If you live in Barton Hills, Zilker, or any other neighborhood within a mile of the Brodie Oaks shopping center — a 37-acre South Austin strip mall dating back to the 1980s that’s set to be completely transformed into a $1 billion mixed-use project — you might have heard that the developer, Barshop & Oles Company, is staging an unusual demonstration tomorrow. From 8:30 to 10:30 on Friday morning, there will be two cranes raised at the Brodie Oaks site, one reaching 275 feet closer to the adjacent highway intersection, the other rising 160 feet towards the rear of the property.
These cranes represent the location and height of the two tallest towers in the multi-building development, a real-life version of the green boxes we like to draw to illustrate how new projects will appear on the skyline. The developer has agreed to perform this demonstration at the request of area stakeholders and the offices of District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen — who lives nearby in Barton Hills and skips no opportunity to resist dense development in the midst of a housing crisis.
Noting that the site is within her district, Council Member Ann Kitchen thanked the developers for having conversations with area neighbors. She did express concern about the 275-foot height, saying it might set a precedent for the area.
The developers have created a web form where nearby residents can submit photos of the cranes as seen from their neighborhoods or the site’s adjacent stretch of the Barton Creek Greenbelt, assuming they’re visible at all. There aren’t any neighborhoods directly adjacent to the Brodie Oaks property, but the increased elevation of Barton Hills might make the cranes — and thus the potential towers — visible on the horizon from some parts in the neighborhood. But why is this whole production taking place? It seems nearby homeowners and CM Kitchen are nervous about the notion of tall buildings in this area, with 275 feet representing 20 to 25 floors depending on whether the tower in question contains offices or residences.
But here’s the thing — the Brodie Oaks shopping center as it looks now with its oceans of parking is almost entirely paved, with the center’s current impervious cover at approximately 84 percent. The redevelopment of the property under the planned unit development now in progress would reduce that number to around 54 percent, with nearly 14 acres of open space in the finished project. This is accomplished through density, by building up instead of out, and it’s fantastic for the environment compared with the current sprawled-out state of the shopping center.
The developer’s efforts to meet the area’s unusually strict standards of environmental superiority due to the presence of Barton Creek nearby have even been commended, if tentatively, by the folks at Save Our Springs — but for some, the height enabling such sustainable design is just too spooky. This is an example of what we call vibes-based environmentalism, the notion that reducing this site’s environmentally harmful impervious cover isn’t worth the bad vibes someone might get from seeing a tower on the horizon from their house or while hiking the nearby greenbelt. It’s not even accurate to call resistance to the height of this project NIMBYism, since the Brodie Oaks property isn’t close to anyone’s backyard — we’re talking about views here.
You might wonder why the developers are so happy to meet the no-growth crowd’s demands and put up the cranes at their own expense just to provide a photo-op for neighborhood fearmongering. We suspect the people in charge of this development are so willing to stage this demonstration because they know the height of these towers won’t actually have the effect on the surrounding neighborhoods or the Barton Creek Greenbelt its residents think. With the heavy tree cover of the greenbelt and a pretty significant distance between the site and major neighborhoods, we have a feeling some folks are going to be surprised tomorrow morning — let’s just hide and watch.