Land Use and Community Health Campaign, (LUCHA) was initiated to preserve, protect, and enhance people of color and working-class communities by addressing environmental, economic, health and cultural impacts of zoning and land use planning. Zoning and land use planning have been described by some scholars as not only as a root enabling cause of disproportionate burdens and environmental injustice, but also the most fundamental and potentially most powerful of the legal weapons deployed in the cause of racism. The history of land use planning and zoning in Austin helps to explain how the unequal distribution of economic and environmental burdens has occurred, and why these historical patterns have been the source of many injustice that confront people of color and/or low income communities of East Austin. PODER is currently addressing displacement and gentrification.
CALL TO ACTION
If you support (true) affordable housing & environmental justice we need your help to oppose Endeavor’s Domain on the Colorado River before June 1st! Call & email the city council representatives & the mayor.
OPPOSE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT
Endeavor Real Estate wants to close down the Borden milk plant at Levander Loop and develop a towering mixed-use project next to the Colorado River Wildlife Sanctuary and across from Roy Guerrero Colorado River Park and the Montopolis neighborhood.
The project would be bigger than the Statesman PUD, with a much more dramatic and adverse change from current conditions, and would break the current 60’ height limits in a way that will set a precedent across Central and East Austin.
Endeavor proposes to redevelop the 21-acre site with 411,500 sf of office, 106,000 sf of retail, a 220-room hotel, and 1,400 multi-family units:
- Impervious cover as high as 95%—almost doubled from 50%
- Buildings as tall as 120’—double the current limit and the nearby bridges - Traffic is estimated to increase from 467 trips a day to 21,875 trips a day—a 47x increase - Setbacks as little as 10’ at the front and zero at the back.
The potential environmental and ecological harm to the river, adjacent parklands, and urban wildlife habitat is obvious, and yet completely unstudied. The impact on surrounding neighborhoods—some of the last affordable pockets left in East Austin—is equally obvious, in a project with zero affordable housing. This rezoning should not proceed without a more thoughtful review of the adverse impacts it will have on the community and the environment.
We call on our allies in the community to get the word out to their members, and urge their representatives on City Council to:
1. Oppose the proposed rezoning of the Borden Tract without proper environmental review
2. Conduct a proper planning process for the urban river corridor that facilitates redevelopment while protecting the riparian greenbelt that is the very thing the developers are drawn to. The Waterfront Overlay should be extended east to the City limits, with updated height, river setback and impervious cover limits that facilitate redevelopment in a way the protects the river corridor.
3. If the project goes forward without such a process, it should be subject to development parameters consistent with the current Waterfront Overlay: setbacks that provide a healthy buffer from the river and parklands, and height and impervious limits that are no more permissive than what normal commercial zoning would permit. To protect the Wildlife Sanctuary, it should also have more restrictive Dark Skies light standards and noise requirements, and no direct access to the sanctuary from the development.
4. No increase of development entitlements beyond what is allowed via current zoning should be permitted absent a community investment commitment that is commensurate with the increases they are requesting.
Rezoning: To achieve its goals, Endeavor seeks to change the zoning to LI-PDA-NP, a loophole in the code that allows industrial land uses to be converted to commercial while retaining the permissive provisions of the base zoning.
The potential environmental and ecological harm is obvious, and yet completely unstudied: - The Colorado River between Longhorn Dam and the mouth of Walnut Creek is the cleanest and most natural urban river in Texas, a rare ecological and recreational asset for a city of this size:
- The changes in density, light, noise, tall structures and human traffic from this project would cause substantial harm to the plant and animal life in the Wildlife Sanctuary, and to the migratory bird life along the river
- There has been no environmental review of this proposal, not even by the City’s own Environmental Commission, as several members of the Planning Commission urged - This is the first big project along the river outside the eastern coverage limits of the Waterfront Overlay, and what happens here will establish precedents for the projects already in planning downriver.
Endeavor, whose Saltillo Plaza project had substantially less affordable housing than originally promised, proposes to have zero affordable housing in their Colorado River towers, which will be built across the river from Montopolis and just across 183 from some of the city’s few remaining neighborhoods accessible to lower-income working families.
No provision has been made for the transportation needs of the project, on a two-lane road with only one real access point, designed for minimal traffic.
The developer has refused to agree to not have an outdoor music venue at this site, raising the prospect of amplified music blasting into a Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Govalle/Johnson Terrace Contact Team and representatives of the Colorado River Conservancy and PODER have been in negotiations with the developer since August of 2022, but the developer has refused to materially budge from its insistence on having height and impervious cover far beyond what code would normally allow.
This kind of maximally permissive zoning cannot be allowed to proceed without more thoughtful review of the adverse impacts it will have on the community and the environment. The City should have a clear plan for the redevelopment of the Colorado River corridor below Longhorn Dam, that reflects community and environmental input, not just the visions of developers for how they can profit off the public commons.
This is a critical development decision for the future of Austin’s Eastern Crescent and the Colorado River corridor: do we want to protect the city’s last big affordable neighborhoods and wilderness areas, or displace them with more glass and steel high-rises and entertainment districts built for people who do not live here?