Austin: Senior Affordable Housing Project Four Years in Review Gets Past Planning Commission
Feature Illustration (above): Southeast elevation of the proposed City Heights-Nuckols Crossing senior housing building. Courtesy: Thrower Design.
by Adolfo Pesquera
Austin (Travis County) — A proposed affordable senior housing mid-rise apartment building in southeast Austin finally received Planning Commission approval four years after the developer submitted a rezoning request.
The project named City Heights-Nuckols Crossing was opposed to the end by nearby homeowners associations, mainly because access to the building would be from a narrow street with no shoulder or sidewalk and on a blind curve.
Neighborhood residents believe there is already too much traffic passing Nuckols Crossing Road by Viewpoint Drive and the apartment complex is estimated to add another 980 trips per day.
Commissioners took notice, however, of the fact that the developer has worked hard with its own WGI engineers and the Austin Traffic Department to design a traffic plan that would improve safety. The scale of the project has also shrunk considerably from what was originally envisioned.
The site plan for City Heights-Nuckols Crossing with the lot area reduced to 9.97 acres.
Initially, McDowell Properties proposed a 27.4-acre development with 308 units. The land encompassed an area adjacent to Woodway Village at Viewpoint Drive northward around the Nuckols Crossing Road curve to where it turns into St. Elmo Road. It had several ingress-egress access points.
The number of units was much reduced from 308; as recently as June it was to be 275 units. By the July 28 Planning Commission hearing the number had been cut again–down to 179 units.
The lot size was also reduced to 9.97 acres and access held to a single entrance. Most of the property, however, still has environmental constraints; it’s in a flood zone that is part of a creek tributary that feeds the Williamson Creek downstream.
“Two-thirds of the property will remain natural,” said Victoria Haase, a zoning consultant with Thrower Design.
Because of the environmental constraint and the reduced lot size, McDowell asked for MF-4 zoning, a higher density unit-per-acre zoning that could allow 54 units/acre. However, Ron Thrower said the only reason MF-4 is needed is to build the structure to five stories (67 feet high). The actual density would be closer to 18 units/acre.
Southwest elevation looking east at City Heights-Nuckols Crossing.
Southbound traffic approaching 4400 Nuckols Crossing Road, where cars would meet the proposed entrance, comes up a steep grade from the creek just as it is coming out of a sharp curve. This creates a blind spot.
To remedy this problem, the developer and the city agreed on widening the road in front of the property, providing a left turn land for northbound traffic and a deceleration lane onto the property for southbound traffic. In addition, extensive clearing of trees and brush would be done along the frontage to improve visibility.
The building will be set back from the frontage more than 90 feet. There will be some surface parking, but the building will also wrap around a parking structure, Thrower said.
McDowell Properties negotiated financing terms with city agencies to ensure the units would be affordable and rent restricted to seniors 55 years and older. One city agency is providing $22 million in bond funding, as well as a $4 million loan that comes with a minimum 40-year rent affordability period. The bond financing is tied to an application with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for a 4% low income housing tax credit award, which is pending.
All units will be available to seniors earning from 30 to 80% of the area median income; 109 units will be one-bedrooms and 70 units will be two-bedrooms.
As is common with these type of structured finance affordable housing projects, the development will include numerous amenities, such as walking trails and indoor common areas for gatherings and activities.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.