A project to replace the decades-old Brodie Oaks Shopping Center strip mall, located 5 miles south of downtown, with mixed-use buildings up to 25 stories is set to receive City Council approval Jan. 26.

“Brodie will be a destination landmark for South Austin, reflecting the unique character of the area through its creative design and the incorporation of public art and performance venues,” said Rebecca Leonard of Lionheart Places, the urban design and landscape architecture firm for the project.

With the development on track to start Phase 1 construction in 2025, existing businesses in the shopping center, which sits at South Lamar Boulevard and Hwy. 290, where the Edwards Aquifer meets the densest area of South Austin, will have to move or shut down completely. When finished, the project will be approximately the same size as The Domain, not including Domain Northside, in North Austin—around 1.2 million square feet. Similar to The Domain, the redevelopment will include retail, residential units, restaurants, offices, a hotel and entertainment venues.

Some nearby residents are wary of the project as it sits near the Edwards Aquifer groundwater system and the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

“While we support a substantial increase in density, the buildings in the PUD [planned unit development] over 200 feet in height conflict with Austin’s Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which calls for an ‘activity center in an environmentally sensitive area,’” said Bill Bunch, Save Our Springs Alliance executive director. “The proposal is more like a satellite downtown.” The project passed its first reading in front of Austin City Council on Dec. 8 and will have its second and third reading on Jan. 26.

The future of Brodie Oaks

The project has been in the works since Barshop & Oles bought the property in 2008. The company is a commercial real estate development, management and leasing firm, which has developed other projects, such as the Mueller Market District and the Arboretum Market.

In 2015, the company began looking at redeveloping Brodie, Milo Burdette, partner and vice president of development for Barshop & Oles, said.

Under the proposed plan, the shopping center is poised to host 1.26 million square feet of office space, 140,000 square feet of retail space, 1,700 residential units and a 200-room hotel. The 36.7-acre mixed-use district will also offer 13.7 acres of outdoor green space that will be reclaimed from existing parking spaces and retail stores.

Barshop & Oles will offer at least 175 affordable units to households that earn below 60% of the area median family income, which is $66,180 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Burdette said the company will also dedicate 10,000 square feet of the planned retail space at 60% of market rents for artists in the area and 25% of the planned retail space to local businesses.

Businesses, residents react

One goal of the redevelopment project, Burdette said, is to bring back some of the current businesses to the shopping center. That could be difficult, however, since the businesses would have to shut down for years while all of the existing Brodie Oaks is demolished and rebuilt. Demolition will happen in 2025 as long as the PUD zoning request is approved by City Council.

The exact date the tenants would need to be out of the existing shopping center is not yet known, Burdette said. Businesses, including Toys “R” Us, Neiman Marcus Last Call and Hobby Lobby—which moved further south, have already closed in the oldest part of the shopping center, which will be demolished first.

Todd Gibbs, who owns ToddPilates & Barre in the Brodie Oaks, said he supports the project.

“I think this was inevitable,” Gibbs said. “Right now, it’s a big parking lot, and with how the city is growing, this new development is a good idea. They want to build a development that benefits the community, and, while we wish it were different for where we’ll be in a few years, we support this project.”

Area residents can expect an increase in traffic, Burdette said. However, Barshop & Oles plans to address this with a transportation demand management, or TDM, program, he said.

“TDM practices encourage our residents, tenants and visitors to minimize the use of single-occupancy vehicles in and out of Brodie,” Burdette said.

The city of Austin Transportation Department received a transportation impact analysis, or TIA, for the project in June. Traffic minimization efforts will reduce new trips created by the project from 11,171 to 3,567, according to the department’s review.

“The new development is expected to generate about an 18.5% increase in daily vehicle trips compared to the occupied existing development,” said Jeff Stensland, public information officer for the Austin Transportation Department. “However, that development generates a very small percentage of the traffic that area sees on a daily basis.”

City leaders in nearby Sunset Valley are also keeping an eye on traffic. City Administrator Matt Lingafelter said although the city does not officially support or oppose the project, officials are aware of the potential for increased traffic in the area as well as an increase in competition with Sunset Valley’s shopping centers on Brodie Lane. “We hope that [Barshop & Oles] will work together with the Texas Department of Transportation and the city of Austin Transportation Department to ensure there is not a lot of increased traffic in our area,” Lingafelter said.

Environmental concerns

Along with monitoring the increased traffic the project may bring, Lingafelter said Sunset Valley officials will also monitor the environmental aspects of the project.

“Obviously, any development in that area is of concern with its proximity to Barton Creek,” Lingafelter said. The Save Our Springs Alliance, which works to protect the Edwards Aquifer, opposes the project the way it was presented during its first reading at City Council. Bunch said although Barshop & Oles is proposing to reduce impervious cover from 84% to 54%, that is not enough. In the case of this project, impervious cover refers to human-made structures, including buildings and parking lots, where rainfall cannot be absorbed. It is important for this area to have less impervious surfaces as they prevent water from entering the aquifer, Bunch said.

“The developer should be required to buy off-site mitigation land, or a conservation easement, so that the impervious cover on both tracts, taken together, would meet the 15% limit,” Bunch said.

Barshop & Oles’ attorney David Armbrust said, according to Austin’s amended SOS ordinance, off-site mitigation is not required if a developer meets the water equality requirements and city staff agreed. Armbrust said developers chose to seek a site-specific amendment, which requires a three-fourths vote of the Austin City Council. Armbrust said that vote may be challenging, but he believes the community will benefit from the project.

Some of the benefits include the acres of publicly accessible park spaces; trailheads and connections into the Barton Creek Greenbelt; and an SOS ordinance-compliant level of water quality that will improve water runoff into Barton Creek, Burdette said. The company will work with nonprofits—including the Austin Parks Foundation and Hill Country Conservancy—to improve the condition of the greenbelt and clean up trails, Burdette said.

APF representative Joy Casnovsky said the two entities have agreed to lead a team, offering guidance that includes routing and design of sustainable, low-maintenance trails connected to the greenbelt.

“Right now, a portion of the runoff travels through a pond in front of the adjacent Retreat at Barton Creek apartments, but much of it enters untreated into the greenbelt and Barton Creek,” Burdette said.

Burdette said all rainwater and stormwater in the redevelopment will be captured, treated and used on-site for irrigation, so none of it will run into Barton Creek.

“South Austin is the perfect place for this, as it is a little different from other parts of our city with how much the community cares about the environment and how eclectic the area is,” Leonard said.