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Council to adopt TIRZ, implement full south waterfront plan

Monday, October 25, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

The long-delayed South Central Waterfront Plan moved closer to implementation Thursday after City Council initiated a tax increment reinvestment zone to guide the use of new property tax revenue on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake. 

The TIRZ is one key element of the South Central Waterfront Plan, which upon adoption will regulate development for 118 acres of land around the intersections of South First Street, Barton Springs Road, Riverside Drive, and South Congress Avenue. The city envisions a walkable, transit-oriented district with a refurbished waterfront, relatively tall and dense buildings and affordable housing.

Council unanimously passed two resolutions Thursday directing City Manager Spencer Cronk to finalize the TIRZ framework. The resolutions also called for a TIRZ to be created in 2022 for Colony Park – another area long slated for tax increment financing. 

In a tax increment financing district – officially called TIRZ in Texas – the city channels increased property tax revenue from new development into improvements in the area like infrastructure and parks.

Once city staff finalizes the South Central Waterfront TIRZ, Council will officially put the district in place. Another update is expected Nov. 16, when Cronk plans to discuss how to implement the entire South Central Waterfront Plan, including adopting new zoning regulations in addition to the TIRZ and a host of other regulations. 

Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Kathie Tovo emphasized that finalizing the TIRZ is an urgent matter, with an end-of-year deadline looming. “Setting up the TIF has to happen by Dec. 31,” Mayor Steve Adler said, “or we have to wait an entire year again.” If Council misses the deadline, the city won’t be able to capture and direct tax revenue from new development until 2023. With new development imminent, meeting the deadline is paramount.

The redevelopment of the area’s most prominent tract – the Austin American-Statesman site – is working its way through the city’s review process. Lobbyist Richard Suttle, on behalf of Endeavor Real Estate, is shepherding a planned unit development proposal through boards and commissions ahead of a Council vote in the coming months. The parks board and the Environmental Commission discussed the PUD recently, and the Planning Commission will likely discuss it next month. 

While the idea of a redevelopment district along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake dates back at least two decades, it was only in 2016 that Council adopted a preliminary, non-binding South Central Waterfront ​​Vision Framework Plan.

Council nearly adopted the full South Central Waterfront Plan in 2020 as part of the Land Development Code rewrite, but when a judge struck the rewrite down, the plan was thrown into limbo. Even though the new LDC remains stuck in court, Council is proceeding with the plan as an amendment to the current LDC. Tovo called the delays “unfortunate,” adding that “we have not made the progress we need to.”

Council also discussed what kind of governance structure the TIRZ should have. Though Council will ultimately decide this later on, Council members sought clarity about the timing and their options. Typically, Council governs TIRZs in the city and allocates their property tax revenue, though Council could create a separate governmental entity. Council will likely choose a governance structure when it adopts the TIRZ.

Tovo closed out the discussion with another call for urgency. “Let’s get it done,” she said. 

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