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Environmental Commission mulls Brackenridge redevelopment

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 by Seth Smalley

The Environmental Commission fielded discussion on May 5 regarding redevelopment plans for the Brackenridge Hospital site, a 14-acre area located at 601 E. 15th St.

Since the hospital historically treated indigent people in the Austin area, City Council decided that money made from the area’s redevelopment should go to health care for the indigent.

“They directed us to come up with a way that allows them to maximize that revenue stream,” said Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the Housing and Planning Department, referring to a resolution passed several years ago by Council.

“The big-picture scenario here is that the Council directed staff to find a way for Central Health to maximize the economic benefit of the former Brackenridge hospital site,” he explained. “The idea being that Central Health – of course, their mission is providing indigent health care – the money they can make off the redevelopment of this site will go toward indigent health care.”

Council directed staff at Housing and Planning to assist Central Health with a redevelopment plan of the Brackenridge Hospital location, according to Rusthoven. Council wanted the site used for both residential and commercial purposes, as well as medical research uses.

Council’s request was not accompanied by any sort of environmental superiority stipulations for the development.

“It’s mostly a zoning issue as opposed to an environmental issue,” Rusthoven told commissioners.

Though Housing and Planning originally attempted to create a zoning overlay for the area to make development possible, the idea was shot down by Council in favor of a planned unit development.

The applicants requested there not be a minimum lot size, or lot width. They additionally asked for no maximum building coverage or impervious cover and that setbacks “be reduced down to 10 feet.” The applicant also agreed only to do the minimum requirement of a two-star green builder (part of a green building standard rating system), an idea that was interrogated by commissioners.

“The two-star minimum – I mean that’s really basic with a pen. Why are they agreeing to that?” Commissioner Pam Thompson asked, before asking whether it’d be possible to make a recommendation it be higher.

“Sure, you could make a recommendation and things would reset,” Rusthoven replied.

When calling in, the applicant said to commissioners, “It has been a very lengthy discussion and negotiation with the city. So although this particular application does not have a ton of bells and whistles, we ask respectfully the commission to try to help us keep this like it was.”

Though Commissioner Linda Guerrero supported the developer’s request for the plan to remain unchanged (pointing to the fact that the developer agreed to build a city road), other commissioners maintained a three-star green builder was a reasonable ask.

Ultimately, the commission decided to recommend PUD zoning, with the stipulation that the applicant increase the energy green building program to three stars or greater, and integrate “functional green principles where available.”

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