Vacant property on East 12th Street could soon welcome dozens of apartments and street-level retail space after the Austin Planning Commission signed off on a rezoning request for the project.

In a nutshell

The rezoning of 3117-3121 E. 12th St. and a related amendment to the Rosewood Neighborhood Plan passed through the commission May 23 in a unanimous vote.

The East 12th site just off Airport Boulevard is vacant. The planning update, if approved by City Council, would consolidate varied zoning across the properties and allow for redevelopment under Austin's vertical mixed-use, or VMU, program centered on residential and commercial uses with affordable housing.

Land use attorney Michael Whellan said initial project plans call for about 80 residences with a mix of bedroom counts situated above 1,500 square feet of retail space. Whellan said development could take place under the expanded VMU2 program, which city officials finalized last year, meaning the project could get a height bump in exchange for affordable housing.

While VMU and VMU2 grant additional building height, the East 12th site is still constrained by Austin's compatibility limits and couldn't reach the 90-foot maximum available under the development program. Even with a zoning change, much of the property would still be limited to the 40- to 60-foot height range.

VMU2 calls for either 12% of units to be available at or below 60% of the local median family income—$110,300 for a family of four—or for 10% of units to be available at 50% MFI. Whellan said the developer is looking at the 60% MFI option, meaning about 10 apartments would be reserved at an affordable rate.

Meeting highlights

In his appeal for the zoning change, Whellan said the project is a good fit based on city planning goals for growth and mobility. The property is located off Airport near multiple Capital Metro bus lines and stops, and is about 1 mile from the MLK Metro Rail station.

The rezoning was generally opposed by Rosewood-area residents, although it garnered a pair of supportive written comments to city planners.

Speakers against the change at the May 23 meeting said the multistory project would overshadow nearby homes, further congest the residential area off the Airport corridor, negatively impact local safety and potentially push out nearby homeowners by increasing local land values.

Chris Page, the president of the Homewood Heights Neighborhood Association, said allowing the property to reach 90 feet high would be “dysfunctional and unreputable” for Rosewood. He and other community members also expressed concern about the east side already seeing more redevelopment pressures than other parts of Austin as well as a trend of speculative land purchases and zoning adjustments that haven't ended up producing new housing.

“The 2020 census confirms that our neighborhood is racially, economically and even architecturally diverse. You will find more multifamily incorporated in that [neighborhood] plan in 2002 than you will find in most of the city. Do not allow speculators to continue getting fed,” Page said.

In response, Whellan pointed to other in-progress housing projects from The Geyser Group—the East Austin development firm that owns the properties—and protested resident criticisms of his lobbying work on other local land use cases.

“This casting aspersions based on who’s representing somebody or a particular geographic area, I don’t know if that’s necessarily the basis of policy decision,” he said.

The commission ended up unanimously supporting the rezoning items 9-0. Commissioners said they backed the plans given the area's transit access and the project's promise of affordable housing.

“I hear the concerns of the neighborhood, and I’m seeing this in my neighborhood as well; we have overlays that are limiting height to 40 feet in areas where we really do need additional height. And this is a recurring sentiment based on neighborhood plans and neighborhood associations,” commission Chair Todd Shaw said. “But the direction, I think, council, what we’ve seen with VMU2 and the efforts to try to get more density in and around areas where we have buses and planned transit in my mind supports the applicant’s request.”