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Large housing development in the works on Barton Springs and Lamar

Monday, June 6, 2022 by Willow Higgins

Developers are looking to rezone a property currently home to the Bicycle Sport Shop on Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard. If successfully rezoned as a planned unit development, the lot would be redeveloped as a nine-story building with 400 residential units and a ground floor with mixed commercial use.

The project at 517 S. Lamar was presented to the Environmental Commission last week as an introduction, giving the commissioners an opportunity to provide their initial concerns before the item is posted for action at a later date. The commissioners had a considerable amount of feedback, raising questions about transportation access, parking, environmental concerns like planting trees and using sustainable building material, and safety concerns about building on a floodplain where the property is located.

“I’m going to address the elephant in the room – I mean, how will this affect Peter Pan Golf?” joked Environmental Commissioner Jennifer Bristol. Hopefully not at all, the meeting concurred.

While the plans for the potential development are still in the early phases, the residential portion of the project proposes providing at least 10 percent of the multifamily units for families earning less than 60 percent of the median income. Heather Chaffin from the city’s Housing and Planning Department, who presented the project alongside the applicant, explained several other components that their teams are grappling with. Ninety-five percent of the building’s parking is expected to be underground; the property’s impervious cover would be reduced by about 10 percent; overhead utilities that currently run along Lamar would be buried; and drainage and irrigation conditions, bike parking and landscaping standards are all intended to be improved.

The project, as currently designed, also includes things like allowing for increased building height and modifying scale.

“Well, I have a lot of issues,” Commissioner Pam Thompson said, in response to the presentation and the backup documentation for the project.

Thompson asked that the language used in the plan be made more definite so the city has a level of certainty in regards to the improvements promised.

“The other problem is the transportation – not knowing where the driveways are,” she said. “The transportation is a large chunk of land for driveways. So all of these other promises you’ve made to us about other things – and such – could go away depending upon what the Transportation Department requires of you for entrance and exit.”

“I’m especially concerned with, you say at one point that patrons of the project will have bike parking, and it still takes away 23 public bike parking spaces that are there and yet we don’t know what the corridor will require,” Thompson continued.

Many commissioners agreed with Thompson’s comments and expressed concerns about building a tall building on a floodplain and how exactly flood risks would be mitigated. But in general, the commissioners expressed a desire for more specifics on most of the bullet points before proceeding with a vote.

“You referenced that there are no trees on the (property) because it’s basically just a big parking lot,” Commissioner Richard Brimer said. “I’d be interested in understanding if you’re going to try to remedy that situation by landscaping, planting trees, or do anything to reduce the urban heat island effect; in a broad sense, beautification of the property and make it look like a more enticing area rather than just another skyscraper in downtown Austin.”

The applicant thanked the commission for all of the feedback and said the team would work on refining their proposal and return prepared with answers to their questions.

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