Update [1:20 a.m.]: Council votes 7-1 to move Austin Oaks PUD forward on contested first reading

Council members voted nearly unanimously to approve a planned unit development, or PUD, for the Austin Oaks project that was also OK'd by the Zoning and Platting Commission last month.

The 445,032-square-foot existing Austin Oaks office complex sits on 31.4 acres of land on the southwest corner of Spicewood Springs Road and MoPac.

The PUD proposal from developer Spire Realty included an additional 865,000 square feet for office use, 12,800 square feet of restaurant space and 90,000 square feet of new hotel space. The development would also include 250 apartment units, with 10 percent reserved for household incomes of 60 percent of the area’s median family income. Half of the units would be available for Austin ISD staff. There would also be 11 acres of open space, and the developer has committed to investing $1.5 million into a park near Hart Lane.

Speakers voiced a mix of support and objection to council members into the early hours of Friday morning, but most were in opposition. Supporters spoke in favor of the proposed park and green space offered by the PUD, while the objectors spoke against the prospect of increased traffic, sight pollution due to proposed building height increase variances and the impact it would have on school populations.

The second reading will take place Feb. 2.

Update [8:50 p.m.]: The Grove at Shoal Creek passes 10-1 with several council amendments

After two years of exchange between the developer, ARG Bull Creek Ltd., the neighborhood, Bull Creek Road Coalition, and the council, the planned unit development, known as The Grove at Shoal Creek, passed 10-1 on its third and final reading, with District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair dissenting.

The neighborhood and developer came to a mediated agreement last week that set parameters for affordable housing, commercial and office space, traffic mitigation, park creation and green space preservation.

That agreement, which took nearly two months to negotiate, provided a foundation from which the council worked but was buried Thursday beneath several council-driven amendments. District 4 Council Member Greg Casar pushed the percentage of affordable housing up by offering more city subsidy, District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo required that 50 percent of affordable rental units have at least two bedrooms, and District 2 Council Member Delia Garza put the Jackson Avenue connection back on the map—a proposal the neighborhood initially scrapped during mediation.

Update [3:45 p.m.]: Council supports recommendations to lower city speed limits

Council voted 8-2 to support staff recommendations to realize Vision Zero, the city’s plan to reach zero traffic injuries and deaths by 2025. As a result of Thursday’s vote, the city was authorized to:

  • lobby for lowering the city urban district’s default speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph during the 2017 state legislative agenda,

  • incorporate target speeds into design plans, evaluate the city’s arterial speed limits for appropriateness and establish a neighborhood slow zone pilot program, which would lower the speed limits throughout neighborhoods in the city,

  • evaluate the city’s arterial speed limits for appropriateness, and

  • establish a neighborhood slow zone pilot program, which would lower the speed limits throughout neighborhoods in the city.

District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman and District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair voted against the recommendations. Zimmerman said he thinks Vision Zero is a "crazy" idea that is impossible to accomplish. The recommendations were championed by District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, who said the focus of this action was to increase safety throughout Austin's neighborhoods.

Original post 2:20 p.m.

Goodbye to Council Members Don Zimmerman and Sheri Gallo

Thursday’s meeting is the last meeting of the inaugural 10-1 council, as District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman and District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo will be replaced in 2017 after losing reelection bids. Mayor Steve Adler took a moment to recognize the moment. “This is the last chance to see the inaugural 10-1 council…it’s important that everyone remember this,” Adler said.

“This is the last chance to see the inaugural 10-1 council … it’s important that everyone remember this,” Adler said.

A tearful Gallo took 5 minutes to thank each council member individually as well as her staff for the hard work they have done during the last two years. Zimmerman also thanked the council and his constituents and ended his remarks with a plea to council to take its time when hiring a city manager. He said there is no rush because the city has an “excellent interim city manager” in Elaine Hart.  

The $28 million first step of the mobility bond’s implementation

The city has expressed a desire to begin work on the $720 mobility bond approved by voters in November. In a memo to the mayor and council members, interim City Manager Elaine Hart outlined the plans to fast-track the completion of the work.

