Whoa. We're easily talking about new tallest buildings outside of downtown here folks. Up to twice the height of current tallest buildings outside of downtown.
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From the Austin American-Statesman
Developer plans minicity for second phase of the Domain in North Austin
By Kate Miller Morton
Saturday, February 24, 2007
The sleek, high-end shops such as Neiman Marcus and Tiffany & Co., scheduled to open March 9 at the Domain shopping center, stand in sharp contrast to the gritty industrial and commercial buildings around them.
But Endeavor Real Estate Group's preliminary plans for the 177-acre second phase of the North Austin development could soon change that.
Endeavor plans to replace nearly a dozen aging, low-rise buildings and sprawling surface parking lots with as many as 50 residential, retail, office and parking structures ranging from two to 26 stories. A 9-acre park, an outdoor amphitheater and hike-and-bike trails are also planned.
Ambitious and expensive, the development envisioned along Burnet Road would require the city to significantly increase the maximum height and density allowed on the land and could require public incentives to offset some of the cost.
City leaders seem largely supportive of the project, which could give a serious boost to the city's wish to transform about 2,240 acres of sparsely populated and largely commercial and industrial property in the area into a compact minicity with as many as 82,000 residents and more than 50,000 workers in the next 25 to 30 years.
"It will become a major catalyst for the creation of our second downtown," City Council Member Brewster McCracken said of the project.
The Gateway/North Burnet planning area is widely viewed by city leaders, transportation planners and land planners as an ideal place for the type of large, compact mixed-use developments the city says it needs to accommodate a rapidly growing population without exacerbating sprawl.
Bounded by MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), U.S. 183 and Metric Boulevard, and directly in the path of two potential passenger rail lines, the area has the transportation network needed to move large numbers of people.
Water, wastewater and utility services exist in the area. Although the city expects it to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade those services and local streets to handle the type of development it envisions, it would still be cheaper than starting from scratch in a suburban location.
And because the area is mostly commercial and has few residents, dramatically changing its character would likely draw little opposition from neighborhood groups.
"When you are talking about doing that in someone's backyard, it's much more difficult," Austin Planning Commission member Cid Galindo said.
Planning efforts are ongoing, and city staff members caution that projections of about 82,000 residents and 50,000 workers represent a best-case scenario if the entire area is developed according to the plan.
Endeavor plans to begin construction on the second phase of the Domain this summer starting with a six-story, 185,000-square-foot office building and a 238-unit apartment building of up to eight stories.
The developer asked the city to rezone the property to increase the maximum heights allowed from 120 feet to 310 feet. It is also sought permission to build slightly more square footage per acre than is allowed in the central business district.
The Planning Commission recommended approving Endeavor's request to amend its development agreement but with heights limited to 308 feet and density about equal to that downtown.
The City Council is scheduled to hear the proposal Thursday.
It is far from certain that Endeavor will be able to achieve its vision even if it is able to win city approval for its requests.
High-density, mixed-use developments are significantly more expensive to build than traditional suburban developments, and the second phase of the Domain promises to be especially challenging.
Buildings must be demolished, integrated street grids built and utility lines relocated. Structured parking garages will be many times more expensive to build than surface lots, and the planned development would require dozens of them.
Endeavor is likely to ask the city for incentives to help defray costs, but it has not made any specific proposals.
"We are exploring that possibility," Endeavor principal Kirk Rudy said. "It's a very expensive undertaking."
It would not be the first time Endeavor asked for public money to offset the costs of a large project.
In 2003, the city agreed to rebate $37 million in sales and property taxes over 20 years for the first phase of the Domain. Travis County agreed to rebate as much as $9.3 million in property taxes in the same period.
But Endeavor has developed many large traditional, low-density retail and office projects in Central Texas without requesting public incentives, including the 1.6 million-square-foot Southpark Meadows shopping center at Slaughter Lane and Interstate 35.
Rudy said Endeavor owns the property for the second phase of the Domain and will build something there with or without public money.
But if Endeavor has to shoulder all of the costs, he said, the project will look much more like Southpark Meadows with its low-rise buildings and surface parking lots than the second downtown the city envisions.
McCracken said the city probably would be open to discussing reimbursements for public facilities needed in and around the Domain project, including park systems, roads and water lines, but would not entertain subsidies for Endeavor's operational expenses such as rent subsidies.
The city paid for much of the public infrastructure upgrades at the 711-acre former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport including roads, water and wastewater lines, and recently agreed to finance and own a parking garage at the mixed-use redevelopment of the Seaholm Power Plant downtown.
The city is already considering how to fund the costly upgrades to city services and facilities needed to support the high-density development called for in the Gateway/North Burnet plan.
McCracken said numerous financing options are being discussed including setting aside a portion of sales and property taxes generated by development in the area.
McCracken says a second downtown is inevitable given Austin's projected growth. The question is whether it will become a compact, attractive and efficient area like the city's original downtown, which generates far more tax revenue than it consumes in services, or consist of miles of sprawling office parks, retail centers and gated low-rise apartments like those around the Galleria in Houston or Las Colinas in Dallas.
"We can sit on our hands and hope that some day we are able to pass a bond package that would allow us to build the water pipes, and then hope once we put in the water pipes, streets and sidewalks, that development will follow, or we can have dynamic financing structures in place to create our second downtown now and create it with affordable housing, green building, integrated transit and a park system," McCracken said.
So far, the city's calls for high-density development in the area have met with little opposition, though dissent is sure to increase as details about rezoning, height restrictions and land entitlements are discussed in the spring.
Scott Peterson, a resident of the nearby Scofield Farms neighborhood, is concerned that the mixed uses and availability of mass transit won't be enough to get people to give up their cars, placing tens of thousands of new drivers on already congested streets near his home.
"If people can't live without their cars, then basically it makes this area much more congested," Peterson said. "Other areas might benefit because the population growth didn't happen in their area, but in this area it will be total gridlock."
The Domain Phase I
Retail: 700,000 square feet
Office: 75,000 square feet
Scheduled to open: March 2007
The Domain Phase II
Retail: 1.2 million square feet
Office: 3.5 million to 4 million square feet
Apartments and condos: 4,000 to 6,000
Maximum height: 308 feet
Scheduled to start: Summer 2007
Estimated build-out: 15 years
City planners envision high-density, mixed-use development in the 2,243-acre Gateway/North Burnet planning area that in 25 to 30 years could eventually include as many as:
41,158 apartments, condominiums and townhouses
0 single-family homes