Could planned project set off MoPac development boom?

Sep 2, 2014
Austin American Statesman

Two towers that would be among the tallest buildings outside of downtown Austin are being proposed as part of project that envisions bringing 1.6 million square feet of development to MoPac Boulevard and Spicewood Springs Road


Some area residents oppose the project, which they say could set a precedent for other tall buildings — both along MoPac and elsewhere throughout the city — that would encroach on surrounding neighborhoods


The developer behind the project is Dallas-based Spire Realty Group LP. Spire’s project is one of several office and residential developments planned or under construction along Spicewood Springs Road


Real estate experts say the proposed development could set off a wave of development along MoPac


Spire’s site is a 31-acre tract that now houses Austin Oaks, an office complex with 12 buildings of two to three stories each and totaling 450,000 square feet. Spire is seeking a zoning change that would allow it to construct buildings of three to five stories on the parts of the site closest to residential areas, and, on the parts closer to MoPac, two office buildings that would tower 17 stories each. Height is currently limited to 60 feet on the site


The project would comply with city rules meant to ensure that commercial projects don’t impinge on residential areas, said Steve Drenner, the Austin attorney representing Spire in the zoning case


Plans call for up to 610 apartments and townhomes in the three- to five-story buildings, plus retail and restaurant space. The soonest construction is planned to start is around 2020, after existing office leases expire. The project would be built in phases over 10 years or so. In all, an estimated 1.6 million square feet of development is planned. By comparison, Barton Creek Square mall is 1.43 million square feet


The project must go through an approval process that will include presentations before the city’s Environmental Board and Zoning and Platting Commission. The Austin City Council will have the final say on the zoning change, which could come before it by the end of the year


Drenner said the project is consistent with Imagine Austin, a long-term plan the city approved in 2012 that includes recommendations for guiding growth, such as concentrating dense development in strategic areas to make the city more compact and walkable


Joyce Statz, president of the Northwest Austin Civic Association, which represents about 4,150 households in the area, said the proposed project doesn’t fit with the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. The project also would worsen problems with traffic and overcrowded schools in the area, she said


Statz said the Northwest Austin Civic Association is polling its members on the project, and two other neighborhood groups plan to survey their members as well. In all, four groups are collaborating in their efforts regarding the project: the Northwest Austin Civic Association, the Allandale Neighborhood Association, the Balcones Civic Association and the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association, which combined represent more than 10,000 households, Statz said


Austin, like some other cities across the countries, is seeing new mixed-use development crop up in areas outside of the city’s center, presenting an alternative to downtown


Charles Heimsath, a local real estate consultant who has worked on the Austin Oaks proposal, said new development is inevitable along MoPac



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