East Side Brewery Zoning Gets Final Approval

Friday February 25th, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council gave final zoning approval on Thursday to allow construction of a huge development, including a new brewery and a 275-foot-tall building at 6705 and 6501 Regiene Road on the east side of town. The plan for the 16-acre site includes 1 million square feet of offices, retail and restaurants, artists’ studios and up to 742 apartments. The developer, Daryl Kunik, has promised that 10% of rental units will be affordable for families earning 60% of the median family income.

Although the zoning is Limited Industrial (LI-PDA-NP), the only industrial use planned for the site is the brewery. The property is in council member Natasha Harper-Madison’s District 1 and she has been a strong supporter of the project.

Although the zoning change is for property adjacent to Ed Bluestein Boulevard and near the Walnut Creek Greenbelt, it is not adjacent to single family homes or apartment complexes. It is also adjacent to the right-of-way for the future Project Connect Green Line, and Leah Bojo, who represents developer Kunik, said she was coordinating with Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority to locate a nearby rail stop.

Several speakers told the Council that it should reject the request due to concerns about displacement. One of those opposing the zoning change was Melonie House Dixon, co-chair of the East MLK Neighborhood Contact Team. Although her team’s area does not include the Regiene Road property, she said they “took responsibility to defend the surrounding communities”.

During an earlier hearing on the case, Dixon said, Harper-Madison advised her group to meet with the developer. They met, but did not come to an agreement on everything.

Harper-Madison told colleagues that the contact team’s efforts convinced the developer to join the Better Builder program. They have worked to ensure it includes $3.4 million in affordable housing, with 10% of units reserved for people earning 60% of median family income. They also worked for tenant protection and community space, she said. “Specifically, the contact team and the candidate have developed a plan in partnership with the Austin Creative Alliance to make this, to my knowledge, the first project in the city of Austin to feature affordable commercial space.”

The contact team was looking for a community room that would be open to different groups for meetings on the property. They also asked for donations from various community groups and businesses, though the latter request was denied, according to Dixon and Harper-Madison.

In a letter to the contact team, Kunik wrote, “You requested that the project contain a community room/space that would be available for booking and use by community groups. I believe we can incorporate this concept into our 10,000 feet of creative space at 300 SF for 40 years, increased from the original proposal of 250 SF for 15 years.

The Workers Defense Project deal impressed council member Vanessa Fuentes, who expressed concern about increased travel, “but part of the reason I’m supporting this is that it provides significant options for our creatives knowing that we are a creative city and this project will have dedicated space for our arts and creative professionals here in Austin and will have more affordable commercial space for our creative community.

Harper-Madison, who attended Thursday’s meeting online, said she received a “giant stack” of letters from the community supporting the project “because they realize how much we need a affordable space. She went on to explain the disagreement between the contact team and the developer, saying, “Prior to our first-reading vote, a contact team co-chair contacted my office to confirm that they would in fact support the request. 275 feet from the applicant. But then the contact team asked the developer to make financial contributions to various organizations – unrelated to the project – and reduce the median family percentage (income) for affordable housing to 45%. When the developer declined, it looks like the support changed,” she said.

“I believe that we must try to make the most of these developments for our community, but we must also recognize that one development alone will not be the silver bullet to meet the needs of our community. It will take a holistic approach to continue the conversations around the concerns expressed here today.

Harper-Madison added: “There will be two new very affordable housing developments in this same area which will provide housing at 30-50% of the MFI range. The tax revenue that will be generated from this development will fund social services, community programs and other community needs. So the question before us is whether the rights requested are appropriate for this property, and I think a height limit of 275 feet works perfectly with this secluded little spot.

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