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Council approves ‘multimodal’ residential project in northwest downtown

Monday, August 30, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

City Council said yes to more density in the northwest corner of downtown by voting unanimously Thursday to approve Downtown Mixed-Use (DMU) zoning with a 90-foot height limit for Shoal Cycle, a 210-bed multimodal-friendly apartment project at 812 W. 11th St.

“I think we all agree that downtown is where density is appropriate,” Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison said. “It’s one of our most – if not the most – walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly parts of town.” 

Developer Jen Weaver has touted Shoal Cycle as “workforce housing” with a standard rent of $1,400 a month per bedroom. The building will offer sustainability features such as solar panels and more parking for bikes than for cars. The project embraces multimodality in an effort to attract residents who want to reduce or eliminate their use of private vehicles.

Most neighbors who spoke at the meeting supported the project and said it will liven up the neighborhood. “One of the big things that we lack in this little part of downtown is residents,” neighbor Dan Keshet said. “I am surrounded by buildings that were built as houses but are now law firms and professional associations.”

The Old Austin Neighborhood Association also supported the project. “The board has voted to support this project at the requested height of 90 feet mainly because it’ll advance the longtime neighborhood goals of bringing residents back to the neighborhood,” said Chris Riley, a neighborhood association board member. 

The Planning Commission recommended the 90-foot height, while city staffers recommended capping the height at 60 feet – but only because they felt beholden to the decade-old Downtown Austin Plan, which recommends height limits for some areas of downtown.

“Staff does feel an obligation to follow the downtown plan because it was adopted by the City Council and is the existing policy,” said Jerry Rusthoven with the Housing and Planning Department.

Council Member Kathie Tovo asked whether “good planning principles” would dictate a 60- or 90-foot height limit. Rusthoven’s response: “To be honest, I cannot come up with a rationale beyond compliance with the plan for limiting the property.”

“I feel like our city has changed a lot in the 10 years since that document was approved,” Harper-Madison said. 

Shoal Cycle is part of a new wave of residential development in the area. Two projects, Weaver’s Capitol Quarters and a micro-unit project by developer Transwestern, are currently under construction. The 90-bed Capitol Quarters at 1108 Nueces St. will be the city’s first multifamily project without parking, according to Weaver, and the Transwestern project will bring 283 micro-units to 817 W. 12th St. – directly behind the Shoal Cycle site. 

Earlier this year, City Council also approved a rezoning that paves the way for a 375-foot residential tower at the Delta Kappa Gamma site at 416 W. 12th St.

Correction: A previous version of this article identified Shoal Cycle as a co-living project, which it is not. The Monitor regrets the error.

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