The closing of the Hyde Park neighborhood’s “beloved” post office at 4300 Speedway sent shockwaves through one of Austin’s most charming and change-averse districts last year, with the possibility of the 1967 building’s demolition and replacement by something a few floors taller sparking a public discourse over whether the property’s owner and potential developer Blake Thompson of local firm State Street Properties could potentially stand trial in The Hague for the crime of gentrifying a neighborhood where the median listing price for a home approached $850,000 a few months ago.
One year later, we discover these concerns were unfounded, as Thompson’s plan for the post office property emerges courtesy of the Historic Landmark Commission — though the 55-year-old building isn’t a contributing property in the Hyde Park Historic District, the neighborhood’s notoriously prickly boutique zoning overlay demands the commission’s review of any alterations to the post office structure.
With the help of architecture studio Thoughtbarn, the owner plans to transform the building into a multi-tenant commercial space with restaurant and retail uses, only lightly modifying the structure to accommodate this new beginning. In addition to the post office site, Thompson also owns land directly east across the street currently being used as a parking lot, at 4303 and 4307 Speedway, and hopes to develop this site with additional commercial spaces fashioned as a cluster of bungalows, also designed by Thoughtbarn in a style friendly to the neighborhood’s design standards:
Together, these two projects will create a street-spanning commercial hub not unlike the beloved collection of retail a few blocks away at Duval Center, which you’ll note some area homeowners tried to stop back in the 1930s like fun-hating time travelers — we really hope this new project doesn’t encounter quite the same resistance.
The Historic Landmark Commission approved the post office modifications at its meeting late last month, but the new development across the street might take more effort, requiring rezoning by City Council from its existing residential designation — and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association strongly opposes this potential zoning change, preferring the hypothetical housing that could someday rise at the parking lot versus the idea of commercial or retail use here now. Adding dense housing to one of the city’s most restrictive neighborhoods is a noble goal, but we’d note that the current zoning constraints on the property would only permit roughly 12 units at the site. Coverage of the project in the fledgeling Hyde Parker Magazine has a better idea:
The owner could build the apartment building with the existing zoning that he has right now or, if he provided affordable housing on site, would be allowed to build up to 60” using an affordable housing option called the Affordability Unlocked ordinance. The Affordability Unlocked ordinance supersedes the exclusionary zoning rules imposed on the site by the NCCD.
While we wait to see how these projects pan out, you might ask yourself — why does Austin allow its most exclusive neighborhoods to dictate the terms of growth so strictly in the name of preserving their character, even in the face of a housing crisis poised to make the city completely unlivable for the creatives and service workers giving this city so much of its character? Maybe we ought to do something about that.