After years of neighborhood engagement, redevelopment of the city-owned St. John House Depot web site is lastly occurring.
Metropolis Council Thursday voted unanimously to pick out the joint proposal from developer Greystar and the Housing Authority of the Metropolis of Austin. The proposal contains 560 residential items – half of which might be reasonably priced at 50 to 70 p.c space median earnings – together with 15,000 sq. toes of neighborhood business area and an expanded and improved St. John Park. A former House Depot and defunct automobile dealership at the moment occupy the 19-acre East Austin web site.
“Too usually, households in St. John have both been left behind by town or pushed out by gentrification,” stated Council Member Greg Casar, who has pushed for the redevelopment earlier than and through his time on Council. “With this challenge, we’re demanding one thing completely different.”
Casar stated that the challenge, positioned in his District 4, will do proper by the largely Black and lower-income neighborhood, providing right-to-stay and right-to-return insurance policies, on-site neighborhood advantages and continued neighborhood involvement.
Neighbors who spoke at Thursday’s assembly supported the challenge, however had been nonetheless cautious about its potential for gentrification. “We ask that you just don’t simply take our property and make it one thing that’s for others that don’t seem like us,” stated Terry Mitchell, an entrepreneur who grew up in East Austin.
With Council’s vote, metropolis staffers might now start negotiations with the event workforce with the objective of bringing again a grasp improvement settlement earlier than Council. If Council approves the MDA, building can start as quickly as subsequent 12 months. Council in 2017 signaled its intent to redevelop the location, and neighborhood engagement has been ongoing since.
Plans may change because the challenge goes by way of the method, which takes a number of months. Council’s path pushed for extra from the challenge, together with family-sized items, a toddler care heart and reasonably priced native companies chosen by the neighborhood. Individually, Casar stated he needs to see much less floor parking and much more housing.
The Greystar/HACA proposal scored greatest in metrics ready by metropolis staffers in comparison with different proposals, main employees to advocate the workforce final week. The decisive issue might have been the truth that the chosen proposal doesn’t want metropolis subsidies. Casar in contrast the proposal to 2 latest reasonably priced housing initiatives that collectively obtained about $40 million in metropolis and state subsidies for round 300 houses. “On this case, we’re getting 280 low-income houses,” he stated, “so practically twice as many houses for zero in metropolis subsidy.” Casar did, nevertheless, depart open the potential for providing subsidies to extend the reasonably priced housing on the location.
The redevelopment is “difficult” for a lot of causes, Casar stated. First, town unwittingly positioned a big barrier to housing improvement on the location when, envisioning a courthouse and police station, it paid $10 million in public security bond cash for the land in 2008. These plans fell by way of, however using bond cash means the location is restricted to public security makes use of – until the $10 million in bond cash is repaid. Greystar, as a part of the proposal, can pay the debt in full.
On prime of being “over $10 million within the gap from the start,” Casar stated, the location “has a constructing that’s unusable that we bought at a value when it was usable,” including to the price of redevelopment. The bond debt was the primary issue stopping the opposite makes use of which have lengthy been floated for the location, corresponding to inventive area or everlasting supportive housing for folks experiencing homelessness.
The primary level of competition on Council was whether or not to require the developer to lease the location from town or embody a promote possibility. Although all Council members who aired an opinion favored leasing, some needed to forestall the choice of promoting the property. The path Council handed included the choice for a lease, but in addition the choice of a sale ought to a lease not be possible. In the end, the ultimate resolution about this and different features of the proposal is as much as Council, which has to approve the MDA earlier than building can start.
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