The opera house redevelopment project obtains its first agreement


Monday, January 31, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

City Council unanimously approved the first reading of the proposed zoning change to three plots just east of South Congress Avenue while noting that there is a lot of talk and pending negotiation for the project, which aims to revive part of the Austin Opera House property as a than a concert hall.

The owners of the three parcels, known as the 200 Academy Drive project, wish to remove these properties from the Neighborhood Conservation Combining District to create a mixed-use development at affordable or reduced rates and the concert hall.

The size of the concert hall is the biggest sticking point between developer Chris Wallin and neighbors who say the area will suffer from traffic drawn to what has long been a neighborhood street. The project calls for 17,500 square feet to be used for concert hall space, while neighbors have agreed to a much smaller space of 3,000 square feet, roughly the size of the nearby Continental Club. .

Architect and project partner Richard Weiss said changing the NCCD rather than removing it altogether would create future demands and problems for the project which is widely supported by the Council because of the accommodation it would provide as well. as the proximity of the project to the future public transport. lines.

Council member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the area in question, has drafted a motion sheet that would change parts of the NCCD affecting the project plots to accomplish much of what is intended. The sheet included the smaller room size as a placeholder, which it said could change in the coming weeks as staff members, the developer and neighbors continue to work on a deal.

Tovo also suggested the city could push for a density bonus to include specific requirements for the number of affordable housing units included in the project, including targeted income levels for those units, with up to 20% priced units available to those making up to 60% of the area’s median family income.

To date, the project has adopted the requirements of the city SMART housing program.

The application, which required nine council votes following the petition filed against it by neighbors, nearly failed after council member Paige Ellis passed an amendment that replaced the 17,500-square-foot venue in the reading instead of Tovo’s smaller venue. This amendment passed 6-5 with Tovo, Pro Tem Mayor Alison Alter and Council members Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Mackenzie Kelly voting against.

When it appeared that the request would not meet the nine votes as amended, Kitchen moved an amendment leaving the size of the venue blank to leave this issue open for further work and discussion. This amendment also passed 6-5, with Ellis and Council members Greg Casar, Pio Renteria, Vanessa Fuentes and Natasha Harper-Madison voting against.

Tovo said the next few weeks will include many negotiations between developers and neighbors to find the right balance for a rapidly changing part of downtown.

“I am convinced that we can end up with a project that allows the return of this historic use on this plot and allows to increase the housing possibilities that we really need and also balance those against, in particular the use of the music, against the needs of the hundreds and hundreds of people who live nearby,” Tovo said.

Mayor Steve Adler, who supports the larger site proposal, said staff and council members need to gather data on possible site capabilities and configurations before the second of three required readings.

“I’m not sure we have to decide today on the size of the site, or decide today on the total number of affordable units on the property,” he said. “Between the first and second reading we can try to resolve these issues, although I will say that while I’m sitting here I would support the applicant’s requested size for the site given future traffic patterns.”

Photo caption: Site plan presented to the city by applicant Richard Weiss.

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