Long-vacant Austin property meant for police station could become mixed-use affordable housing

Austin
A sea of compost bins fill the parking lot of the former Home Depot on East St. Johns Avenue

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For years the property at 906 E. Saint Johns Avenue in Central Austin has sat mostly unused, after a plan to turn the old Home Depot at the location into a police substation and municipal court never materialized.

Now, a city report outlines a new vision for that project: a mixed-income, mixed use district that includes affordable housing, recreation space and retail and support services.

The report came after a 2-year public engagement process that included surveys, site tours, focus groups and community meetings.

Austin paid $8 million for that property at East St. Johns and an adjacent one at 7309 N. Interstate 35 that used to be a Chrysler dealership, after voters approved $19.7 million in bonds for an East St. Johns public safety project in 2006. A KXAN investigation from 2018 showed that amount wasn’t enough to fund the project.

In 2017, a city council resolution directed the City Manager to explore options for the space. Now, there are four conceptual scenarios which, according to the city document, “also honor the community’s history and diversity by focusing on the needs of current and past St. John residents as identified through the community engagement process.”

Scenario B.1 includes a public street network, almost 300 mixed-income housing units, open space and commercial space along the highway.

Scenario B.1 for the East St. Johns Avenue property (City of Austin Photo)
Scenario B.1 for the East St. Johns Avenue property (City of Austin Photo)

Scenario B.2 keeps the public street network and commercial space along the highway with about 240 mixed-income housing units and a larger public park.

Scenario B.2 for the East St. Johns Avenue property (City of Austin Photo)
Scenario B.2 for the East St. Johns Avenue property (City of Austin Photo)

Scenario C.1 has a single public road, 140 mixed-income housing units, a terraced park and both commercial and non-profit space along the highway.

Scenario C.1 for the East St. Johns Avenue property (City of Austin Photo)
Scenario C.1 for the East St. Johns Avenue property (City of Austin Photo)

Scenario C.2 keeps the single public road, terraced park and commercial and non-profit space along the highway, but increases the mixed-income housing units to 240.

Scenario C.2 for the East St. Johns Avenue property (City of Austin Photo)
Scenario C.2 for the East St. Johns Avenue property (City of Austin Photo)

The city document says the cost could be between $41 million and $71.5 million to address public infrastructure, park development and housing development portions of the project. It outlines a few options for financing it, including city-council approved Certificates of Obligation, voter-approved General Obligation bonds, a new Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone that lets a part of future property tax increases go toward the project, parkland dedication fees, park partnerships, housing subsidies and federal funding for housing.

“In many cases, there are competing financial priorities throughout the City and limited financing availability. Future City Council discussions are needed to provide the full context of utilizing financing toward these projects and the larger financial implications to other City projects,” the document stated.

The staff in charge of the project recommends City Council hold a work session to discuss how to fund the project and a timeline for a Request for Proposals process.

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