Neighbors Divided Over Planned 75-Acre Shoal Creek Development

Apr 27, 2016

In Austin’s Shoal Creek neighborhood, residents are divided over the prospect of a massive new mixed-use development. While some welcome the growth, others say the proposal hasn’t been properly vetted. But take a walk around the Shoal Creek neighborhood, and you can clearly see that, for or against, the residents are all concerned.

Along a quiet residential street called Ridgelea Drive off West 39th Street, almost every single home has a lawn sign that reads “Build a Better PUD.”

PUD is short for planned unit development, and some residents are concerned about one that’s been proposed for land just about a mile from their neighborhood. Milestone Community Builders wants to develop a 75-acre tract of land between 45th Street, Shoal Creek Boulevard and Bull Creek Road. The site, called the Grove at Shoal Creek, would include thousands of square feet of retail, housing and office space.

“I feel like it’s going to be too large the way it’s proposed at this point,” said Ellen Reeder. She's lived in the neighborhood for about 14 years. She said she figured it was just a matter of time before the land was developed, but she has concerns about the Grove — namely, traffic. An analysis conducted by the developer shows building the site would more than double the number of vehicle trips per day on Bull Creek Road.

“I don’t mind having a new neighbor who has restaurants and shops and more houses, more people who live around here, but I would like it to be scaled down,” Reeder said.

Other residents welcome the growth. Natalie Gauldin helped create Friends of the Grove, a neighborhood group that’s mobilized in support of the PUD.

“Our position is that we’re allowing city experts, city staff to review the plans, and then we will support the plans once staff has approved and recommended them,” Gauldin said.

But that review process has been fraught with controversy. Last month, a neighborhood group called the Bull Creek Road Coalition raised concern over what they saw as a sudden end to the transportation review for the PUD, and filed a city petition objecting to the PUD's zoning, which the city rejected. Grayson Cox is the group’s vice president.

“One of the neighborhoods within the coalition hired a traffic engineer of their own to help look at this just from an independent perspective, and seemingly right after that happened, there was a big push from the developer to get this review wrapped up as soon as possible,” Cox said.

The developer, Milestone, has challenged that claim, but the controversy prompted Austin City Council Member Leslie Pool to reach out to the city manager. Her district sits right across 45th Street from the proposed development. She also lives just a few blocks from the site.

“It’s really unprecedented in its size and complexity, and so it deserves an unprecedented level of review," she said.

Pool is asking the city manager to reopen certain aspects of the developer’s traffic analysis for city staff to review.

“Our staff had devoted a lot of hard work and expertise to the review," Pool said. "But then it seemed like the developer began to pressure them to hurry up and finish, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.”

The developer notes they’ve held more than 50 public meetings and regularly gathered feedback from city officials. In an emailed statement, the company said that their master plan incorporates lots of requests they’ve received through community outreach, including “improving our design in regards to connectivity and compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.”

But Council Member Pool remains skeptical.

“I agree the developer has indeed held many, many, many meetings. Has he listened to the concerns of the people who live adjacent to that property and reflected them in his proposal? That would be my question.”

District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo thinks he has. The Grove at Shoal Creek sits in her district.

“Many changes from the beginning have been made in the plan that directly respond to neighborhood feedback," she said. 

For example, Gallo said, some Oakmont residents asked for buildings adjacent to their neighborhood to be scaled down, and Milestone changed its design. She also notes that, typically, developers pay into a fund that helps the city mitigate the increased traffic brought on by their project. She notes that in this case, the Grove developer has offered to pay upfront.

“The owner of the property was willing to go ahead and fund the full improvements to that intersection at 45th and Bull Creek and also do some road improvements throughout those area roadways that front the property.”

Gallo expects city staff to issue their recommendations on the PUD within about a week. It will then be heard by the Environmental Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission. Ultimately, the PUD will have to be approved by Austin City Council before developers can break ground.

However, a lawsuit filed this morning could complicate that city review. The district court suit, filed on behalf of Cox and Bull Creek Road Coalition, alleges the city denied residents' rights to petition. 

You can read the full filing below.

This story was produced as a part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.