Thursday, October 13th, City Council again postponed action on the Statesman PUD mega-development on Lady Bird Lake zoning case to Thursday, November 3rd. Please mark your calendar and plan to join us for an afternoon and evening of citizen action at City Hall.
The Austin Council is finally getting the word that there are serious problems with the proposal to upzone the 18-acre former newspaper site from a maximum of 660,000 sq. feet to 3.6 million sq. feet of six downtown-scale towers for office, condos, hotel and commercial.
Council heard an earful from citizens from across Austin opposed to the dozens of variances and tens of millions of taxpayer subsidies baked into the complicated, 50 pages of ordinance text, exhibits, and incorporated staff memos. Thank you to everyone who spoke to council and/or called or emailed your objections to the PUD plan. Watch and listen here to the great public comment and here for the subsequent city council discussion. (Public comment on the Statesman PUD is intermittent with testimony on other issues but most speakers are addressing the PUD.)
To be clear, SOS and most others do not oppose the major increase in urban density for the site. We object to the gutting of standard city ordinances in favor of a special deal for the billionaire owner developers. These gutted standards protect Lady Bird Lake, require dedication of park land and park fees (because of the increased demand for parks from the 1400 residential units plus commercial) and that the park be actual public park owned and managed for the public benefit and not as a private outdoor commercial area.
These standard ordinances that would be set aside also require payment of other standard fees to help taxpayers cover the added burdens to our streets, utilities, and permitting costs caused by the project. They also require developers to dedicate a small portion of their development to affordable housing and pay for their own parking and internal streets. Yet the Statesman PUD owners are demanding that us taxpayers cover these standard costs for them.
If approved, the Statesman PUD would set a dangerous precedent that threatens all of Lady Bird Lake, all of our parks, and all of our ordinances that make developers pay for their share of the costs of growth.
It’s hard to overstate the scale and number of attacks on City standards – and on common sense, decency, and the English language—loaded throughout the complicated draft ordinance. Read below our working list of the worst problems with the ordinance. And please stay engaged and plan to join us at City Hall on Thursday November 3rd.
LIST OF PROBLEMS WITH THE PROPOSED STATESMAN PUD*
*(this remains incomplete because of many remaining questions, complexity, the many thousands of pages of backup that have yet to be fully considered (e.g. 1500 page TIA, and other reasons.
*As a starting point, please see attached the existing Statesman PUD ordinance which is limited to no more than 660,000 square feet and only newspaper use. Thus, this is clearly a “new project” that is not grandfathered and must be judged against current code for a similar project under standard zoning categories (e.g, commercial, MF, mixed use, etc)
**Given above, all problems set out below establish, together and individually, items of “inferiority”
***This list works off of Version 5 of the draft ordinance, which was posted after our Monday meeting and has a date of 10/10/2022 – I had to try 3 times before my computer would download it because of the size of the file. Can’t print the exhibits large enough to read much of the text on them.
SUMMARY – MOST IMPORTANT
1. Guts the Town Lake Overlay ordinance, wholesale – starting p. 15, Part 15, B3 thru B18
So many and with so little information, still not clear on the full effect or meaning of these “modifications” some of which are sweeping exemptions
A. B11 – reduces shoreline primary setback from 150 feet to 90 feet (without disclosing the full reduction), but this is actually greater reduction because the definition of “shoreline” does not track the shoreline and the change is “as shown on Exhibit C” and there is no information on where the “90 feet” is actually less than 90 feet, or how much less in what locations
B. B8 – Doubles the allowable impervious cover (IC) in the secondary setback without saying it is a doubling (a 50 foot wide strip that starts at the edge of the primary setback) from 30% to 60% (but actually more because the definition of IC is amended elsewhere to not count things)
C. B1, B3, B6 and B7 all modify list of uses allowed along the shore or further inside the development, and the list now allows Tesla dealership (and rental, hence the need for car storage of 4000 spaces); some might be ok, but many are not
D. B2 – allows undefined amphitheatre and with only ad ministrative approval (Suttle told us they don’t want or need amphitheatre so this could be removed)
E. B10 and C3 allow loading docks without screening from public view, including from Congress and Barton Springs Road (ugly!!)(this also illustrates how some of these “gems” are loaded in different places in the ordinance and if you remove one but not the other we still get screwed)
F. B15 and C2 allow exemptions from multiple sections of code (design standards, etc) in wholesale fashion. ???
G. B16, B17 and B18 allow dock extending 70 feet into the lake while code and Parks Board say limit should be 35 feet (concern about width, placement, and uses of dock as well); B17 allows other shore construction protections to be waived for the pier and unspecified “park elements and dimensions.” ???
H. Gutting of Town Lake protections continues in Part 15G. 1 thru 4, where critical water quality zone and other water quality regulations are set aside and also in allowing CWQZ to be considered “dedicated park land” with a raft of allowable uses.
2. Huge taxpayer subsidies are baked into and hidden deeply within the ordinance and clearly contemplated to further include TIRZ funding – ALL subsidies should be removed and a blanket statement inserted saying all fees are required, without exception, waiver, “build and deduct,” or other means, and with no commitment of other public funds, from a TIRZ or other means.
