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What's the big deal about 'The Grove'?

An issue in Austin is turning neighbors,  and even city council members, against each other. It's a planned development called The Grove. But unless you live in the area or closely following city politics, you likely don't know what the big deal is. KVUE's City Hall Reporter Ashley Goudeau explains what's causing all the fuss. 

Affordability is one, if not the biggest problem in Austin. Part of the issue is there's not enough homes to go around which drives up the cost of rent, houses and property appraisals.

So when the State of Texas decided to sell 75 acres of open land located at 45th Street and Bull Creek in Central Austin instead of turning it into a cemetery, developer ARG Bull Creek snatched it up.

Their concept seemed simple enough; turn the open space in the heart of Austin into a major housing development filled with more than 1,400 homes priced between $1.2 million and $180,000, plus apartments, business space, retail and parks.

But in the city known for "keeping it weird," nothing is ever that simple and a year and a half later, The Grove development is still waiting for approval from the city council.

So what's the issue? Well, there are several.

Let's start with the basics, why does the developer need the city council's approval in the first place?

ARG Bull Creek wants to build The Grove as a Planned Unit Development or PUD. This way the developer can fit more houses and businesses onto the property and the developer said it will also let them add more affordable housing onto the site.

To become a PUD, the development has to meet standards of a superior development. Citizen Commissions, city staff, neighbors and the developers have gone round and round fighting over park space and the amount of affordable housing, but as of today, the development is considered "superior" by city staff.

But there are a few more issues.

A major one is some people who live in the area aren't crazy about the plans. They're concerned about the size, density and traffic. These neighbors make up the Bull Creek Road Coalition, a group co-founded by Leslie Pool, who is now a council member.

While the development isn't in Pool's council district, it's literally right across the street.

Which brings up the issue of the upcoming November election. Pool is up for re-election and her opponent Natalie Gauldin helped create the neighborhood group that supports the development, Friends of The Grove.

Council Member Sheri Gallo, who represents the district The Grove is in, is also up for reelection and The Grove has become a political football amongst the candidates.

Making the traffic issue more complex is a study conducted by three of the city's traffic engineers. KVUE's news partners at the Austin American Statesman found out their names and some of their findings were removed from the final version of the study before it was turned over to council.

It's estimated the traffic will double in some areas, leaving the stakeholders at odds over how the traffic should be managed and who should pay for it.

During it's last meeting, the city council took the first of three votes to move forward with the project, but the developer and members of the BCRC agreed that day to enter mediation to iron out the details.

People who don't live in the area may still want to keep an eye on the issue because how the council handles this case will set a precedent for other big developments in Austin, which impacts affordability and traffic for everyone.

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