Coun­cil to dis­cuss lot again in Jan­uary

Rainey Street

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - A Juan Oy­er­vides, MACC board chair­man (left), ac­tivist Paul Sal­daña and MACC board mem­ber Cassie Smith ex­press op­po­si­tion to sell­ing the Rainey Street lot to de­vel­op­ers. RALPH barrera / amer­i­can-states­man Con­tact Sarah Cop­pola at 912-2939.

tu­ral Cen­ter and ac­tivists said the tower would block views of that iconic struc­ture.

City of­fi­cials are try­ing to de­cide what to do in­stead with the lot. The devel­op­ment group is press­ing ahead with plans for the tower on other Rainey Street land it owns. And His­panic ac­tivists are ask­ing the City Coun­cil to tem­po­rar­ily halt devel­op­ment along Rainey to take a fresh look at what types of build­ings be­long there and will be com­pat­i­ble.

The City Coun­cil will dis­cuss the city lot again next month.

“What we’re say­ing is, ‘Time out, let’s take a step back,’” said Paul Sal­daña, who grew up in East Austin, owns an Austin pub­lic af­fairs firm and whose aunt and un­cle once lived on Rainey Street. “Right now there are no stan­dards to en­sure that build­ings are com­pat­i­ble on Rainey, and that we pro­tect the in­tegrity of the (cul­tural cen­ter), which is sym­bolic of the Mex­i­can Amer­i­can his­tory in this area.”

Park­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties

Ear­lier this year, the city was eye­ing the 0.3acre par­cel for more park­ing. The cul­tural cen­ter has 127 spa­ces that are free and open to the pub­lic, but those and scant on-street park­ing along Rainey Street of­ten aren’t enough to ac­com­mo­date cen­ter vis­i­tors and the peo­ple who flock to the nearby bars and restau­rants.

So the city put its lot up for sale in May, ask­ing bid­ders to of­fer not only money but op­tions for more park­ing. It got one bid back from 70 Rainey Street LP, which plans to build a 30-story tower that in­cludes park­ing, ground-level re­tail, apart­ments and pos­si­bly of­fice space.

The devel­op­ment group of­fered the city $1.2 mil­lion for the lot, or $100,000 and 30 park­ing spa­ces in the new tower, or $400,000 and 20 park­ing spa­ces.

But board mem­bers of the Mex­i­can Amer­i­can Cul­tural Cen­ter said they weren’t aware the city lot was up for sale, and were irked that the tower might ob­scure the cen­ter’s en­trance. So the City Coun­cil voted 4-3 to re­ject the bid and asked parks of­fi­cials to seek other ideas for the lot that fit the cul­tural cen­ter’s mis­sion.

Sug­ges­tions from the pub­lic in­clude a pub­lic art space, com­mu­nity gar­dens, a me­mo­rial to the area’s his­tory, and a pub­lic mar­ket.

An ap­praisal firm hired by the city val­ued the lot at $1.2 mil­lion. If the par­cel is devel­oped, some of the city and county prop­erty taxes it gen­er­ates would be used to help pay the debt on a big flood-con­trol tun­nel be­ing built along nearby Waller Creek, which will open up flood-prone ar­eas to devel­op­ment. The city has set up a spe­cial district of prop­er­ties whose taxes will help fund the tun­nel.

The 0.3-acre lot cur­rently houses a trailer that is the con­struc­tion head­quar­ters for con­trac­tors on the tun­nel project, which is ex­pected to wrap up in 2014. If the city de­cides to use the lot for a dif­fer­ent pur­pose be­fore then, it would cost $100,000 to rent other space for the con­trac­tors and move the trailer, said Lau­raine Rizer, the of­fi­cer of real es­tate for the city.

‘Un­con­trolled’ devel­op­ment?

Af­ter decades of prod­ding by His­panic ac­tivists, the city com­pleted the $17.7 mil­lion cul­tural cen­ter in 2009 on six acres of city land. The bold white struc­ture con­tains two gal­leries, art class­rooms and per­for­mance spa­ces.

The 0.3-acre city lot could hold about three dozen more park­ing spa­ces. But the cul­tural cen­ter’s board is urg­ing the city to turn it into a “mul­tiuse” pub­lic art space that could in­clude land­scap­ing, benches and some­thing to honor the area’s his­tory, such as a new ver­sion of a Rainey neigh­bor­hood mu­ral that was de­mol­ished in the early ’80s.

Nikelle Meade, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the 70 Rainey Street group, said halt­ing devel­op­ment along Rainey would con­flict with a 2004 zon­ing plan put in place to en­cour­age tall build­ings in the area that could in­clude of­fices, con­dos, ho­tels and re­tail.

“Res­i­den­tial prop­erty own­ers on Rainey Street fought for and were suc­cess­ful in get­ting (that new zon­ing) ap­proved,” she said. “They and the City Coun­cil came to the con­sen­sus that the fu­ture of this area should be high-den­sity devel­op­ment. A mora­to­rium would be counter to all of that.”

Mem­bers of the cul­tural cen­ter’s board said at a re­cent meet­ing that devel­op­ment on Rainey has be­gun to seem hap­haz­ard, as new high-rises join a pro­lif­er­a­tion of bars, cre­at­ing traf­fic and park­ing snarls.

In ad­di­tion to three res­i­den­tial tow­ers lo­cated on or close to Rainey Street and the tower planned by 70 Rainey Street, No­vare/An­drews Ur­ban is build­ing a 23-story apart­ment tower there. And Sut­ton Co. has said it hopes to build two res­i­den­tial tow­ers that could reach as tall as 50 sto­ries.

City parks of­fi­cials will soon in­stall a gate in the cul­tural cen­ter’s park­ing lot that will al­low them to close off the area for cen­ter events. They also might put park­ing me­ters there. And they are con­sid­er­ing in­stalling a per­me­able sur­face next to the cen­ter’s cur­rent park­ing area to add 115 tem­po­rary park­ing spa­ces.

Some say the big­ger is­sue is not park­ing, but whether the new build­ings sprout­ing up in the area are co­he­sive.

“Devel­op­ment on Rainey just seems to be sort of un­con­trolled. It doesn’t feel like there’s a plan,” said Juan Oy­er­vides, chair­man of the cul­tural cen­ter’s board. “We’d like to see some re­spect for the (cen­ter) and the his­tory of the neigh­bor­hood.”

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