Photo by city of Austin
Mixed-use project with affordable units coming near Mueller, pending rezoning
Friday, April 29, 2022 by Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission Tuesday supported a rezoning request for a 143-unit, mixed-income, mixed-use development near the Mueller neighborhood.
The rezoning concerns two tracts: a 1.2-acre property at 2015 E M. Franklin Ave., home to Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, and a vacant 2.8-acre parcel at 2011 E.M. Franklin. The developer, Anmol Mehra, requests Neighborhood Commercial-Mixed use (LR-MU-NP) zoning on the smaller tract and Multifamily-Moderate Density (MF-4-NP) on the larger one.
The project includes a mix of missing-middle housing types, Conor Kenny, agent for the developer, said. All units will be for sale, and 20 or 30 percent of them will be priced affordably, depending on whether money from the city comes through. The affordable units will vary in price but on average will be affordable to those making 80 percent of the area median family income.
“This project on E.M. Franklin will focus on the middle class – the teachers, nurses, janitors, municipal employees, artists, first responders as well as those who have been displaced or are at risk of being displaced,” Mehra said. Kenny said even the market-rate units will be more affordable than anything for sale in East Austin today. The project will include an acre of park space and a coffee shop.
A conceptual site layout shows a variety of housing types on the site. Rendering via city of Austin.
In somewhat of a rarity for rezoning cases, over a dozen people spoke in favor. Neighbors and community leaders vouched for the developer’s bona fides and proactive neighborhood outreach. Some neighbors preferred the denser project over the expensive single-family homes sprouting up all over East Austin. “That’s not helping much of anyone in this city right now,” neighbor Matthew Welch said.
Around the same number of people spoke against the rezoning. Traffic was a key concern for these neighbors, especially since they say E.M. Franklin is already a busy street, with cars lining up halfway down the block during rush hour. Some feared the project would destroy a creek running along the property line. “I’m here to speak selfishly for the preservation of my creek and my wildlife who are voiceless,” Gayle Borst said. Kenny said the creek will not be harmed.
Neighbors also worried about the look of the neighborhood changing. “I am not opposed to a variety of housing in my neighborhood, just to make that clear,” Mary Summerall said. “But the part of the E.M. Franklin where I live is mostly single-family homes.” Some neighbors also opposed a dense project “mid-block,” noting that most dense development in Austin happens along major streets and away from single-family homes.
Over a two-hour hearing, the Planning Commission tried to assuage neighbors’ concerns about the development before voting 8-0-2 in favor of the rezoning, with commissioners Carmen Llanes Pulido and Solveij Rosa Praxis abstaining.
“We heard a lot of passionate people here tonight on both sides,” Commissioner Claire Hempel said. “I’m simply coming from a side of, we need housing. I think that the connectivity to the transportation nearby just makes a lot of sense for a development like this to happen,” she said, pointing to current and planned bus lines nearby.
Llanes Pulido said she abstained because of concerns that the development would increase gentrification and harm the creek and tree canopy. “It’s important to remember that we can’t get these things back,” she said of the site’s natural features.
The rezoning has a valid petition against it, meaning nine out of 11 City Council members will have to vote in favor for the rezoning to be approved. Without the rezoning, Kenny said to expect $1-million-plus single-family homes.
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