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Council approvals move Colony Park toward reality, with more density expected

Friday, November 4, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The long-gestating Colony Park development project took major steps forward Thursday with City Council’s passage of four items related to the master development agreement and the creation of a critical financing mechanism for the $257 million project.

Council unanimously passed all four agenda items. One item provided up to $2.6 million in reimbursement expenses to Catellus Development Corporation while the company and city work to complete the final details of the development agreement. Another item provided up to $331,000 for legal services from the firm of Steptoe & Johnson related to the negotiation of the master development agreement.

Two other items amended city ordinances to create the tax increment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ, that will generate more than $80 million needed to complete the project that 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 on 258 acres of city-owned land in East Austin.

The approvals were seen as a milestone for East Austin residents who had doggedly pursued the advancement of the project that is expected to bring significant economic and social momentum to a part of the city that is lacking in basic resources.

In a press conference before Thursday’s meeting, Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison praised the many community activists who “advocated for themselves persistently” to keep Colony Park alive in political circles as other ambitious development projects around the city moved forward with more momentum.

“The city has very long been promising change but the plans have been stuck in what came out to be a 20-year holding pattern,” she said. “Ten years ago the city of Austin started a three-year planning process that created the Colony Park Sustainable Community Vision … $250 million would go to create new jobs, services, and housing and amenities across more than 200 acres of city-owned land, but as many other projects moved forward, Colony Park in many ways stalled out.”

Harper-Madison and other local leaders faced another roadblock this spring when city staff revealed that a funding gap of nearly $100 million could derail the Colony Park plan. That gap was overcome with the proposal for the TIRZ as well as some alterations to the project, including an increase in housing density that is still being discussed and negotiated as part of the planned unit development framework.

Prior to the vote, Harper-Madison discussed the many opportunities and activities that would continue to move into the area as mass transit infrastructure is gradually extended in the coming years.

Barbara Scott, who has been one of the most vocal advocates for the Colony Park area, said the project can serve as an example for how the city should interact with the community in the future.

“We as a community have fought tirelessly for this day. When this project started we decided to make this a project that has been done differently than any other project has been done in Austin, and that was to be community-led and to bring to our community what we needed, not what we were told we needed,” she said. “We have changed how Austin does business when it comes to communities of color. It has taken us 12 years. There is absolutely no need for it to have taken this long to get funding for a project that is only going to make our community better and make Austin a better place to live.”

Mayor Steve Adler said the progress on Colony Park will help to make the city “a little bit more fair” for residents who have long petitioned for more resources and community investment.

“This step, long-awaited, is going to transform a historically underinvested part of Austin into one that has access to much-needed resources and services, affordable housing and all of the other promises that are Austin,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Colony Park rendering by Farr Associates.

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