A number of rezoning cases on the agenda for Austin City Council’s February 1 meeting later this week point to big change on the map for the St. Elmo neighborhood of South Austin. But what’s interesting about the projects seeking these rezonings is that none are planned for the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare along St. Elmo Road, but instead a few blocks north on Industrial Boulevard, which increasingly looks like the district’s new development axis for major mixed-use projects adding more residences and retail to this largely industrial neighborhood.
The first two rezonings on deck here would add Planned Development Area (PDA) designations for two nearby industrial tracts owned by developer Leifer Properties at 300-440 Industrial Boulevard and 560-600 Industrial Boulevard, sites both currently occupied by warehouse facilities that Leifer plans to redevelop as mixed-use residential buildings with retail — the 4.7-acre tract at 300-440 Industrial Boulevard would include approximately 686 residences and 10,000 square feet of retail, while the 4.3-acre assembly at 506-600 Industrial Boulevard would grow to 600 residences with 12,800 square feet of retail and a roughly 5,000-square-foot brewery and beer garden.
Further west, the X-Change Shopping Center at the corner of Industrial Boulevard and South Congress Avenue is also seeking a zoning change from Council, adding vertical mixed-use designation for this roughly 5.5-acre retail and warehouse center at 4201 South Congress Avenue — which would allow Santa Monica-based investors Redcar Properties to potentially add a residential building to the property while adapting existing buildings here for creative office and retail use. All of these rezonings are recommended by city staff, and we’re not expecting much trouble at Council.
With the PDA zoning secured by Leifer Properties, new developments at its two Industrial Boulevard tracts can rise to a maximum height of 125 feet, or more than 10 floors. That’s a significant infusion of density for this district, and could provide the changing neighborhood with a new benchmark for height — the advantage of developing these types of projects in the St. Elmo region is that single-family homes are almost nonexistent in this immediate area, meaning most projects in the district are not bound by major compatibility restrictions.
Although the timeline of these projects is unclear, they could be the first of many — the low-density industrial nature of this area’s land use makes for easy assemblies of tracts large enough for multifamily development, with a number of outright vacant lots suitable for infill growth. Although Industrial Boulevard is a small two-lane road, the projects here will still soon enjoy enhanced walkability and access off the street thanks to the Bergstrom Spur Trail now planned along the abandoned railroad line running directly north of these properties. The placemaking potential of the trail is obvious for these new developments — while St. Elmo has a lot of interesting businesses already, the area’s walkability is currently poor, making it difficult for any one area of the neighborhood to reach “entertainment district” status. With the possibilities of the trail in mind, these latest projects could very easily change that. After all, “Industrial Boulevard” has kind of a nice ring to it.