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Brodie Oaks PUD gets Planning Commission approval

Friday, November 18, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Planning Commission recommended a proposal Tuesday to transform the Brodie Oaks Shopping Center at South Lamar and Loop 360 into a huge mixed-use development, paving the way for a City Council vote in the coming weeks.

The project would turn the 36.7-acre shopping center, with its expansive parking lots and partially vacant retail spaces, into 1.2 million square feet of office space, a 200-room hotel, 1,700 residential units, and 140,000 square feet of retail, including some for artists and local businesses. Around 200 of the residential units would be priced below market, at least 100 of those in a building developed by nonprofit Foundation Communities. 

A laundry list of environmental benefits are in the proposal, chief among them 13.2 acres of parks and open space. The open space would reduce the site’s impervious cover from 84 to 56 percent, meaning less runoff and pollution flowing down to fragile Barton Creek. 

The site will also provide public services for a rapidly growing part of town. An EMS and fire station is planned on-site, and Austin Energy wants to build a substation, though developer Barshop & Oles has not agreed to give the utility the 1 to 2 acres of land it says it needs. 

In order to make the project happen, the developer needs Council approval for Planned Unit Development zoning. The biggest change between the PUD and the site’s current commercial zoning is building height. The current zoning limits height to 35 to 60 feet, while the PUD would have height limits from 160 to 275 feet, with taller buildings closer to Loop 360. 

The height was a top concern among the four people who spoke in opposition Tuesday.

“Let me just talk about the elephant in the room: 275 feet on top of the Barton Creek Greenbelt,” Peter Hess with the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association said. “That’s really the big issue I have.”

David Armbrust, representing the property owner, said that the height is needed to make the project work financially and to decrease the impervious cover. Earlier this year, the project team set up temporary cranes to show how the buildings would appear from surrounding areas.

The Barton Hills Neighborhood Association opposes the project, as does Save Our Springs Alliance and the Austin chapter of the Sierra Club. Austin Parks Foundation and Hill Country Conservancy have expressed support.

Commissioner Claire Hempel motioned to recommend the PUD, following a failed motion by Commissioner Jennifer Mushtaler to deny the PUD.

“I think there’s been a tremendous amount of engagement work, careful negotiations, a lot of thought,” Hempel said. 

Mushtaler then proposed several amendments, including one that would have required the developer to buy conservation land somewhere in the Barton Springs watershed, something both Save Our Springs and the Sierra Club urge. Concerns about the cost of such a requirement caused the amendment to fail. “It feels like an unintentional poison pill,” Commissioner Greg Anderson said.

Mushtaler ended up joining a majority of the commission in support of the PUD. The vote was 8-1, with Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido against. 

If City Council approves the PUD early next year, groundbreaking on the first phase is planned for 2025, with construction lasting until 2027. Other phases do not have a timeline yet. Council plans to vote on the PUD on first reading Dec 1. Second and third readings are scheduled for January and February.

Photo caption: A conceptual rendering of the project shows green space along Barton Creek and buildings stepping up in height toward Loop 360, via the city of Austin.

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