A. Part 11, H, p.12, bottom, provides that the recommendations of the staff’s December 13, 2021 memo controls over any other part of the ordinance and that it may be amended by staff in the future. Buried in a footnote “*” under the chart on the last page of that memo it states:
“*The ROW land value for Barton Springs Extension on the applicant’s land will be credited towards the SIF max for this development.
**Developer’s cost may be paid directly by the developer, with the South Central Waterfront TIRZ/TIF (when passed) or other public funding mechanism approved by the City. However, if any public funding is used, those construction costs will not be credited as a SIF offset.”
This memo that overrides all other parts of the PUD ordinance and that can be amended in the future without limitation is not even posted as an exhibit to the ordinance like all other parts (that we know of so far). It is buried beginning at page 64 of 127 of the PDF of the Staff Report No. 2, which is in turn document number 27 out of 30 posted to the backup for Oct. 13, Item 69. The referenced “developer costs” include all of the streets shown on the chart on the same page of the TIA Dec. 13 memo.
This ROW land under the BS Road Extension is, in turn, the largest part of what the EPS memo claims is the “shortfall” in the developer’s ability to pay. That memo, at p. 23, Table 19 shows the estimated value of this ROW land buyback as between $12.5 million and $74.4 million.
Sadly, the actual EPS memo that shows these embarrassing details has been scrubbed and substituted in the Council backup with this shameful 4 page substitute. That summary counts the “ROW” as “agreed upon” benefits that the developer is so generously providing, when of course internal roads are standard costs that every developer pays or else they have no project. At least EPS was willing to “credit” Suttle/Rudy/Cox with the lower $12.5 million “benefit” they are providing if only we waive their SIF fees so we pay for it.
The next footnote there under the chart, shows that the Developer is demanding a larger road than necessary or than staff requires and then demanding that we pay for it with SIF credits and/or TIRZ or “other public funding.” Here is that next footnote:
“***The applicant has proposed to construct additional mitigation/capacity (i.e., a four-lane cross section instead of a three-lane cross section) on the Barton Springs Road Extension than what was justified by the TIA analysis or required by City Staff. The improvement shown in the above table includes the additional lane the applicant will be constructing.”
This statement in the memo conflicts directly with what Richard Suttle told Bill Bunch – which was that the developer didn’t need the bigger road, would just build a smaller driveway and avoid the public funding, but that staff was demanding the larger Barton Springs Road extension.
B. Private parking is not a “public benefit” –There should be no public funding for private parking, private streets, etc required by code or “demanded” by the applicant. Rusthoven’s opening statement to Council and Boards and Commissions was what a great deal this Statesman PUD is for the public because the parking would be “underground” without a “wall” of parking garage marring the views.The real EPS memo estimates the “added” cost of “Underground Parking,” at Table d16, p. 21, at $70.9 million. The memo says the developer considers this “a community benefit” because it is not required and will preserve public viewsheds.
However, (a) the draft ordinance does not require “underground” parking, only “that 95 peercent of the required number of parking spaces for the development . . . within a below grade structure(s),“ (b) below grade” is not defined and almost certainly means the much higher level of the Congress Ave. bridge and not the actual ground level as the term suggests, (c) they are proposing to build more parking than is “required,” so we have no idea how much parking will actually be “above grade,” however those terms are butchered by the applicant and staff.
The whole premise of the EPS memo and the TIRZ that this is a “blighted” area and the developers can’t afford to build standard parking, streets, sidewalks, or pay standard transportation SIF fees, affordable housing and park dedication fees, etc, and still scratch out a profit is a fraud and anyone with even the slightest inkling knows it is a fraud.
A zoning case, whether PUD or otherwise, should never mix in paying the developer a dime or waiving fees, etc. This is legislation and policy making, not cutting deals.
Finally, the idea that the developer won’t build most of the parking under the towers and screen it from public/private view is similarly absurd. Building separate parking would chew up impervious cover and land they don’t have. Ugly, unscreened parking would make this private, ultra-luxury development for the ultra-rich far less marketable.
C. Park land dedication fee credits should be removed. Part 10 B, at p. 9, says the “parkland fee in lieu” “if paid” “may be used to build park amenities within the Statesman PUD.” “Park amenities” are not defined and could be almost anything. It is clear that they don’t have to be in the park land, but can be “park amenities” anywhere within the PUD property. Since it says “if paid,” its clear the developer can build stuff they think is a “park amenity” and then deduct from the fee owed. This provision also says both the “Parkland development Fee” and the fee in lieu can be used for these undefined “amenities”, which would primarily benefit the private developer and not serve the public park priorities of a less developed park rather than an outdoor commercial district. In short, all public subsidies, including this very sneaky park subsidy involving millions of dollars.
3. Park provisions decimate forever the SCWF call for a “minimum of 9.6 acres” on the Stateman PUD site, grossly overstates the actual park being dedicated, butchers the English language to define as “public” and “park” and “land” many things that are clearly not “public” not “park” and not “land.”
This is shameful Orwellian speak that should never, ever be tolerated. It turns lies into “truth” destroys the credibility of council and staff, and tears at the most essential common bond that holds us together as a community and society – a common language.