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Planning Commission supports rezoning for mixed-use development on East 12th

Thursday, May 25, 2023 by Jonathan Lee

A new mixed-use development is in the works on East 12th Street. The Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended approval of a rezoning that would allow taller and denser buildings on two properties at 3117 and 3121 E. 12th St.

Developer Geyser Group hopes to add Vertical Mixed-Use (CS-MU-V-CO-NP) zoning on the properties, which total 1 acre, in order to build an 80- to 100-unit multifamily development with ground-floor retail. 

The request also includes removing a 40-foot height limit on the properties. While VMU zoning allows buildings up to 90 feet tall, compatibility regulations may prevent a future project from reaching that height. The project would include some affordable units if it utilized the VMU density bonus.

The prospect of denser development drew opposition from neighbors, and several spoke against the rezoning on Tuesday. Neighbors generally supported some kind of development on the mostly vacant site, but they expressed concern over the scale the building could reach. 

“I will have this monstrosity of a building looking down into my backyard,” Seth Wilkerson said.  

Neighbors argued that the rezoning should adhere to the Rosewood Neighborhood Plan, which calls for buildings no more than 40 feet tall along East 12th. 

“The investors were aware of the existing overlay when the property was purchased, and they should abide by the neighborhood plan that exists to serve as an outline for future development in our neighborhood,” Wilkerson said. 

City staffers support the rezoning. Jonathan Tomko with the Planning Department called the 40-foot height limit “too restrictive” for the area. Two neighbors also wrote in support. 

The neighbors in opposition also questioned whether the developer Geyser Group would actually build a project or just sell the land after getting the rezoning – a trend they said they have seen with other developers in East Austin.

“Do not allow speculators to continue getting fed,” Chris Page said. 

If the development does go forward, however, Page and others argued that it would lead to further gentrification and displacement in the neighborhood.

In response to accusations of speculation, land use attorney Michael Whellan, representing Geyser Group, touted the developer’s track record of building similar developments like The Johnny, a 76-unit project recently completed in the Highland neighborhood, and The Goodwin, a 363-unit project under construction at Airport Boulevard and Springdale Road.

Whellan did not share additional details about what is planned on the site. He said the developer wants to get the rezoning before hiring expensive architects and civil engineers to draft plans. 

Commissioners voted 9-0 to support the rezoning, and some pushed back against the neighborhood opposition. 

“Sometimes we’re a bit more afraid of a tall building than we are a lack of housing in Austin,” said Commissioner Greg Anderson, who motioned to approve the rezoning.

Anderson added that the commission should not use a neighborhood plan crafted in 2002 to guide zoning decisions today. 

“The neighborhood plan is old enough to drink alcohol,” he said.

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