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Environmental Commission endorses Brodie Oaks PUD with caveats

Monday, November 7, 2022 by Nina Hernandez

The Environmental Commission voted Wednesday to recommend the Brodie Oaks planned unit development that would redevelop the 37.6-acre tract of land on the corner of South Lamar and South Capital of Texas Highway. The recommendation, which will be passed up to the city’s Planning Commission for consideration, comes with caveats regarding building height, light pollution and bird strike mitigation.

The shopping center that once housed Toys R Us is listed as an activity center in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. That means it has the potential for water quality improvement in the environmentally sensitive recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The current development is not compliant with the Save Our Springs Ordinance water quality standards, and in order to be approved the new development will need to be deemed environmentally superior.

According to the staff presentation, the proposal will cluster impervious cover away from the Barton Creek Greenbelt, restore 2 acres of the tract to native vegetation, provide 100 percent green stormwater infrastructure for water quality controls, offer rainwater harvesting and superior tree protections, exceed landscaping requirements, and comply with Austin Green Building 3-star rating standards.

Impervious cover on the site will decrease from 84 to 56 percent, rainwater will be used to offset potable water demands for irrigation, and retaining walls will be removed from the greenbelt edge to restore a natural grade.

The applicant is proposing four changes to the city’s environmental code including modification of the sections governing cut-and-fill requirements, critical environmental features and pollution prevention.

Commissioners voted to recommend the PUD and the code changes, despite concerns surrounding the preservation of Airman’s Cave, light pollution and bird strike mitigation, and maximum building height.

In response to concerns about the stability of Airman’s Cave, staff cited a geologist report that shows the thick layer of clay separating the cave from the surface has thus far protected the cave’s structural integrity. The project requires the applicant to maintain a geologist on-site during the excavation process to alert the developer if anything changes or any new caverns are discovered.

“There’s 60-80 feet of clay on most of the site between the surface and the cave below, and we’re committing to only go as deep as we need to (and) always protecting at least 20 feet of that,” Rebecca Leonard, agent for the applicant, said.

Chair Kevin Ramberg encouraged the applicant to look into a bird collision deterrence credit awarded to another proposal that might help alleviate concerns about bird strikes and reflectivity. He and Commissioner Richard Brimer asked the applicant to go above and beyond local regulations and consider implementing International Dark Sky Association guidelines for outdoor lighting.

In response to questions about height, property owner John Schaefer said he has worked with neighbors to address concerns and all neighbors he’s talked to have not been against the proposed height. The max 275 feet height would apply only to the building closest to the Capital of Texas Highway.

“We feel we’ve got a project that has the density it needs to be able to do all the things we want to do and that the city wants us to do,” Schaefer said. “It kind of gets down to at what point the straw breaks the camel’s back; where it just doesn’t make sense to do it and (we) just leave it like it is now.”

To alleviate those and other concerns, the commission requests the applicant work to reduce the maximum building height to lessen “canyon effect” and bird strikes; use Dark Skies best practices for outdoor lighting; use bird-friendly glass; require on-site energy creation and combined heating and cooling systems; include additional electrical vehicle charging access in its parking; include pollinator gardens to support monarch butterflies and other pollinators; prevent trash from entering Barton Creek Greenbelt; include restrooms, natural play areas and dog wash stations at the neighborhood park; and work with staff to further reduce impervious cover.

“I do think it’s a very exciting project, a very interesting project,” Ramberg said. “It will be a better site than what is out there now from a stormwater protection and collection standpoint. Please keep going. Please keep working.”

Last month, the Parks and Recreation Board voted unanimously to recommend the PUD as superior, pending compliance with recommendations concerning parking and public access. The Planning Commission will take up the case on Nov. 8 and City Council is due to consider it in December.

Rendering by Lionheart Overland via the city of Austin.

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