The mixed-use redevelopment planned for the Twin Oaks Shopping Center in South Austin by the Dallas-based real estate developer Trammell Crow Company and its subsidiary High Street Residential on behalf of the 10-acre shopping center’s owners at the H-E-B Grocery Company has the potential to anchor the northeast corner of South Congress Avenue and Oltorf Street with nearly 1,000 homes, offices, a hotel, and retail space near the South Congress Station of Project Connect’s Orange Line. It’s precisely how we would like to see Austin’s many dying strip malls transformed: walkable destinations with less surface parking and a lot more housing.
While we’ve already seen promising details on the project from a traffic study last month, new city filings offer our first look at a concept site plan for the Twin Oaks center at 2315 South Congress Avenue, with a lot of detail about the potential for adapting this sprawling retail property. The concept comes from Chicago-based firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the most prominent architecture studios in the world and the same designers behind the Austin American-Statesman headquarters redevelopment further north up Congress Avenue by Endeavor Real Estate Group.
A concept site plan essentially allows the developer of a large project like this to submit a plan for city review before its design is completely finalized, which gives the city an opportunity to provide feedback and assist the developer in understanding how various local land use regulations will apply to the project. This helps avoid headaches down the road when the final plan is submitted for evaluation — but just like the traffic study we saw back in June, even if the design isn’t completely finalized a concept site plan is usually a good representation of the direction a developer expects to take, so looking at the plan is equally helpful for laypeople like us to visualize the potential of such a big project.
The concept plan seen here includes five main buildings, with hotel, office, and residential uses on deck. With the majority of the project zoned for the city’s VMU2 program with a 90-foot height maximum, most of these buildings are free to rise between six and eight floors. There’s substantial retail space included in the ground floor of most of these buildings, and the residential component is split between a condo building and two multifamily apartment structures, offering a total of approximately 959 residential units between the three buildings. Another view of the concept site plan shows that the project is planned in phases, with the second apartment building and a small office building expected as part of the second phase:
According to the concept plan, the current impervious cover of the highly-paved Twin Oaks site is 92.3 percent. If built to the design seen here, the project would reduce that impervious cover to about 86 percent, with a little more than an acre of the property to be dedicated as public parkland under the city’s requirements. The project will also include roughly 1,900 parking spaces, almost all of them located underground. Although the concept plan doesn’t touch on this detail, under the rules of the property’s VMU2 zoning its residential buildings will need to offer a percentage of onsite affordable housing — which could create up to 115 residences priced at rates affordable to Austinites earning no more than 60 percent of the region’s Median Family Income, which in 2023 is $49,080 for an individual or $70,080 for a family of four.
It’s pretty hard to argue that the plan seen here isn’t better than the current underused state of the shopping center, but since this concept plan is intended to receive feedback and subject to change, our only criticism is that its frontages along both South Congress Avenue and East Oltorf Street seem oddly turned away from the public realm, with no indication of directly street-facing retail space. While the widened sidewalks and trees planted on the edges of the site are a huge improvement, it’s a bit strange to then see every retail space labeled in the plan facing inward, avoiding this new pedestrian environment. Anyway, we’ll get a better idea of the streetscape design once the developers put out some renderings. No rush, y’all.