Austin preparing to turn 5.5-acre Ryan Drive storage lot into housing, parkland development

The 5.5-acre property at 6909 Ryan Drive has been used as an Austin Energy storage site for years. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
The 5.5-acre property at 6909 Ryan Drive has been used as an Austin Energy storage site for years. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

The 5.5-acre property at 6909 Ryan Drive has been used as an Austin Energy storage site for years. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

After years of snags and extended deadlines, the city will soon begin its search for a developer to turn the 5.5-acre, city-owned property at 6909 Ryan Drive, long used as an Austin Energy storage site, into a housing, parkland and transit-oriented development.

Located at the southeastern corner of the Crestview Neighborhood—just west of North Lamar Boulevard, at the corner of Justin Lane and Ryan Drive—the essentially empty lot has long been an eyesore for the area. The city purchased the lot in 1997, which Austin Energy has since used for storage.

A community process began in 2017 to transform the city property into a community development that incorporates housing, parkland, and its proximity to the CapMetro Crestview MetroRail and bus station. That community engagement process produced a baseline of what the community wants to see for the site and what the city will require when accepting developer proposals:

  • at least 300 housing units, 50% of which are subsidized and offered as affordable for lower-income residents;

  • at least 1.25 acres of the property must be dedicated to parkland or open space;

  • pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure that connects to Crestview Station; and

  • at least 7,000 square feet dedicated to creative, community commercial or multipurpose community space.

Although the city outlined five scenarios for the site’s use during the community engagement process, the city, heading into its requests for proposals, decided to only outline minimum amenities agreed upon by the community and not prescribe specific design standards, allowing prospective developers to get creative in how to bring the project to fruition.

Anne-Charlotte Patterson, the vice president of the Crestview Neighborhood Association who helped facilitate the community engagement and working group process, called the potential of seeing a neighborhood lot evolve from a storage space into a community-centered project "extremely positive."

"We feel that this development can be a model for development of city land in Austin," Patterson said. "We understood as a neighborhood that you could maximize profits if it was just office space and condos, but this has such a nice mix of amenities and affordable housing. This can provide a roadmap for larger developments in the city."

District 7 City Council Member Leslie Pool said the future vision for the property had long been “a flashpoint” among neighbors. She said the city moving toward its search for developers represented a “culmination of a whole lot of hope and effort on the neighborhood’s part.”

Similar to the city’s years-in-the-making St. Johns development, located less than 2 miles away, the Ryan Drive property carries bond debt the developer has to pay off. The city bought the property in 1997 with city bond dollars approved specifically for Austin Energy. To develop the property, the chosen developer will have to pay the city back the $2.9 million it used to purchase the property more than 20 years ago.

According a 2018 report on the community process, the city initially intended to begin its search for a developer in 2018. City Council then directed city staff to issue proposal requests by August 2019; however, staff requested an 11-month deadline extension, during which the city received consultation on planning the development and deepened its community engagement efforts, Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, the acting director of the Austin Economic Development Department, told City Council in an Aug. 25 memo.

Holt-Rabb said the city will issue its official requests for proposals in “the coming months” and bring the recommended proposal to City Council for approval by mid-2021, after which the city would negotiate a deal with the developer.