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Council to establish consistent practices for redeveloping city-owned land

Monday, December 12, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

City Council passed multiple resolutions this month aimed at guiding how the city manages the land it owns, particularly with an eye toward creating more affordable housing and other community benefits.  

On Dec. 1, Council passed four resolutions, all sponsored by Council Member Kathie Tovo, to establish consistent and transparent practices for the use of city-owned land. Each tackled a different piece of the city’s land management strategy, including:

  • Establishing goals for redevelopment and public-private partnerships on city-owned land, and when and how Council and community members should be involved
  • Designating the Austin Economic Development Corporation as a partner organization on redevelopment projects on city-owned land
  • Putting in place a consistent strategy for leasing city-owned facilities
  • Creating a parking management plan for city garages that increases revenue for the city and aligns with climate and mobility goals 

Council also considered a fifth resolution on Dec. 8 aiming to solidify other city land management practices, but it failed to pass. 

The resolutions come as redevelopment on city-owned land becomes a bigger priority. Several mixed-use projects with affordable housing are in various phases of planning, and candidates for mayor and City Council have put city-owned land redevelopment at the foreground of their affordable housing platforms.

As of 2016, the city owns 3,412 parcels worth over $6 billion, according to a white paper by the Real Estate Council of Austin. Though the city has broadly recognized the potential city-owned land holds, it has yet to establish consistent processes for when and how land is used and redeveloped. 

Tovo’s resolutions underwent many revisions in recent months, with Council members as well as city staff disagreeing on their scope and language. In late October, city staffers said they could not support an initial draft in part because of “the speed at which this broad-reaching resolution is moving and a concern for not providing a thorough review.” Tovo later split the initial resolution into five separate documents. 

By December, staffers were satisfied, but some Council members worried that Tovo’s resolutions were too prescriptive.

Mayor Steve Adler made substantial amendments to Tovo’s resolutions to allow city staffers more flexibility in their recommendations to Council. For example, Adler struck language by Tovo that developments on publicly owned land should aim to have at least 85 percent of their units as affordable.

“We’ve seen a lot of properties that the city owns, you just can’t get to 85 percent,” he said, arguing that the city should just try to maximize the number of affordable units. 

Adler’s amendments were enough to get most members on board for four of the resolutions, but failed to satisfy concerns for the fifth one, with only five members – Tovo, Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Vanessa Fuentes and Mayor Steve Adler – voting in support Thursday.

Tovo said the resolution included “very simple items,” some of which were already informal practices. 

Even though the last resolution failed, city staffers will be hard at work over the next several months crafting recommendations based on the other resolutions. Council expects staffers to present their recommendations by June of next year. And in the meantime, planning for existing projects on city-owned land will continue.

Council on Dec. 1 identified four city-owned properties to consider for redevelopment in the near future: 505 Barton Springs Road, 124 W. Eighth St., 3002 Guadalupe, and 411 Chicon. The Austin EDC will be in charge of those projects. 

Other projects also made progress in recent weeks. On Thursday, Council initiated negotiations over a master-development agreement for a city-owned property in the St. Johns neighborhood, where affordable housing, commercial space and a park are planned. 

Colony Park, another long-awaited project on city-owned land, got a big boost last month with the approval of a tax-increment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ, to finance infrastructure for the 258-acre development. Plans include 1,900 residential units, some affordable, as well as commercial, office and institutional uses, and parkland. 

Additional projects on city-owned land include Crestview Village at 6909 Ryan Drive, HealthSouth at 1215 Red River St. and 606 E. 12th St., and Seabrook Square at 3515 Manor Road.

Photo by LoneStarMike, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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