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Council approves rezoning for Foundation Communities project, quashing valid petition

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

A 100 percent affordable apartment project is coming soon to Southeast Austin.

City Council has approved a rezoning for the Parker Apartments, a project by affordable housing developer Foundation Communities with 135 income-restricted units catering to families.

Council members voted 10-0 on Thursday, with Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison off the dais, to grant Multifamily-Medium Density zoning with a 50-foot setback on the north side of the property (MF-3-CO) from Family Residence (SF-3) zoning. 

The 8-acre site at 2105 Parker Lane is currently home to the Parker Lane Methodist Church, which recently shut down due to a dwindling membership and run-down facilities. To continue its mission without a congregation, the church partnered with Foundation Communities, leasing the site to the developer. The church will get office space in the new building, allowing it to carry on its work with Justice for Our Neighbors, an immigration advocacy service.

The new homes will be “deeply affordable,” Foundation Communities Executive Director Walter Moreau said. Most will be family-sized, with two and three bedrooms, and 14 will be reserved for families with children who have recently experienced homelessness. 

Below is the breakdown of the type of units and their rents:

Though Council’s support for the project was never in question, many neighbors opposed the project and tried to get the city to stop it.

Thirty-three percent of the homeowners within 200 feet of the property signed a petition opposing the rezoning, forcing a 9-vote Council supermajority for the project to be approved. Twenty percent of nearby homeowners are needed for a valid petition.

The majority of signatures came from residents in the condos to the north of the site, who opposed the prospect of denser development next door. Some feared that if the Foundation Communities project fell through, a different developer could build a much denser project on the rezoned land. The current proposal is not nearly as dense as it could be, in order to leave space for a wildflower meadow, heritage trees and a surface parking lot. 

Council Member Kathie Tovo, with an eye toward placating the neighbors, motioned to recommend MF-3 zoning with a conditional overlay requiring a 50-foot setback from the condos to the north. “That eliminates one of the concerns that I heard from some of the neighbors,” she said.

Council Member Leslie Pool concurred: “It injects the predictability that I think is important for the community.”

Though Foundation Communities requested MF-4 zoning, Moreau said that the project could still be built with MF-3 zoning combined with participation in the city’s Affordability Unlocked program, which grants developers more entitlements in exchange for affordable units. 

Some neighbors had also envisioned the site as a future community center and a natural disaster resilience hub.

Our House, a nonprofit that used the church for meetings, said: “The neighborhood now seriously suffers for lack of a real community center where the marginalized and badly underserved residents can come together to seek assistance and the services they badly need.”

At a recent Planning Commission hearing for the project, Moreau said he was surprised at the opposition. “All of the services the neighbors want … that’s exactly what we do,” he said, adding, “There are just some neighbors who are opposed to the project, no matter what.”

Council Member Pio Renteria explained why the project is so important for both the city and the neighborhood, which is in his District 3. “We need to keep people close to downtown that are going to be our workforce people. If we don’t provide them housing, they’re gonna move out of town, and they won’t come back.” 

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