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More height for Lamar Beach property means more access for all

Thursday, July 8, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

With the help of a variance from the city’s Board of Adjustment, a new development on a puzzle of a downtown parcel will be moving forward, connecting a neighborhood to the lake in the process.

Nikelle Meade, representing Pressler RRI, acknowledged that increasing the height of the project from 60 to 75 feet via a variance was “odd and unusual.” However, she explained, stakeholders had made it clear that the creation of a planned unit development as an alternate route to increased height within the waterfront overlay would not be supported.

The variance for the increased height was approved by the board in a unanimous vote.

The proposed development will span 300 and 301 Pressler St. and 1409, 1501 and 1505 W. Third St. on a plot of land sandwiched between Lamar Beach Park and the Union Pacific railroad tracks. The parcel of land presents a number of challenges and the developer has been working with the city since 2017 to untangle them. But now the resulting solution promises to create a new access point to Lady Bird Lake, bike trails and the Colorado River Corridor.

“This is an unusual request, we know that,” Meade said. “It is very clear that no one wanted us to ask for a PUD. That is why we are before you today.”

Board Member Brooke Bailey, who is a former chair of the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board, said she was “extremely” familiar with the property – at one point she even worked to come up with design solutions for the property. She asked Meade whether the railroad had given permission to cross the tracks, noting they had never done that before.

“You are exactly right, yes. They are very difficult about it and we do have that permission. We worked pretty extensively with the city of Austin, City Council and UPRR, Union Pacific railroad, to come to an agreement about constructing those arms. And I’m actually happy to say that construction started today,” said Meade, who stressed that the developer was paying for the crossings alone. “It’s a pretty big deal.”

“I’m impressed,” Bailey said. “I’m usually more hardcore when it comes to height in the waterfront, but I think this has achieved so many of the long-term goals of the neighborhood.”

Brockett Davidson, who chairs the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, wrote a letter in support of the variance, saying it would “address long-standing issues impacting our neighborhood and help advance the goals of our neighborhood plan without cutting against the intent and goals of the waterfront overlay.”

In the letter of support, the neighborhood association highlights the 1986 Town Lake Corridor Study, which called out the neighborhood’s lack of pedestrian access to the waterfront. It notes that the development will fix that issue through “the creation and construction of two new accessways that will provide bicycle and pedestrian access from the neighborhood to areas south of the Union Pacific railroad tracks, including Lamar Beach Park, Lady Bird Lake and the Hike and Bike Trail,” as well as providing a safe route to Austin High School, improving Lamar Beach Park and creating new railroad safety crossings.

“After a youth misspent sneaking up and down that hill, it will be nice to see some access,” Board Member Rahm McDaniel said.

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