700-bedroom student housing project planned to wrap around historic Central Austin home

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A massive student housing project planned for West Campus will tightly wrap around a two-story historic home should Austin City Council green light the development next month.

The 17-story, roughly 700-bedroom high-rise is proposed for 611 W. 22nd Street at the corner of Rio Grande and W. 22nd streets. The project will abut the 21 Rio high-rise apartment complex at 2101 Rio Grande Street and overtake much of the space currently occupied by the old Star of Texas Inn bed and breakfast and a small eight-unit student housing apartment.

The Kenney House, a two-story Victorian facing W. 22nd Street, previously deemed historic by the city, will be preserved. Local historic zoning is the only mechanism in Austin that can keep property owners from demolishing a building on their own property. The structure currently operates as building one of two for the Star of Texas Inn, and although it will be preserved, an employee of the inn said the business plans to shutter next year.

When the Kenney House was zoned historic, so too was its adjacent parking lot. Austin’s Planning Commission recommended Tuesday night that City Council approves removal of the parking lot’s historic zoning—necessary to the design of the building and a crucial step in clearing the way for the new project.

The mammoth student housing development is designed to wrap around the east- and south-facing facades of the historic home and tower 15 stories above it. Commissioner Karen McGraw, a professional architect, criticized the design as not respecting the Kenney House. Emily Little, the project’s restoration architect, countered and explained the first floor of the high-rise deliberately includes glass walls so every side of the Kenney House could be seen.

Commissioner Greg Anderson called the project “great” as it meets the growing demand for more off-campus housing for University of Texas students.

The project now heads to Austin City Council for a final decision on the parking lot’s historic zoning. A representative for the project estimated a City Council vote by late October.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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