AUSTIN (KXAN) — “When we moved, it was a beautiful area,” said Barbara Scott.

She and her husband bought a house in the Colony Park neighborhood in 1974. She said they started to see the area deteriorate as other parts of East Austin became gentrified and drug activity moved closer to them.

“We no longer saw families that really wanted to stay in the area. They would move in for a little while and then they moved move out,” she said.

She’s been advocating for the Colony Park Sustainable Community Project for more than a decade.

The 208-acre revitalization project is on Loyola Lane off of Decker Lane in the Eastern Crescent, and will funnel jobs, affordable housing and other critical amenities to the area.

“We are the people that don’t have the infrastructure, that don’t have the hospitals, that don’t have the grocery stores. We need everything that other communities in Austin benefit from,” Scott said.

During its Thursday meeting, city council created a tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) that closes an $81 million funding gap, which pushes the Colony Park Sustainable Community project toward construction. The City’s Economic Development Department said the project is the largest redevelopment of City-owned land since the Mueller project.

Creating a TIRZ for the project means 90% of the taxes that comes from within the project boundaries will be re-invested there for roughly the next 20 years, explained Kimberly Olivares, Austin’s deputy chief financial officer.

“Through this development, all of the property value that accumulates over time… can go towards that this TIRZ,” Olivares said.

Right now, the property doesn’t hold value because it’s owned by the city. Olivares said as soon as it changes hands to the developer, Catellus, the property value starts to accumulate.

The City said since it was annexed in 1973, Colony Park has gone without equitable access to healthy food, transit, health care and jobs. The neighborhood has pushed for improvements since the City began the master planning process in 2012.

“It’s the part of town that was treated with a policy, frankly, of benign neglect,” said Mayor pro-tem Natasha Harper Madison during a press conference Thursday morning ahead of city council’s vote. The project sits in her city council district.

“We collected their property taxes but only provided the bare minimum of resources to the residents. The area is a food desert, it’s a health desert, it’s a transit desert and, frankly, it’s a jobs desert,” she said.

The entire project, which will be developed by Catellus Development Corporation, costs $257 million in total, with other funds coming from public land sales, department capital budgets and the creation of a public improvement district (PID).

This slide from a city council presentation shows where all the funding for this project is planned to come from. (Source: City of Austin)

“They will be fronting cost and then… we’ll be doing a reimbursement to them through all that that financing stack,” Olivares explained.

The project includes plans for nearly 2,000 new homes in the neighborhood, which is east of U.S. Highway 183. Of the new homes, the City said 381 will be allocated for income-restricted workforce housing for households that make less than the median family income.

It’s estimated the mixed-use development will create 1,200 permanent jobs and provide 53 acres of parks, open spaces and trails. The project could also generate another $3.5 million in property and sales tax revenue annually, according to the City.

Highlights of the Colony Park Sustainable Community project (City of Austin Economic Development Department Photo)
Highlights of the Colony Park Sustainable Community project (City of Austin Economic Development Department Photo)

Once the project is complete, Colony Park will also be linked to the downtown area through the upcoming MetroRapid Expo bus line and the Green Line commuter rail line. Both are part of Project Connect, the City’s plan to completely transform and ramp up Austin’s public transportation system.

Along with the TIRZ approval, the city council also began the rezoning of the Colony Park Planned Unit Development (PUD) to allow for more density.

Olivares said the next steps are to wait for that PUD rezoning and hammer out funding flow details and responsibilities with Catellus before setting a construction date.

“It is our hope that it should not take 12 years to implement this plan and to have dirt turned in this area of East Austin,” Scott said during Thursday’s press conference.

After more than a decade of pushing, she plans to see this project through.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she said.