At Council: More Apartments, North and South

Council considers two zoning cases facing opposition from surrounding neighbors

Photo by John Anderson

City Council meets today, Oct. 14, to take up an 89-item agenda. Highlights include initiating a plan to permanently support virtual testimony at Council and at board and commission meetings; reaffirming the city's commitment to "building a flood resilient community"; and exploring a new program to help lower-income homeowners seek variances granted by the city's Board of Adjustment.

We're watching two zoning cases, both up for first reading, that face opposition from surrounding neighbors. One is a proposed multifamily project at 2700 S. Lamar, bringing about 450 units of housing to what are now seven adjoining tracts zoned for commercial/retail and mixed-use development, north of where Lamar meets Barton Skyway and Menchaca Road. Some of these include the vertical mixed-use overlay that allows for more density and less parking along core transit corridors.

However, Armbrust & Brown attorney Michael Whellan, serving as the applicant, is asking to rezone all of the tracts to MF-6 – the highest-density multifamily category – to support the construction of a taller tower (existing zoning only allows for 60 feet). That added height, he says, would allow for 46 units to be priced affordably for households at 60% of Austin's median family income, managed through a private restrictive covenant between the developer and Austin Habitat for Humanity.

Staff agrees with the MF-6 proposal, but the Planning Commission did not, voting 4-6 on June 8 against the rezoning request. Comments received from some nearby residents note that more housing construction in the area could help South Lamar become a more affordable place to live. The Zilker Neighborhood Association, which opposes the rezoning, agreed to the existing VMU designations but feels that this section of South Lamar does not have enough through connections to other corridors to support more apartment units; there are about 300 in the vicinity already. (The city is planning about $36 million in multimodal mobility improvements in this corridor). ZNA has proposed an alternative of MF-3 and MF-6 zoning, with a height limit of 75 feet on the latter, compared to the normal MF-6 entitlement of 90 feet. Whellan says this is unfeasible and that ZNA is asking the owner to agree to more restrictive zoning than what ZNA agreed to before.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the river, Whellan is shepherding a plan for a multifamily development at Steck and MoPac, currently home to a Luby's. The requested MF-6 zoning here would allow for 275 units, 10% of which would be affordable at 80% MFI. Whellan noted in a letter to the Zoning and Platting Commission that these 28 units would be more than currently exist in all of Council District 10, where the site is located; city housing data shows 24 affordable units produced in D10 since 2018, the fewest of any district. The request is supported by both staff and ZAP, but some neighbors say adding more apartments will exacerbate existing traffic congestion along Steck; if the rezoning is approved, a traffic impact analysis will be conducted during the site plan phase.

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Austin City Council, Board of Adjustment, Michael Whellan, MF-6 rezoning, Zilker Neighborhood Association, South Lamar neighborhood, housing and development, Planning Commission

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