Govalle, as the geographic final frontier for development in East Austin, always deserved a light touch. This diverse and generally low-income neighborhood hasn’t seen significant projects until recent years, and my concern with the first of these developments is that its design and placement didn’t work hard enough to integrate itself with the area’s culture compared to something like industrial adaptive reuse.
But maybe I shouldn’t worry. Here’s a look at two mixed-use projects on the way in the Govalle region that appear to be on the right track, working with residents of the neighborhood to put a friendlier face on development so often derided for its inauthenticity and lack of affordability.
ThinkEAST Mixed-Use Campus – 1141 Shady Lane
The 24-acre ThinkEAST mixed-use project seeks to create a new district for Austin creatives in Govalle, with multiple components including affordable multifamily housing and studio space for local artists.
- About 300 units of affordable housing for families earning 60% and below AMFI
- 9 acres of public space including parkland and space for community gardens
- Space for innovative community health hub and/or health services
- About 4 acres dedicated to spaces for arts, culture, and creative industries
- About 100 units of live/work space targeting artists and creative industries
- Market-based housing and retail
— ThinkEAST master plan
The development’s been an ongoing effort by a group of architects and urban planners for years now, but it appears that at least one component will soon take shape: a 54,000 square foot commercial mixed-use office building, designed by acclaimed local architecture firm Bercy Chen Studio.
Though details are scarce on the specifics of this portion of the development, the building will apparently include offices, retail, and a restaurant component. Earlier maps of the ThinkEAST campus showed this building designed with live/work spaces and upper floor multifamily, but it’s unclear if these elements have made it to this stage — any residential component of this specific building isn’t mentioned on current city filings, so it’s possible these have migrated elsewhere in the district.
What separates this project from other “creative” mixed-use developments is the heavy involvement of the ThinkEAST team with residents of Govalle. The organization conducted numerous stakeholder meetings and community engagement events, determining through feedback from more than 400 neighborhood residents that affordability was a primary concern.
- 6 acres of thinkEAST has been sold to Housing Authority for the City of Austin (HACA) to develop 170+ units of 100% affordable housing
- About 4 acres is under contract to the Cesar Chavez Foundation to develop about 150 units of mixed-income housing including affordable housing ranging from 30% Area Median Family Income (AMFI) to market rate
- 4.5 acres is under contract to Fusebox to develop a Cultural Trust that would create up to 240k SF of permanently affordable space for arts, culture, creative industries, and health. This site could include artist studios, performance and rehearsal spaces, non-profit offices, a health clinic, and community spaces.
- 2 acres of thinkEAST is currently available for market rate housing and live/work units
— ThinkEAST report
We’ll look forward to hearing more details on the future of this project. The engagement of its developers with the community clearly goes far beyond lip service — and if the district ends up looking anything like these proposals, it should meet everyone’s needs.
Argyle Residential Multifamily/Mixed-Use – 3212 East Cesar Chavez Street
Argyle Residential, developers known in town for Azul, Lakeshore Pearl, Sabina, Corazon, and more, clearly have an eye on Govalle. Their first project in the neighborhood is The Guthrie, a multifamily community that includes a number of live/work spaces, currently in the early stages of construction at 3300 Gonzales Street. Their second development is planned less than a mile south of The Guthrie at 3212 East Cesar Chavez Street. Both projects are adjacent to Tillery Street, which has seemingly become the de facto center of the neighborhood’s current boom.
The name of the 3212 East Cesar Chavez project is currently unknown, but after this week’s meeting of the city’s planning commission, we know quite a few details about what to expect.
The building, designed by GFF Architecture’s Jim West, is currently planned as a 5-story, 330-unit multifamily development with an additional 4,400 square foot retail component, situated on a 3.3 acre plot now occupied by an auto parts warehouse and junkyard. The unit mix is currently undecided for the project, but will include a range from studios to 3-bedroom.
What’s especially interesting about this project? Other than its location along a portion of East Cesar Chavez Street that is in the early stages of rapid growth, we’ve learned that after hearing significant opposition from Govalle’s neighborhood association, the developer has already made some major changes to the building’s design in order to better accommodate both the needs of the neighborhood and the site’s surrounding single-family homes.
The issue of affordability is still on the mind of Govalle residents, according to Argyle’s representatives, and the building’s current features try to respect that. Since Cesar Chavez Street is not a designated transit corridor, the project isn’t eligible for a density bonus, so instead the developer is entering a private 40-year restrictive covenant agreement with one of the city’s local housing nonprofits — an approach we’ve seen recently at other developments — to designate 10 percent of the new building’s units as affordable at 60% MFI. In addition, 10 percent of the community’s affordable units will be 3-bedroom units, allowing for larger family occupants. So, out of 34 affordable units, 4 will be especially suitable for families.
Other objections from residents of the neighborhood included the size of the building, and the increase of traffic and noise such a project would create. In response, Argyle will be installing a traffic light at the intersection of East Cesar Chavez and Tillery Streets — the intersection is currently only controlled by a stop sign. The developer will also oversee the widening of sidewalks on Tillery Street from 7 to 11 feet, and will be installing a vegetative barrier or hedge against the backyards of homes along the street that are directly across from the building in order to reduce noise pollution and ensure privacy.
Last but not least, Argyle’s design for the side of the complex facing Tillery Street will take into consideration the character of the street, which is dominated by single-family homes. Residents were concerned that a 5-story building against the street would be too imposing, so Argyle has modified the building’s design to restrict the portion of the building along Tillery Street to only two stories in height. The ground-level units on this side of the building will open directly onto the street, with what the developer describes as “stoops” giving each residence additional opportunities for engagement with the streetscape.
Unfortunately, the building is too early in the design stage for any renderings or drawings to be available. In fact, the city planning commission elected to postpone its vote to approve the project until Argyle could conduct further discussions with the Govalle neighborhood about unit number and size — it appears that they might still have objections to certain features. But regardless, I’m happy to see developers making efforts to listen, and adapting their designs based on these conversations to create projects with a better sense of place in the communities that need it most.