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Planning Commission OKs latest northwest downtown rezoning

Tuesday, February 15, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Planning Commission recommended approval last Tuesday of a rezoning to allow an office and residential building at 815 W. 11th St., adding to a list of developments planned for a sleepy, historic part of downtown.

The change from Limited Office (LO) zoning to Downtown Mixed-Use zoning with a 60-foot height limit (DMU-60) would allow three floors of offices and a fourth residential floor with two units. 

Land use lobbyist Leah Bojo, speaking on behalf of the applicant, highlighted the benefits of building more homes in a mostly commercial area. “At 5 o’clock and on weekends, (the neighborhood) clears out and becomes kind of a ghost town,” she said. “Adding residential units, even in small numbers, incrementally counters that condition, making for a safer and more vibrant neighborhood.”

Neighbors attested to the lack of activity, especially at night. “This area is actually so deserted that my fiancé doesn’t even really feel safe walking our dog on our block at night,” said Marshall Geyer, who is in favor of the rezoning. Geyer said the new development would help make the neighborhood “feel more like a community again, instead of an empty museum.”

Not everyone welcomed the rezoning. Donna Carter, owner of architecture firm Carter Design Associates, was the only person who spoke in opposition at the Feb. 8 meeting, though a few others also wrote to oppose the 60-foot height limit in favor of a 40-foot limit. 

Carter, whose office is next door, prefaced her opposition by saying, “I’m not the little old lady that says ‘not in my backyard’; I know this area will be mixed-use and will be more dense.” Carter is more concerned with older buildings being torn down, altering the neighborhood’s historic character, saying, “If we continue to tear these places down, we won’t have the context to think about our rich urban core.”

A run-down house currently occupies the 0.15-acre site. Though old, the house is not technically historic; the Historic Landmark Commission approved a permit to demolish it in 2020. The neighborhood is not a historic district, though it does contain many homes – mostly used as offices nowadays – that are listed as historic.

Carter said the rezoning contributes to “death by a thousand cuts” for the neighborhood. She argued that developers will justify more upzonings by pointing to previously approved upzonings nearby, creating a vicious circle.

A motion to recommend DMU-60 zoning passed 9-2-1. Commissioners Grayson Cox and Carmen Llanes Pulido voted against and Commissioner Jennifer Mushtaler abstained. Though Cox made a motion to recommend DMU-60 zoning with the condition that the landmark commission review the project’s site plan, city staffers said the commission cannot require such a review. City Council is scheduled to hear the case on March 3.

Several other residential projects are underway or planned in the neighborhood. Construction is set to finish this year on a microunit project by developer Transwestern at 817 W. 12th St., and Capitol Quarters at 1108 Nueces St. will be Austin’s first parking-free multifamily building, according to developer Jen Weaver. Planned projects include the 67-unit Shoal Cycle, also by Weaver, at 812 W. 11th St, and Annie B, a 300-unit apartment tower by developer Stratus Properties on the former Delta Kappa Gamma site at 416 W. 12th St. 

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