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ZAP recommends VMU zoning on increasingly dense Slaughter Lane corridor

Friday, September 10, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

On Tuesday, the Zoning and Platting Commission unanimously recommended Vertical Mixed-Use zoning to allow a 290-unit multifamily development with ground floor retail at 1017 W. Slaughter Lane. Though VMU zoning is more often seen in the central city, commissioners thought the tract fit the bill for dense housing.

“I think it really takes what we have right now on Slaughter Lane, which is the classic suburban-style strip development, and moves us in the direction we want to head as a city,” Commissioner Ellen Ray said of the rezoning. 

The 3.15 acre property is currently zoned Development Reserve (DR), a placeholder for properties on the edge of the city that must be rezoned upon development. Representative Alice Glasco is requesting Community Commercial-Mixed Use-Vertical Mixed-Use (GR-MU-V), which requires that projects include a retail component and set aside 10 percent of units for those making 80 percent of the median family income. 

Glasco told the Austin Monitor that, in order to get up to 290 units, the adjacent site at 1013 W. Slaughter Lane also needs to be rezoned. Glasco plans to submit that zoning request next week, and ZAP will likely hear the case soon after. 

Though this stretch of Slaughter is currently suburban in nature, it is quickly densifying. In addition to the rezoning at ZAP on Tuesday, another rezoning at nearby 1434 Genoa Drive was approved by City Council earlier this month, which would bring up to 165 units to market. In 2019, Council approved GR-MU-V zoning for 707 W. Slaughter Lane, though plans for redevelopment on the site have not emerged. 

As is often the case in Austin, especially in parts of town with minimal transit service, neighbors argued that the zoning would be too dense and the apartments would lead to increased traffic. 

“I know this area is being pushed for dense development; however, Slaughter is already maxed out with traffic,” neighbor Tina Phifer wrote in objection to the rezoning. Over 70 neighbors signed an informal petition opposing the rezoning.

“Any plans to improve this infrastructure, such as Project Connect, will not be realized at … Slaughter Lane within the next decade or two,” neighbor Karen Wolffe said.

The site is near two bus lines, the 3 and 318. Both buses come every half hour. The city categorizes Slaughter Lane as a Future Core Transit Corridor, which means it intends to provide better transit on the street, but does not have immediate plans to do so. 

The discussion highlighted the classic density-and-transit chicken-and-egg problem: Without frequent mass transit in an area, dense development will worsen traffic, but without dense development or dense zoning, cities are unlikely to provide good transit there.

Ray argued that more density will lead to better transit. “If we want to have better transit service, we need to have more residential density, because that will drive up the demand for more frequent bus service or other high-capacity investments,” Ray said. 

The rezoning proved uncontroversial among all commissioners. Even Commissioner David King, who opposed a similar rezoning on the Luby’s site in Northwest Austin partly on the grounds that its affordable housing component would not be affordable enough, voted in support. “I really appreciate the need to get some vertical mixed-use there, so we can have some residential and commercial there in close proximity – and some affordable housing,” King said, adding that he wished the affordable housing in the project was even more affordable.

Council will hear the case on Sept. 30.

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