American literary theorist Kenneth Burke famously described the nature of mankind as “rotten with perfection,” so obsessed with defining the “proper” names for everything around us that we lose any ability to see outside of the hierarchies we’ve created. I’ve never seen this observation demonstrated faster than when I use vague terminology to describe overlapping neighborhoods or districts. Nothing tunes up the snark brigade more than that, man — not even typos. Imaginary boundaries, it seems, are extremely serious business.
Keeping that in mind, I’m going to just throw some names out here: The Innovation District. The Medical District. The Waterloo Park District. The Far North Red River Cultural District? Say it ain’t so, could it be East Downtown? Whatever you’d like to call it, the area of downtown east of the Capitol and extending a bit past the highway to the east is what we’re talking about.
Due to a slew of upcoming development in the area, I recently described the region as the most interesting part of the city for the moment. Keeping that in mind, let’s check in and see what’s shaking since we last heard from…this part of downtown I still don’t know what to call.
In the last few months, we saw plans filed for towers at 610 East 11th Street, 700 East 11th Street, and 705 East 12th Street. The first two sites were interesting mainly due to the design considerations necessary for building a tower, due to the restrictions imposed by our old friend the Capitol View Corridor.
To avoid the CVCs over the 610 and 700 East 11th Street sites, any tower component would need to rise only on a specific corner, and each would need to rotate slightly on its axis or use specific geometry in order to not encroach upon the corridor, similar to the Block 87 triangular point tower design planned southwest of the area.
The 705 East 12th Street tower is a little more confusing. If I’m not mistaken, a CVC covers pretty much the entire address. Not only that, but it appears that much of the information on the site plan is just copied over from the 610 East 11th Street filing. That led me to believe that there are actually just two towers going up on this block, with 705 East 12th Street only able to rise four or five stories due to the corridor. It’s kind of confusing, and probably somewhat the fault of the city’s insanely confusing permit database, but let’s move on.
These site plans were all dropped in our laps in the same month back in May, and I figured their rapid appearance had something to do with the Austin City Council’s consideration of new eastward Capitol View Corridors. If these corridors are passed, they’ll directly encroach upon the two towers we expect on the block.
At the time, it appeared that the developers with plans for the sites wanted to get the permitting process started as quickly as possible, so if the council began considering passing the new corridors in earnest, there would be a direct tower body count as a result — it’s a lot easier to push back against this proposal if you can cite the loss of specific projects as a side effect, rather than trying to argue that the corridors could stifle hypothetical developments sometime in the future.
But I also wondered if the developers knew something about the CVC proposals we didn’t. It appears that’s the case, according to a few lines in a zoning change review from the city’s Planning Commission meeting two days ago — ironically, the document pertains to 705 East 12th Street, which can’t rise higher than a few stories due to the existing CVCs we already talked about:
— City of Austin Planning Commission, July 11
Bam. That explains quite a bit about why development plans for the area ramped up after the possibility of new CVCs became a thing — they’re trying to get these towers grandfathered in, regardless of what the council decides. This is good news if you like dense development, especially in a part of downtown that could use a bit of a jolt.
Directly across the highway from these projects at 1109 North Interstate 35 Service Road is an older shopping center, anchored by a CVS Pharmacy and the Lucky Lady Bingo hall. As far as strip mall-type buildings go, it’s kind of nice looking, if a little grungy at this point.
This 3-acre plot of land was the future site of the One Two East mixed-use project, which was to include 472 apartments between two towers, with half of its units dedicated to senior housing. Rather than sitting on a parking garage pedestal like so many buildings of its ilk in Austin, the development would have included a 60,000 square foot grocery component on the ground floor — something this side of town really, really needs.
Sadly, strong neighborhood opposition led developer Haythem Dawlett of Legend Communities to drop this version of the project almost exactly a year ago — but that doesn’t mean nothing’s getting built there. That’s not how it works.
Instead, Legend Communities now hopes to build a commercial multifamily building known as The Huston, with 366 units and a parking garage with 532 spaces. Since one of the neighborhood’s main concerns with the project was the traffic increase caused by the grocery store on the ground floor, this component has been dropped, meaning we’re probably going to see minimal retail at best.
Current zoning for the property allows a height of around 12 stories. It certainly doesn’t feel like a victory for the neighborhood — by campaigning against the upzoning of the site that would allow for the original One Two East design complete with grocery store, residents of the area just bought themselves a less interesting, probably less attractive tower. Bummer.