Green Redevelopment Tension Builds

Earlier this month, the City council delayed a key vote to approve the plan for Trammell Crow to develop the 4.4 acre Green Water Treatment Site. Now, pressure is building for the City to renegotiate the 4-year-old agreement to sell Trammell the prime downtown site for $42.4 million as part of the $500 million development proposal.

According to a lengthy editorial on the subject by the Austin American Statesman editorial board, "Under the 2008 proposal, Trammell Crow agreed to pay the city $42.4 million over several years to buy and transform the land, beating four other teams that submitted bids with an offer that 25 percent of rental housing it built on the land would be affordable. That meant that 80 of the planned 320 apartments would be rented to those who earn less than 80 percent of Austin's median family income and 240 apartments for more moderate incomes. Trammell Crow also proposed building a housing project for seniors. It would build many other features as part of its $500 million project, including offices, shops and restaurants, making it one of the biggest developments ever built downtown.

But that was not the deal city staffers brought back to the City Council earlier this month. That proposal increased the total number of apartments to 826, but decreased the percentage of affordable housing to 10 percent. That change would yield 87 affordable apartments. Five of those would be designated for low-income people, while the rest would go to people earning incomes of below $43,000 for a single person to just more than $60,000 for a family of four. Also, Trammell Crow is offering $250,000 for improvements to Shoal Creek near the Green site, $375,000 for public art, $150,000 for on-site music programs and discounted office space for nonprofit groups, among other things."

The Undeveloped Green Water Treatment Plant Site: Now Just a 4.4 Acre Fenced Lawn

The editorial also points out that the City shifted responsibility for construction of a $60 million underground parking garage from the City to the Developer, further increasing the development costs.

The bottom-line seems clear the market has accelerated dramatically over the last few years. Downtown land values continue to spike. There is more need than ever for affordable housing downtown. The 4.4 acre site -- one of the best downtown sites that will ever be developed -- requires the City to get the best deal possible. Since it's City-owned land, community pressure is building for the Council to look at increasing the cash payment for the site, increasing the about of affordable housing included within the project, and decreasing City costs by shifting as much development responsibility to the developer.

According to the Statesman, "The council has time to do that when it again takes up the Green proposal on April 26. If its goal is to get more or longer-term affordable housing, council members should be willing to pay for that with concessions or trade-offs in the proposed deal, given that Trammell Crow is paying market value for the land and building an underground parking garage. Perry Lorenz, who is working with Trammell Crow, said its intentions still are to build senior housing on the site. That is good; it should be spelled out in a new deal, as well. . . Certainly the city is wise to do business with the private sector regarding the sale of Green; as city property, it is not generating taxes or income. Trammell Crow estimates that when developed, the project will generate $112 million over 30 years in city property taxes. A previously adopted council policy would steer $67 million of that to the city budget for services such as parks and libraries and $45 million to a fund the city uses to build and renovate affordable housing across the city.

The Green deal offers a good opportunity to increase affordable housing downtown. It is public property, and there is value in having a downtown that is populated by people from different walks of life. But the city has to be willing to pay for that benefit on property that, when sold, will be in private hands."