In the wake of several postponements since Dec. 15, Austin City Council says it will hear the second reading of the controversial Austin Oaks planned unit development at its Thursday meeting.

Council said it will revisit the PUD rezone request approved in a 7-1-1 vote on a first reading in December no later than directly after its 5:30 p.m. dinner break Thursday, March, 23. Following three postponements, the council was set to hear the item on March 2, but it was subjected to a fourth postponement after debate over Plaza Saltillo—another controversial zoning case—nearly took the council to midnight.

The applicant Spire Realty seeks to turn an underused office park at the southwest corner of MoPac and Spicewood Springs Road into a roughly 1 million-square-foot office, hotel, retail, and apartment development that proposes 865,900 square feet of office space, 12,800 square feet of restaurant space and 90,000 square feet of hotel space. The plan also includes 200 apartments, 10 percent of which have been offered at 60 percent of the median family income for renters, and 80-percent MFI for ownership. The development will also provide 8.5 acres of dedicated parkland, and the developer will provide $1.5 million for the development of a neighborhood park.

Traffic concerns take center stage
During Tuesday’s work session, District 10 Council Member Alison Alter stated she would continue her push to increase the developer’s responsibility for traffic mitigation, which she said is the focal concern of residents in the area. Alter said a failure to fully mitigate traffic concerns could have a ripple effect throughout the city.

“If we do not address traffic, we will potentially be causing problems throughout our system which we’ve been working so hard to improve,” Alter said.

City staff has identified slightly more than $2 million in traffic improvements that would be necessary in the wake of the PUD. The city uses a pro-rata method in requiring the developer to fund traffic mitigation for developments, which equates the financial responsibility to the amount the development contributes to traffic issues. In this case, staff recommends the developer pay $628,000–or just over 31 percent. The Zoning and Platting Commission recommended $805,000 while Alter is pushing for the full $2 million.

Casar won't budge on doubling affordable housing 

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar doubled down on his desire to at least double the amount of affordable housing offered by the developer. Of the 200 residential units proposed—a number Alter said “mysteriously” decreased from 250—20 are pegged as income-restricted, with the requirement that 50 percent be two-bedroom units.

Casar offers five options for obtaining an additional 25– to 140 percent affordable units at 60– and 80 percent of the area’s median family income. The moderate option adds a floor of height to the site’s residential building to accommodate five more affordable units. The more extreme amendment calls for added height to three of the existing buildings, construction of an additional residential building, 40,000 additional square feet of office space and the removal of the 90,000 square feet of hotel space in exchange for 28 more affordable units.

On Tuesday, Casar said he is less concerned with the path the council takes to doubling the amount of affordable units, rather just that they get there.

Passage will require a supermajority

The Austin Oaks PUD follows the hotly contested Grove at Shoal Creek project, which took a year of deliberation, public hearings, and mediation over which to reach an agreement. The Austin Oaks project has been discussed for more than two years. Spire’s original proposal, which included 17-story buildings, was largely objected by surrounding neighbors. However, in 2015, the developer agreed to work with the neighbors in designing a new development.

The new proposal splits the surrounding neighbors in support. Members of the Northwest Austin Civic Association support the project as proposed, however, a valid petition was filed with more than 27 percent of surrounding neighbors objecting the development. The objectors, as Alter said, focused their opposition on traffic and environmental issues. The valid petition means at least nine votes will be required for the zoning change to pass.

Thursday's other agenda highlights include:

  • Item 11–Execution of a $276,431 contract for the design and planning of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center

  • Items 12 and 13–Execute two contracts totaling between $7 million and $9 million for 2016-18 Quarter Center Projects in all 10 districts. Quarter Cent Projects involve necessary efforts to make the city more handicap-friendly.

  • Item 14–Execution of a $5 million contract to construct the Onion Creek Fire and Emergency Medical Service Station

  • Items 15-17 and 45–Execute contracts totaling over $8 million relating to issues with the Austin Police Department’s DNA testing. Contracts relate to consulting services and an agreement with the Texas Department of Public Safety to effectively take over the city’s forensics lab.

  • Item 18–Discussion related to laying out the process for hiring a new city manager

  • Items 20 and 21–Authorizing the expenditure of $3.9 million to purchase nine properties in Districts 1 and 10 in high risk of flooding.

  • Item 23–Authorize Endeavor, the developer of Plaza Saltillo, to make a $470,000 fee-in-lieu payment necessary for office project to participate in city’s density program

  • Item 34–Authorization of a $30 million purchase of electric meters for Austin Energy customers. The meters will help provide service and are in response to Austin’s growth and maintenance needs, which includes an expected increase in solar installations.

  • Item 40–Authorize three contracts with Car2Go, ReachNow and ZipCar for implementation of a citywide car-sharing program.

  • Item 42–Authorize 10, 12-month contracts, totaling $3.8 million to continue Austin Energy’s weatherization program, which helps low-moderate income families make homes more energy efficient.

  • Item 52–Direct city manager to explore options to repurpose properties at 1215 Red River St. and 606 E. 12th St., formerly occupied by HealthSouth. Tuesday’s work session discussion focused on the possibility of making these affordable housing sites.

  • Item 53–Resolution to direct city support of cooperatively-owned businesses.

  • Item 54–Resolution to direct city’s support and promotion of women’s equality.

  • Item 62–Public hearing to consider support of an application to Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to construct an affordable multifamily development near the intersection of Old Manor Road and Springdale Road, in District 1.

  • Item 63–Public hearing on the pending decision to allow for the development of Barton Creek Trailhead Restroom in Zilker Park.

  • Item 64–Motion to adopt the Austin Strategic Housing Plan

  • Item 83–Austin Oaks PUD zoning case

  • Items 84 and 85River Place Autism Center and 82-home development zoning case