Austin City Council approved the controversial Plaza Saltillo development 7-4 in the wake of several deals and amendments made over the course of a three-hour debate that saw the project nearly crumble.
The initial deal at start the night called for turning the 11-acre tract just east of I-35 into mixed-use development apartments, retail and office space. The biggest question coming into the third and final reading was how much affordable housing the development would offer and what height would the tallest office building reach.
The application as approved in first two readings would provide 141 of the proposed 800 units—17.6 percent—as affordable, 41 of which would be floating and not confined to a single area in the development. The tallest office building would be capped at 70 feet, although Endeavor, the project’s developer, was pushing for a 125-foot cap.
The affordable housing caused concern among residents and council members. During the bidding process, neighborhood residents, news outlets and some city officials reported Endeavor offered 25 percent of its 800 residential units as affordable. However, Endeavor said that 25-percent deal had always come with a caveat—only 15 percent of the affordable units would come from Endeavor, and the final 10 percent would come from the city.
The building height also worried residents, who thought that a 125-foot building would begin the process of turning East Austin into downtown. District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria capped the height at 70 feet in the first two readings, even though the lower height cap would mean Capital Metro, the landowner, received a lower rent payment from Endeavor.
Renteria came back Thursday with the proposal to increase the height cap at 125 feet, and in turn Endeavor would make a $1,080,000 payment to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for additional housing to be built in the vicinity of the project.
After hours of debate, District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo said the affordable housing needed to appeal more to families, and she offered an amendment that 50 percent of the 41 floating affordable units be at least two bedrooms. Her amendment passed 6-5, momentarily killing the project as Endeavor said it could not continue under those provisions.
After further debate, Endeavor said they could provide 25 percent of the 41 units as two bedrooms if they chose to make the office building 125 feet. District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, who, along with other council members wanted to see the deal resuscitated, made the motion to accept Endeavor’s compromise, which narrowly passed 7-4, clearing the way for the Plaza Saltillo development to come to East Austin.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said the final deal required Endeavor to construct 25 percent of the floating affordable units with two or more bedroooms. That will only be required if the developer chooses to construct the 125-foot office building.