Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Featherlite construction started

I missed a recent neighborhood meeting to get more details, but they've started tearing up the Featherlite tract behind my house in East Austin this week, making way for new streets, hopefully better drainage (the area floods after a big rain) and several dozen detached condo units with shared parking. This is the view from my back deck of the recently dug up field. I walk my dogs back in that area pretty regularly, so it's a bit of a downer they're digging it all up, but since I've lived here the field's been a dump for garbage, animal carcasses, and once even a murder victim, so I don't have a major beef. Sometimes change is good.

The southernmost area of the property cannot be developed because of drainage concerns, last I heard - I'm surprised that's not true of the part they're developing now along Boggy Creek. Sometimes after it rains big sinkholes show up out of nowhere, up to 3-4 feet deep. That can't be too good for a slab foundation. The section from 14th street to 16th will become condos according to the last information I received, while the northernmost section of the tract will be some type of commercial and lots of parking.

The $64,000 question (actually a lot bigger one than that for Dellionaire landowner Tom Meredith) is whether they can find commercial tenants who want to build next to what will soon become a commuter rail station, where the train tracks cross Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Certainly the site appears more likely to develop after voters last year approved the commuter rail line that will stop right besides Meredith's property. (A cynic might note here that former Dell President Lee Walker chairs Capital Metro, the agency that proposed putting the rail stop there, but I'm sure it's just a coincidence, don't you think?) Several potential anchor tenants like H.E.B. and KLRU originally balked at building on the northern commercial end of the property.

I'm sure those who went to the neighborhood meeting got more detail -I'll try to find out a little more about what's going on and blog it soon. But I thought it was significant that after all this time - nearly two years after they originally announced they would start - construction has finally begun on the largest remaining piece of empty real estatein central east Austin.

UPDATE: A commenter who attended the meeting points to a website put up by the developer about the project, which has been labeled "Chestnut Commons."


looper said...

Hey Scott, I went to the meeting and the developers have a website up here - www.austinchestnut.com. It's being called the Chestnut Commons and they are saying that there will be open space between the development and the MLK rail stop directly to the north.

See you around,

Mike said...

You won't find commercial developers itching to build next to low-quality rail transit like this is going to be; unlike the success stories from Dallas and Portland and Minneapolis, we're not building light rail that actually goes anywhere worth going; so we aren't going to be having "choice commuters"; so we're stuck with just some existing bus riders, hence no excitement for the developers.

In short: if commercial is built, bank on it being empty or low-quality. Don't know if this is good or bad news for you personally in this case.

rad707 said...

don't underestimate the gentrification of this area of east austin. it is already heavily populated by the art community and gentrification is nipping at its heals.

mockingbird station was an abandoned bottling plant teething with hookers and coke dealers before the line went in. in other words, "choice commuters" don't have to already exist for the station to take off. the thirst for new urbanism is far to strong in this city for the station to be anything but the next pedernales-loft locale for hipsters who can no longer afford other areas of the city.

in short: bank on the commercial in this area being small, boutique, and positive in its impact on the community. we won't see Cartier moving in, but i would imagine that it will look something like Pedernales and East 5th befor you know it. Hell, Flatbed Press is already across the street...this station already has the cultural framework others are sorely lacking.

Mike said...

The problem has nothing to do with the site itself, rad; the problem is the quality of the transit service. People don't invest in TOD when the rail service is bad (requiring transfers to shuttlebuses to actually get to work) - there isn't a success story of this type anywhere in the country, and that's not what Dallas did either.

Dallas did what Portland, Salt Lake, Houston, Minneapolis, Denver, etc. did: build a rail line which penetrates into the CBD so most workers walk to their office. That's the only proven way in this country to get people who currently drive their car to work to switch to transit.

There's already good bus service from this area to downtown (and it goes straight into downtown, not to the convention center and then a transfer).

rad707 said...

there is a difference between the effect a rail station has on transportation and the effect it has on the surrounding area.

mockingbird is more a success of mental location than physical location. people don't come here at night by rail. they drive.

this stop will have better than average retail because it has the great combination of "mental rail stop" and "hipster haven".

mike, you need to put aside logic sometimes. logic does not apply to the thirst many have for new urbanism - they will go to illogical means to acquire it. this section of town, surrounded by art studios and a growing white-collar population is case in point.

Mike said...

So what we're left with is a medium-density infill project which has no connection to transit other than some mindshare you assert it has. How should I differentiate this from the other medium-density infill happening in East Austin which is nowhere near the rail line?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Mike, the rail stop will be right next to the site. You may not think the rail will work but it's a bit disingenuous to say it "has no connection to transit other than some mindshare you assert it has." That's a) false, and b) flaming, IMO.