Northwest, North Central Austin neighborhoods discuss Austin Oaks charrette

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Community discusses Austin Oaks charretteAbout 30 members of the community surrounding the Austin Oaks office park discuss the design charrette, scheduled to occur in January.Kara Nuzback
Community discusses Austin Oaks charrette

Residents of Northwest Hills, Balcones, Allendale, North Shoal Creek and others in Northwest and North Central Austin will weigh in on how the Austin Oaks property near the intersection of MoPac and Spicewood Springs Road is developed.

Many members of the community surrounding Austin Oaks opposed a recent planned unit development proposal, saying it would drastically increase traffic congestion and tower over surrounding properties. Developer Spire Realty agreed to suspend the PUD application and instead conduct a charrette, or a collaborative design process, with area homeowners and stakeholders.

Resident Sandy Dochen moderated a Dec. 2 information session with residents. His wife, Carol Dochen, sits on the NWACA board of directors. Dochen told the audience of about 30 people that Spire Realty hired attorney Michael Whellan to replace The Drenner Group after Austin Oaks PUD application became a heated and contentious topic.

“[Hiring Whellan] really started the clock all over again,” he said. “We’re kind of, in a lot of ways, starting from scratch.”

Whellan and Spire Realty President Jon Ruff sit on a steering committee dedicated to the project, along with several members of surrounding neighborhoods.

“[Ruff is] very grateful to have a second chance at connecting and restarting the process,” Whellan said.

Joyce Statz, president of the Northwest Austin Civic Association, said a charrette is the neighborhoods’ best chance to have a meaningful say in the development and build some trust between residents and the landowner.

“It’s an opportunity for a community that’s divided,” she said.

Twelve existing office buildings sit on the 31-acre Austin Oaks site. During two Neighborhood Vision and Values workshops scheduled for Dec. 16 and Jan. 12, residents can discuss what kind of development they would like to see at Austin Oaks as well as what is important to the neighborhood.

The basis of the designs for the Austin Oaks charrette will come from community input at the two workshops, Statz said. The development’s effect on traffic, its environmental impact and its maximum building height are some examples of community values that neighborhood groups would ask designers to address, she said.

The design charrette, which will include traffic and environmental experts, is scheduled for Jan. 24-29 at Austin Oaks. Statz said the design charrette would be structured similarly to the recent CodeNEXT Sound Check event, in which professional designers develop schematics and renderings to share with the public.

Between Jan. 26-28 residents can provide feedback on the designers’ renderings, and the designs will be altered accordingly, Statz said.

“We want to finish up with a land-use plan that we can use as the basis for the zoning conditions we put on the site,” she said.

Statz said the plan would have to incorporate the community’s values and also be economically feasible for the developer. The Triangle development, located at the intersection of North Lamar Boulevard and Guadalupe Street, is a local example of a successful charrette that underwent similar community opposition when an application to develop the site was first filed with the city, she said.


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