The commission's approval of the staff-recommended updates, dispatched to council with some commissioner-backed modifications, represented the culmination of a monthslong process to once again revise zoning guidelines along the Central East Austin corridors, including an urban renewal plan there. That plan has been modified 11 times since its creation in 1999 and roughly covers East 11th between I-35 and Rosewood Avenue as well as East 12th between I-35 and Poquito Street.
That plan is also accompanied by a pair of extensive neighborhood conservation combining districts covering similar—but not identical—portions of the area around East 11th and 12th, leading the city to move forward with the revision process to modernize the documents and align their coverage.
The Austin Urban Renewal Board in early February unanimously recommended adopting changes to the urban renewal plan and NCCD zoning overlays centering mainly around the uses allowed in certain portions of the properties surrounding East 11th and 12th included in those plans. Earlier this spring city staff also solicited public feedback on potential plan adjustments before forwarding their recommendations to a working group of the commission, which added its own amendments for consideration by the full board this month.
In addition to backing from the commission working group members, the updates also garnered support from some local residents calling into the session.
"The urban renewal board and staff brought you drafts that are aligned and much easier to use. They’re a great improvement on the rather unwieldy document put together in the 1990s," said Nate Jones, president of the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods. "We did make a few suggestions to ... [the] working group about how they might be further improved, and we hope you will support their recommendations."
Commissioners June 22 spent most of their time reviewing working group amendments to the plans, which covered topics such as the shifting of NCCD subdistrict boundaries, setting building height limits and preserving single-family properties.
During discussion, some members of the commission's working group said their goals in amending staff recommendations centered on allowing for broader resident engagement on future development and dialing back some of the area's development allowances as compared to other parts of the city.
"We’re trying to maintain that community conversation with some of those sites to allow for equitable development that really responds to community needs and responds to how the space is evolving over time," Commissioner Awais Azhar said. "We’re trying to live up to that aspect of allowing different views of the sites based on the existing uses but also not expanding uses such as liquor sales, hotel, motel—which would not serve the immediately adjacent communities.”
Commissioners approved the staff-backed updates to the renewal plan and dual NCCDs with every modification proposed by the working group. The amendments were passed in several blocks that each garnered unanimous or near-unanimous votes, including:
- Grouping 1, including working group amendments 1, 2 and 3. Those adjustments to the staff-recommended update would add a fourth subdistrict on the eastern end of the 11th Street NCCD, limit the building height in the proposed East 11th subdistricts and set floor area ratios for buildings in those subdistricts. The amendment grouping passed 11-1-1 with Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson voting against and Vice Chair Claire Hempel voting neutrally.
"We were looking at the historical perspective of the impact of the NCCD on this area," Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said. "What we saw is somewhat inequitable application of really unlimited entitlements. ... There is precedent to making some of these kinds of reductions in height or intensity of use in other areas of East Austin, and they’ve primarily been done with equity and more holistic, responsible community planning principles in mind."
- Grouping 2, including working group amendments 5 and 6. Those adjustments would limit building height in 12th Street NCCD subdistricts and reduce floor area ratios in those blocks. The amendment grouping passed 11-2 with Thompson and Hempel voting against.
“This street particularly required a lot of attention," said Azhar, who acted as a spokesperson for the working group and its amendments. "Its current nature is truly very residential, and there is actually very limited commercial or office on here at this moment. ... It felt like it made sense to make it more aligned with what is on the parcels adjoining these exact parcels."
- Grouping 3, including working group amendments 4 and 7. Those adjustments would make hotel and motel uses conditional in the central subdistrict of the 11th Street NCCD and the entire 12th Street NCCD. The grouping passed 13-0.
"We heard clearly from the community that there are concerns with how the use might serve the adjoining neighbors and also with the understanding that hotel-motel currently has a liquor use associated with it—that is limited in nature but is still associated with it," Azhar said.
- Grouping 4, or working group amendment 8. The amendment would bar most packaged liquor sales in the 12th Street NCCD. The amendment passed 13-0.
"There are a considerable number of sites currently on 12th Street that already allow liquor sales, so the expansion of that would not necessarily provide any benefit to the community because those uses currently exist," Azhar said.
- Grouping 5, including working group amendments 9 and 10. Those adjustments would both clarify the Urban Renewal Plan's objectives to highlight community involvement and equitable mixed-use development and ensure existing single-family structures can remain in place in the neighborhood if they are damaged. The amendment grouping passed 12-0 after Commissioner Jennifer Mushtaler left the meeting.
The working group's amendments with city staff commentary may be viewed here, and the NCCD documents they would amend may be viewed here for East 11th and here for East 12th. The revised urban renewal plan and NCCD frameworks now head to City Council, which may consider them July 29.
City Council's potential approval of those plans may also be followed by the city-backed redevelopment of two approximately 1-acre groups of city-owned land in the area between 11th and Juniper streets, dubbed Block 16 and Block 18. The Block 16 properties border landmarks including the African American Cultural and Heritage Facility and neighboring Dedrick-Hamilton House, and Block 18 surrounds the Victory Grill building.
Staff had previously said requests for proposals for both properties' future development could be solicited over the summer if the plans are approved by council with possible project selection for the sites coming later this year.