The planned redevelopment of the former Concordia University campus, a 22-acre site located just west of I-35 in the Hancock neighborhood of Central Austin, has taken 16 years to grow to its current crop of apartment, office, and retail buildings. That’s a bit longer than we expected when the city approved the Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning for extra density at the site back in 2007 — and although the 2008 crash probably didn’t help, there’s also the small matter of the master developers for the project going to prison for bank fraud. (We always like to drop that on people.)
The latest addition to the far north end of the PUD area at 1010 Concordia Avenue is a residential project known as the Frio Apartments, to be developed by the locals at Wilson Capital — the firm perhaps best known at the moment for announcing the tallest building in the state in downtown Austin, then scaling it down by 50 percent. The Frio project is also doing some height-related gymnastics, though in this case the culprit isn’t expanding construction costs or interest rates, but an expanding highway.
The widening of I-35 through this area by the Texas Department of Transportation will subject the roughly 1.13-acre Frio site to a right-of-way acquisition along its eastern frontage to make room for the highway’s new lanes, taking a big enough bite out of the property’s buildable area that its potential unit count will be reduced by nearly 50 apartments if the project is still built to its maximum height of 120 feet allowed by the current PUD agreement for the Concordia tract.
To recoup those lost units, Wilson Capital is now waiting on a city zoning case that would amend the terms of the PUD to allow a 160-foot height limit at this site instead. Wilson Capital founder Taylor Wilson says the case is expected to be decided by the end of the year, and that the firm is prepared to build the 120-foot version of the tower if the city ends up rejecting the proposal — either way, the building is on track to break ground in 2024.
The expansion of I-35 is forcing 111 homes and businesses to move by TxDOT's count, but the number varies based on what you consider a "displacement." https://t.co/IeBe6smRAQ
— Nathan Bernier (@KUTnathan) October 16, 2023
With local news like KUT taking a closer look this week at the homes and businesses along the frontages of I-35 that will need to be demolished outright after TxDOT’s acquisition of the properties via eminent domain to make room for the widened highway, we’re thinking about the edge cases like Wilson Capital’s property — how many pieces of land, developed or undeveloped, will lose small chunks of their frontage due to this expansion? How much will these right-of-way acquisitions reduce the development value of that land? If we were the City of Austin, we’d attempt to offset the damage done to these sites by automatically upzoning every property along I-35 facing a partial TxDOT acquisition. Unfortunately, we aren’t the City of Austin.