Mixed-use project in Bouldin Creek clears final hurdle

Photo by city of Austin

Tuesday, March 21, 2023 by Jonathan Lee

The Board of Adjustment granted a height increase March 13 that will allow a mixed-use project in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood to move forward. 

Plans for the Copeland at 1000 S. First St. include two condominium buildings with a total of 120 units, a 95-room hotel and 65,000 square feet of offices, all with underground parking, as well as retail space, parkland and a row of townhomes. 

To make the project viable, developer StoryBuilt requested a variance to compatibility, a rule that limits the height of buildings near single-family homes. Land use attorney Michael Whellan argued that the site is so constrained by rules governing heritage trees and water quality protection that it isn’t feasible to develop without additional height – a hardship he argued meets the Board of Adjustment’s legal standard for a variance.

Whellan also said the project has support from the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association. “The applicant worked with the neighborhood for over three years to develop a consensus plan, including support for this variance,” he said.

The compatibility variance allows buildings up to 65 feet tall, or four to five stories. Without the variance, buildings could only be that tall on about half the site. 

To ensure community benefits, the applicant and the neighborhood signed a restrictive covenant. One requirement is that 20 percent of the condo units must be affordable for those making 60 percent of the median family income. 

“Affordable housing at 20 percent within a half-mile of downtown is huge and is a major reason that our neighbors supported this,” said Jeff Seiden, a representative from the neighborhood association. 

The agreement also establishes a $1 million fund to protect heritage trees from damage during construction. For each damaged tree, the developer has agreed to pay $100,000 from the fund to local affordable housing organizations.

The proposed parkland is viewed as a boon for neighbors. According to Seiden, it would effectively increase the size of nearby Nicholas Dawson Park by 30 percent. 

The board voted 9-0-2 to support the variance request, with board members Richard Smith and Nicholl Wade abstaining.

“When I saw this come through (the Planning Commission) I was really excited,” Chair Jessica Cohen said. “I would love to see more of it. Thank you so much for working so well together. I’m hoping everybody looks and says, ‘Oh, look what we can do,’ and starts doing it everywhere.”

Board Member Darryl Pruett, despite his yes vote, expressed conflicting feelings about the case.

“I do not like variances from compatibility standards,” Pruett said. “I don’t like having big, huge, tall buildings right next to somebody else’s house. Looks to me like they’ve put a lot of thought into this. They’ve done this the correct way, which is to fit with the neighborhood, talk to them, come up with a vision for what it’s supposed to be like.”

The variance was a final hurdle from the city that the project needed to clear, following City Council’s approval of a zoning change last December. The developer has submitted site plans to the city and anticipates breaking ground in early 2024, with completion in 2026. The project will complement an adjacent development named Frank that StoryBuilt recently completed. 

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This article First appeared in austinmonitor

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