Austin City Council on Thursday approved two budget amendments to provide $8 million to the Transportation Department capital budget and $20 million to the Public Works Department.

According to Hart’s memo, the funds will be used “to support early out design and construction funding for sidewalks, safe routes to school, urban trails, bikeways, safety/Vision Zero, capital renewal, and for consultant funding to develop the corridor reports and the recommended Corridor Construction Program.”

However, no money will be physically spent just yet. The $28 million is instead an allowance. The idea is to task both departments to begin outlining the first steps of the mobility bond within the approved budget allowances. The department heads will come back to council in February with plans and priorities within the parameters set forth in Hart’s memo and, if approved, the money will be released and physical work on the mobility bond will begin.

Allowing the appeal of chauffeur permit denials

The city’s new ride-hailing service ordinance allows the Austin’s Transportation Director to disqualify people from receiving a chauffeur’s permit, which is necessary to legally work for a ride-hailing service, due to a criminal background. On Thursday, council discussed an amendment to the ordinance that would create an appeals process for any person disqualified for that reason.

Christopher Bedford, owner and operator of Super Shuttle, was one of several people who testified in favor of the ordinance amendment. He said the current ordinance restricts him from renewing his license and earning a living for a crime he committed over 12 years ago.

“People can and do change,” Bedford told the council.

Council members acknowledged this was an unintended consequence in the original ordinance, but District 1 Council Member Ora Houston asked to postpone the vote because she said there were more people who wanted to provide testimony who could not make the meeting until later. District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman said he would be “reluctantly” voting in favor of the amendment—not because he does not support the change but because he does not believe the city government should have their hand in the hiring policy of private businesses.

ELM Restaurant Group gets New Central Library restaurant contract

The owner of the city’s popular 24 Diner secured a 120-month, $2.3 million lease for a 6,640-square-foot space inside Austin’s New Central Library, located at 710 W. Cesar Chavez St. The name of the restaurant, according to city documents, is set to named “Cookbook Café,” and the restaurant will be the official caterer for all library events. The library is set to open in the spring, but no exact date has been nailed down as of yet.

Fourth Street Rail Station and two-way traffic on Fifth Street postponed again

An item that would establish a public plaza and permanent rail station on Fourth Street and two-way traffic on Fifth Street between IH-35 and Brazos Street was postponed again. The Texas Department of Transportation has provided a $50 million grant to Capital Metro for the construction of the permanent rail station and purchase of four additional rail cars. The project is scheduled for completion by 2018, according to city documents, but council must first approve this item, which has already postponed multiple times.

3:30 p.m. time certain set for The Grove at Shoal Creek discussion

Council is expected to conduct a third and final hearing on the The Grove at Shoal Creek, a controversial planned unit development that has resulted in a slew of back-and-forth dialogue between the developer and neighborhood, came to a potential end last week when the two sides came to a mediated agreement.

Council members thanked the two sides for coming to the agreement, but they said the agreement is not binding. The council is free to tweak the deal to fit the needs of the city.

On Tuesday, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar introduced three options that council could take in leveraging the agreement to obtain more affordable housing within the development. One of the options allows the developer to add 50,000 square feet of office space development, which is something the neighborhood group feels would generate too much traffic—traffic congestion has always been a main concern of the neighborhood group.

The Jackson Avenue connection to 45th Street has been eliminated under the most recent proposal. The original proposal would have required two existing homes to be demolished in order to build the connecting street. The developer also agreed to reduce the trip cap by 1,000 trips.

Given the short amount of time allotted to city staff Tuesday to draft the ordinance’s introduction of affordable housing options, it is possible that the council will postpone this item until 2017. Council members have stressed that they want the final reading of this ordinance to be done correctly and are willing to sacrifice timeliness to ensure a job done right.

Surrounding residents have also called for a delay on the final reading in wake of challenger Alison Alter defeating Gallo in Tuesday's runoff election.