Alamo Drafthouse's Baker Center project stalled after architect says affordable housing not guaranteed

Austin ISD's Baker Center was sold to Alamo Drafthouse on Nov. 27, 2017 for $10.6 million.

Austin ISD's Baker Center was sold to Alamo Drafthouse on Nov. 27, 2017 for $10.6 million.

The fate of the Baker Center, the former Austin ISD property purchased last fall by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for redevelopment, is now uncertain after a disagreement surfaced Tuesday night regarding the promise of on-site housing.

The property’s rezoning was a consent agenda item for the Planning Commission on Tuesday night. However, commissioners pulled the item for discussion after hearing of a discrepancy regarding housing for the project.

Richard Weiss, the architect representing Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on the project, told the commissioners that the proposal never guaranteed on-site housing as part of the property’s redevelopment. Rather, the guarantee was if the developer decided to build on-site housing, 25 percent of it would be affordable.

“There was no requirement to put housing on the site,” Weiss told commissioners. Weiss did not immediately return calls for comment.

However, Lorre Weidlich, a representative from the Hyde Park Neighborhood Contact Team — the group tasked with implementing the neighborhood plan — told commissioners that when she voted on the project back in December, it was under the impression that the project guaranteed on-site affordable housing.

Members of the commission said they were under the same impression, and expressed conviction that AISD sold the property to Alamo Drafthouse because the proposal included affordable housing that would be offered to AISD employees.

The AISD Board approved the $10.6 million sale of the property on Nov. 27, 2017. According to the agenda from that night, the board voted under the impression that Alamo Drafthouse’s redevelopment project would include affordable housing marketed to AISD employees and families with children.

“Alamo [Drafthouse] plans to develop single-family residences and has agreed at closing to file of record a declaration of restrictive covenant which requires [25 percent] of the residential units developed to be sold according to certain affordable housing guidelines and obligates Alamo to affirmatively market such units to employees of AISD and families with children attending AISD schools before marketing such units to the general public,” the agenda reads.

At its Dec. 4, 2017 meeting, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association voted 26-0 in favor of the project. David Conner, chair of the neighborhood association’s development committee, told Community Impact Newspaper that he voted with the understanding that the project would guarantee on-site affordable housing.

In the minutes from that meeting, Susan Marshall, the association’s co-secretary, wrote that the project included affordable housing that would first be marketed to AISD employees.

The Planning Commission voted to postpone the rezoning vote until March 13. Weiss consented to the postponement, but said that if the item did not reach City Council by March 22, the deal was likely off.


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