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New PUD proposed for S. Congress has full roster of environmentally friendly features

Thursday, November 17, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council members got their first look at a proposed planned unit development to be built at 311-315 S. Congress Ave., next to the Statesman PUD.

Developers of the project, called the Firestone PUD after its current major occupant, are proposing a 400-foot tower to provide for approximately 450 multifamily residential units. The owners, Wesley H. Pearson and Jerry W. Pearson, envision 30,000 square feet of office space and 7,500 square feet of ground-floor pedestrian-oriented uses.

Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter led the meeting in the absence of Mayor Steve Adler, who was out of town on city business. Council Member Mackenzie Kelly was absent due to illness, Alter said.

Joi Harden of the Housing and Planning Department presented a project assessment report of the proposed PUD during Tuesday’s brief Council meeting. As Harden explained, city regulations require staff to present an assessment report to Council in the early stages of the zoning process.

In addition to the residential units and commercial space, developers are proposing a mix of below-grade and above-grade structured parking. They are seeking a floor area ratio of 15:1, according to documentation accompanying Harden’s report.

Because the applicants are proposing to go to 400 feet in height and gaining the additional density, in exchange they are offering to reserve 10 percent of the “bonus area” for residents earning 60 percent of the median family income. Those apartments will be available to low-income residents for a minimum of 40 years, according to documentation developers provided.

Upon hearing that, Council Member Kathie Tovo said she would like the applicants to provide a greater percentage for low-income renters. Given the big jump in height to 400 feet from the currently authorized height of 60 feet, Tovo said she would like to see more affordable units. Harden responded that the developers would be amenable to that: “They said this was a starting point.”

She explained that the development baseline is set on their existing entitlements, not the South Central Waterfront Vision Plan. Tovo requested that the South Central Waterfront Advisory Board have a briefing on the project, and Harden said staff would facilitate that.

Harden also reported that the proposed development would include 2,500 square feet of affordable commercial rental space for a local business or nonprofit organization for a period of 25 years. They will also be offering electric vehicle charging stations for 6 percent of the vehicle parking spaces, with wiring for 50 percent of the spaces at a later date. In addition, developers are offering to provide on-site showers for employees of the project. All of this is in support of the idea that the project is superior and deserves PUD zoning.

She also listed a number of environmental features the developers propose in order to show that they will have a superior project, including use of environmentally friendly building materials, such as low-carbon concrete, and construction of all occupied buildings to achieve a three-star rating in Austin’s Green Builder program.

Developers propose on-site water quality controls as well as off-site stormwater improvements for South Congress Avenue, planting native trees, including new street tree plantings, on-site irrigation of potable water using reclaimed water through the city’s purple pipe system, rainwater capture, solar power generation and use of integrated pest management.

The Environmental Commission has already reviewed the project and made several recommendations. Harden noted that the project will have an additional review by the Environmental Commission as well as the Planning Commission before returning to Council. The applicant is not asking for any environmental variances.

The property owners filed a development assessment request in March for an office development with ground-floor pedestrian-oriented uses. However, that plan did not include the multifamily residential component. At the end of July, they filed the revised development assessment application that Harden presented Tuesday. Amanda Swor of the Drenner Group is representing the applicants.

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