How The Grove at Shoal Creek could impact Austin's 2,200 acres of unzoned land

The Grove mixed-use district is scheduled to include retail, office and residential units.

The Grove mixed-use district is scheduled to include retail, office and residential units.

The Grove at Shoal Creek, a proposed mixed-use development off 45th Street and Bull Creek Road, is demanding the attention of many in city government these days.

The chasm between developer ARG Bull Creek LTD and a neighborhood group called the Bull Creek Road Coalition has widened so much that the two parties entered mediation to resolve their differences. The BCRC claims the volume of commercial uses would cause traffic congestion and a higher risk of flooding for downstream residents. Austin City Council is scheduled Dec. 6 at a special called meeting to take the second of three votes on the development’s zoning.

How this land ultimately gets developed could have citywide implications, said District 7 City Council Member Leslie Pool, whose district is adjacent to The Grove.

“What we do here really is going to set the template for how we respond [in the future],” Pool said. “The city needs to be very mindful of the record that we’re building.”

Unzoned land

What’s next for The Grove? City Council is scheduled for its second of three readings Dec. 6 on the proposed planned unit development zoning, which calls for 18.6 acres of parkland as well as a mix of retail, office and residential units.[/caption]

Could the struggle for compromise have been mitigated had the previously state-owned property been zoned prior to being sold to ARG? Some city leaders think so, and Pool said she aims to work with her City Council colleagues on a resolution that would provide a regulatory roadmap for the city’s roughly 2,200 acres of unzoned land.

The BCRC sought to exercise petition rights against the proposed Grove zoning. Any property proposed for a zoning change can be protested by residents within a 200-foot radius of the development, thus necessitating a three-quarter majority of city council’s approval before the rezoning can move forward.

But because there is no initial zoning—the 75-acre property’s lack of zoning predates its 2014 purchase from the state—petition rights do not apply, according to the city.

A proposed city code amendment in January would have extended the three-quarter majority rule to initial zoning for planned unit development proposals denied by the city’s planning commission so that in future cases like The Grove—where a zoning request is made, but the property lacks baseline zoning—a process would be in place for residents affected by the development to file a petition.

ARG is proposing planned unit development, or PUD, zoning for The Grove. PUD zoning is used for larger developments intended to have a public benefit and allows for a multiple uses as well as flexible design.

The Jan. 12 proposed code amendment drew opposition in a letter from the Texas General Land Office. The state agency, which oversees real estate transactions on state-owned land, expressed concern the amendment could make state land harder to sell and would reduce monetary return. The measure failed by a 6-5 planning commission vote.

“Those difficulties would likely have a detrimental impact on potential purchasers of state-owned land, thereby causing them to lower their offers or refuse to bid at all on state-owned lands in Austin,” according to a statement from the agency.

The state has its own zoning process that supersedes any zoning applied by the city. The Special Board of Review, a seven-member body composed mostly of state authorities as well as the jurisdiction-in-question’s mayor and county judge, convenes to hear such cases on state-owned land, and the letter invoked the agency’s ability to do so on the unzoned properties in Austin.

Competing visions for the Grove at Shoal Creek Developer ARG Bull Creek LTD and neighborhood group the Bull Creek Road Coalition are at odds on how the mixed-used community should be developed, with the BCRC proposing amendments to ARG’s master plan.[/caption]

What properties will hit the market next?

The majority of the city’s unzoned property is state-owned, and much of it is in the city’s urban core.

Some of the land could soon be deemed surplus property by the state and enter the market, just as The Grove at Shoal Creek did prior to its $47 million sale two years ago. One such property could be the Austin State Hospital. The state-run mental hospital, one of 14 such facilities in Texas, could be relocated from its 4110 Guadalupe St. campus near Hyde Park, a move that could clear the way for the sale and redevelopment of the site—depending on how state lawmakers proceed.

In the legislative session beginning in January, the Legislature will consider six options for relocating the mental hospital. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said in September the proposed Austin State Hospital replacement presents a unique opportunity to open a new psychiatric care facility at the hospital’s Guadalupe Street campus. He said his vision at the site is for an “MD Anderson [Center] of the Brain.”

Reid Long with the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association said he is very intrigued by Watson’s proposal, and HPNA is trying to arrange a meeting with the state senator. However, Long said the neighborhood is cognizant of the effects of introducing new types of area development.

It is also keeping tabs on what happens with The Grove and how that decision might influence redevelopment projects that affect Hyde Park.

“This is ... the first significant, large-scale development that we’ve seen in this new [geographic representation City Council] system,” Long said.

Other firsts

The Grove also had an imprint on two Nov. 8 City  Council races. One has been decided, but another will go to a runoff Dec. 13.

Sheri Gallo, the District 10 representative whose area encompasses The Grove, will face Alison Alter, whose platform is based largely on her opposition to the project as proposed.

Gallo said she is hopeful for a positive outcome from the mediation process.

“We still have work to do and I really appreciate the property owner and neighborhoods agreeing to mediation and trying to get us to a closer place in a cooperative way,” Gallo said.

Meanwhile, Pool, who helped found the BCRC prior to being elected to council, was challenged by Natalie Gauldin, who founded a group called Friends of The Grove. Pool won re-election Nov. 8.

Garrett Martin, ARG president and CEO, said he does not expect a decision on The Grove to create a mold for how unzoned developments move forward in the future. He said the lasting effects might lie, however, in how much zoning control the state exerts over its developable Austin properties.

“Clearly the state’s watching,” he said.

By JJ Velasquez

The Central Austin editor since 2016, JJ covers city government and other topics of community interest—when he's not editing the work of his prolific writers. He began his tenure at Community Impact Newspaper as the reporter for its San Marcos | Buda | Kyle edition covering local government and public education. The Laredo, Texas native is also a web developer whose mission is to make the internet a friendly place for finding objective and engaging news content.


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