Friday, January 29, 2021 by Harrison Young

Planning Commission endorses Rainey high-rise

The Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend construction of a skyscraper on Rainey Street that would be one of Austin’s tallest buildings.

90-92 Rainey St., currently occupied by Container Bar, would become a residential high-rise with about 450 residential units, a cocktail lounge on the ground floor, and a large underground parking garage.

City Council must give final approval before construction can begin.

Rainey Neighborhood Association President Michael Abelson expressed concerns about overcrowding in the area.

“As it becomes more and more dense as far as development is concerned, it becomes less livable for the people living here especially when there’s only three ways in and out,” Abelson said. “People in Rainey need cars and we need to drive because there is nothing in Rainey other than bars, restaurants and residential areas.”

“There may be problems with cars getting around, but this is an area that is so close to jobs, to transit,” Planning Commission co-Chair Claire Hempel said. “Limiting the density because cars can’t get around is not a good idea.”

Coming in at 601 feet, the building would be the third-highest in the skyline after the Austonian.

The Rainey District “is destined for very tall things,” Planning Commission co-Chair Todd Shaw said.

Since the Planning Commission can only approve up to a certain size for construction, which the building project intends to exceed, the project must qualify for Austin’s Downtown Density Bonus Program.

To qualify for the DDBP, 50 percent of the project must be dedicated to community benefits and the site plan must satisfy Gatekeeper Requirements that include compliance with Urban Design Guidelines and Great Streets criteria and a minimum 2-star rating under Austin Energy’s Green Building program.

The project’s Community Benefits contribution offers about 14,000 square feet of on-site affordable housing units. The project will pay $1.3 million to the affordable housing trust fund to support permanent supportive housing in Austin.

The Rainey Street project complies with Austin’s Urban Design Guidelines, which set out the city’s vision and style for streetscapes, plazas and buildings.

Great Streets is a program intended to liven up the city’s streets and sidewalks with amenities like trees, benches, sidewalk cafes, public art and proximity to public transportation.

The building aims to achieve a 3-star Green Building rating from Austin Energy, which satisfies the 2-star requirement for the DDBP.

This project also completed a traffic impact analysis of the area and committed $550,000 to Rainey-specific improvements identified by the Transportation Department.

The Design Commission unanimously approved the project last month after reviewing the planners’ design and DDBP application.

Hempel noted the opportunity to build affordable housing in an area not limited by Capitol View Corridor restrictions, which bars construction that hinders clear views of the Texas Capitol building.

“This is an area that does not have that limitation,” Hempel said, adding that she “wholeheartedly” recommends approval.

Renderings of 90-92 Rainey by Nelsen Partners Architects and Planners and Urbanspace. Map via the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Downtown Density Bonus: The downtown density bonus program was approved as part of the city's 2011 Downtown Austin Plan. The program is a way that developers can earn additional height and density by providing community benefits, most notably affordable housing or money towards affordable housing.

Rainey Street: Once a quiet residential street, Rainey Street quickly transformed once the historic district was incorporate into the Central Business District in 2004. Currently, the street remains in transition as the bars in the original homes there make way for larger development projects.

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