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Austin: 1 of 2 ‘Graffiti Park’ Tracts Recommended for Rezoning for Condos

Featured Photo (above): The former HOPE Outdoor Gallery/Graffiti Park is eyed for redevelopment as a two-part condominium complex. Image: Google Streets

Posted: 1-31-20

By Edmond Ortiz

Austin (Travis County)–Only one of two proposed residential developments that are on adjacent tracts with the former Graffiti Park was granted a recommendation to rezone to a higher density.

Combined, the two projects could have created up to 22 market rate three-bedroom condominiums.

The project names are Colorfield and Castle East and both arrived before the Planning Commission with recommendations from city staff to approve them.

The commissioners voted 7-3 on Jan. 28 to support upzoning Colorfield–a half-acre parcel at 1006 Baylor St.–from a lower to higher level of multifamily zoning, but with a 90-foot height cap.

Property owner Bryan Cumby looks to build two 4,400-square-foot units and eight 3,000-square-foot units on this lot.

Austin firm TDI Engineers is assessing the 1006 Baylor tract, according to documents on file with the city’s development services department. Cumby is principal and a managing member of local developer Mid-City Development and construction firm J.B. Cumby Construction. VBX members may track this project using ID number: 2020-0D9E.

The Castle East proposal followed Colorfield on the agenda, but the commission voted to deny rezoning even though the request and circumstances were nearly identical. Victor Ayad, the owner of the half-acre at 1109 W. 11th St., said it was his intent to build a 12-unit complex.

This property sits immediately east of the castle-shaped 150-year-old Texas Military Institute at the apex of the hill. The castle, a local landmark, is occupied by Castle Hill Partners, a commercial real estate investment firm where property owner Ayad is a principal.

A southwestern birds-eye view of the Graffiti Park site next to the former TMI “castle.” Image: Bing

Residents in the surrounding Old West Austin neighborhood have been talking with Ayad and Cumby, sharing concerns that the new condos would be incompatible, and that even with height limits could still block views of downtown or the historic TMI castle.

However, the commissioners did not raise obstruction of views as a major sticking point.

The upzoning at 1006 Baylor adds 14,238-square-foot floor-to-area ratio (FAR) to the existing 29,330-square-foot FAR available for development on the parcel. 

Upzoning at 1109 W. 11th permits an additional 11,355 square feet in FAR to the existing 22,710 square feet available to develop on this parcel.

City staff noted that Ayad’s Castle East project called for less height and more floor area than the construction on 1006 Baylor.

The increased FAR helps to offset the loss from not building taller buildings on both tracts.

A few neighbors lobbied to get the developers committed to a street improvement project. West 11th Street is disconnected at the north end of their lots. It was suggested that they dedicate and easement and connect the dead-ends to create a new route between Blanco and Baylor streets. 

Cumby balked, stating his reluctance to take on a street extension project or any other significant infrastructure improvements around the block other than those immediately affecting his property.

Old West Austin neighbors are pushing for connectivity around the block where a potential 22-condo development is proposed. West 11th Street is bisected by a hilly alleyway that serves as part of the northern boundary of the Graffiti Park tracts. Baylor Street, the cross-street, is seen here. Image: Google Streets

Despite Cumby’s objection, Commissioner Conor Kenny tacked on a conditional overlay to the rezoning approval that denies construction within 25 feet of the north property line.

This leaves the door open for the city to someday acquire that section as a road easement without having to compensate Cumby for the cost of removing new construction.

Kenny called for a similar northern boundary overlay for 1109 W. 11th, but that was before the commission voted against rezoning Ayad.

Commissioners echoed the neighbors’ worries about development compatibility, height and a lack of details on the proposed condos.

It’s not yet known whether the units will be for sale or rent. The size of the Castle East units has not yet been divulged.

Commissioners Kenny and Todd Shaw criticized the property owners for not considering affordable housing in the condo complex.

They said the proposed development is a prime opportunity to establish much-needed affordable housing within the urban core west of downtown.

Alice Glasco, a local consultant representing Cumby and Ayad in the rezoning process, told the commission that there’s been no thought to including affordable units on either parcel.

“We’re not going to get any more units out of this, so let’s just stay with these massive units,” Kenny said. “It’s hard for me to swallow these 3,000-to-4,000-square-foot (units) without a concrete community benefit.

Commissioner Awais Azhar summarized the efforts to address both properties by saying there appeared to be more cons than pros surrounding both properties. He was one of six panel members to oppose rezoning 1109 West 11th.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about this case,” he added.

Recommendations for both parcels will head to the City Council for final action.

An eastern view of where West 11th Street dead ends in front of the former TMI “castle” and the Graffiti Park site in the background. Image: Bing

Both condominium tracts make up the former HOPE Outdoor Gallery, also known as Graffiti Park, on the sloping land. Ayad was one of the people responsible for turning what had been an incomplete multi-family development from the 1980s into a public art installation as part of the 2011 South by Southwest festival.

The concrete foundation slabs leftover from the failed multi-family development on that property became canvases for professional and amateur artists, and other visitors, turning into a public art park that lured throngs of locals and tourists until its closure in 2019.

That was when Ayad proceeded with plans to convert the Graffiti Park into a residential redevelopment. The slabs from Graffiti Park are being relocated to a site on Sherman Road in East Austin where the art park will reopen at the new HOPE Outdoor Gallery later this year.


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By |2020-01-31T16:53:25-06:00January 31st, 2020|Construction Preview, Feature Story|

About the Author:

Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.