Austin topics

Project Catalyst, Recently Renamed "4700 East," Still Moving Forward

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In its August meeting, the Austin City Council approved the re-zoning measures required for Project Catalyst, recently renamed 4700 East, to keep moving forward. If the mixed-use development project proceeds as planned, it will sit on a a 97-acre site in Southeast Austin and will neighbor Oracle’s new 40-acre corporate campus.

Often referred to as Austin’s future “Third Downtown" (with the Domain North being Austin’s “Second Downtown”), Nimes Capital has proposed building 4,700 residential units, 600 hotel rooms, 4 million square feet of office space, 60,000 square feet of medical and dental office space, and 435,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space at 4700 East. In short, an “urban village” would be created in this area near the corner of East Riverside Drive and South Pleasant Valley Road that would basically offer, well, everything!

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The city could require developers to offer hundreds of income-restricted affordable housing units, but it would only do so if the developers build structures above the restricted height of 60 feet. To maintain the promise of affordable housing in the area, the developer is currently promising that 8-12% (400-550) of the units will be income-restricted as a trade off for greater building heights. Additionally, the developer formally committed to reserve 10 units for people who are transitioning out of homelessness. These housing units will be paid for with vouchers supplied by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

In order for 4700 East to be built, there are some other buildings that will need to be removed for this project to move forward. For this reason, developers have been slowly purchasing apartments in the area over the course of the past several years. The buildings that would be removed, which are roughly 60% student-occupied, are The Ballpark North and Town Lake, as well as the Quad East, West and South. The properties account for a total of 3,702 bedrooms and 1,308 units, according to city documents. Developers will also ensure gradual displacement of current residents in the area—250 of the existing units on site will not be redeveloped or demolished for five years in an effort to defray displacement.

Construction is not envisioned to begin on 4700 East before 2020. However, once the project is officially approved by the Austin City Council, the development will be built slowly over a 25 year period in five different phases along the way. The developer will return to the city council for a third and final hearing in September, at which it will need to receive at least six votes in favor to pass.

Austin's Homeless Dilemma

In June 2019, the Austin City Council repealed an ordinance that prohibited homeless camping. The city cited their decision based on how ineffective the ordinance has been to date. In other words, “criminalizing” homelessness only adds additional barriers (court dates, fines, misdemeanors, etc) for someone trying to escape the cycle of homelessness and poverty.  Mayor Adler pointed out that between 2014-2016, the city issued 18,000 tickets to homeless individuals, but the city saw very little positive change from issuing these tickets.

 In addition to the freedom given to the homeless to sleep out in the open unrestricted, the city also unanimously lifted the ban on sitting on sidewalks/panhandling and unanimously approved buying property for a new homeless shelter near Ben White Boulevard & Bannister Lane. 

However, one barrier that the city perhaps did not consider fully were the residents of Austin. Repealing the ordinance has met with severe backlash, particularly from downtown business owners who are now seeing decreased business and increased security concerns due to tent cities popping up downtown.  In addition, some residents of South Austin near the Ben White and Bannister Lane new homeless shelter location are not happy about the impact that the city’s decision might have on their home property values.

Another person is not happy with the city’s decision: the Governor of Texas. Just days after the Council’s decision, the Texas state governor, Greg Abbott, got involved , threatening a state intervention to undo the council’s 9-2 decision.  Abbott said, “If Austin—or any other Texas city—permits camping on city streets it will be yet another local ordinance the State of Texas will override.”

On August 21, 2019 the city council met again and gave opportunity for residents to express concern and voice questions. Mayor Adler stated that he still believes the city is heading in the right direction by lifting the ordinance and trying to address the homeless problem a different way. The city announced at the August meeting that they would not create “safe spaces” for tent cities to be constructed, since over time this would be a drain on the tax payer dollar.  However, one “safety” proposition that was suggested was that the city issue new restrictions on homeless camping in areas adjacent to roadways, medians and transit facilities, as well as sidewalks, trails, schools, child care facilities, areas with high pedestrian activity, shelters and the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. These new restrictions will likely would be up for a council vote in September.

The next opportunity for people to attend a forum on homelessness is on August 29 at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs. Register here.

So what is your position on this? Do you agree with the governor or the mayor? Have you noticed an increase in homeless activity in your neighborhood or area since the ordinance was lifted? What should the city do moving forward to address both the needs of the homeless population and the needs of small business owners and residents as well? Sound off in the comments below!

RECAP OF TIMELINE:

June 21, 2019: City council repeals ordinances restricting homeless camping, panhandling, and sitting on sidewalks. 

June 23, 2019:  Gov Abbott threatens to overturn Austin’s easing of homelessness rules

Aug 21, 2019: Two months of backlash from the city and Texas Governor: Town Hall meeting in which the Mayor and City council heard concerns and answered questions.  However, the city upheld the repeal and will only consider a few new restrictions on tent cities.   

Aug 29, 2019: Forum on homelessness at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs.

September council meeting:  the City will vote on proposed new restrictions to limit some areas of town where tent cities would not be allowed.