400 Feet or We Kill The Ranch

Katherine Jones, Founder of Milkshake Media, is upset. Today, she wants City Council not to approve a 400 foot skyscraper to be built across the street from the historic home that houses her creative agency, on the corner of West Seventh and Rio Grande. The developer is Dallas based CLB Partners. "Creating a 400 foot skyscraper in the middle of the Original City Neighborhood goes against every principal of Urban Planning" she says. In protest, artists cloaked her building in black.

The idea is that skyscrapers belong in the Central Business District. Lower structures belong in what are called Downtown Mixed Use Districts, such as the Original City Neighborhood, which are limited to 120 feet. According to Jones, City Council has commissioned ROMA Design Group to develop a plan for the Original City Neighborhood. "The developer asking for a zoning change will create a precedent that will render ROMA's future plan useless. That's a $600,000 waste of taxpayer's money" explains Jones.

The Austin Chronicle wrote about the controversy here. The City's file can be found here.

Opposition to the zoning change is being fueled by Austin, Draw the Line: Austinites for the Responsible Planning of the Original City Neighborhood.

The new building will be built where the existing Ranch 616 restaurant is located. According to Jones, the developer has plans to build around Ranch 616, but only if they get their 400 feet. "In effect, they're saying, '400 feet or we kill the Ranch,'" says Jones.

City Council is voting on the zoning ordinance February 15th.

This is being viewed as a test case for appropriate growth. Previously, I wrote about a similar case where neighbors are protesting a large Wal-mart planned for Northcross Mall. There, Dallas-based Lincoln Properties will be developing a 200,000 square foot Wal-mart, which neighbors say is too big. Responsible Growth for Northcross held a protest last Saturday where 3,000 people encircled Northcross Mall.

According to city records, the following people and business are for and against the project.

[These list for and against the proposed 7th & Rio Grande project were updated on 2/15 at noon, per Katherine Jones' request. Jones says 800 letters have been sent from the Austin, Draw the Line Website to City Council. They did not appear at the time of this update. For the complete list of letters in support and against from the City's files, please go here.--JG]


Austin Women's Club
Marijean Tritle, President
Mary Ann Golden (Strategic & Long Range Planning, AWC).
Gayle Hight
Diann Cowling
Margery Feller
Heritage Society of Austin
Jack M. Wilhelm
Greater Central Texas Council of the Navy League
Ben Proctor (nearby property owner)
Milkshake Media
Sara Carter, CFO
Brian Auderer, Sr. Designer
John Long, Writer
Gray Luckett, Designer
Allyson Black, Account Mgr.
Mitzi Gobbi, Office Manager
David Cleaves, Account Director
Kata Bates, Account Director

Judges Hill Neighborhood Association
Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association
Old Austin Neighborhood Association
West End Austin Alliance
Five Rivers Neighborhood Association
Pecan Street Property Owners Association
Ehrlich Commecial Real Estate Limited Partnership (owner of the property next door).
Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association
Finley Company
Horton Investments
Lowa, Ltd.(owns property in the same block)
Kevin Williamson - Ranch 616
The Khabele School
Montwalk Holdings, Ltd. (owns property on the next block)
Soverigh Bank
ABC Bank
Old Austin Realtor
Jim Damron
Hardin Interests
North University Neighborhood Association
Paul Parson's, P.C. (originally opposed until talking with Michael J. McGinnis)
Star Bar
Whole Foods
Action Figure
Pure Austin
Robinson-Macken House L.P.
Billy Potts
Karen Kolb
Urbanaxis Mortgage/ Urbanspace Realtors
Joe's Bar and Grill
Citygroup Smith Barney
Burks Digital Reprographics
Wahoo's Fish Tacos
Little Woodrows
The Rasmus Firm
Mike McHone
Austin Women's Club Past President and Past Building Committe Chairman
Winstead, Sechrest & Minick
Cotera+Reed Architects
Karin Richeson
Huts Hamburgers
Key Bar
Richard B. Geiger
The Austin Wine Merchant
Book People
Joash Enterprises, Inc.
Waterloo Restaurant Group
Waterloo Records & Video, Inc.
Amelang parnters, Inc.
Virginia Houston
GSD&M Advertising
Central Austin Planning Area Committee
Hoffbrau, Inc.
Pence Properties
Rio Grande Street Partners, L.P.
The Edward Joseph Companies
Miller Blueprint Company
Heritage Title Company of Austin, Inc.
Melissa J. Martin
Jerry and Barbara Carlson
J. Scott Loras
C. Ryan Nail
Fred & Mariel Falbo
Bryan R. Cary
Anna Anomi
Julia Salmon
Peggy Watson
Sharon Wade Shoop
Andrews Urban LLC


That's a surprising list of supporting companies, to me. At the same time, if the structure is to host housing, I suppose the interests of businesses which would be frequented come into play.

