Local property ownership group Broadway Ellwood Co. and Austin developer Argyle Residential overcame a procedural hurdle Monday night when the Alamo Heights City Council approved a special use permit (SUP) for development of an apartment complex in the center of town.
The council’s 4-1 vote upholds the City’s Planning and Zoning (P&Z) recommendations made last week and follows more than three months of lengthy public meetings and at times heated debate about the planned development at Austin Highway and Broadway.
Argyle proposes 150 apartment units with 175,000 sq. ft. of residential space, 5,100 sq. ft. of ground floor retail space, and 7,000 sq. ft. of ground floor amenity space. The building, depending on the slope of the land, would range four to five stories tall. The proposal includes 276 parking spaces, with all but 21 in an underground garage.
The special use permit comes with several conditions, chief among them ensuring that Ellwood Avenue does not close. Acquirement and abandonment of part of Ellwood and all of Ausway Lane was a key request from Argyle and Broadway Ellwood, which owns private property that would host the project. Overland Partners is the architecture firm that designed the project.
The developers said they could realign Ellwood around the northwest part of the project site, keeping the road open but losing a bit of parking and retail space in the process.
As in past open meetings with P&Z and the City’s Architectural Review Board, which approved a preliminary design, most speakers addressed the council Monday by repeating their worries and questions about the proposal.
Concerns ranged from the building’s size and density on five public and private parcels that measure less than two acres, to concerns about potential adverse impacts on local water supply, traffic, school resources and drainage.
Critics, some of whom oppose any kind of apartment development in the municipality, have questioned the appraisal for the city’s targeted public properties. They also have questioned whether the mixed-use development could spark a rebirth of sorts along Alamo Heights’ commercial corridor on Broadway, as many others hope will happen. The council agreed to accept $20 per square foot as the price for abandoning all five parcels for the project.
Local developer and property owner Glenn Huddleston made a counter-proposal of sorts several months ago to convert the land into a small city park, an idea that did not win council support.
John Burnham, managing director of Argyle, said the new ownership group could maintain one of the targeted parcels, a triangular patch south of Ausway Lane, as greenspace for years as part of the project.
Project supporters say the development would help to improve the aesthetics and economic viability of the Broadway commercial corridor, provide the city with a new revenue stream, and upgrade walkability in the area. Councilmember Bobby Hasslocher cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he still had many unresolved questions about the plan.
This isn’t quite a done deal. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and San Antonio River Authority (SARA) must first determine whether the project will have any significant impact on the floodplain around Austin Highway/Broadway. That process, project representatives said, could take months.
Sam Dawson of local firm Pape-Dawson Engineers, which consulted with Argyle and its partners, said in his professional opinion the plan meets the city’s requirements regarding drainage runoff and impervious cover.
Richard Peacock, one of the four local men who own land that would accommodate Argyle’s development, expressed gratitude and relief that the SUP was granted.
“Unfortunately at the same time it was not without controversy, but I think at the end of the day, with the Architectural Review Board passing it unanimously, and Planning and Zoning passing it unanimously, and the council passing it 4-1 makes me think that facts prevailed,” Peacock said. He acknowledged there’s still much to do before breaking ground at the project site.
“The basic framework for our development has been endorsed and ratified after being thoroughly vetted. It’s probably the most vetted project in our city’s history, which is probably appropriate for something this significant.”
Councilmember Lynda Billa Burke said Argyle’s plan warranted such study and that she concluded it offers much in the way of positive community potential.
“It’s a model project, a unique project. There will be never another one like it because of the spot it’s in,” Burke said. “But it presents what Alamo Heights needs to do: grow up and move on.”
Burnham said he and his associates appreciate the variety of opinions offered about the project. “Ultimately, I’m glad we’re able to take the next step forward with this project.”
Alamo Heights mayoral candidate and project opponent Sarah Reveley said she was disappointed, “the council ignored the concern about mass and height.”
*Featured/top image: Broadway Ellwood’s Broadway-Austin Highway development. Rendering courtesy of Overland Partners and Good Fulton and Farrell Architects.