UPDATE: It turns out that despite the 120-foot height maximum of the zoning change achieved by this property, the ERC development bonus program doesn’t supersede the height limits of this area’s Waterfront Overlay district imposed by its proximity to Lady Bird Lake — meaning the maximum height of new development allowed here will be 96 feet. We promise you won’t notice the difference.
A significant 2.6-acre parcel on East Riverside Drive near I-35 overlooking Lady Bird Lake and only a stone’s throw from downtown Austin could soon rise to new heights as a 250-unit mixed-income multifamily residential project, thanks to a zoning change allowing a 96-foot building under the area’s seldom-used density bonus program — which offers additional height for developments in exchange for enhanced community benefits under the terms of the East Riverside Corridor (ERC) regulating plan.
Though not actually a rezoning, the case passed on consent by the Planning Commission at its meeting earlier this week amends the ERC to place the subject property within the boundaries of the bonus program’s eligibility area, allowing extra height provided the project meets the necessary community benefit requirements. That site, located at 1404 East Riverside Drive, is currently home to the Acton School of Business, an alternative business education campus founded in 2002 by billionaire former Texas oilman Jeff Sandefer, which previously offered accelerated MBA degrees before its loss of accreditation and announcement of a highly-publicized fellowship program endorsed by a prominent influencer for all-meat diets back in 2018.
The future of the business school is unclear at the moment, but city documents associated with the case describe a plan initiated by Sandefer to develop the property under the corridor’s bonus program with approximately 250 multifamily residences, with its bonus requirements for the additional height met at least in part by the inclusion of a presently unknown number of on-site affordable units reserved for applicants earning 60 percent or less of the region’s Median Family Income — that’s a bit less than $47,000 a year for a two-person household, per last year’s guidelines.
Though the property in question is inside the ERC planning district, it’s outside the eligibility area for the corridor’s bonus program, meaning that without this zoning change the new building would likely be restricted to 60 feet in height. Allowing extra density at this location in particular is contextually very appropriate, which might explain why the Planning Commission didn’t even need to discuss the item — the Acton School site is located directly east of the Berkshire Riverview apartments, which reach a prominent height of 11 floors at the corner of East Riverside Drive and I-35. (This tract’s new height limit also pencils out to roughly 10 floors.)
Rising to a maximum height of 11 floors, the Berkshire Riverview apartments set the tone for appropriate density at the entrance of the East Riverside Corridor near I-35.
Though we’ve seen the ERC bonus program used to great effect elsewhere further along the corridor — increasing both affordability and the interesting architecture enabled by height exceeding the ho-hum design standards of the typical “Texas Doughnut” configuration — a project this close to the gateway of the district and practically within earshot of downtown offers an even more compelling opportunity for housing close to the central city. Considering its surroundings, allowing extra density in this specific location is a no-brainer, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.