Apartments at former Honda site move ahead with floodplain variance

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A former Honda dealership site in north Austin’s Brentwood neighborhood is now one step closer to transforming into an apartment complex. 

Earlier this month, the project cleared a major hurdle. Ledcor Properties is planning to build a nearly 400-unit apartment complex at 1301 W. Koenig Lane, and they had to get a special ordinance, called a floodplain variance, approved by the Austin City Council.

“The people in the neighborhood were surprised to hear about this variance,” said Barbara McArthur, vice president of the Brentwood Neighborhood Association. “Because we weren’t notified, and we’ve been active in the process for a long time.”

McArthur told KXAN the neighbors were approached about two or three years ago about the development. She said after a lot of back and forth, the neighbors and Ledcor were able to come to an agreement.

That included elevating the building to lower flood risks. “We understood at that point, 5 feet in height, 40 to 45 feet was all it was going to take to make it safe from the floods,” she explained.

She said she wishes she was notified about the need for a variance, but she’s still glad lowering flood risks is a major part of this conversation. 

The variance was needed because the edges of the property are in 25-year and 100-year floodplains. 

“The city recently had done a study in 2015 saying that fixes for the floodplain would cost over $23 million, money that we don’t have, so flooding is a concern,” McArthur said.

The proposed building itself is not in the floodplain, but it’s surrounded by high-risk areas. The city’s Watershed Protection Department originally recommended the council deny the variance request. They had concerns floodwaters surrounding the apartment would trap those living there.

“A lot of times, flooding happens at night, and you can’t see through flood waters, so you don’t know what you’re stepping on,” Kevin Shunk, floodplain administrator for the city of Austin, said. “When water’s moving, it can sweep you off your feet pretty easily.”

The variance ended up passing with a 7-4 vote. 

Council Member Leslie Pool, whose district this site is in, said she believes this is only the second time she’s voted in favor of an ordinance like this. She said this is a problematic area, but she believes the developer’s safety plan will help minimize risks.

Ledcor told the City Council they’ll have “an active flood event plan,” build an elevated pedestrian bridge and decrease surface areas that do not absorb water from 95 percent to 70. 

That’s good news to McArthur who said lowering impervious cover should help. 

“I’m really happy that the city is going to insist on safe access for residents,” she said.

Back in June, the company’s vice president of Real Estate Development, Ian Asselstine, told the council Ledcor’s Health and Safety Department will be dedicated to creating a flood safety plan that would be a gold standard plan for other projects going forward.

Shunk said since the variance was approved, his department will work closely with the developer to make the surrounding areas safer. 

A quick online search of archived agendas revealed the city council has approved at least four flood ordinances since 2015.

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