A tiny scrap of land just south of the Town Lake Holiday Inn might become downtown’s next point tower. First this site was being planned as the North Shore Lofts, then Town Lake Lofts, and now the project appears to have settled on East Avenue Apartments, at least for the time being.
The current plan for the site includes:
- 32 stories
- 226 dwellings
- 22-foot high ground floor with floor-to-ceiling windows intended to preserve views of Lady Bird Lake for pedestrians and motorists along the frontage road and around the building.
Even by the standards of a space-strapped city like Austin, the project’s 0.36 acre site between East Avenue and the frontage road of IH-35 is a uniquely challenging development.
The project is not only limited by the TxDOT right of way requirements (ROW) for interstate frontage roads, but is also bordered on its west and south sides by city parkland, which is out of bounds for development or improvement of any kind.
Architect Brett Rhode, of project architects Rhode Partners, explained the unique challenges of the site in detail at a recent meeting of the Austin Design Commission. TxDOT’s right of way requirements for frontage roads prevent any development of the area facing the highway, meaning that possible shade trees or an overhang of the building itself is out of the question — the only thing they’re allowed to do is slightly widen the sidewalk and rebuild the curb and gutters. These regulations also only allow for a single curb cut along the frontage road and no alleys, forcing the project to manage its traffic flow entirely on site with a slightly unorthodox internal “motor court” layout.
Since the frontage road is off limits, the project instead plans to improve the streetscapes along East Avenue and Festival Beach Road — which connects East Avenue with the IH-35 frontage — using the city’s Great Streets standards for walkable, vibrant street spaces.
This effectively moves the building’s active space away from the frontage road, containing a small patch of parkland between the improved sidewalk and the building’s lobby. One silver lining? The plan’s area of Great Streets improvements is actually larger than it would be if the developers were permitted to improve the frontage road area instead.
However, Parks and Recreation Department regulations prevent the project’s use of parkland under an easement condition, preventing developers from integrating or improving the surrounding parks in any way beyond their boundaries — leaving the future of these small green spaces up to the city.
Last but not least is a floodplain problem. Approximately a third of the building site is located close enough to Lady Bird Lake to fall within the 100-year floodplain, which means it has a 1% chance of flooding in any given year — sort of. If the area flooded, the building is projected to only face depths of about two feet of water, but the project must be designed to resist such damage regardless. This is a solvable engineering problem.
We can’t help but to applaud the East Avenue Apartment proposal for introducing a plan that would bring vibrancy to the southernmost tip of downtown Austin, a part of downtown that has generally been overlooked due to the aforementioned development challenges.
Maybe now, the city will finally get around to building that fishing pier across the street.