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Environmental Commission considers green impact of Brodie Oaks development

Monday, March 8, 2021 by Seth Smalley

A billion-dollar development deal is in the works to reimagine the Brodie Oaks shopping center with the spotlight on ecology, connectivity and performance. Kate Clark with the Housing and Planning Department briefed the Environmental Commission on March 3, while Rebecca Leonard, CEO of Lionheart, an Austin urban design and planning firm, spoke for the applicant.

The proposed planned unit development would sit on 37.6 acres located at the intersection of South Lamar Boulevard and South Capital of Texas Highway, on a parcel currently occupied by Toys R Us. Thirty-six percent of that space, approximately 13.6 acres, will be parkland and open space, connecting the development to the Barton Creek Greenbelt and clustering the construction away from nature and toward the highway.

According to Leonard’s presentation, the project goals encompass a variety of disciplines. The development’s five chief aims are to meet the highest environmental standards, create a walkable mixed-use activity center, connect the site to its surroundings, express South Austin character, and position the project for the future. In order to obtain PUD zoning from the city, the developer must show that the project is environmentally superior to what could otherwise be built.

In this case, the developer also plans to significantly reduce the high percentage of impervious cover in the area. “Right now, it’s 84 percent,” Leonard said. “If you take out that little green patch at the front that Barshop & Oles was able to obtain from the Texas Department of Transportation, it’s actually more like 90 percent.”

The developer aims to reduce that percentage from 84-plus to just 54. The current proposal is for mixed-use development, consisting of restaurants, residential buildings, hotels, offices and retail, with proposed heights of up to 275 feet. Also proposed are additional trails and sidewalks within the open space to increase greenbelt access.

“We wanted to connect it to its surroundings. As I mentioned, there’s a retaining wall along the back side, there are fences between the site and the multifamily residences, and there are two busy highways dividing it from the community around it. So, basically every side of it is disconnected from its surroundings,” Leonard explained.

Atha Phillips with the Watershed Protection Department also spoke to the commission, reiterating environmental goals and introducing others.

The project is located adjacent to the Barton Creek Watershed, the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone and a water quality transition zone. It was crucial the project be designed in a way that minimizes corruption of the environment, according to Phillips. The introduction of parkland, reduction of impervious cover and compliance with Save Our Springs Alliance standards are a start.

Phillips also mentioned environmental superiorities such as the purple piping used for nonpotable water lines in order to increase the use of reclaimed water, or gray water. The project designers are also looking into using a special kind of glass to reduce bird strikes, which claim the lives of hundreds of millions of songbirds each year.

“If they choose to use a glass that has a reflectivity of 15 percent or less – there are different ways to obscure the glass so birds don’t get confused – but that’s what we’re suggesting,” Phillips said.

The project is currently in the Development Assessment stage. A staff briefing to City Council is slated for Council’s March 23 meeting.

Rendering by Lionheart Overland via the city of Austin.

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