Monday, March 8, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Council postpones decision on Delta Kappa Gamma rezoning

City Council last Thursday postponed rezoning the historic Delta Kappa Gamma headquarters at 416 W. 12th St., yielding to a request from a property owner on the same block.

Delta Kappa Gamma, an organization that supports women educators worldwide, seeks Downtown Mixed-Use (DMU) zoning to allow Stratus Properties to replace the circa-1959, midcentury-modern building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, with a residential tower. Preliminary plans call for a 375-foot-tall building with 280 units.

The Planning Commission voted 11-0-1 to approve the requested DMU zoning. City staffers recommended that the site be zoned historic and with a conditional overlay limiting height to 60 feet. The Historic Landmark Commission voted to zone the site historic to prohibit redevelopment, but couldn’t reach the supermajority needed to force Council to vote on the historic zoning.

If the rezoning passes at Council’s next meeting on March 25, the developer will apply for a Downtown Density Bonus to exceed the DMU zoning’s 120-foot height limit. The bonus allows more height in exchange for compliance with streetscape, design and green building standards, in addition to either on-site affordable housing or a fee-in-lieu for affordable housing elsewhere.

Chinna Natesan, who owns the vacant tract at 1200 Guadalupe St. on the same block, said he needed more time to assess how the rezoning would affect his property. Council typically grants one postponement request from a neighbor or neighborhood association.  

Michael Whellan, DKG’s representative, urged Council to proceed, as the postponement request, he emphasized, came from a single property owner. The Old Austin Neighborhood Association asked Council to approve the rezoning without delay.

Natesan said he was caught unawares when the developer informed him of plans to also buy the historic A.O. Watson House, which is sandwiched between Natesan’s property and the Delta Kappa Gamma site. These plans are unconfirmed. Natesan worried over the fate of the house, though it cannot be altered as a property zoned historic by the city.

From left to right: The Delta Kappa Gamma site, A.O. Watson House and 1200 Guadalupe tract. Part of the DKG site is already zoned DMU.

Whellan offered his own explanation for Natesan’s postponement request: “They don’t want other nearby properties to also be able to build up and potentially block their views to the west.”

“We don’t think that it is good policy to limit housing on one site so that another site can have a better view,” he said.

Whellan also said that the unconfirmed negotiations over the A.O. Watson are not relevant. “They want to delay the zoning case because they’re in conversation with Delta Kappa Gamma’s buyer – not with the applicant, Delta Kappa Gamma – over a completely separate property that Delta Kappa Gamma has absolutely no stake in or control over.”

Council Member Leslie Pool motioned to postpone. “I’d like to have a little more time to dig into the case and the entitlements that are being sought,” she said.

Council Member Ann Kitchen said she was “very concerned about affordability,” and wanted more information on how much the proposed units would cost. She also said an estimated $500,000 fee-in-lieu that the project would generate with a density bonus “doesn’t sound like much at all.”

Despite Pool’s and Kitchen’s concerns, both said they supported density in the transit-rich area. The DKG project is half a block from Project Connect’s future Orange and Blue lines.

The mayor and five Council members voted to postpone, and Council members Greg Casar and Paige Ellis voted against. Council Member Pio Renteria abstained, and Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper Madison and Council Member Kathie Tovo were off the dais.

The case will come back to Council on March 25.

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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.

Downtown Austin Plan: The Downtown Austin Plan supports dense housing, multi-modal transportation, green space and businesses.

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