Tuesday, June 1, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Planning Commission supports latest East Austin VMU rezoning

The Planning Commission last Tuesday recommended approval of a rezoning to allow a 126-unit multifamily building at 1200-1208 Springdale Road.

The developer requests Vertical Mixed Use (-V) zoning, which would allow more units, on top of the current Community Commercial-Mixed Use (GR-MU) zoning. The site is currently vacant.

With the existing zoning, the developer would build 76 market-rate units. With VMU zoning, the developer would build 126 units – 10 percent of which would be affordable at 60 percent median family income – atop commercial space. VMU zoning loosens building standards and requires that at least 10 percent of units are priced at 80 percent MFI. The height in either scenario would be about the same.

The developer originally proposed much more housing by combining two tracts and trying to rezone both – one to Multifamily Residence-Highest Density (MF-6) and the other to GR-MU-V. But plans changed after the neighborhood association fought the density during meetings with the developer. Now, the developer plans to build single-family homes on one of the tracts under the current (SF-3) zoning instead of a dense multifamily project under the previously requested MF-6 zoning.

The VMU zoning request is for Tract 2. Tract 1 is slated for single family homes under current zoning. Photo courtesy Davey McEathron Architecture.

The VMU rezoning request provoked many neighborhood concerns, chief among them displacement and gentrification.

“This project, as is, only is in line with other projects that exploited East Austin and contributes to the gentrification and the displacement through zoning,” activist Daniel Llanes said. 

Alexandria Anderson of the Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association said, “The developer has no mitigation plan to prevent gentrification, displacement or further raising of taxes in the area.”

Neighbors also expressed concerns about flooding, traffic, building height and disruption of unmarked graves outside the boundary of Bethany Cemetery, which is next to the proposed project. An archaeological survey commissioned by the developer showed no evidence of unmarked graves on the site.

The neighborhood association is circulating a petition against the rezoning, which the city still has to verify. A valid petition, which requires the signatures of 20 percent of property owners within 200 feet of the site, would force a 9-vote supermajority at City Council for the rezoning to be approved.

Commissioner Solveij Rosa Praxis, appointee of Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, sided with the neighbors. “I feel we should respect the input and effort of residents in the East MLK neighborhood,” Praxis said. “They don’t want to see an additional 50 units at market rate because of the pressure that creates, displacing existing residents in the area.” 

“I don’t think that denying the -V accomplishes anything that the neighborhood expressed concern about,” Commissioner James Shieh said. With existing zoning, Shieh said, “We don’t get any affordability. We don’t get more housing, which we desperately need.”

The commission voted 8-1 to recommend GR-MU-V zoning with support for the units affordable at 60 percent MFI.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

Vertical Mixed Use (VMU): According to the city's website, "A vertical mixed use building contains a mix of residential and commercial uses. Typically, commercial uses (i.e. retail shops, restaurants, offices) are located on the ground floor, while residential units (condominiums or apartments) are located on upper levels."

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