The growing skyline of towers near the Domain area of North Austin is all the evidence you need for the success of the city’s North Burnet / Gateway Regulating Plan, a 2000s policy tweak unlocking extra height and density for projects around the intersection of West Braker Lane and Burnet Road. With an increased height limit of 420 feet recently approved in some areas and a new study requested by City Council for possible further updates to the scope and scale of the regulating plan, it sounds like the hits will keep on coming as this area works to transform its generally sprawled-out and overparked suburban character with denser growth and improved transit access — and the district’s ongoing transitional phase often makes for interesting contrast.
Let’s say, for instance, that a developer wanted to use the unlocked density of the regulating plan to build a residential tower of 23 floors or more directly next door to a very suburban retail strip that includes a carwash and Austin’s only Wienerschnitzel franchise. That’s the current situation at the 1.13-acre assembly of adjacent properties at 2420 and 2500 West Braker Lane, where the multifamily arm of national real estate developer Toll Brothers plans to build a 331-unit apartment tower replacing an auto repair shop and car dealership.
Recent city filings describing the plan indicate the tower is expected to rise between 23 and 27 floors, one of many upcoming projects that might not stand out in downtown proper but represent a fairly earth-shattering change of scale for an area once used as a filming location for a movie all about the soul-crushing inhumanity of suburban sprawl. While the design of the upcoming tower isn’t known at the moment, other Toll Brothers multifamily projects of similar size seem promising.
With the region’s latest center of gravity at Q2 Stadium now standing proud just around the corner from the West Braker site, this sort of height and housing makes perfect sense for the area, but we can’t stop thinking about its contrast against that Weinerschnitzel. With plans like these, the North Burnet / Gateway planning area now finds itself in an awkward position of trying to improve other aspects of its urban design even as taller towers are unlocked — you’ll note that this part of West Braker set to receive its tower is still a large high-speed “stroad,” with very little pedestrian or cyclist considerations baked into the infrastructure beyond some sidewalks and a fairly pitiful painted bike lane. Overcoming the shortcomings of this area’s built environment will take time, but lately we’re planting some pretty big seeds.
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