An approximately 71-acre industrial site east of Highway 183 near the Colorado River could redevelop as a mixed-use project with 2,219 new residences, according to a rezoning application filed with the city this week by law firm Armbrust & Brown on behalf of the land’s owners at Texas Materials Group, which currently operates concrete and asphalt manufacturing plants on the property.
The application filed on April 3 requests a zoning change to the property’s current light industrial use to allow the formation of a Planned Development Agreement for the 71.35-acre site at 827 Ed Bluestein Boulevard, which is directly southeast of the interchange where Airport Boulevard, East Cesar Chavez Street, and a number of other streets meet Highway 183 on its path towards the airport. The application, using the project name Bolm West, is billed to an LLC associated with Kairoi Residential, the San Antonio-based development company best known locally for massive towers like Sixth and Guadalupe and Waterline. While those buildings occupy comparatively small downtown footprints, a 71-acre development seems like new territory for this firm — that’s the equivalent of roughly 40 city blocks in downtown Austin.
While details of this site’s potential redevelopment are scarce at this stage of the process, the PDA application indicates the project currently sought by the developers would contain multifamily residential, office, commercial, and “civic” uses — no idea what that last one’s about. There’s also a requested maximum height of 180 feet, which could accommodate towers of 15 floors or more. Although these numbers are likely conceptual and subject to change, a traffic impact analysis submitted as part of the application includes a few more curious figures: 385 hotel rooms, 1,499,358 square feet of office space, 127,099 square feet of “shopping plaza” retail, 134,754 square feet of restaurant space, and the possible inclusion of a theater and music venue.
It’s an all-around huge project, and we won’t be able to fully understand what Kairoi has in mind for the site until we get further details, but it’s remarkable to see this plan emerge after Endeavor Real Estate Group’s redevelopment of the Borden Dairy tract moved forward last week. If you’re keeping score, that’s now two large industrial sites along the Colorado River transforming into mixed-use developments, located only a few hundred feet from each other on opposite sides of the same highway.
The rezoning case for the site has yet to appear on the agenda of the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission, but we’re thinking there shouldn’t be too much controversy — you really couldn’t pick a better location for this kind of project, since in this case there are no nearby single-family homes to impose compatibility restrictions. That’s overlooking the more obvious fact that the property is currently occupied by a mountain of asphalt, which no sane person could argue is a more environmentally friendly land use than whatever gets built here, especially right next to the river.
Speaking of the environment, there’s a more specific aspect of this property we hope its developers already know — a tree sitting almost completely ignored at the edge of this tract near the highway could very well be the largest live oak in Austin, with a circumference of approximately 21.5 feet at chest height. Identified by Austin’s very own “Tree Lady” Margret Hofmann in the 1970s, the industrial site’s previous owners at Capitol Aggregates ensured the approximately 500-year-old oak’s preservation, but the continued industrial use of the property didn’t exactly shine a spotlight on what could be one of the city’s most fascinating natural attractions. These days, you can barely pick out the unsung tree among the surrounding brush on Google Maps:
As longtime advocates of dense, rather than sprawling urban growth in Austin for the explicit purpose of preserving trees exactly like this, we would be thrilled to see the site’s developers at Kairoi support the stewardship of this oak as a centerpiece for its planned district. It’s a very “Weird Austin” story for a tree this notable to spend a generation hiding behind a mountain of asphalt, but a new development designed the right way could set it free for everyone to enjoy. We can’t imagine a better silver lining.