UPDATE: Austin City Council moves forward on St. Johns property, 6th Street safety research

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Here’s what we’re watching, and what has already been approved during Thursday’s Austin City Council meeting.

A step closer to redeveloping the Home Depot property

Councilmembers authorized negotiation of an exclusive agreement with Greystar Development Central, LLC. for the redevelopment of a former Home Depot and Chrysler dealership. The properties are collectively known as the St. Johns site and are located off I-35 in north-central Austin.

Council heard from community members, Greystar executives and the City of Austin Housing Authority on the proposed project, which would set aside at least 280 units for affordable housing, build commercial space and allow for park enhancements, among other projects.

“This is, I think, a really, really important step,” Councilmember Greg Casar said. “I think this is an example of how we can get a lot of affordable housing in a community.”

Councilmembers asked that the site be used to provide on-site affordable housing, open space for recreation and space for community retail and support services. This came after a two-year public engagement process which included surveys, site tours, focus groups and community meetings.

Greystar said in a statement it is “excited” City Council approved its proposal for redevelopment of the St. Johns site and thanked Casar for giving it the opportunity.

“Based on the community’s key priorities, the project as currently proposed will include 560 units, half of which are affordable, 15,000 SF of support services and retail space, as well as a 3-acre park,” Greystar said. “We’re ready to work with city staff to refine our plan so that it best suits the St. John community and achieves the new objectives laid out by council today.”

For years the property has sat mostly unused, after a plan to turn the old Home Depot into a police substation and municipal court never materialized. Austin paid $8 million for the property after voters approved $19.7 million in bonds for the public safety project in 2006. A KXAN investigation from 2018 showed that amount wasn’t enough to fund the project.

6th Street safety

Following multiple recent shootings along 6th Street downtown, City Council directed the City of Austin to look into how safety can be improved along 6th Street.

Council is asking City Manager Spencer Cronk to do the following by Aug. 30:

  • Create an interdepartmental team led by an Entertainment Services Group and with representation from — at a minimum — the Austin Police Department, Austin Transportation Department, Austin Energy, Austin Fire Department, Austin County EMS, Austin Code, the Historic Preservation Office and the Office of Violence Prevention.
  • Use temporary lighting and upgrade existing lighting, if necessary, to provide dramatically brighter spaces along the 6th Street corridor
  • Explore options such as café seating, water barriers and other efforts to eliminate the space where people gather during weekend 6th street closures
  • Determine the extent to which earlier assertions about underage presence on 6th Street and underage drinking are still true today
  • Engage with peer cities to identify best practices in entertainment district planning  
  • Explore the feasibility of creating a dedicated EMS presence during weekend nights with personnel using specialized vehicles for rapid response, treatment and removal to area hospitals

Council is asking City Manager Spencer Cronk to do the following by Sept. 30:

  • Coordinate with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission on additional strategies for curbing underage drinking and potentially limiting the presence of underage Austinites on 6th Street during weekend evenings.

Council is asking City Manager Spencer Cronk to do the following by Oct. 30:

  • Initiate development of a nightlife management plan
  • Analyze 6th Street weekend closures and develop a list of measures that would need to be met for 6th Street to be re-opened and propose a corresponding timeline
  • Engage property owners to discuss land use regulations along 6th Street to determine whether changes might foster more diverse uses along the corridor

More bridge housing

Council approved partnerships with A New Entry, Inc and The Other Ones Foundations, Inc. for bridge housing services. The agreements, for $395,797 and $521,180 respectively, will last for 37 months.

The bridge housing is for people in the Intensive Case Management program at the Downtown Austin Community Court. The program serves those experiencing long-term homelessness, physical and mental health issues, and substance use disorders.

A number of other agenda items also addressed homelessness. Mayor Steve Adler said he felt that was a reflection of what the community wanted to council to address.

Other Council votes

  • Approved accepting $500,000 from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for mortgage assistance to homeowners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will pay up to six consecutive months of all or part of an eligible household’s mortgage payments.
  • Approved money for the city’s Housing Authority to provide $41.6 million in rental assistance for vulnerable households impacted by the pandemic. The funding largely comes from American Rescue Plan federal stimulus money.
  • The extension of two agreements so the city can continue to use two hotels to shelter people experiencing homelessness is still expected to be voted on Thursday night. The two hotels have been used as protective lodging throughout the pandemic.

Police funding feedback

It took hours to get through all of the people who signed up to speak at Thursday’s City Council meeting, an overwhelming number sharing concern about the proposed 2021-2022 city budget that includes a record amount of money for the Austin Police Department.

It’s the second week that speakers, both virtually and in-person, overall said Austin’s attempts at reimagining public safety don’t go far enough.

“I very passionately oppose the funding of the Austin Police Department,” one of the callers said Thursday. Many speakers asked the council to instead move funding to community resources.

Another speaker noted he understood the city was “between a rock and a hard place” referencing a bill state lawmakers passed, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law that allows Texas to punish large cities that cut funding for police by capping property taxes in those cities, deducting sales tax revenue or stripping annexation powers.

City Council will not be making a decision on the budget until August, additional comment can be made then. You can read the proposed budget here.

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