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Affordable housing for survivors of domestic violence planned near Mueller

Friday, September 16, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Planning Commission unanimously supported a rezoning Tuesday for a mixed-use project that includes affordable housing for survivors of domestic violence. 

The project, developed by Capital A Housing, is slated for several lots at 5107-5115 Lancaster Court, near Mueller. Plans include two buildings, each about 65 feet tall. 

One of the buildings will have 60 affordable housing units for women and children fleeing domestic violence or sexual assault. The SAFE Alliance nonprofit will own and manage the units and provide services and security for residents. 

The other building includes 23 residential units, three of them below market rate, above 16,000 square feet of office space. Engineering firm Civilitude (Capital A’s parent company) plans to move into the office space. 

In order to build the project, Capital A requests Vertical Mixed-Use (GR-MU-V-NP) zoning to increase the allowable building coverage. The current zoning is Neighborhood Office-Mixed Use (NO-MU-NP) and Multifamily-Medium Density (MF-3-NP). 

Applicant Conor Kenny said without the zoning change there would be fewer units. “That would be 20 to 30 fewer families with children who you know would have support here,” he said.

The project will contribute to the city’s goal to house 3,000 people experiencing homelessness within three years. SAFE’s permanent supportive housing is funded with money from Travis County, the city of Austin and private donors. 

Neighbors have mixed views on the rezoning. While the Windsor Park Neighborhood Plan Contact Team has voted in support, four neighbors spoke against the rezoning at the Planning Commission. Concerns included traffic, the project’s lack of parking and the prospect of a five-story building dominating the area.

Jamie Nielson said because the project includes less parking than typically required, cars will clog Lancaster Court. “It’s gonna make this street virtually impassable for most of the day,” he said. 

The mixed-use building includes two stories of parking – enough for SAFE staff, Civilitude employees and residents in the market-rate units, Kenny said. SAFE residents typically don’t need parking. “They are almost uniformly without cars. These are people in pretty deep poverty,” he said. Minimum parking requirements do not apply since the project plans to participate in Affordability Unlocked, a density bonus program.

Steele Meisinger, another neighbor, said, “We completely understand the need for affordable housing, but it’s the sheer scale of this project that is incredibly inappropriate.” She and others worried that the five-story buildings would loom over adjacent properties, which include single-family homes, apartments and offices.

“It’s not perfect,” Kenny responded, “and I certainly understand some of the sentiments that have been expressed tonight. But if we as a community are going to do something about the crisis that we’re in, we have to pick sites and we have to take those that are available.” 

After questions, the commission voted 8-0, with several members absent, to recommend approval of the rezoning. The case now goes to City Council for final approval on Sept. 29.

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