The Draw the Line site is notable also in that it contains a link for letters to City Council; their form allows for selection of top reasons to reconsider, and the visualization on the prior page seems to demonstrate one of the most interesting to me: the shape and scale of the building do not strengthen or support the patterns of its surroundings, but rather weaken them through stark contrast.

This mismatch makes a fine case study for grounding my next entry on a Worldchanging Pattern Language in the local and the real...

- Heath

Posted by: Heath M Rezabek on February 13, 2007 8:43 PM

Because of "Capitol view corridors" there are few sites in Austin where the urban density can be improved. To keep hundreds of people from building houses on the outskirts of town, on top of environmentally sensitive areas, the city needs more high-rise housing. Some of the antiquated plans have to be changed to improve urban density, prevent sprawl, protect the local environment and protect the Capitol views at the same time. Opposing this plan is neither practical nor progressive. JL

Posted by: John Livingston on February 14, 2007 11:48 AM

Thanks for an informative, unbiased report on the situation around the corner from us, Joel. As you know, I am opposed to the project (a member of a small, but fast-growing minority), primarily because I see it as a dangerous precedent in re-zoning a historic part of downtown that would be better served under the existing zoning -- at least until we've seen what the ROMA plan recommends. It does not make sense to me to invest so much of our money (yours and mine) to fund a study of downtown development that takes into account many facets of the city's needs (including high density housing) and sabotage it before it's been completed. What's the big rush?

Posted by: Glenda Goehrs on February 14, 2007 11:49 AM

"Because of "Capitol view corridors" there are few sites in Austin where the urban density can be improved."

Total horsesh*t. The CBD has dozens of parcels tagged as good candidates for short- and long-term redevelopment, and there are hundreds more outside of the CBD. See map below:

No rationale at all to start building 400-foot towers in residential neighborhoods.

Posted by: Jeff Kirk on February 14, 2007 2:07 PM

This is hardly a similar case to Wal-Mart at Nothcross. There have been two town hall meetings on Wal-Mart and both had hundreds of residents in attendance. Then they had the Arms Across Northcross which had 2,000 - 3,000 participants.

Draw the Line's Town Hall meeting last night had at most 30 people and most of them were from Milkshake and the Austin Women's Club, the two property owners who are driving this debate. This is a tempest in a teapot.

Posted by: Chris Grazier on February 14, 2007 2:42 PM

Katherine Jones emailed me today to say that 1) Austin, Draw the Line has 800 letters of people opposed to the project, and 2) there is a long list of people's letters who are opposed to the project in the city's records; however, I went through the city's records and the list above is what I've found. I've asked her to send me the link (maybe I was looking in the wrong place) and will update the list once I see those letters.

Posted by: Joel Greenberg on February 14, 2007 4:44 PM

It looks like the City Council meeting tonight will be a late one before this item appears. Hopefully there will be future updates for those unable to attend. Quite a case-study in the ways two different approaches to urban design can be at odds.

- Heath

Posted by: Heath M Rezabek on February 15, 2007 6:24 AM

How is this "a residential neighborhood?" It's directly behind Katz's and there isn't single-family zoning anywhere near this site. The closest primarily residential neighborhood is over a 1/4 mile away across Lamar.
- Grazier

Posted by: Chris Grazier on February 15, 2007 10:39 AM


There is a different zoning where residents do exist. It is called Multi-Family. Posada Del Rey, on the corner of 7th(where it becomes one way) and San Antonio has been there since the late 60's. I have lived there since 2001. We don't oppose a building, we oppose a 400ft building when the planning commision has voted against it and where all other buildings around it are capped at 60ft.

The neighbors are fine with the designation of DMU, capping the building at 120'. Notice the developer could still build a substantial building if they put parking below ground, but that means less profit.

One thing that isn't talked about is that by the developer taking this approach they don't have to do a traffic impact analysis. This is mind boggling for a street like 7th St.

Once the developer gets this zoning they can stretch the codes to the limits and the city can do very little to backtrack.

All we are asking for is that the City Council wait for the ROMA report, there is no need to rush.

One last thing... I find it strange that only a few months ago the City was racing to stop houses being built that neighbors deemed too big, now they are racing to approve the plans of a building that is 80' taller than the UT Tower, in an area where the buildings are capped at 60', and only has 57 more units than the 11 story Nokonah. That's right, a 32 story 152 unit building priced at $400k to $4million, but the developer says they will make contributions to affordable housing.

Posted by: Randy Ramirez on February 15, 2007 6:14 PM