New Council, New Thinking on Nuckols Crossing
Differences on the dais over a planned affordable senior housing property in District 2
At its March 25 meeting, Austin City Council once again encountered differences on the dais over a planned affordable senior housing property at 4400 Nuckols Crossing in Southeast Austin. Back in August, the multifamily zoning for the project, known as City Heights, was approved 8-2-1, with Council Members Leslie Pool, Kathie Tovo, and (off the dais) Alison Alter not getting onboard. Opponents back then were largely worried about traffic and safety implications; the site is just south of where St. Elmo Road makes a tight, blind, sidewalk-free 90-degree curve to become Nuckols Crossing. Championing the project was then-Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, whose District 2 included the site, and who secured agreement from the Austin Transportation Department to mitigate these concerns. Here's what she said (and we reported) back in August:
"The community has been asking for affordable housing and we are delivering that," Garza said of the project. "There is no perfect site, especially when we're talking about affordable housing, because ... [then] you're going to get market-rate [units]. It's not the perfect one and we have worked really hard to mitigate every single concern in this project."
Fast-forward to last week, and Council – sitting as the board of directors of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation – had on its plate an item to authorize $22 million in bond financing for City Heights. It's not the total project cost, but it's a lot, and without it City Heights would more likely be built as a fully market-rate project, which is what was first proposed by the property owners back in 2019 before the city and community persuaded them to change course. Now Garza is Travis County attorney, and her successor Vanessa Fuentes cited the neighbors' fears about road safety in voting against the funding. The item passed anyway, 7-3-1, with Fuentes, Pool, and CM Mackenzie Kelly in opposition – meaning that both of Council's newest members, replacing members who pushed assertively for housing density in cases like these, took the opposite tack. That's a data point to consider if and when Council finally returns to the contentious debate over Austin's housing policies and Land Development Code.