Residents want green buildings, open space at Austin Oaks

Residents in neighborhoods surrounding the Austin Oaks office park say they want some housing and restaurant options on the site when it is redeveloped.

Residents in neighborhoods surrounding the Austin Oaks office park say they want some housing and restaurant options on the site when it is redeveloped.

Neighbors of the Austin Oaks property want any redevelopment to include carbon-neutral buildings, open spaces, restaurants and housing but with a minimal effect on traffic.

About 50 residents attended the Dec. 16 Vision and Values workshop at which small groups weighed in on what they would like to see in a redevelopment of the property at the intersection of Spicewood Springs Road and Executive Center Drive. Currently there are 12 office buildings on the Austin Oaks site.

The property's developers filed an application for a planned unit development with the city in summer 2014. Since then, nearby residents and neighborhood groups have fought the application. Members of Northwest Austin Civic Association asked the developer to consider a charrette—or a collaborative, expedited design process with neighbors—in June. In September the developer agreed to one.

The design charrette is scheduled for Jan. 24-29 at Austin Oaks. The purpose of the Dec. 16 event was to identify residents’ vision for the property and the neighborhood values they would like the development to uphold.

Before group discussions began, some residents argued developer Jon Ruff, president of Spire Realty, should develop the property under its current zoning regulations. Ruff said under current zoning laws, he could develop the property as 13 separate lots and ultimately create a development up to 1 million square feet.

Ruff’s attorney, Michael Whellan said under current zoning, Ruff would not be required to make any traffic improvements or create public amenities.

“We’re trying to do something that actually works better," he said. "… We would like to do it collaboratively.”

NWACA President Joyce Statz said Ruff would be an active participant in the charrette and would provide input on the design throughout the week.

“This is not something being done in a vacuum,” Statz said.

Many attendees said they did not want PUD zoning on the site, but Doug Farr of Chicago-based consultants Farr Associates said he did not understand the campaign against PUD zoning.

“PUD is a zoning tool that grants flexibility,” Farr said.

NWACA member and Project Manager Ben Luckens said a PUD could mean anything from a 400-story building to a simple tree variance.

“It doesn’t even have a meaning until we attach something to it,” he said.

Vision for site

Group discussions mostly focused on the development’s design and aesthetics, effect on the environmental, regulatory requirements and transportation concerns. Nearly every group wanted to limit the height of the building with no group wanting any structure taller than six stories.

Residents were also united in their desire for energy-efficient buildings and green space with native plants. Protecting and building around the existing Heritage Oak trees onsite was a high priority.

As far as transportation, residents said they would like more sidewalks and protected bike lanes to make the site accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists. Many residents said they want sufficient parking spaces in garages that were either hidden or were aesthetically pleasing. One group recommended working with Capital Metro to create bus routes and stops along the property.

Farr said all the suggestions would be recorded and brought to the charrette.

An identical workshop is scheduled for Jan. 12 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Austin Board of Realtors, 4800 Spicewood Springs Road.