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Council approves St. Elmo zoning with promise of affordable housing

Tuesday, March 29, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council gave its final blessing Thursday for a new multifamily complex in the St. Elmo area as developers promised that 10 percent of the 370 rental units would be affordable for families earning 60 percent of the median family income. They also promised that 10 percent of units for sale would be offered at below-market rates for those who qualify.

Neighbors opposing the new development at 4700 Weidemar Lane gathered enough signatures for a valid petition, so nine votes were needed to grant the new zoning.

As he did in January during first reading of the ordinance, Council Member Pio Renteria voted against the zoning change, which was proposed in his District 3. Council Member Mackenzie Kelly joined him, so developers needed the votes of the remaining nine members of Council to move forward.

Staff had recommended the zoning change, saying the multifamily land use would act as a buffer between commercial properties along Interstate 35 and the single-family residential uses to the west of the property. In the report on the project, they concluded, “The proposed apartments could provide additional housing choices for people in Austin.” The Planning Commission recommended the zoning change in December.

Paul Shepherd, who works for the developer, said his company Legacy would offer 150 units for sale. Ten percent of those units would be divided between those affordable for families earning 80 percent of the median family income and families earning 100 percent of the median family income. He noted that his company is partnering with an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity called HomeBase. The units are anticipated to be affordable for 99 years, according to Alice Glasco, who represented the developer.

Glasco said, “We’ve met eight times with the neighbors and the contact team since 2020. So we’ve been at this journey for a long time. During our eight meetings, several concerns were raised,” and the developer attempted to address each of them. Since neighbors were concerned about their privacy, the developer would be creating a 30-foot vegetative buffer between the new development and older homes. Glasco also noted that the developer had agreed to limit the height of the project to 60 feet instead of the 71 feet originally requested.

Mario Cantu, representing the South Congress neighborhood contact team, asked Council not to approve the change. He cited the 0.7-mile distance from the site to a bus stop as a factor making the location unsuitable for a multifamily property. In addition to the distance, Cantu said area sidewalks are substandard and it would be difficult to walk to the bus stop. He also complained that there are two natural gas lines crossing the property, saying development would increase the danger from those gas lines to nearby residents.

Engineer Clayton Strolle had an answer for concerns about the gas lines. When he addressed Council, Strolle reported that he had been in conversations with Texas Gas Service. “We’ve determined one of the gas lines is abandoned and is no longer in use,” while the other gas line was not a high-pressure line, though it does serve the community. Texas Gas Service is currently in the design phase to relocate the gas line away from the property and into the right of way, he said.

Elizabeth McFarland with Trammell Crow Residential referred to Cantu’s remarks about connectivity, saying the company would be upgrading the roads and planned to add sidewalks.

Council did not discuss the item individually, but approved it on consent with Kelly and Renteria voting no.

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