Updated Feb. 25

Several members of a working group for the Austin Oaks redevelopment issued a letter of no confidence Feb. 20.

A recent collaborative design process between residents and the developer did not result in a consensus design, according to the letter.

Those who signed the letter said the final design did not adequately limit building heights or minimize traffic or incorporate mass transit. The letter states designers did not put enough effort into an alternative design that would have complied with the existing zoning regulations for the Austin Oaks property at the corner of MoPac frontage and Spicewood Springs roads.

The working group, made up of neighborhood leaders and developer Spire Realty, was formed to serve as a project management team for the Austin Oaks design process.

“It had been agreed to beforehand, by all members of the working group (including Spire), that the design team would meet each evening with the working group to review the day’s input from participants. There was not any attempt to make these meetings happen,” according to the letter.

Members of the Balcones Civic Association, Allandale Neighborhood Association, North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association, Northwest Austin Neighbors and Williamsburg-Charleston Place Homeowners Association signed the letter.

No one from the Northwest Austin Civic Association signed the letter of no confidence. On Feb. 10, NWACA passed a resolution endorsing the design process and supporting the final design.

According to the resolution, 79 percent of residents who participated in the design process reside within NWACA’s boundaries.

Posted Feb. 24

A Dallas developer wants to turn the Austin Oaks property, which houses 12 office buildings at the MoPac frontage and Spicewood Springs roads, into a mixed-use development with restaurants, shopping, residences, office space, a hotel and parks.

But for nearly two years, many residents have opposed the redevelopment, saying it would worsen traffic congestion, overcrowd schools, remove trees and tower over existing buildings.

In an effort to reach a consensus on what the property should look like, developer Spire Realty agreed to collaborate with nearby neighborhood groups and residents on a site design. The process, known as a charrette, included professional designers, planners and city officials.

After the week-long charrette, designers produced a plan they said was a compromise between the surrounding neighborhoods’ vision for the property and what would be financially feasible for Spire Realty.

Although some residents agree the final design was a compromise, others are still unhappy with the additional people and traffic the plan would bring.

Resident Connie Stout said she was concerned the addition of multifamily residences in the development would further overcrowd local schools.

Dan Germain, who serves on a working group for Austin Oaks, said the designers did not provide the community with sufficient traffic data to accurately predict congestion the redevelopment would cause. He also accused designers of steering residents away from a code-compliant plan for the property.

“That is not a good-faith exercise,” Germain said.

NWA-2016-02-02-02History of the PUD

A planned unit development, or PUD, application was filed for the Austin Oaks property in summer 2014 that called for retail and office space as well as 610 apartments and townhomes. The tallest office building would have been 17 stories under the PUD proposal.

The property is not zoned for a mixed-use project. The PUD would have required a zoning change with the city, and in exchange the city would have required Spire Realty to include certain community amenities.

Residents in the North Shoal Creek, Balcones Civic Association and Allandale neighborhoods, among others, rallied against the proposal. The Northwest Austin Civic Association conducted a survey showing 85 percent of respondents were opposed to the plan.

Last spring, Spire revised the proposal, capping buildings on the site at 10 stories. The height decrease did little to garner more support from residents, who regularly attended city meetings to speak in opposition to the development.

NWACA proposed a charrette to Spire Realty in the summer. In September, the developer agreed to participate and foot the majority of the bill for a charrette.

Spire Realty President Jon Ruff and his attorney, Michael Whellan of Austin-based Graves Doughtery Hearon & Moody, began meeting with neighborhood groups in October and formed a working group to oversee and prepare for the charrette. Residents chose Austin-based design firm TBG Design and the charrette facilitator—Doug Farr of Chicago-based Farr Associates.

NWA-2016-02-02-03The charrette

The charrette took place in January, and each day designers presented draft site plans. On Jan. 28, the final design was presented to an audience of about 75. Nearly 20 residents voiced opinions about the plan, mostly in opposition.

Resident Kathy Cramer was opposed to the new design because it called for seven-story buildings along MoPac.

“I think that’s setting a very dangerous precedent,” she said. “I don’t want this community to sell its soul for the sake of a 2-acre park.”

Resident Jonathan Kaplan said he supported the new design’s addition of multifamily housing because it would make the area more well-lit, populated and safe after dark.

“This is better planning. This is better design,” he said. “I support the plan.”

An 890,795-square-foot redevelopment design that complied with the city’s land development code was also presented. Under the code, the property is zoned as 13 separate lots, and Ruff said Spire could develop the lots individually without zoning changes.

The code-compliant plan would have a maximum building height of five stories, and designers said its effect on traffic would be comparable to the new design. It would not require a traffic impact analysis, traffic improvements or provide opportunity for any additional input from the surrounding neighborhoods, designers said.

After the Jan. 28 presentation, attendees voted on their preference for the final design or the code-compliant plan. NWACA President Joyce Statz said 31 residents voted for the code-compliant plan, and 55 voted for the new design.

The final design

Farr said charrette designers tried to strike a balance between opposing viewpoints on the redevelopment.

“We’re not making everybody happy,” he said.

The final design would require PUD zoning for the property, Ben Luckens, project manager and area resident said. The developer would be required to conduct a traffic impact analysis, which would likely lead the city to require the developer to make certain traffic improvements to the area, according to the design team.

Based on the final design, the proposed project would result in an increase in traffic of 5,000 to 17,000 trips per day.

At a presentation Jan. 29, Austin Oaks charrette designer Mark Meyer sfaid certain traffic improvements were included in the final design, such as adding a traffic signal to the intersection of Hart Lane and Spicewood Springs.

The redevelopment’s total footprint would be nearly 1.2 million square feet, and it would include seven office buildings, a hotel, a multifamily residential building, retail and restaurant space, and two parks, Meyer said.

Three seven-story buildings would line the MoPac frontage road; buildings farther west along Spicewood Springs would be five stories high or shorter, according to the design.

Meyer said a 2-acre neighborhood park at the intersection of Hart Lane and Executive Center Drive would include a play area for children in the neighborhood.

The final design would preserve trees along Executive Center and add a walkway, parallel parking spots and a bicycle lane to the existing roadway, Meyer said. The walkway would lead to a larger park, closer to MoPac, that surrounds a natural creek on the property, he said.

Finding compromise

At a second presentation of the plan Jan. 29, Ruff said he felt the final design was superior to what he could build under the current code.

“It’s not perfect, in my mind. There are things I’d do differently,” he said. “But it wasn’t meant to appease me.”

Ruff said he would continue to work with neighborhood leaders to implement the design.

District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo, who represents the surrounding area, said most of her decisions on the council dais are the result of striking a balance between two opposing views.

“No one ever gets exactly what they want,” she said.

Gallo proclaimed Jan. 29 as Austin Oaks Charrette Workshop Day, saying the process offered a precedent-setting opportunity over traditional zoning politics.

“The whole city has been watching us,” she said. “Please continue the positive conversation.”

Statz said the neighborhood groups must now work with the developer to create a zoning document based on thefinal design that would be legally binding for the property.

Ruff did not know how long construction would take if the city approves the PUD. Farr said the existing structures at Austin Oaks took 12 years to construct.