Friday, November 6, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

Planning Commission approves vertical mixed use on South Congress

Last week the Planning Commission approved a rezoning for a new multifamily project at 4329 S. Congress Ave. between State Highway 71 and St. Elmo Road.

Through the vote, commissioners recommended adding a Vertical Mixed-Use Building combining district to the site’s existing General Commercial Services-Mixed Use-Neighborhood Plan (CS-MU-NP) zoning. They also added a conditional overlay prohibiting several business uses.

Wendy Rhoades, the Housing and Planning Department’s case manager, said the applicant wanted to add the Vertical Mixed-Use Building (V) component to the existing zoning to develop the tract with up to 280 apartment units and around 5,000 square feet of ground floor retail and restaurant uses.

“The ‘V’ will provide additional development options to the property and allow for it to develop under the existing CS base district,” Rhoades said.

Rhoades said city staffers recommended the rezoning since the tract is located on a core transit corridor in South Austin.

“There are other recently constructed condominium and multifamily residential projects on this stretch of South Congress,” she added.

Drenner Group PC’s Amanda Swor, acting on behalf of the tract’s property owner and developer, said the 2.76-acre tract currently houses a self-storage facility and a food truck park.

Since the site is designated for mixed-use development on the future land use map, the developer didn’t need a neighborhood plan amendment application as well, Swor said.

She also said that 10 percent of the residential units will be set aside for households earning no more than 80 percent of the current median family income for a period of 40 years, with half of those units being affordable at 50 percent of the median family income.

Mario Cantu said he appreciated the applicant’s work with the South Congress Combined Neighborhood Plan contact team he chairs, but was worried about how the increased density in the area would impact traffic.

“That’s a problem and we want to make sure that we don’t have bigger problems as things progress with any one of these developments that are being kind of pushed into this one area,” he said.

“Affordability is our biggest thing,” he added, about the project’s levels of affordable housing. “We’re striving to get the numbers where we really need them.”

Commissioner Joao Paulo Connolly also said he would have liked to see deeper levels of affordability.

“It’s unfortunate we don’t have the new Land Development Code because with the new code, we really would have requirements for much more affordability on this site,” Connolly said.

Swor said the developer is working with the Transportation Department on traffic mitigation, although the traffic impact analysis was deferred to the site plan stage of the project. She added that parking spaces will be rented separately from the units.

Commissioner Rob Schneider successfully pushed an amendment for a conditional overlay to prohibit uses including adult-oriented businesses, outdoor entertainment and payday lenders.

He said he wanted to appreciate “the concerns of neighbors around certain sorts of businesses.”

Commissioner Greg Anderson spoke against the role of conditional overlays more broadly in the current LDC.

“It’s a good amendment, I get it,” Anderson said. “It’s just another conditional overlay … it’s a whole other thing that gets stuck in our books.”

Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said a conditional overlay “can be a useful tool in this manner.”

“We should use the tools that we have at hand and I think a conditional overlay is appropriate in this situation,” Llanes Pulido said. “To me, this actually represents a form of community planning.”

Anderson motioned for the rezoning, which was approved 10-0-1 with Llanes Pulido abstaining.

“This is a case right on Congress – it makes a whole lot of sense,” Anderson said.

The rezoning is now on City Council’s Nov. 12 agenda.

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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