Austin ISD is in the process of building a new $40 million campus for the Rosedale School, which offers educational opportunities for students who have severe special needs.
The Rosedale School—currently located at 2117 W. 49th St.—is scheduled to move in 2021 to a brand new building at the former site of the Lucy Read Pre-K facility at 2608 Richcreek Road in the North Central Austin neighborhood of Allandale.
As part of the project, AISD is in the process of working with an unnamed partner to construct a medical clinic on site at the new school to provide holistic care to both Rosedale School students as well as other severely medically disabled children from the surrounding area.
Elizabeth Dickey, principal at the Rosedale School, told a group of Allandale residents in a public meeting on June 10 at the Lucy Read campus that many students would not be in school if they were not at Rosedale due to their medical needs, and the in-house expertise in medicine, counseling and family issues will hugely benefit Rosedale students.
“I can’t state enough what a difference this would make in the quality of life for our students and for our kids,” Dickey said. “I’m just amazed this has come together and we have this possibility before us.”
In order to allow the medical clinic to be located at the school, AISD must receive a zoning change from the city of Austin. On June 20, Austin City Council will consider changing the zoning of the 9.3-acre property from a single-family lot to general office with a conditional overlay that will restrict certain uses of the property.
That conditional overlay means AISD would limit the square footage of the medical clinic to 20,000 square feet and prohibit all uses for the building besides a school, a medical facility and certain uses required by federal law.
Allandale resident Joe Parsons, who attended the June 10 meeting, said the neighbors support the vision for the Rosedale School and the medical clinic, but after the zoning change, they are concerned about what could happen if AISD were to turn around and sell the property in the future.
“It seems like rezoning it this way was the fastest way to get it done, not the best way to get it done,” Parsons said.
Drew Johnson, AISD’s director of bond planning and controls, said the concern from neighbors is fair and the district is sensitive to the issues that residents have brought up. It is not unheard of for the district to sell property––in 2017, AISD sold the Baker Center in the Hyde Park neighborhood to Alamo Drafthouse.
Still, Johnson said with so many resources being poured into the Rosedale School through the bond program, imminent resale is unlikely.
“I would imagine it to be very challenging to foresee the district wanting to sell (the property) anytime in the near future. It's a really special campus we're going to build just for these students with complex medical needs,” Johnson said.
In hopes of addressing neighbors’ concerns, AISD is working on adding additional protections on the property to reinforce restrictions in what Leah Bojo of the Drenner Group––the consulting firm working with the district on bond projects––called a “belt and suspenders” approach.
The AISD board of trustees discussed a restrictive covenant that would mirror the conditional overlay zoning request filed with the city. Approval of that document may come in front of board members in August.
Additionally, Mathias Segura, AISD’s chief operations officer, wrote in a memo to city council that the AISD board “expressed general support” at its June 17 meeting for a memorandum that would make a commitment to flip the site back to its current single-family zoning should the district ever decide to sell the property in the future.
“I think we're trying to do what we can to address (concerns) and still be able to see the project move forward,” Johnson said.
Improving the process
At Austin City Council’s June 18 work session, District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said he would not slow down the project’s timeline, but expressed some concerns with the complexity of the zoning process. The public zoning district, or “P” zoning, Flannigan argued, should allow the city’s partners to do the work they intend without the need to create complicated solutions.
According to the district, the P zoning process is time-intensive and involves more uncertainty than the track AISD is on now. In a memo to the Allandale Neighborhood Association, Segura said “the process of rezoning to P and then proceeding through the conditional use permit process would likely take a year or so in the best case.”
“This timeline relies on the school district beginning design before even the zoning is in place,” Segura wrote.
Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of planning and development for the city, told council on June 18 that the general office-conditional overlay zoning made AISD and its consultants comfortable that the use of the facility would be permitted and would not be challenged.
“That’s not satisfying to me. We don’t do zoning because AISD asked for it a certain way, we do zoning as a matter of public policy,” Flannigan said. “It’s not really anybody’s fault, but for this to show up on the worst agenda probably of the year (before council’s July break) in a way that is forcing us to do it quickly––I’m uncomfortable with the whole thing.”
District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo agreed with Flannigan that the city should work to be consistent with its zoning processes for every applicant and take a look at the public zoning district–even before the city potentially adopts the wholesale changes to its land development code that are currently in the works.
Pending the city’s approval of the zoning change and the district’s approval of the restrictive covenants this summer, construction is set to start on the new Rosedale School in May of 2020 to prepare for an opening date of August 2021. Meanwhile, according to Johnson, negotiations are still ongoing with the partner who would occupy the on site clinic.
“I would suspect that certainly before we start construction, we’ll know whether this partner is going to be participating with us,” he said.
In the meantime, some reshuffling will occur among schools in North Central Austin. Students from Doss Elementary School are temporarily at the Lucy Read campus as their own school is rebuilt. Doss is set to open in August 2020, clearing the way for construction at the new Rosedale School in Allandale.
As those chess pieces move around the board on the district’s tight timeline for modernization products funded through the 2017 bond, Parsons said Allandale residents will continue to advocate for their neighborhood and voice concerns he says come from legitimate worries about the long-term, precedent-setting effects of rezoning.
“It’s easy to dismiss the group of neighbors, the voices of homeowners in a neighborhood as just a bunch of NIMBYs. To that I would say we welcome the change,” Parsons said. “We voted for this (in the 2017 AISD bond). Build the school, build the clinic. Do all of it. Just don’t change the zoning, because of that lasting impact.”