Months of public opposition to a planned mixed-use development has prompted Lakeway-based developer Legend Communities to drastically shift its vision for the proposed 62-acre City Center, according to company Chief Operations Officer Bill Hayes.
“We’re a boutique developer,” he said. “We’re not a big developer that can afford to sit on land for months and years on end trying to find resolution that is going to make everybody happy. I think the people who argued against the project were against any project, so I don’t see that pressure relieving.”
Hayes said planned unit developments such as City Center involve negotiation, and at this point Legend Communities is retreating.
The original community plan was a labor-intensive “passion project” for CEO Haythem Dawlett and included a 2.5-acre village green surrounded by cafes, a civic center, hotel, offices and retail. Nearly 300 single-family homes and condos were also initially proposed in the version that was ultimately rejected by Lakeway’s Zoning and Planning Commission, or ZAPCO, on April 4.
Over the course of several public meetings, dozens of residents spoke against City Center. Some, under the banner of the Heart of Lakeway community group, cited concerns about increased traffic, higher housing density and too much new retail and office space that would compete with existing developments nearby.
Resident Beki Etheridge told Community Impact Newspaper that despite the zoning commission’s negative recommendation to council, her group was not confident the developer would change his mind.
“The community was really delighted that ZAPCO did hear what the citizens were wanting,” she said. “We were looking for low density [housing on the parcel]to try and keep the charm and ambiance of what Lakeway is and has been for so long. We have so much overbuilt property here already and so much commercial and a lot of it vacant.”
Impact on adjacent landowners
Caught up on the short-end of the developer’s changes is the Lake Travis Church of Christ whose leaders signed a letter of intent with Legend to sell the developer 6 acres of its land to help expand City Center. The land sale would have enabled the congregation to begin construction plans for a permanent home on remaining acreage on Lohmans Crossing Road.
“I was disappointed with the ZAPCO vote, but we still intend to build our church building in the near future. We are looking into other financing options,” Church Elder Will Ed Winters told Community Impact Newspaper.
Legend is also no longer moving forward with a bid to purchase a 1.7-acre rectangle of land from Lake Travis ISD that would have become a dog park and community garden in the City Center vision.
Legend’s plans for an already-approved 210-unit, age-restricted apartment development on Lohmans Spur that would have been blended into City Center will still proceed, Hayes said adding a partner construction company hopes to break ground by the end of this summer.
“As part of that same planned unit development legally known as Tuscan Village II, there’s a balance of land to the north as you go toward Main Street. We just need to figure out what to do with a couple parcels there that are developable,” Hayes said, adding that was to be a transition zone of mixed retail/live-work condos in the City Center plan.
An enticing element of City Center for some residents was the developer’s offer to pay to four-lane Main Street from Lohmans Crossing Road, through the developer’s subject property , also known as the MUD property. It would have then cut through another parcel held by Austin’s Stratus Properties using a right of way allowance to the current Oaks at Lakeway shopping center.
Hayes said the new housing-only plan requires a two-lane main road, but a right of way would be left for future widening and connectivity. Lakeway Mayor Joe Bain told Community Impact Newspaper a developer is only required to build infrastructure to support the development. That includes Stratus.
“Currently Stratus is only required to build the section of road across their property but only when they decide to develop it. They may sit on that development for years,” Bain wrote in an email.
The city of Lakeway has made an offer to purchase the 36 acres of undeveloped land from Stratus Properties, Bain said. The land purchase would have to be approved by voters, he said. Adding in the road build-out to a future bond is something the mayor called “an expensive project.”
As for the proposed MUD property subdivision, any green space and amenities would be for future residents only. Commercial development is still planned for the entrance area to the as-of-yet unnamed community.
“We still want to make the ‘front door’ to the project nice and very appealing,” Hayes said.
He anticipates that his team will have new land development plans ready for public consumption later this spring. City leaders would still need to rezone the parcel from government, utility and industrial uses to residential and commercial.
“[It is] minutes from [RM] 620, right next to H-E-B and potentially a city park depending on how all that plays out with the Stratus land. And it’s right next to an elementary school,” Hayes said. “It’s a great spot for residential. It just won’t have all those blended uses and the public spaces.”
Mayor weighs in
Lakeway’s outgoing Mayor Joe Bain told Community Impact Newspaper he thinks continued negotiation could have improved the project but ZAPCO’s vote combined with lack of community support “pretty much terminated that negotiation.”
“Although I understand the reservations of many residents, continued negotiations cold have resulted in a much better project and significant infrastructure improvements at no monetary cost to the city and its residents,” Bain wrote in an email. “The new mayor and council [after the May 5 election]will hopefully look at new ways to improve traffic in this area. They have a lot of work and major decisions ahead of them.”