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Council OKs Springdale Green PUD on first reading

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 by Jo Clifton

While a number of residents of Saucedo Street next to the former East Austin tank farm strongly support plans to turn the property into a six-story office building with a height ranging from 75-93 feet, other neighbors object to the height.

Last week City Council voted 7-0-3, with Council Member Pio Renteria leading the charge to allow Planned Unit Development zoning on the 30-acre tract just east of the intersection of Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard. Council members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen and Vanessa Fuentes abstained. Council Member Mackenzie Kelly was off the virtual dais. The vote was on first reading only, with the matter slated to return May 6 for second and third readings.

The project, to be called Springdale Green, offers numerous community benefits, with the potential total of $6.7 million, including $700,000 for affordable housing once the project is complete. Attorney Michael Whellan of Armbrust and Brown represents the applicant, Jay Paul Company.

According to a letter from 11 residents of Saucedo Street, a commitment to work with a nearby commercial building “to allow Springdale Green’s detention facility to receive stormwater from north of their site” to help address flooding issues is among their highest-priority items. In addition, they noted that the applicant has promised that once construction is complete and the buildings are occupied, Springdale Green will not use their street to access the building.

Samuel Rodriguez, who lives within 100 feet of the property, told Council he and his neighbors have experienced significant flooding over the last several years. “Drainage of the area was never great, but it has gotten worse recently.” He said his house flooded “and was an absolute nightmare. Until this point, there has been no long-term solution provided to us. … This development has committed to a real solution to these problems which creates a community benefit that is going to help several families and several of the blocks in the neighborhood.”

Rodriguez also praised the company for its plan to increase native tree plantings, remove invasive species and implement sustainable building strategies.

On the other side was Ben Ramirez, who described the neighborhood benefits as “a drop in the bucket for the size of the project.” He noted that while the developer will be providing environmental restoration, only people working in the building will be able to use the property’s trails. Council Member Ann Kitchen asked Whellan why that might be the case.

Whellan told her that because of its toxic past, the property is on a list developed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality of properties not available for public enjoyment.

Whellan told the Austin Monitor that the neighborhood would benefit from the many trees that would be planted along Springdale, as well as Silva Cells under the pavement.

A Silva Cell is a bioretention system shaped like an egg carton that is placed under the pavement to keep soil from compacting and keep tree roots healthier. “The point is trees are not required, and not only are we providing trees, but doing so in a way that we think will ensure long-term healthy growth,” Whellan said.

He also noted that flooding along Saucedo Street will only grow worse with global warming unless something changes there.

Ramirez, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, said, “Street flooding should not be used as a bargaining chip … Springdale General or the city should be responsible for fixing the problem that they created.”

“It’s a multimillion-dollar project the city would have to undertake,” Whellan said. “You can look at all the different community benefits and that one has the most immediate impact on the adjacent neighborhood without any benefit to the applicant. … We’re taking water that doesn’t come onto the tank farm site at all.”

Although a few speakers warned Council that allowing the applicant to build to 93 feet would be setting a precedent leading to more tall buildings and gentrification of the area, Whellan said that was unlikely.

“Some people have said height here may serve as a precedent. However, in order to exceed 60 feet in this area you would have to do it as a PUD, which would require you to go through the community benefit process and have at least 10 acres. I just don’t see how another applicant can achieve 93 feet without a community benefits package that is equal to this.”

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