Austin's Low Population Density

Population density, the number of people per square mile, is an indicator of suburban sprawl. A large city with a low population density will be spread across a broader geographic area than an equally sized city with a higher level of density. The lower the density, the more land it takes to fit all of a city's residents. The more land, the longer people must drive for work or to get groceries, the more lawn there is too water, the more the natural environment is reclaimed for malls and yards and roads.

There are many benefits to having a higher density city. The environmental impact is minimized, public transportation is easier, sprawl is reduced. Today, Austin is not a high density city: even the central downtown area is relatively low density compared to the core of other major cities. Of the top 25 cities, Austin is the 20th most dense city. In Texas, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio all have higher levels of density than Austin. If you you think Houston is sprawling, than you probably won't like Austin in a few decades if current growth rates persist. El Paso is the only large Texas city with a lower level of density than Austin.

While many people question whether downtown development is good or bad, there is no better way to improve population density. A dense urban core is vibrant, ecologically-friendly, and traffic-friendly. It is the best antidote to sprawl. Downtown development won't stop sprawl in Austin: the number of building permits for single family homes in Austin is nearly the highest per capita of any city in the country, it is the first step in the right direction. It provide people who want to bike to work or walk to dinner with an alternative that hasn't previously existed in Austin.

Here is the raw data from Demographia. The data is from 2000 and just looks at the city of Austin --- it excludes many of the suburbs with the lowest population density.

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New: Four Seasons Residences Listings

Since many of the large new condo projects are being privately marketed through in-house sales agents, the only way to get unit details and pricing is to schedule a meeting and visit the sales center. Recently, however, the Four Seasons Residences has added a number of units to the Austin MLS -- making the details publicly available for the first time.

Currently, there are 8 units listed ranging from a 1,060 SF one bedroom unit for $580,000 to a 2,692 SF three bedroom, three bath unit for $1,918,000. One interesting note is the wide variance in price-per-square-foot which ranges from $459 to $764 -- it's highest for the largest units.

The listings, as well as new listings for Sabine on 5th, are available Here: AustinTowers Downtown Condo Listings

BartonPlace Sells 61 units, Lines Up Financing

There has been lots of mixed news on the national and local real estate front over the last few months -- so it is a relief to see good news from BartonPlace Condominiums.

According to the developers, the project has taken $30 million in deposits on 61 of their 270 units. With strong pre-sales, the project has been able to secure financing for the project from IBC Bank in Austin -- clearing the biggest hurdle to a new project and setting them up to begin construction in the first quarter of 2008. The project is being developed behind Austin Java on Barton Springs road.

BartonPlace Barton Place Condos in Austin

Here is the summary from the Statesman:

The BartonPlace announcement Friday comes amid a dramatically changed lending and credit environment nationwide, with experts predicting that some Austin condo developers who don't already have financing might find it much tougher to get, meaning some projects might not get built.But the credit crunch hasn't hurt the BartonPlace project. It is expected to break ground in March at 1600 Barton Springs Road, replacing the Shady Grove RV Park.Unit prices will range from $259,000 to about $700,000.Warshaw said BartonPlace sales are the strongest he and Constructive Venture principal Perry Lorenz have seen in any of their projects, which include four in East Austin. Austin Java co-owner Rick Engel also is a partner in BartonPlace, which will incorporate the Austin Java restaurant at the front of the 4.3 acre site.

Austonian Condo Fees Set a New Record!

The Austonian is going to be nice. At 56-stories, it will be the tallest building in Austin. In fact, it would be the tallest residential building in San Francisco. It has a beautiful pool and a dog park with a special doggie toilet.

These luxury features, however, are not free. Units in the Austonian start at $500K and top out at more than $7 million -- more than the selling price of almost any apartment or single family home in the history of Austin. On top of this, residents will pay the highest condo fees of any project in the city -- an amazing $0.64 per square foot per month which equates to almost $1,300 per month for a 2,000 square foot unit.

Condo fees fund the daily operations and maintenance of most condo buildings. They cover security, landscaping, cleaning of common area, common area energy use, maintenance, and other key building functions. Prior to the introduction of the W and Four Seasons Residences, the highest condo fees in Austin were $0.40 per square foot and the average was a low $0.34. At $0.64, the fees at the Austonian are the highest in the city. According the sources, the $0.64 fee is actually a reduction from the $0.67 per square foot which was originally offered to buyers.

Here is our updated list of condo fees by project:

Fee by Building - - - - - $ / SF / Month
Avenue Lofts
The Sabine
Plaza Lofts
The Shore
Five Fifty Five Condos
W Hotel & Residences
Four Seasons Residences
.... . . . . . . . .$0.64

Second Austin Downtown at Domain by 2035

As we have reported in the past, developers and the city have announced ambitious plans for the second phase of the Domain: the new mini-city rising off Mopac just north of 183. Between now and 2015, one developer alone plans to build 50, yes FIFTY, new buildings with heights ranging from 2-26 stories (as tall as 310 feet). When complete, The Domain will form a second Austin "downtown" with as many as 82,000 residents and 50,000 daytime workers. To put these numbers in context, Mayor Will Wynn has working hard towards a big goal: getting 25,000 people to live in the real downtown by 2015, the same timeframe.

The Domain capitalizes on a an ongoing trend in large scale development: Pleaseantville-like mini-cities that blend ground-floor retail with rental, condo and commercial properties on the upper floors. The goal is to create a disneyesque main street development that becomes a destination for retail and entertainment while making the development an attractive place to live and work. Envision multiple city blocks with street-side parking (and plenty of garages).

