A presentation on redevelopment plans from property owner Eureka Development Group came less than one week after City Council signed off on a controversial update to plans regarding land use in the area. That issue had split area residents in recent months over proposed revisions to East 12th Street's Neighborhood Conservation Combining District, or NCCD—a localized city development plan—and what kind of related change, if any, the historic neighborhood's residents want to see.
An NCCD amendment that would potentially allow for more cocktail lounges on East 12th attracted the most criticism during the plan's approval process. That addition was proposed by District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents the area, and caused many residents to express concern that redevelopment could turn the area into an entertainment district with a wave of new bars. Council approved the updated NCCD in a 9-0-2 vote Sept. 15.
While no Eureka representatives attended, the city Urban Renewal Board on Sept. 19 heard from the redevelopment team regarding their vision for the district. Rebecca Leonard, founder of the urban design firm Lionheart Places, and Joe Garza with the civil engineering firm GarzaEMS detailed outlines of several proposals for Eureka's holdings in the area.
The developer's plans center around five main projects along the corridor, each including a mix of residential and commercial components alongside parking space. According to Garza and Leonard, current plans include:
- East 12th Street at Olander Street: 73,000 square feet of residential space with 108 units, 6,000 square feet of commercial space
- East 12th Street at Navasota Street: 53,000 square feet of residential space with 75 units, 10,000 square feet of commercial space
- East 12th Street at Comal Street: 6,000 square feet of commercial space behind Hurdle House, parking across the street at Comal and East 13th Street
- 1500 E. 12th St.: 86,000 square feet of residential space with 126 units, 20,000 square feet of commercial space
- East 12th Street at Chicon Street: 40,000 square feet of residential space with 50 units, 3,000 square feet of commercial space
Garza said several of the developments will also include multistory parking garages. And while each project will feature a mix of uses, Leonard said Eureka does not plan to apply for the city's vertical mixed-use zoning designation to build any taller than is currently allowed.
Eureka is looking to stay entirely within the confines of the sites' current zoning—and had planned for projects that would have fit the previous NCCD as well—therefore eliminating public hearings from the process, she said. However, the team welcomed feedback from area residents as the initiative moves along.
While already home to some larger developments such as Angelina+12, the scope of Eureka's vision in a predominantly single-family area led to several questions about the effects of the new projects on the existing neighborhood. Board members also referenced its status as an African American cultural district, including the approximately 6-square-mile "negro district" laid out in Austin's racist 1928 master plan that many Black residents were forced to move into—the effects of which the city is still seeking to quantify.
“You talk about the history of this area, especially Six Square. Isn’t that kind of changing everything as far as what 12th Street has looked like historically?” Commissioner Nathaniel Bradford asked.
Leonard said Eureka is hoping to balance some of that history with the current desires of the community, which she said includes a diverse mix of housing alongside commercial spaces. She also said multifamily housing became a focus given the likely cost of sticking to single-family homes alone.
"I think this would have been a single-family area here, and I don’t believe that that’s really what the future is looking for. Because to put single-family here would mean that they were high-end luxury single-family homes," she said.
On the divisive topic of the new cocktail lounge use, Leonard said Eureka did not craft its vision with the intention of bringing any more bars to the block—although plans could change.
“I will say that that was not a guiding principle for them, was making this whole street an entertainment district. This is was mostly about creating a community here," she said. "They have supported Council Member Harper-Madison’s motion, but that was never driving the train on any of this and these site plans didn’t have that as an intended use either. I don’t know what the future holds, though.”
Leading up to council's September NCCD vote, many East Austinites questioned the role of the local land-use update in anticipation of Eureka's redevelopment work. The revised NCCD including the conditional cocktail lounge use was also supported by many residents who said allowing more types of businesses, not less, could help boost the local economy and community.
“The first question that many African Americans ask when they come to town is, ‘Where are Black people?’ And we have continued to be erased and displaced, uprooted communities, moved around. Sort of death by 1,000 policy cuts over a long timeline," Bini Coleman said Sept. 15. "11th and 12th street being historically African American is sort of a last place where we can preserve something for us. It doesn’t have to be just a bar. This is for a sophisticated crowd of professionals and leaders who would like a place to go and connect with each other."
Similar sentiments were shared by others including Harold McMillan, an architect of the African American cultural district concept there, and Danny Thompson, a local musician who said that promoting the area's culture is key to its success. On the flip side, many other longtime community members criticized the process that opened the door for more bars, the potential for disruption in the area, and what kind of change Eureka might bring.
"We are a district that is frustrated and angry. I feel like our corridor is being held hostage by a developer. We’ve been living with a lot of vacant lots showcasing outdoor live music events on this developer’s property. Enforcement can’t help," said Susan Oringer. "This will bring more displacement, not housing."
Before council's final vote, Harper-Madison said her decision to include cocktail lounges as a conditional use stemmed from community input during the NCCD process, and that she hopes the adjusted plans will help revive the area.
“This is a part of town that has been severely harmed by intentional policies like the so-called Urban Renewal Plan, and this is our opportunity to correct mistakes of history. To revitalize a major section of the African American Cultural Heritage District, align the land use with the cultural district’s goals, and to encourage a mixed-use walkable neighborhood for people of all income levels," Harper-Madison said.
The NCCD now allows cocktail lounges as a conditional use, meaning any new bars would have to move through a public approval process with approval on a case-by-case before opening, she said.
“This is not an easy or simple, or frankly, rubber-stamping process and it involves a lot of community engagement. Rather than a top-down wholesale decision by council, I do think this empowers the neighborhood to determine amongst themselves what is or isn’t welcome in their own community," Harper-Madison said.