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Brodie Oaks developer explains plans

Wednesday, March 24, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Barshop & Oles and Houston investment firm Lionstone Investments are proposing a complete transformation of the Brodie Oaks shopping center. Their vision, as described to City Council Tuesday by urban planner Rebecca Leonard of Lionheart Places, would transform an old suburban shopping center with large surface parking lots into a mixed-use center with more than 1,500 residential units, 1.1 million square feet of office space, 448 hotel rooms and 110,000 square feet of retail, as well as 30,000 square feet of restaurant space.

The center is within the Barton Springs recharge zone, and if built as planned would be the largest project ever developed under the redevelopment exception of the Save Our Springs Ordinance. Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the Housing and Planning Department, explained that the developers are required to present a development assessment to staffers and Council before filing their application for a planned unit development.

One of the selling points of the proposal is reduction of the site’s impervious cover from 84 percent to 54 percent. “This would be 8.9 acres more than what they’re required to do under code,” he said. In addition, Rusthoven noted that the developers are proposing nearly a mile of trails, linked to a proposed accessible trailhead from the shopping center into the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

The plan includes restoring more than 25 percent of the site to open space adjacent to the greenbelt. Leonard’s presentation stressed that restoring that open space would be possible if the city allows the developer to build a 275-foot tower along the frontage road of Loop 360 and South Lamar Boulevard.

City Environmental Officer Chris Herrington told Council the proposed reduction of impervious cover is significant. He said under the SOS Ordinance’s redevelopment exception, developers would be able to redevelop the existing footprint at the same amount of impervious cover they have now. “They would have to provide water quality treatment and pay for mitigation land,” he said, adding that the project “would be achieving SOS levels of water quality treatment.”

Noting that the site is within her district, Council Member Ann Kitchen thanked the developers for having conversations with area neighbors. She did express concern about the 275-foot height, saying it might set a precedent for the area. Because this is a redevelopment under the Save Our Springs Ordinance, the code will receive extra scrutiny.

Council Member Kathie Tovo, who always asks for more affordable housing, brought up the issue during the presentation. Leonard said the developer would provide 10 percent affordable rental housing as well as 10 percent of owner-occupied affordable housing. She said they intend to provide the housing on-site, not simply to contribute to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Council Member Pio Renteria expressed concern about the small businesses and restaurants currently on the site. “This is very exciting,” he said, but added, “This little corner there has a lot of popular restaurants that people do go to,” which are affordable. “I hope you will be able to keep some of those services and restaurants and small businesses.”

“I notice that sometimes we kind of lose the old family type restaurants where people like to go and eat … I hope if you do this development, you can keep the affordable services there for the population, because those places attract a lot of people.”

Renteria also mentioned the small Sprouts grocery store, which “feels more like a mom-and-pop type store than these big corporations’ stores. So I hope that we keep that when we do go through the development process.”

As Leonard noted, the site is adjacent to Capital Metro’s existing high-capacity transit route on South Lamar. Development of housing on the site will support that route, with the hope that there will be less reliance on single-occupancy vehicles.

At this point, Leonard explained that the city has to answer some critical questions about its priorities in terms of land uses. The total site to be developed is 37.6 acres, but Capital Metro, Austin Energy, Austin Water and the Parks and Recreation Department have requested land donations.

First, developers must devote 12 acres for re-irrigation and ponds under watershed regulations and the SOS Ordinance. PARD has requested an additional 13.7 acres of on-site land dedication. Austin Energy estimates that it will require three to five acres for a substation and Austin Water has not indicated how much land it will need.

So, staffers and ultimately Council members will have to decide on their priorities, but it will be many months before the matter comes back to them for a vote. The developers must file their documentation, and there could be months of conversations between developers and city staff. After that, the final product will have to go before the Environmental Commission, which has already received a briefing on the initial proposal. Then the matter goes to the Planning Commission, and Kitchen requested it also go before the parks board. After all of those reviews, the matter will come back to Council for a vote.

Rendering by Lionheart Overland via the city of Austin.

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