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Per Austin Monitor; Endeavor Developer and Lawyer Richard Suttle win again in Downtown Austin Statesmen Newspaper site plan...

 






Extended Statesman PUD deliberations end in approval

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2022 BY JONATHAN LEE

After years of discussions, City Council approved a redevelopment plan Friday for one of the city’s most prominent tracts of land – the 19-acre lakefront property at 305 S. Congress Ave., formerly home to the Austin American-Statesman. 

Approval of Planned Unit Development zoning allows a huge mixed-use development to move forward over the coming years. Plans include 1,378 residential units, 1.5 million square feet of office space, 275 hotel rooms and 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurants spread across six towers, as well as parks and public space and millions of dollars toward affordable housing. 

The vote was 8-2-1, with Council members Kathie Tovo and Alison Alter against and Mackenzie Kelly abstaining. 

Developer Endeavor Real Estate has agreed to pay for several public improvements as part of the project, including a reconstructed hike-and-bike trail, public plazas and enhanced bat watching areas.

Public money will pay for additional park and infrastructure upgrades, including an extension of Barton Springs Road and a future Project Connect light rail station. Council approved a tax increment reinvestment zone, which redirects increased property tax revenue into infrastructure projects, for the South Central Waterfront area to help pay for some of those improvements. 

Affordable housing has been at the center of the Statesman PUD discussions for months, with Council members as well as members of the community disagreeing on how much affordable housing Endeavor should provide and whether it should be on- or off-site.

After a lengthy discussion, Council decided that Endeavor must pay the city at least a $23.2 million in fee-in-lieu toward affordable housing within 1.5 miles of the site, in a location well-served by transit. 

Most agreed that off-site affordable units would be a better use of public funds than on-site units, which could cost $418,000 per unit to build. “Subsidizing … at nearly half a million dollars for each of those units is just nuts,” Council Member Leslie Pool said. Affordable units typically require around $275,000 in public money, according to Mandy De Mayo, deputy director of the Housing and Planning Department. 

Council and the developer had discussed various affordable housing scenarios. Some members had pushed for either 4 percent or 10 percent on-site affordable units, while others preferred Endeavor’s offer to set aside 70 units at a nearby apartment complex as affordable. Others supported putting the $23.2 million fee toward a proposed Foundation Communities project along South Lamar. 

The redevelopment could lead to even more affordable housing if the developer takes advantage of the additional height or density Council agreed to Friday. The final PUD, following a successful motion by Mayor Steve Adler, allows buildings of up to 725 feet in height – taller than the 525-foot height limit Council and Endeavor had previously contemplated – as well as more square footage.

Another point of contention was whether a hotel should be allowed. Some Council members wanted to make hotels a conditional use, which requires Planning Commission approval. That motion failed after Richard Suttle, representing Endeavor, said a hotel is an essential part of the project’s financing. A motion to allow a hotel passed unanimously. 

The hotel discussion was spurred by opposition from UNITE HERE, a hospitality workers union, over concerns about poor labor practices in the hotel industry and a lack of affordable housing near downtown.

Before the final vote, Council members opposed to the PUD lamented what they saw as a missed opportunity to squeeze even more community benefits from the project. 

“I think we will see a good development there,” Council Member Kathie Tovo said, “but I do wish we had those (on-site) affordable units.”

Rendering courtesy of 305 South Congress PUD via the city of Austin. 

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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