Towers : East Austin’s Latest Mixed-Use Project Pioneers Affordable Commercial Space

A large mixed-use development set to transform a vacant 15-acre tract currently zoned mostly for industrial use in far East Austin hopes to introduce a new community benefit that could serve as a model for future projects — 10,000 square feet of affordable commercial space, offered at 60 percent of market rent to small arts-focused local businesses identified by a partnership with Austin Creative Alliance.

Planned by Springdale General developers Central Austin Management Group at an assembly east of Highway 183 including 6501 and 6705 Regiene Road, the project will appear for its third reading at tomorrow’s meeting of Austin City Council after two previous approvals of its rezoning, which would change the site’s designation from limited industrial and single-family residential uses to limited industrial and planned development area (PDA) uses. This change would allow the tract’s development to rise 275 feet at its highway frontage and 120 feet closer to the site’s interior — significant height for this region, though not as dense as the 400-foot limit previously approved by council for a nearby Motorola manufacturing site set for a similar redevelopment.

A view of the Regiene Road tract set for rezoning at tomorrow’s council meeting, with nearby features including the future path of Project Connect’s Green Line rail and the Walnut Creek Greenbelt included. Image: Central Austin Management Group

Income-restricted or otherwise subsidized commercial space for local businesses is an approach often discussed by the city as a strategy for reducing the impact of rising rents on area creatives, but as far as we know this kind of amenity has not been formally planned at this scale for any recent development in Austin until now. With the help of its private agreement with the ACA, the developers hope to attract businesses like performance spaces, galleries, small retail, food service, and other low and moderate-income operations vulnerable to displacement.

The unnamed project would offer the affordable commercial space in concert with its market-rate commercial uses — including a brewery, restaurants, and creative-focused “maker space” — along with approximately 500,000 square feet of office space and 370 or more apartments in a multi-building campus with design from Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. Through an agreement with Austin Habitat for Humanity’s HomeBase organization, the developer will offer 10 percent of the project’s residences to households earning at or below 60 percent of the region’s median family income, defined in 2021 as a yearly income of $41,580 for one or $59,340 for a family of four.

An aerial view of the site and its surrounding area, facing east from this perspective — that’s Highway 183 at the top of the image. Image: Bing Maps

This site, located along the future path of Project Connect’s Green Line, is seeking its rezoning to allow an on-site brewery and prohibit more undesirable uses currently permitted here, including a recycling plant or other industry. Along with its estimated $8 million in community benefits, the project will comply with the Worker’s Defense Project’s Better Builder Program, which offers labor protections for construction workers including the $15 hourly pay defined as a living wage by the City of Austin.

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