Over the last few months, many of our readers have contacted the Austin City Council to push back against a long list of East Austin rezoning requests made by profit-driven developers during this year’s tragic COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all of the sites are located within areas identified as vulnerable to displacement by Uprooted: Residential Displacement in Austin’s Gentrifying Neighborhoods and What Can Be Done About It, a city-funded report by The University of Texas at Austin.
Your calls and emails are making a difference. In late October, a real estate developer seeking an egregious zoning change in Austin’s historic Montopolis neighborhood withdrew its request amid public outcry. And just last week, cracks started forming in the “affordability” claims a different developer made about housing proposed for a site in East Austin’s historic Stone Gate neighborhood.
This Thursday, December 10, the city council will consider another Montopolis rezoning request, for properties located at 316 Saxon Lane and 6328 El Mirando Street. The developer is asking for a zoning change that should be familiar to native East Austinites: from the existing single-family designation to one allowing townhouses and condominiums. The council will also reconsider last week’s Stone Gate request, where a land speculator wants to build a much more extensive development than initially proposed.
Montopolis residents have submitted a valid petition in opposition to the rezoning of the Saxon and El Mirando properties, asserting their state-granted protest rights. This means the developer will need the support of a supermajority of the council before moving forward—but residents aren’t stopping there. Heeding the Uprooted report’s guidance to “think big and act bold,” they are challenging City Hall to step in and buy the land itself, using funds from 2018’s to prevent displacement. Our council members should support the Montopolis neighborhood’s position.
As for the Stone Gate rezoning, some council members indicated last week that they would support enforceable private covenants between the developer and neighborhood residents, to ensure the developer honors its promises. These agreements won’t be finalized in a single week, so the council should give the parties more time to work on the matter.
Council member Leslie Pool also addressed an issue that deserves far more attention: the hollow claims Austin land developers make regarding the “affordability” of housing they intend to build.
“[S]imply saying you are going to lease or sell a particular unit at a particular price doesn’t amount to anything … we were told at the time it was being approved 10 years ago those would be affordable houses, and the majority of them are around a million dollars, and the affordable stock has not yet been built and not been marketed. … I am looking for a little more certainty when I make my decisions on these cases, particularly when it is being—when the arguments and the persuasion is circling around affordability.
We couldn’t agree more. When Austin land developers claim they want to build “affordable housing,” our elected officials must ask if those homes will be affordable for existing residents or wealthy newcomers—and they must demand developers back up their promises with enforceable agreements.
Contact Mayor Steve Adler and your representative on the Austin City Council using the information below. Tell them to vote against Item Nos. 69, 96, and 97 on the December 10 agenda, and tell them to stop the East Austin gold rush! Check this map if you aren’t sure which council member represents you.
Together we can build an Austin for everyone!
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Here are the full details on Thursday’s cases:
C14-2020-0044 – Saxon Acres Residential Zoning – Conduct a public hearing and approve an ordinance amending City Code Title 25 by rezoning property locally known as 316 Saxon Lane and 6328 El Mirando Street (Country Club East and Colorado River Watersheds). Applicant Request: To rezone from family residence-neighborhood plan (SF-3-NP) combining district zoning to townhouse and condominium residence-neighborhood plan (SF-6-NP) combining district zoning. Staff and Planning Commission Recommendation: To grant townhouse and condominium residence-neighborhood plan (SF-6-NP) combining district zoning. Owner: Saxon Acres LLC (Danny Walker). Applicant: Thrower Design (A. Ron Thrower). City Staff: Kate Clark, 512-974-1237. A valid petition has been filed in opposition to this rezoning request.
NPA-2019-0015.01 – 5010 & 5102 Heflin Lane – Conduct a public hearing and approve second and third readings of an ordinance amending Ordinance No.021107-Z-11, the East MLK Combined Neighborhood Plan, an element of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, to change the land use designation on the future land use map (FLUM) on property locally known as 5010 and 5102 Heflin Lane, (Fort Branch Watershed) from Single Family to Higher Density Single Family land use. First reading approved on December 3, 2020. Vote 9-2. Council Member Alter and Pool voted nay. Owner: Heflin Phase I LLC: Agent: Ron Thrower; Thrower Design. City Staff: Kathleen Fox, (512) 974-7877.
C14-2020-0022 – 5010 & 5102 Heflin Lane – Conduct a public hearing and approve second and third readings of an ordinance amending City Code Title 25 by rezoning property locally known as 5010 and 5102 Heflin Lane (Fort Branch Watershed). Applicant Request: To rezone from single family residence small lot-neighborhood plan (SF-4A-NP) combining district zoning to townhouse and condominium residence-neighborhood plan (SF-6-NP) combining district zoning. First reading approved: townhouse and condominium residence-neighborhood plan (SF-6-NP) combining district zoning on December 3, 2020. Vote: 9-2. Owner/Applicant: Heflin Phase 1, LLC (Lynn Yuan). Agent: Thrower Design (Ron Thrower). City Staff: Heather Chaffin, 512-974-2122.