Wednesday, September 22, 2021 by Kali Bramble

The conversation continues over environmental impact of Brodie Oaks development

Last Wednesday, the Environmental Commission revisited a conversation about the Brodie Oaks planned unit development that began back in March.

The PUD, which would encompass a 37.6-acre tract of land on the corner of South Lamar Boulevard and South Capital of Texas Highway, must exceed certain environmental standards in order to secure the commission’s recommendation before moving to City Council. Deputy Environmental Officer Liz Johnston from the Watershed Protection Department updated commissioners on the ongoing review process.

The vision for Brodie Oaks entails converting the existing strip mall into a mixed-use site of residences, restaurants, offices, and hotels connected by walkable pathways and parklands. The billion-dollar development deal would be the largest undertaking in the Barton Creek area and would require changing many of the property’s existing zoning regulations. 

Among these zoning requirements are height restrictions of 60 feet, which the development’s tallest structures would more than quadruple. Brodie Oaks would also infringe upon the Hill Country Road Ordinance, which requires maintaining natural landscapes around Capital of Texas Highway.

In exchange for these considerations, the development must meet a level of environmental superiority determined by the city. One central criterion is water quality, as the Brodie Oaks development would border the Barton Creek greenbelt. In an effort to protect this sensitive creek system, Watershed Protection has been closely monitoring the project’s planned drainage and irrigation infrastructure to ensure it meets the area’s nondegradation standards.

As of now, one of Brodie Oaks’ strongest environmental assets is its plan to reduce the area’s impervious cover from 84 to 53 percent by replacing large swaths of paved areas with green spaces. This is of particular importance considering its location adjacent to the Barton Creek watershed and Edwards Aquifer recharge zones, since absorption of sufficient clean water is critical to maintaining the health of this major resource.

While this improvement has been commended by organizations like the Save Our Springs Alliance, the PUD must go above and beyond in more than one way. Commissioner Audrey Barrett Bixler expressed concerns over the project’s energy sustainability, noting that the development meets only Tier 2 of Austin Energy’s rating system. Among other changes, Barrett Bixler asked that developers improve these ratings before the commission grants its recommendation.

Another challenge is the development’s location atop Airman’s Cave, which the city has sought to preserve since its discovery in 1971. To protect the structural integrity of both the development site and the cave, Brodie Oaks will need to abide by limitations on digging within a certain underground radius determined by a team of hydrogeologists.

Now that the PUD application has been initially reviewed, the developer will be required to submit comments refining the plans to better meet superiority standards. This will involve many more months of work with the Environmental Commission as well as conversations with local neighborhoods and organizations like the Save Our Springs Alliance.

“We appreciate (Brodie Oaks’) environmental emphasis and look forward to continue working with them … (but) recognize that this is the first major development project that could be an example for other sites in the future, such as the Barton Creek Mall and Target shopping center across the street,” SOS Alliance attorney Bobby Levinski said at the commission’s initial briefing in March.

With such a precedent on the line, all parties agree that there is much more work to do. When a finalized application finally arrives, it will be up to the commission to issue a recommendation before the PUD moves on to the appropriate land use commission and City Council.

Rendering by Lionheart Overland via the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

Planned Unit Development: A zoning classification designated by the city to allow greater flexibility for projects within its boundaries.

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