Plans to expand the west side of downtown Austin's skyline with a residential high-rise on Shoal Creek are advancing following a unanimous Planning Commission vote April 25.
In a nutshell
The new tower project is proposed on a 0.57-acre site at 506-508 West Ave. and would include 359 residential units and a parking garage across nearly 493,000 square feet. The site is currently home to the eateries Irene's and Taquero Mucho between West Fifth and West Sixth streets.
The new tower project is proposed at 565 feet tall, potentially around 40 stories and slightly taller than the Frost Bank Tower and Indeed Tower. The site is located about two blocks from The Independent—currently Austin’s tallest completed building at nearly 700 feet tall; the 66-story, 875-foot Sixth and Guadalupe project remains under construction.
The West Avenue block in downtown's Lower Shoal Creek District already features several residential complexes including the Fifth & West and Austin City Lofts condominiums. The April rezoning hearing involved a request from project applicant 506 West Avenue LP, an entity registered at the address of the Austin-based developer Riverside Resources behind the Fifth & West project.
The zoning adjustment was unanimously approved by planning commissioners and forwarded to City Council for final review. The change would shift the site from the downtown mixed use, or DMU, zoning category to central business district, or CBD, label for greater height and density allowances.
Austin's land code designates DMU zoning for property "on the periphery" of CBD-zoned areas around downtown, and many nearby sites are now CBD-zoned.
With the zoning change and a proposed height well above 400 feet, the developer will also either contribute on-site affordable housing or pay into Austin's housing funds through the Downtown Density Bonus Program.
The city's planning case manager recommended the zoning change, citing the dense, mixed-use addition as one that would benefit the surrounding downtown area. The Old Austin Neighborhood Association, which represents the western portion of downtown, also "enthusiastically" supported the tower plans—with some conditions tied to the new tower’s parking garage.
Conversely, dozens of residents from Fifth & West and Austin City Lofts registered against the proposal. Both in written testimony submitted to the city and at the April 25 meeting, they argued that bringing a new tower to their block will lower their quality of life while increasing flooding risks and bringing traffic and safety issues to the neighborhood.
Speaking for the ACL owners' association, Mary Stratmann said the mid-block development would overburden West Avenue and create a negative "box canyon" effect between their building and the new tower. Angela Hovis, speaking for Fifth & West residents, said developers should stick to their current zoning or reduce parking plans to limit traffic effects on the block.
“We do want development and more residences, but this is a very unusual request for an unusual location," Hovis said.
A preliminary city traffic review found that daily trips to 506-508 West Ave. would jump from around 756 estimated for the two restaurants today to around 1,693 with the proposed condo tower, a 124% increase.
Representing the rezoning applicant, land-use attorney Richard Suttle said the project team is working with neighbors on the tower's design along the ACL condo building, but that the high-rise is a good fit in the area.
“Imagine if we said, ‘We can’t build any more tall buildings next to tall buildings.’ That would kind of be a weird result downtown," Suttle said. "Rest assured that the design of the building and all, we’ll make sure we’re not draining on them and to the extent possible not causing problems for their building.”
"It’s too bad we don’t already have more CBD on the ground, and I’m sorry ACL was limited to 170 [feet] 15, 20 years ago now, but this building 20 years later does make a lot of sense," he said. "I’m excited to move this forward and see more homes built downtown."