The plan by local hospitality firm White Lodging to develop a 13-story, 260-room hotel under Marriott’s Autograph Collection at the southwest corner of East Fifth and Trinity Streets is a good reminder that many of the setback requirements in Austin’s creaky old code are also metaphorically setting us back — like, as a city — since the ramifications of the Downtown Parks Overlay, imposed by Brush Square next door, caps the height of a building at 120 feet near Trinity Street. That’s reportedly motivated the property’s owners at the Finley Company to pursue this smaller plan at the site despite its lack of Capitol View Corridor limitations, since the setback on a potential building’s eastern side would prevent the kind of contiguous floorplates large enough to make sense for a taller office or residential tower use.
As we’ve mentioned before, setback requirements are generally the least effective way to create places people actually like, and the presence of a fire station on this side of the square means we’re protecting a building and parking lot from the shade of a neighboring tower rather than the idyllic sunny green space people likely imagine when a park-protecting piece of the code shows up. This is the setback requirement that, at least in part, biased the massing of the 5 Fifty Five condos (aka 555) and Hilton Hotel located just to the east of Brush Square. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with hotels, but a 13-story building in the heart of downtown Austin and directly adjacent to a number of upcoming public transit improvements might not be the highest and best use for the property owner if our fair city’s development situation was just a little different. Ah, c’est la vie.
Despite our constant complaining, the building is now set to rise at 307 and 311 East Fifth Street, adjacent tracts currently occupied respectively by downtown restaurant House (fka Russian House) and the shuttered event venue Trinity Hall, which will both need to be demolished prior to construction — but the latest location of classic blues club Antone’s is sticking around directly next door to the site, as you can see from the recent architectural drawings added to the building’s site plan this week:
Yep, that’s about what we were expecting. It will probably look pretty nice! Unfortunately, every time we see the project we will be forced to harass whoever is within earshot about how the built environment of downtown — and Austin in general — is silently steered by invisible walls and other speed bumps invented back when this city had like, five tall buildings. It’s enough to turn you a little crazy, isn’t it?