East Austin office mid-rise OK'd by City Council

Affordable housing advocates not pleased with Fair Market redevelopment plans

The planned redevelopment of the Fair Market event venue at 1100-1108 E. Fifth St. can officially move forward, although the case has stoked debate about the affordable housing needs of rapidly changing East Austin.

Austin City Council on Nov. 4 gave final approval to the rezoning request for the project. On the drawing board is a six-story, 150,617-square-foot office building with ground-floor retail a couple of blocks east of I-35.

11E5 LLC and Endeavor Real Estate Group are the developers.

Right now, Fair Market is a 17,000-square-foot event venue that opened in 2014 and has been used for South by Southwest activations, Formula One events, weddings and more. Before Fair Market, the warehouse was home to Texas Office Products and Supply.

The rezoning request faced pushback from affordable housing advocates who bemoaned the lack of such housing on site. City staffers calculated if the 150,000 square feet was used for housing, it could result in 38 to 113 affordable housing units, based on the percentage of a hypothetical development dedicated to income-restricted units.

“On the surface this looks like a win but, in reality, it comes at the cost of the opportunity to build an additional 38 to 113 affordable housing units in the Saltillo [transit oriented development area], where we already have a plan in place to create affordable housing,” city staffers wrote in a density bonus comparison document.

Instead, the developers appear to have reached an agreement to pay $448,146 to Austin Habitat for Humanity to fund affordable housing elsewhere. That amount of money would result in 13 affordable units, according to the density bonus documents.

Multiple attempts to reach the developers through attorney Richard Suttle were unsuccessful.

Council approval of the Fair Market rezoning means plans to erect an 85-foot-tall mid-rise building on East Fifth Street can proceed. The property was previously zoned for buildings up to 60 feet tall.

The area surrounding Fair Market has been designated by the city a transit oriented development area, or TOD. In TODs, the city pushes to develop a mix of land uses and transit to create “compact, walkable, mixed-use communities within walking distance of a train stop or station.”

The Fair Market site is about a quarter mile west of Capital Metro's Plaza Saltillo rail station.

Neighborhood groups expressed opposition to the redevelopment prior to the Council vote, arguing the city needed to protect housing affordability before allowing a project with greater height limits to go forward.

“The City Council unanimously agreed that we should not give away height and density without taking a look at whether or not we can use those as tools for driving increased affordability, and permanent affordability,” Kristen Heaney, chairwoman of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, said in an Oct. 27 letter to the Council. “We still need comprehensive plan amendments to address community benefits in exchange for entitlements. Meanwhile, we cannot support individual property plan amendments to change the base height on a single property with no substantial public purpose or community benefit.”

Affordable housing projects in the works on the east side include a proposed community at 3515 Manor Road in East Austin. Up to 90% of the units could be reserved for households earning 80% or less of Austin’s median family income level, or about $79,100 for a four-person household. The complete list of affordable housing priorities for the 3515 Manor Road project are detailed here.

Another affordable housing project, according to KXAN News, could be in the works at 3811 Tannehill Lane, which is in Austin’s East MLK neighborhood.

Austin also maintains a list of affordable housing inventory within city limits.

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