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Austin City Council Update: South Lamar Development, Affordable Housing, Airport Expansion

City of Austin
A rendering of the South Lamar Planned Unit Development, slated at the current location of a Taco Cabana at Riverside Drive.

Update: The developers of the J.W. Marriott convention center downtown won’t be getting nearly $4 million in fee waivers.

In a late night hearing, the Austin City Council declined to act on an item that would have forgiven “past non-compliance” on developer White Lodging’s part. In return for $3.8 million in fee waivers, White Lodging agreed to pay construction and trade workers the prevailing wage on the project. But the company instead paid many workers a differently calculated, lower wage.

“It’s been a two-year mess. But all of that aside, it doesn’t change the intent one ounce,” said council member Mike Martinez, referring back to the council’s original agreement. “The intent was to apply those two provisions [a prevailing wage and minority contractor goals] should the fee waivers apply. And so I don’t see how I can change that position.”

  • A development slated at the current site of the South Lamar Taco Cabana – the so-called Taco PUD, or planned unit development – passed on first reading.

If passed on all three readings, a 96-foot condominium will ultimately go up on the spot. Council member Chris Riley said the project’s amenities – including a plaza, space for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, public art, bike kiosks and more – make it a win for the area, right off of the Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike trail. “This is a place that is going to welcome the public to come and enjoy the place … You get none of that with existing zoning, leading to just a regular apartment complex.” The vote passed 5-2, with council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting no. 

Update (Aug. 8, 4:52 p.m.): Heading into the evening’s 5:30 p.m. break, council members still have their work cut out for them: The so-called Taco PUD and the White Lodging items described below won’t be heard until later this evening. That said, the council has made some headway:

  • The council approved putting a $65 million funding proposal for affordable housing to Austin voters this November. 

Voters approved a $55 million affordable housing bond in 2006, but in 2011, they rejected a $78 million spending plan – the only bond proposition to fail. The council vote passed unanimously, but not before council member Bill Spelman proposed a $55 million bond instead. $65 million is the limit of what the city can spend without a tax increase; “Just because we can go to 65 million dollars without a tax increase, doesn’t mean we have to go to 65 million,” Spelman said. His proposal failed 3-4.

  • The City of Austin is looking into fast-tracking construction permits for people who pay more.  

The council approved a resolution directing City Manager Marc Ott to examine similar programs in places like Dallas and San Antonio and report back with a proposal. Supporters say the extra money could help clear the backlog of permit applications, but council member Laura Morrison voted against the idea, saying it would set up a two-tier system.“Essentially, it’s a premium pay, pay-to-play to get superior service from the city,” Morrison tells KUT News. “And we don’t have systems in place where if you happen to be wealthy, you can jump to the front of the line.”

  • The $62 million Terminal East expansion at Austin Bergstrom International Airport, mentioned below, passed this morning.

The project will add more than 55,000 square feet to the airport, including a ten-lane security checkpoint. ABIA has been setting passenger-traffic records, topping 900,000 thousand in June. That number beat the previous record, set the month before.
Original post (Aug. 8, 10:16 a.m.): The Austin City Council returns from summer hiatus to a jam-packed agenda. Among the items waiting for them: a zoning change that would allow construction of a 96-foot condominium on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake along the Hike & Bike Trail.

A number of neighborhood associations voiced their objection to the proposed. Among those protesters was Jack Graham, the President of Save Town Lake, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the view of Austin’s central waterfront.

Graham feels that the developer’s desire to add the building would take away from existing community. “It’s a great financial advantage to him to build these extra three floors of condos, which he will sell for high prices,” he said. “What he is getting is a financial windfall, and what he’s giving to the community is nothing.”

The developers are seeking Planned Unit Development zoning to procure the development’s height. While PUD zoning is usually reserved for larger projects, city staff has recommended granting the zoning. The item is set for a 6 p.m. time certain (meaning it cannot be heard before then.)

That's not all the council is taking up today - by a long shot. Here's some highlights from its 114 item agenda: 

  • Items 5, 6:  $62 million funding for the Terminal East Infill expansion project at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. (Learn more about the project here.)
  • Item 7: Setting an affordable housing bond election for this November.
  • Item 11: "Clarification" and the waiver of "past non-compliance" in the ongoing White Lodging labor dispute. Developers of the J.W. Marriott on Congress Avenue had nearly $4 million in city fee waivers taken away, after it came out they were not paying construction workers a certain wage; White Lodging maintains former Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, who negotiated the contract, gave them the OK to pay  a different, lower wage calculation. This item is set for a 7 p.m. time certain, 
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