley to accommodate construction.

The complex is referred to as the Lopez Tower because the Lopez family owned the property for many years. The family home, the Routon-Alvarez-Lopez House, has been designated historic. When the GNDC acquired the house in 2016, it needed rehabilitation, which the GNDC’s Mark Rogers promised to do. At that time, Rogers said the corporation would rent the house to a low-income family. Now the GNDC plans to use the historic house as a social service office, according to Rachel Stone, assistant executive director of the development corporation.

It was the second time Council has voted on the alley vacation, having approved the elimination of the alley in February. City staff failed to notify the neighbors of the original request to vacate the alley; that error meant Council had to take action on the matter a second time.

Although those opposing the new project did not specifically refer to the residents of the Tyndall losing their view of downtown, that is clearly an issue, since the new project will eliminate that view for most Tyndall residents.

Attorney Nikelle Meade and Matt Mathias, who along with Terry Mitchell developed the adjacent residential tower, which is called the Tyndall, represented protesting property owners. Meade said residents of the Tyndall were concerned that the proximity of the new building is a fire hazard, explaining, “If a fire starts on that property it will not be easy to get to it.”

Stone told Council that the project’s site plan process had been done correctly even though a mistake by the city held up vacating the alley. She said the GNDC has 800 people on its waiting list for housing, 180 of whom are seniors.

She later told the Austin Monitor that representatives of the Austin Fire Department have approved the plans for the site. She said the building would be constructed of steel, just like other downtown towers, and would not present a fire risk. “We want to make sure the neighborhood is comfortable with the things that we do, so we’re really hoping to have a great project and enhance the neighborhood, and by the end of this everyone will feel safe and as excited as we are to offer this to our seniors.”

Carrie Chess, a resident of the Tyndall, told Council she moved into her new home last August, but she and her neighbors did not find out about the Lopez Tower until March. “We were never properly notified about the site plan and we were not properly notified about the alley vacation” until it had already been approved by the Planning Commission. Although she asked Council to delay the vote on the alley vacation, the alley was not the real issue.

Council Member Leslie Pool and staffers from the offices of Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison met with residents of the Tyndall to hear their concerns prior to the June 4 vote. But both Council members joined their colleagues in approving the alley vacation.

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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