Austin Oaks second reading on Thursday will feature council debate over traffic vs. affordable housing

Austin Oaks is set for its second reading in front of Austin City Council on Thursday, but thats not the only big item on the agenda.

Austin Oaks is set for its second reading in front of Austin City Council on Thursday, but thats not the only big item on the agenda.

The controversial Austin Oaks planned unit development will be among the marquee items on the Austin City Council’s packed agenda Thursday.

After three postponement requests by freshman District 10 Council Member Alison Alter, council will hear the PUD rezone request that would allow Spire Realty to turn an underutilized office park at the southwest corner of MoPac and Spicewood Springs Road into a roughly 1 million-square-foot office, hotel, retail and apartment development.

Council voted 7-1-1 to approve the PUD on first reading and keep the public hearing open at its final meeting of 2016.

The plan includes 865,900 square feet of office space, 12,800 square feet of restaurant space and 90,000 square feet of hotel space. The plan also includes 250 apartments, 10 percent of which has been offered at 60 percent of the median family income for renters, and 80-percent MFI for ownership. The development will also provide 8.5 acres of dedicated parkland, and the developer will provide $1.5 million for the development of a neighborhood park.

While there was originally a plan to offer 50 percent of affordable units to Austin ISD employees, the city’s law department said the city could not reserve affordable housing based on an employer.

Traffic vs. affordable housing

Tuesday’s council work session provided a preview of what could potentially be a vocal debate on the dais Thursday. Alter, who represents the district where the project is located, said traffic impacts continue to be the paramount issue for the neighbors of the project, and enhanced traffic mitigation measures from the developer are going to be crucial for the project to get her vote.

“Traffic is by far the most critical priority,” Alter said. “This PUD is not superior, it is barely adequate in respect to traffic.”

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar offered an amendment to the proposal that could bring between 90 percent and 140 percent more affordable housing to the development. He said it is up to incumbents on the council to provide more affordable housing to different parts of the city, and such an increase in affordable housing would be the only way he would vote yes Thursday. Casar brought a similar 11th-hour amendment to the proposal for The Grove at Shoal Creek PUD at the end of last year.

“What I’ve been hearing from the developer is that we either get affordable housing, or we get traffic [mitigation],” Alter said. “This is only an 'either or' discussion if you and I make it an 'either or' discussion. And if it’s 'either or,' then I’m going to go with traffic.”

Casar said he would continue to fight for more affordable housing for the project but respects if rest of council decides that traffic mitigation is a more important issue to solve.

The Austin Oaks PUD follows the hotly contested Grove at Shoal Creek, which took a year of deliberation, public hearings and mediation to reach an agreement. The Austin Oaks project has been discussed for more than two years. Spire’s original proposal, which included 17-story buildings, was largely objected by surrounding neighbors. However, in 2015, the developer agreed to work with the neighbors in designing a new development.

The new proposal splits the surrounding neighbors in support. Members of the Northwest Austin Civic Association support the project as proposed, however, a valid petition was filed with over 27 percent of surrounding neighbors objecting the development. The objectors, as Alter said, focused their opposition on traffic and environmental issues. The valid petition means at least nine votes will be required for the zoning change to pass.

Here’s a list of other big items due up on Thursday’s agenda:

Item 7: Establish the LGBTQ Quality of Life Advisory Commission

Item 9: Establish workers protection standards for large construction projects applying for an expedited permit review

Item 28: Modify existing speed limits on Lamar Boulevard between Parmer Lane and Morrow Street

Item 29: Modify existing speed limits on Parmer Lane between Lamar Boulevard and east of Dessau Road.

Item 31: Rezone the following city properties as “public”: Onion Creek Metro Park, Onion Creek Greenbelt, Lower Onion Creek Buyout Area

Item 32: Finalize and implement the Austin Affordability Action Plan

Item 34: Reform the city’s economic development incentives program

Item 35: Resolution to condemn Presidential executive orders related to ban on immigrants, travelers and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries

Item 36: Rename Butler Park to Michael Butler Park

Item 37: Include the Rosewood Corridor in study of potential new Capitol View Corridors

Item 39: Shift city’s transportation system to one that enables shared, electric and autonomous mobility services

Item 40: Resolution to use money from Housing Trust Fund to provide additional affordable housing units to Plaza Saltillo transit oriented development

Items 62-64: Third reading of Plaza Saltillo development

Item 76: Second reading for Austin Oaks planned unit development