The redevelopment plan for South Austin’s 37-acre Brodie Oaks shopping center received the green light from Austin’s City Council yesterday, with the $1 billion Planned Unit Development agreement between the city and development partners Barshop & Oles and Lionstone Investments passing its third and final reading and now expected to break ground sometime in 2025. We’ve talked a lot about this project and what it means for the city since its first appearance in 2021, and years later we’re even more convinced that this plan represents a sort of crystal ball showing the path ahead for a new generation of environmentally conscious growth in Austin — its 1,700 new residences alongside more than 11 acres of parkland and substantial new retail, office, and hotel uses are fashioned mostly from the parking lot of a strip mall.
This extensive reimagining of underused and overpaved properties across the city, with taller towers clawing back acres of parkland and public space from vast expanses of asphalt, is the only way out of the housing mess we’ve created for ourselves. Alongside projects like the transformation of city-owned land with a new neighborhood at the former Mueller airport, if built to the specifications presented in the PUD the Brodie Oaks plan will become the benchmark moving forward for private redevelopment of sprawling legacy commercial sites. We’re so confident in the superiority of this project’s design and environmental stewardship that we’ve started calling the redevelopment of other shopping centers in town “Brodie Oaksification.”
Although the pending reforms to Austin’s widespread single-family zoning that would allow more “missing middle” style infill housing like triplexes and cottage courts in existing neighborhoods are a critical piece of the puzzle, we’re way too late for those changes alone to add the necessary new housing commensurate with the city’s population growth — that ship arguably sailed decades ago, and at this point the only way to slow rent growth and improve affordability is to vastly increase the city’s overall housing supply. That’s the paint, and existing sprawled-out shopping centers in the central city like Brodie Oaks are the biggest blank canvas for density we’ve got.
No matter how much we build, there’s likely always going to be at least some Austinites suffering under the city’s housing costs, and although the “filtering” effect will eventually make today’s luxury housing into tomorrow’s cheaper housing, it’s too long to wait for the people who need it now — which is why the project also expects to include approximately 200 on-site affordable housing units, with 130 of those residences provided in partnership with local nonprofit Foundation Communities to households earning between 40 and 60 percent of the Median Family Income.
Ensuring that every large private development like Brodie Oaks provides a percentage of its units at income-restricted rates is critical, but to get there the city must be prepared to offer incentives like additional height and density to ensure these affordable units are fully subsidized, as they are in other successful city housing initiatives like VMU2 and Affordability Unlocked — developers, as primarily risk-averse instruments of profit, are not inclined to lose money for their investors out of sheer altruism, in the same sense that residents of Barton Hills aren’t lining up to sell their homes at a price adjusted far enough below fair market value that they become affordable to someone like a real estate blogger.
Some residents of nearby neighborhoods quickly complained that the density and height of the project was too intense for the area, and there was a time not so long ago that this project might have also faced skepticism at City Council — not on its merits, mind you, but rather from a reflexive aversion to large-scale change. These days, there’s a bit more acknowledgment that fighting tooth and nail to keep everything in Austin the same causes its own large-scale change, particularly in the form of your rent going up and the people you love moving away. With projects like Brodie Oaks now receiving approval from the city and even the respect of many nearby residents, it seems like almost everyone’s finally on the same page.