Today, the City of Austin took a step forward by approving phase 1 of a master plan for the area which will officially strive to create a second downtown on a 2,300 acre parcel adjacent to the domain by 2035.

Domain Future Development Austin

Here is the summary from the Austin Business Journal:

City Council preliminarily approved phase 1 of the North Burnet/Gateway master landuse plan, which will create a so-called second downtown in the area around the Domain luxury shopping center by 2035.Final approval by City Council for Phase 1 is expected on Nov. 1.The North Burnet/Gateway plan's vision is to ultimately create clusters of dense, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods in the 2,300-acre area north of U.S. 183 bounded by Walnut Creek, Metric Boulevard, Braker Lane and MoPac Expressway.The final plan will allow developers to build denser than anywhere outside of downtown and as high as 15 stories or 180 feet, and up to 30 stories or 360 feet in areas closest to planned commuter rail stops.Phase 1 immediately designates a zoning overlay district in the area to allow vertical mixed uses and other urban design elements, and to preclude interim development not in concert with the plan.

The initial Domain site consists of 57 acres and stands on the former site of Century Oaks Park, a multi-purpose recreational facility for IBM employees and their families. The park was so named for the century-old trees contained within. The land was purchased from IBM, and demolition of the park began in 2004.

Additional land for The Domain is being reclaimed from vacant IBM manufacturing and administrative buildings, as well as driveways and parking lots that were once part of the original IBM campus.

The developers were granted tax subsidies in 2003 from the City of Austin and Travis County. Total developer compensation from taxpayer money over the life of the agreement could reach $60 million. The developer keeps 80 percent of the city's sales tax for the first five years and 50 percent for the next 15 years. Plus, 25 percent of the property tax is rebated back to the developer for the entire 20-year period. The city of Austin expects to take in about $40 million in sales and property taxes over the 20 years of the incentive agreement.

Monarch Profile Added

We've added a full profile for the Monarch -- the 305 unit rental-turned-condo project at 5th and West, just East of Whole Foods. The project is named for the Butterfly-like structure on the roof and is scheduled for completion in early 2008. The building features units from 681 square feet to 3,530 square feet and priced from the low $200,000s to $1.75 million.

The Monarch Condo Austin Downtown

The full profile is here.

W Hotel & Residences Breaks Ground

Another Austin project -- the W Hotel & Residences -- took an important step forward yesterday with a lavish ground-breaking ceremony. Not unlike the Austonian which created a pile of dirt to be shoveled for the ceremony, the Block 21 development team and a world-famous basketball player and investor (Magic Johnson) used unusual guitar-shovels for the ground-breaking. The theme of the event, as far as I can tell, was "Keep Austin Weird."

Block 21, a former vacant lot in the heart of Austin’s Second Street District, is moving from planning to reality. Upon completion in early 2010, the new home of Austin City Limits, a 2,200 seat, state-of-the-art theater and music venue, will also incorporate the W Austin Hotel & Residences, a 35-story tower designed by Arthur Andersson with 196 condos, 250 guestrooms, spa and restaurant; plus approximately 47,000 square feet of ground and second floor retail. Unfortunately, the project will no longer contain the Austin Children's Museum which pulled out of the project -- an unfortunate loss for an otherwise great project. Supposedly, the developers made it very difficult for the Dell Children's Museum to affordably create the sort of space they needed for the facility.

The $260-million project is seeking Platinum LEED Certification for its implementation of green building techniques, materials and operational standards under the guidance of Gail Vittori, Co-director of the Austin-based Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems. There are only a handful of mixed-use projects and hotels in the world that have achieved LEED Platinum Certification.

Here is the latest rendering of the project which will clearly have a huge, positive impact on the second-street district:

W Hotel & Residences Block 21 Austin Condos

Riverside Condo Proposal Rejected by Planning Commission

When it comes to Austin condo zoning, there is one holy grail: there will be no exceptions to the current zoning rules which prohibit new construction within 200 feet of the shore of Lady Bird Lake. This simple rule, however, made for a difficult decision for the Planning Commission and the City Council.

CWS Capital Partners has purchased a plot of land with existing buildings that sit as close as 20 feet from the lake. Under current rules, they can redevelop these buildings, but they can not build new structures within the 200 foot easement. So, CWS asked the city for what seemed like a fair compromise: they would demolish the buildings close to the lake and extend the hike and bike trail by 1/3 of a mile in exchange for permission to build their towers 150 feet from the lake. Virtually political forces agreed that it was bad idea to allow any exception to the 200 foot rule -- the likely fear being that it would set a precedent for other developers.

Here is the summary from the Austin Business Journal:

The city's planning commission unanimously rejected California-based CWS Capital Partners' plans to build three highrise condo buildings as close as 150 feet from the shore of Lady Bird Lake.CWS had requested a variance to the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance that prohibits CWS from building within 200 feet of the lakeshore. In exchange for being granted the variance, CWS proposed to donate nearly 2 acres of waterfront parkland and extend the hike-and-bike trail by one-third of a mile along Riverside Drive.CWS can appeal the decision to the City Council, but CWS attorney Richard Suttle says the company will likely not appeal, given that four council members have already publicly expressed their opposition to the variance.If the variance request remains denied, CWS plans to build two highrises -- one 200 feet, the other 120 feet -- and redevelop dozens of apartments that sit as close as 20 feet from the lake shore to sell them as townhomes. Those apartments pre-date the 200-foot rule.