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Council considers Colony Park TIRZ ahead of expected approval

Friday, October 28, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

City Council appears ready to move forward next week with the creation of a property tax mechanism that will bring more than $80 million over 20 years to the Colony Park development in East Austin.

At Tuesday’s work session, staff from the Economic Development and Housing and Planning departments presented their proposal for using a tax increment reinvestment zone. The TIRZ will capture property taxes generated by the development of the 258-acre site, which is planned to eventually include more than 1,900 market-rate and affordable homes and apartments, mixed-use retail, office and institutional space, and 53 acres of open space.

Council is slated to vote on the TIRZ proposal next week, though further Council action will be needed in 2023 related to changes in density and the size of some of the homes in the project contained under a planned unit development framework.

The development has been a subject of discussion and planning in city circles for more than 20 years, and Catellus Development Corporation was eventually selected to lead its creation.

The TIRZ was needed as part of the $257 million capital stack for the project because of a $98.8 million funding gap that was made apparent over the summer. In addition to the $87 million expected from the TIRZ, the current financing plan includes $155 million from the sale of the developed land parcels, $5 million from the 2022 affordable housing bond, $6 million from city department capital budgets, and $10 million from a public improvement district Catellus will manage.

The project is expected to bring badly needed economic development resources to an area without ready access to banks, grocery stores, libraries and in many cases well-paying jobs.

Community activist Barbara Scott, who is among the residents pushing for the Colony Park project, said she is grateful it is about to receive long-awaited city approvals.

“This was our vision and we went on the premise that people without a vision perish, and our community was and it still is perishing. This will allow us to be able to continue to live in the area we love,” she said.

“Each of us here could have moved somewhere else, but we have stayed the course. We’ve been through two, actually three mayors and three Councils trying to get this done.”

Council members all spoke of their intent to support the TIRZ and financing plan next week. Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter said she’d like to know more about the funding forecast for the land sales, specific changes to the PUD guidelines, and how cost for public safety will be covered as the area grows.

Council Member Kathie Tovo said staff will need to ensure that assessments included in the public improvement district can be reduced for those living in affordable units. She also pushed for staffers to work with Catellus to include “right to return” considerations into housing in the project.

Council Member Pio Renteria said Colony Park is emblematic of how long the city takes to deliver badly needed housing and commercial projects to East Austin.

“The reality is that East Austin projects do take a lot of time and I remember when I was on the Community Development Commission discussing Colony Park in the 90s and early 2000s,” he said. “To get anything done in East Austin it usually takes 25 years or more, and we fought the same battle with Plaza Saltillo and the Mexican American Cultural Center, with 25 years to get those done.”

Colony Park rendering by Farr Associates.

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