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Photo by city of Austin

Downtown co-living project gets Planning Commission support

Thursday, June 24, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Shoal Cycle, a 70-unit co-living project planned for 812 W. 11th St., went to the Planning Commission Tuesday to seek Downtown Mixed-Use (DMU-CO) zoning with a conditional overlay bumping the allowable building height to 90 feet.

The commission voted to support the rezoning and the developer’s requested height, but tacked on a clause limiting any office space to the first floor. A two-story office building currently occupies the site, which is zoned Multifamily-Moderate Density (MF-4), Limited Office (LO) and General Office (GO). City staffers recommended DMU zoning, but with a height limit of 60 feet, citing the height limit in zoning change recommendations from the Downtown Austin Plan.

As a co-living project, Shoal Cycle will rent out bedrooms, not full units. All units have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, in addition to a kitchen and living room, and tenants share the rest of their unit with up to two roommates.

The project will have a variety of sustainability features, including on-site solar power production that will supply much of the building’s electricity and a parking ratio that encourages biking. With 70 underground bike spaces plus racks on the sidewalk, compared to only 58 spaces for cars, Amanda Swor, the agent for the developer, said, “This project is proposing more bike parking than car parking.”

In a rarity for rezoning cases in Austin, no neighbors opposed the project, likely because of the project’s downtown location and the lack of nearby single-family homes. In fact, several neighbors wrote and spoke in favor of the project, saying it will liven up a neighborhood that right now consists mostly of law offices operating out of historic houses.

Shoal Cycle is the second co-living project by Austin developer Weaver Buildings. Weaver’s first co-living project, Capitol Quarters, is only a few blocks away and is the first multifamily residential building in Austin with no on-site parking.

The team behind Shoal Cycle touted it as “workforce housing,” including for service industry workers. Rent for all beds is planned at $1,400 a month. Though relatively affordable by downtown standards, $1,400, as commissioners were quick to point out, is not cheap for service workers. “I’ve worked in the service industry for a long time. I don’t know anyone in the service industry for whom this would really be truly affordable,” Commissioner Solveij Rosa Praxis said.

Commissioner Jennifer Mushtaler bemoaned the fact that city code does not have any tools to leverage affordable housing in this part of downtown. “I want to stress to Council,” Mushtaler said, “we need some better tools … because I’m concerned that this isn’t quite hitting affordability for people who would really use this.”

The Downtown Density Bonus Program, used in part to create affordable housing, does not apply on the fringes of downtown. Weaver also noted that, under current federal regulations, co-living projects cannot qualify for housing vouchers.

The rezoning proved uncontroversial among commissioners, though Commissioner Grayson Cox, in order to deter the construction of an office building instead of the proposed project, added a clause limiting office space to the first floor. The proposal includes a small ground-floor retail space for a small business.

The vote was 11-0-2, with Praxis and Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido abstaining. City Council is scheduled to vote on the rezoning July 29.

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