AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council on Thursday passed a resolution that affirms the Colony Park Sustainable Community in northeast Austin is a “top priority” and will now look at ways to fill a financial gap of $103 million.
“That’s to provide the backbone infrastructure,” explained Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, the director of the City of Austin Economic Development Department. “That’s the number we need to target, but depending on how we come to a final agreement around the master development, there could be some give and take between the developer, what they put in as well as what the city puts in.”
The 208 acres of city-owned property sitting along Loyola Lane between Johnny Morris Road and Decker Lane would be developed to feature, “1,072 single-family homes, 831 multi-family apartments, 230,000 square feet of mixed-use office/institutional space, 130,000 square feet of mixed-use retail space, 53 acres of parks, trails, and open space,” according to city council documents.
The documents also mention the community would have to “provide 20% of the total residential units to households whose income is 80% or below the median family income of the Austin metropolitan statistical area (MSA) for ownership units and 60% or below the Austin MSA for rental units.” Families of all income levels would also have “access to housing the costs no more than 30% of their household income.”
The City first started working with the community on a three-year master planning process in February 2012 as part of a $3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. Two years later, in December 2014, the council made changed the area’s zoning to a planned unit development or PUD, and adopt the project’s master plan that would influence the mixed-use development for the next 10 to 20 years.
Fast forward to 2020, the City of Austin signed an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Catellus Development Corporation (Catellus) as the developer. Negotiations have been ongoing since.
“We have made some progress,” Holt-Rabb said. “We actually have an agreement for a health and wellness center so that will be the first project out of the gate basically, and so we’re excited about that, because that area has a lot of health challenges.”
In September, the council approved several actions related to the Colony Park development. The council supported the development of a health and wellness center to serve the community by providing health, library and child care services. One item would allow the city to sell the land for the center to Central Health. Another would reimburse Central Health for services related to long-term lease space analysis. Another item would execute an agreement with a developer to provide subdivision, platting and entitlement services.
Holt-Rabb said they expect to break ground on the health center project before the end of the year.
“We just received word over the weekend that Congressman (Lloyd) Doggett was successful with an earmark for infrastructure for that project. And so we’re excited, we’re ready to go. We’re just at the final stages of finalizing permits,” added Holt-Rabb.
Thursday’s resolution is sponsored by councilmembers Natasha Harper-Madison, Vanessa Fuentes, José ‘Chito’ Vela, Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter. It directs the city manager to “bring the public finance plan and funding source strategy recommendations,” in June.
Last year, in May, city council documents state “the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement Phase 1 Report indicated a decrease in the project financial gap of $127.4 million from 2018 to $103.3 million in 2021.”
The report also, “identified funding sources to close the financial gap, including a Public Improvement District, a TIRZ, and other funding sources such as Travis County participation in the TIRZ and City participation for select capital improvement projects and fee waivers.”
After that, city manager would meet with council to provide, “an anticipated timeline for the negotiation and execution of the Master Development Agreement as quickly as possible, but not later than August 1.”
That is something Colony Park Neighborhood Association President Barbara Scott has been waiting for. She said she is ready to see this development kick-off and added it is not only wanted by the community but needed.
This is an area where about a quarter of the community lives in poverty and the Latino and Black communities make up about 90% of the population.
City leaders recognize this is also an underdeveloped area that is lacking services and amenities such as health care facilities or a grocery store.
For Scott, this sometimes makes her and her neighbors feel forgotten. City leaders said they are committed.
“We want to bring a complete financing plan so that you are not starting and stopping a project, and that we recognize the challenges that the community has faced over the years and we want to bring the best development to that area,” said Holt-Rabb.
In a letter of support of Thursday’s Colony Park agenda item to the mayor and council members, Scott wrote in part, “We envision a sustainable community with healthcare, a pharmacy, banks, credit unions, a library, restaurants, coffee shops, and most of all a full-service grocery store, just to name a few of our needs. Since 2012, community members have been meeting with various City of Austin Departments, to plan this development, but without financing, all we have are documents that show the endless possibilities of what could have been.”
Scott went on to call on the council to approve Thursday’s agenda item writing, “I call upon each of you to be on the right side of history, stop the disenfranchisement of communities East of 183N, vote yes on Agenda Item #56.”
Harper-Madison said she plans to see this project through.
“I want to a library, a pool, a grocery store,” said Harper-Madison. “I want it to be a complete, diverse, dense, compact community with access to transit. That’s my goal.”