August 21, 2015

Ms. Sara Speights, President
Bull Creek Road Coalition


RE:    Response to 1) BCRC Questions regarding The Grove at Shoal Creek July 9th Plan, and 2) the BCRC Plan

Dear Ms. Speights and BCRC members,

We have had the opportunity to spend some time internally on two items brought forth by the Bull Creek Road Coalition (BCRC) that warranted a response to clarify several issues. One of these items is the list of questions raised to us in relation to The Grove at Shoal Creek Plan presented on July 9, 2015. The other item is related to the BCRC Plan.

First, the attached reflects responses to the questions raised by the BCRC regarding the plan that was presented to the larger, broad neighborhood at Congregation Beth Israel on July 9, 2015. This latest plan is a response to the many comments, concerns, and questions gathered since the original plan presented April 2, 2015. 

From April 2 to July 9, we listened to the broader community and responded appropriately with a new plan that reflected the practical comments and also aligned with the broader community survey results. This July 9th plan is a conceptual document that helps guide discussions to formulate the overall Land Use Plan and design regulations associated with the Planned Unit Development application. We have gathered many comments and questions associated with the July 9th plan, which has been received very well by the broader community. All comments and questions to the July 9th plan are greatly appreciated as they are vetted by The Grove team to better understand the nuances of the proposal so that it can be brought forward with more clarity for easier understanding and implementation. 

Your list of questions to the July 9th plan is appreciated and is the productive type of dialogue that helps bring conceptual projects forward to reality. Again, the response to those questions is attached.

Secondly, ARG Bull Creek, LTD, as owners of the project known as “The Grove at Shoal Creek” and their consulting team has made a preliminary review of the BCRC “Alternate Vision” for the Property.  While further review is potentially necessary, we offer some initial comments to this alternative plan.

While we certainly appreciate the energy and effort that went into the alternative plan, we feel it would have been more productive to respond to our Commitments Binder which was provided in May 2015, and then continue work with the plan that was already put forward after input from the broader community with considerable effort and expense.  We were prepared to spend considerable time working through the Commitments Binder, which was a response to very general comments from the BCRC, so that we could ally some concerns raised by the BCRC. 

Nevertheless, our initial response to this BCRC Plan is as follows:  the BCRC Plan (i) is Unworkable and Unsustainable because it is not economically viable, but nevertheless has some Elements to Consider such as traffic calming, park amenities and Shoal Creek considerations.

1.    The BCRC Plan is Unworkable and Unsustainable.  Sustainable development is often viewed as a 3-legged stool that must work Environmentally, Equitably and Economically.  Stated differently, sustainable development must work for “people, the planet and profits.”  The BCRC plan knocks out the economic leg of the stool.  It has at least 4 critical flaws:

a.    The BCRC Plan calls for at least 35 acres – over 46% of the project – to be parkland (not open space or impervious cover, but parkland).  This is beyond unrealistic and is unreasonable.  It is also unnecessary. Our plan already exceeds open space and parkland requirements in the central urban core.  Having done so, the remaining property should be used to maximize other priorities such as housing supply, housing diversity, affordability, and compact and connected development.

b.    The BCRC Plan calls for 200 foot buffers between the adjacent single-family neighborhoods and our proposed townhomes and single-family detached units.  This is also an unreasonable and unnecessary demand.  Townhomes and single-family units are compatible uses with adjacent single-family as is evidenced everywhere in Austin. In addition, our plan is superior to the City’s residential compatibility standards.  

c.    The BCRC Plan also calls for reduced heights and therefore density across the entire Property.  This less obvious part of the plan greatly and unnecessarily reduces density of the project.  The heights requested in our plan are consistent with adjacent zoning and will be superior to City compatibility standards with respect to the adjacent single-family.  The unnecessary reduction in density proposed by the BCRC is in addition to the more than doubling of the generous park space we propose. 

d.    The combination of all these factors means that the BCRC plan eliminates hundreds of residential units of all types.  The Grove cannot economically deliver the Project in alignment with Imagine Austin, let alone any affordable housing, with such massive reductions.

The BCRC Plan is especially disappointing because it is not, in fact, a new plan at all. A strikingly similar plan has been previously rejected when the City looked at buying the Property.  In September of 2014, the BCRC testified to the City when it requested that the City use tax payer dollars to purchase the Property.

In October of 2014, when the City analyzed a development scenario of the property that met the BCRC vision, and is nearly identical in its key aspects to the current BCRC Plan, the City’s experts found that scenario to be economically infeasible even at the then lower purchase price. 

Another large separating economic factor between The Grove at Shoal Creek Plan and the BCRC plan, previously evaluated by the City and determined to be unworkable, is that our plan includes a substantial amount of affordable housing on site.  The Affordable Housing is a substantial cost to the project.  Both the City experts and ARG Bull Creek know that a plan with 30-35 acres of parkland cannot also have affordable housing. This point is further exacerbated when coupled with the BCRC reduction in overall density. The City ultimately decided it could not take the risk and passed on buying the property.  

In addition, since January, we have explained repeatedly to the BCRC that there is simply no way that such a plan would ever work or be considered.  The BCRC has known this for many months, which causes us to question the true purpose of this plan.

2.    There are Some Elements to Consider in the BCRC Plan.  Despite the fatal flaws in the BCRC Plan, there are some elements that we recognize are worthy of further discussion.  For example, suggestions on park amenities, traffic calming measures and thoughts on Shoal Creek are exactly the sort of conversation we had hoped to have in relation to the plan presented on July 9th, just as the appropriate questions that warranted the response in the attached. We would be happy to work with the BCRC on these and other similar issues. In fact, we are eager to move from conceptual plans to more detailed design aspects of the project. 

In summary, we are deeply disappointed by the BCRC’s failure to take our proposals seriously by responding with an alternate plan that it knew or should have known was unworkable and would not be acceptable.  Nevertheless, we are willing to meet with the BCRC to discuss some of the design elements of its plan that are mentioned above.