Statesman PUD nears final approval

Tuesday November 8th, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The project to redevelop the old Austin American Statesman The site is heading for final approval in the coming weeks after City Council approved the planned unit development, or PUD, at second reading on Thursday.

If the Council approves the PUD order In third and final reading, developer Endeavor Real Estate will be able to turn the 19-acre lakefront lot at 305 S. Congress Ave., which currently houses vacant offices and surface parking, into a sprawling development at mixed use.

Plans show 1,378 residential units, 1.5 million square feet of office space, 275 hotel rooms, and 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space spread over six towers up to 525 feet tall. More than half of the site will be made up of parks and public spaces, including a reconstructed walking and cycling path and a bat viewing area.

The second reading vote was 7-1-2-1, with Council members Alison Alter against, Mackenzie Kelly and Ann Kitchen abstaining, and Kathie Tovo off the stage.

Since the first reading in April, Endeavor Real Estate, Council members and city employees have continued to negotiate the most contentious elements of the PUD. On Thursday, Council debated several of those items, including affordable housing and whether to allow a hotel on site.

Affordable housing was the most controversial element of the project. Some Council members and community groups, hoping to derive more benefit to the community from the windfall expected from the developer, have asked Endeavor to include more affordable housing on site.

Endeavor offered three affordable housing options: 55 on-site affordable units (4% of the total) priced at 80% of median family income; $23.2 million for the city to spend elsewhere on affordable housing; or affordable off-site units at 422 at the Lake, an existing apartment complex nearby. The latter option would result in either 70 units at 80% MFI or 34 units at 60% MFI, and the units would be available much sooner than the other options.

But another choice could bring even more units. Walter Moreau, executive director of nonprofit developer Foundation Communities, said Thursday that the $23.2 million fee in lieu of on-site affordable housing could help fund an affordable housing project developed in partnership with the Mary Foundation. Lee along South Lamar Boulevard.

This project would have 128 affordable units in its first phase, with affordable units at 60, 50, and 30% MFI for 99 years, as opposed to the 40-year affordability period in the other options. About 600 affordable units are planned in later phases.

Council members seemed more inclined to support off-site affordable housing, with several expressing interest in the Foundation Communities option. “I would just pick as many units as we could get closer to downtown,” Mayor Steve Adler said.

Council member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the project, pushed for 10% affordable units on site. She was off the stage for part of Thursday’s discussion.

A majority of Council also opposed allowing a hotel on site in hopes of securing more accommodation. Richard Suttle, representing Endeavour, said the requirement could put the project in jeopardy. “No hotel doesn’t necessarily mean more accommodations,” Suttle said. “A hotel is an integral part of financing.”

The Council also supported an amendment by Adler to allow for greater on-site density in exchange for affordable housing to match what the downtown density premium demands.

Negotiations on these elements will continue before the Council’s votes at third reading, probably at the beginning of December.

Courtesy of 305 South Congress PUD via City of Austin.

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