By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission has recommended increased density for 80 Rainey, a 550-foot-tall, 644-unit residential tower by developer Lincoln Ventures at 80 Rainey St.
The commission voted 11-0-1 on Feb. 22 to recommend increasing the floor area ratio (a measure of density) on the site from 15:1 to 20:1 with Commissioner Solveij Rosa Praxis abstaining. The 49-story project now heads to City Council for final approval.
Other commissions in recent months have also recommended the tower move forward. The Design Commission certified the project’s compliance with Urban Design Guidelines in December, and in January the Historic Landmark Commission approved moving one of the bungalows on-site just to the south, behind Reina, another bungalow bar.
In addition to the bungalow bars, the tower will add to Rainey’s nightlife scene with an 11th-floor rooftop bar, a basement speakeasy, a coffee and cocktail lounge, and multiple restaurant spaces. Construction is planned to start this summer and end in 2025. Approximately 20 units will be affordable on-site, as required by the Downtown Density Bonus Program.
The Planning Commission also approved the removal of one heritage tree; three out of four heritage trees on-site will be preserved.
Though the project sailed through multiple city commissions, some neighbors objected to adding more density in the area. A resident of the Shore Condominiums and the property’s general manager both wrote to oppose the FAR increase, arguing that 80 Rainey’s garage placement would bring more congestion to an alley needed for vehicle access.
“This alley is barely passable as it is with many garbage dumpsters and trucks unloading materials,” Nolan Kagetsu, who lives in the Shore, said. “The entire Rainey Street area … is becoming increasingly dense with no apparent upgrades to the streets and sidewalks to accommodate the increase in both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
One neighbor who wrote in support of the tower was skeptical of the alley argument. “Such objections are a thinly veiled excuse to stop any future development from occurring in the neighborhood,” Andrew Gray said. “If the developers of 80 Rainey Street chose a different layout for the entrance of their parking garage, objections to this development would undoubtedly continue.”
Some Rainey residents, as well as Council Member Kathie Tovo, have opposed increased density for new towers in the past due to concerns about infrastructure. Tovo, who represents the neighborhood, voted against FAR increases for three Rainey towers last year.
Despite objections from some residents, continued change in Rainey looks inevitable. In the coming years, the area will be further transformed as several more skyscrapers – including the tallest tower in Texas – are planned in the neighborhood.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.