New downtown Austin tower sparks concerns

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by SHANNON MURRAY / KVUE NEWS and photojournalist DAVID GARDENER

Bio | Email | Follow: @ShannonM_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on February 13, 2013 at 6:35 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 13 at 6:56 PM

AUSTIN -- Some downtown dwellers say the perks of their urban lifestyle in Austin are in jeopardy. Now these residents are asking for a compromise from their future neighbors.

There are plans for a new 24-story building in the parking lot on 4th Street and Guadalupe. People that live next door say they welcome new neighbors, but the design is threatening their quality of life.

Beautiful city scape views in the heart of the Warehouse District are just one perk of living at the Plaza Lofts downtown.

"It's Austin. It's fabulous. Who wouldn't want to live here?" said Austin Realtor Stephanie Sachnowitz.

Sachnowitz says the downtown area is a hot commodity. New high rise living properties are popping up left and right. She personally owns two units at the Plaza lofts.

"I believe this is one of the best locations in downtown," she said.

Sachnowitz says it's no surprise that Hotel ZaZa and the Gables Luxury Apartments are designing a 24-story building that would be adjacent to the 12-story Plaza Lofts on Guadalupe.

People that live in the lofts say it's inevitable that something would be built next door, but what they're asking for is for the design to be pushed back an additional 25 feet from Guadalupe, which would allow some more light onto their balconies.

"In this situation they have the ability to compromise, and I don't believe they've done that," said resident Cindy Taylor, who has lived in her 12th story loft for 11 years.

"I was one of the pioneer residents downtown," Taylor said.

She says one thing she loves about her location is the light that beams in through the sole windows in her loft -- something that she says is being threatened with the design for the new tower.

"Who really wants to live in a dark and dismal place?" she said.

"The view is not the concern," Sachnowitz said. "The big concern is that this will be completely dark here, and with a parking garage and restaurants you're going to have exhaust and fumes from this point, 16 feet away."

"We're just asking a mere 25 feet," Taylor said.

But builders with the Gables Residential Property say 25 feet is a lot and would force them to add floors onto the building and put an underground parking garage in the design. The City of Austin says under current zoning regulations developers can build up to the property line. In this case, the alleyway behind the Plaza Lofts and the sidewalk on Guadalupe Street. In fact, Austin's downtown plan calls for "urban density," meaning developments like the planned 24-story tower could be one of many in the works for downtown Austin.

"We support the project completely," Taylor said. "We're just asking 'Come on, be a good neighbor.'"

While these urban dwellers say they support downtown development, what they're asking for is room to breathe.

The residents will be taking their concerns to the city council Thursday as members discuss potential zoning changes.

In a statement released this afternoon the Gables Residential Property writes:

“The proposed Gables Republic Square and Hotel ZaZa, a luxury boutique hotel, will help Austin ensure a continued vital and economically vibrant downtown.This project will bring over 350 jobs to Austin during its construction phase, and 212 permanent jobs once open. At completion, this project will generate over $5 million in taxes annually. Our project fits perfectly with the City Council’s recently adopted “Imagine Austin Plan,” which calls for this exact kind of project in downtown Austin.  We have voluntarily positioned the project on the site to limit the impact on any neighbors. The Gables/Hotel ZaZa is less than 45’ below the adjacent building and it will achieve a Silver LEED certification.  We look forward to continue working with all stakeholders to make this a successful signature project for Austin."

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