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Sixth Street reboot gets first Council OK to raise building heights

Wednesday, June 15, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

In one of the most significant moves to remake the city’s downtown entertainment district along East Sixth Street, a Dallas developer has received the first OK aimed at raising mixed-use buildings up to 140 feet high to the area.

Last week City Council voted 9-0 to move forward with a proposed amendment to the city’s Land Development Code that would increase the maximum building height along the historic section of East Sixth Street from its current limit of 45 feet. That change would allow Stream Realty Partners to selectively demolish and reconstruct some of the two-block string of properties it has acquired on the north side of Sixth between Neches and Sabine streets.

In all, Stream has acquired more than 30 storefronts in the district, with plans to find new hospitality business tenants, including restaurants, in some of those locations. On the two blocks covered by the Council action, the company has discussed its goal of building office and hotel uses that would bring daytime activity to the district largely dominated by nightlife businesses such as single-serve shot bars and nightclubs.

The resolution begins the process of amending the land code by directing the city manager and staff to draft the required language and create design standards that would preserve the character of the district and address Council’s goal of preserving any historic facades involved in redevelopment.

Successful amendments from Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the area in question, require the Historic Landmark Commission to make recommendations about the amendments before the Planning Commission reviews the item. Stream will also need to outline its commitments to improving the streetscape in the district, and provide a list of the demolitions it plans to conduct, with staff and the HLC weighing in on those actions.

Tovo, who abstained from the vote along with Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter, said Stream’s plans have the potential to bring much-needed change to Sixth Street as one possible solution to a series of shootings and other violent incidents in the past year-plus.

“I am intrigued by the proposal and I’ve met with the developer multiple times. I’m interested in seeing more details around the commitments they’ve said they’ll make to streetscape improvements,” Tovo said.

“Because (the code amendment) is being paired with some pretty extensive demolitions in our National Register historic district, I’m going to rely on our preservation community, from Preservation Austin to our landmark commission, to better understand what the impact is going to be on the historic character.”

Alter said she supported the goal of the proposed code amendment but was concerned that Tovo wasn’t among the sponsors of the resolution, which was led by Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.

“I’m really uncomfortable about an amendment and initiative of this magnitude being initiated by Council without the Council member whose district it’s in being part of the quorum. That’s not a precedent I am real comfortable with … people are elected to represent their district and they have special knowledge that on something of this magnitude should be part of what we see.”

Harper-Madison said that while there is much history and character that should be preserved in the entertainment district, the growing public safety issues make the changes proposed by Stream Realty an attractive possible solution.

“It’s had multiple identities over the past two centuries, and some of those things are not proud moments for the city of Austin,” she said. “I remember distinctly the moment where I decided it was not OK to bring my children downtown there after dark. I’d like for us to fix it and I think with all kinds of businesses that can activate the street day and night we’re more inclined to get closer to meeting that goal.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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