Out of Reach – Housing Affordability is Austin’s #1 Challenge

Grateful to be included in this roundup regarding fee increases affecting our new construction rental project, Shoal Cycle. Parkland, one of our largest fees, increased 120%, and a new Street Impact Fee increased the Shoal Cycle site plan fees from $600k to $900k – in less than a year from our partnership documents signing. Hopeful that policymakers and developers can work together better to build our city – we shaved off 3 units to accommodate the fee change.

How can developers and the City of Austin work better together on building a more affordable Austin? Great suggestions in the article: if a fee increases by more than 10% – announce clearly 2 years in advance to accommodate the partnership agreements and site plan submission, verify market assumptions and findings in fee calibrations with those that participate in the market – for example, I promise you no one is getting $45/NNN for retail in downtown Austin!, expedite adoption of the new land development code for clear and predictable rules – thanks Greg Anderson!, and reduce parking requirements. 
Read OUT OF REACH? Housing affordability is city’s No. 1 challenge — a threat to Austin as we know it in the Austin Business Journal.

Shoal Cycle has submitted a Site Plan Application

Shoal Cycle has filed a site plan application for a new construction workforce housing project located at 812 W 11th Street in downtown Austin, Texas. Located along Shoal Creek at 11th Street, Shoal Cycle offers 201 beds of workforce housing targeting 80% AMI across 67 units. The 88,095sf building will also include two floors of decoupled, sub-grade parking. The garage offers 53 parking spaces for cars and 70 parking spaces for bicycles. The site is 0.405 acres, or 17,619sf of urban infill land with one street front and no alley access.

The project won unanimous support for a height increase to 90’ City Council on August 26, in less than four months after the zoning application was initially submitted. Amanda Swor of the Drenner Group represented the partnership at the hearing. Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison pulled the project from the consent agenda to comment, “…I appreciate that the private sector is looking out for its own ways to create more diversity in this part of town. I appreciate that the project proposes to do that while also helping us move closer to our other goals regarding mobility, safety, and climate change. I appreciate that it proposes to do it in a part of town that could use a little more TLC. My mind’s eye, neighborhood character is more than what buildings look like. It’s about who’s using those buildings and how they’re using them.”

3,000sf of ground floor space will offer additional amenities to residents and the community. Local retailers will be tapped for a juice bar, bike repair, a taco stand and an apothecary to service the users of the Shoal Creek Trail, nearby House Park, and the community college across the street in addition to the 201 residents of Shoal Cycle.

The Northwest District is the least developed district in downtown Austin. Shoal Cycle joins Transwestern’s 147 microunits at 817 West 12th Street now under construction and expected to deliver in 2022 on the other half of the same block. Austin Community College at 12th and Rio Grande re-opened in August 2021 after an extensive remodel and now houses Army Futures Command training on campus. Recently, at 12th and San Antonio, City Council approved the 375’ residential tower proposed by Stratus Properties. Much of the remainder of the neighborhood is still one-story houses with law-firm tenants for the Travis County Courts Complex at 10th and Guadalupe.

The Shoal Creek Hike and Bike sits across the street and connects Shoal Cycle resident to 10 miles of car-free commuting via protected trails. The site is 0.4 miles from the Capitol Station metro stop, and two blocks from the #5 bus stops at 12th and Lamar. In the past decade, Austin has adopted Imagine Austin (2012,) the Strategic Housing Blueprint (2017,) and the Austin Strategic Mobility Blueprint (2017,) and Project Connect (2020.) All of the above plans call for a compact urban center reliant on car-lite, dense urban core. Project Connect currently proposes an orange and blue line along Guadalupe, which would connect Shoal Cycle residents to North Lamar, Stassney, and the airport without transfers. The closest transfer station proposed would be located at Republic Square Park.

The site plan team includes: Pape Dawson Engineers, Coleman & Associates, Studio8 Architects and Aptus Engineering. Weaver Buildings is the developer acting on behalf of the Shoal Cycle LP and the Joyce Family. Groundbreaking for Shoal Cycle is anticipated for January 2023, with Lott Brothers Construction Company signed as the General Contractor. The project seeks certification from: Austin Energy Green Building, Green Seal and Fitwel.

Shoal Cycle submitted for Zoning Change

Weaver Buildings new project announcement: Shoal Cycle requests a height increase to 90′ for more workforce housing in downtown Austin. The 120,000sf high-rise will offer 30% more housing by reducing parking through promoting multimodal transport for residents along the Shoal Creek bike trail.

“The City of Austin has one of the most aggressive rebates and incentive packages for green buildings in the country. I would love to see more aggressive parking reduction options for developers included in the city’s sustainability initiatives beyond downtown. For example, corridors targeting high-density development could have centralized infrastructure without the risk of time-intensive and costly PUDs,” said developer Jen Weaver. “Austin is becoming more walkable every day, and we need to turn our attention to creating spaces for people, not housing cars, in our highest valued real estate.”

Read more in this Statesman article.

We broke ground on Capitol Quarters!

Developer Weaver Buildings broke ground on a 90-bed workforce housing project anticipated to deliver downtown living at $1400 per person in January 2022. Capitol Quarters is a 45,000sf mixed-use, multi-family building with 6,200sf of pedestrian-oriented retail available.

Special thanks to Lott Brothers Construction Company and Tyler Humes for reviewing urban workforce potentials since the fall of 2018 with me! Special thanks to Pape-Dawson Engineers and Shelly Mitchell. Together, our all- female development and civil team created the first no-parking multifamily building in Austin! Special thanks to my financing partners: Churchill Real EstateMacoy Capital Partners, Inc.Kristin Olson Panehal at MilestoneGP Capital, and Aden Kun for bringing my prototype project to a groundbreaking – we would not be turning dirt without you!

FAQ: We terminated our lease with Quarters Coliving in August 2020. This is now a multifamily lease structure but achieves a similar target rent.

For context of policy changes and other projects that have tried to make this happen, please read Cindy Widner’s article on Urbanize. 

“After the Flood” examines best practices for resilience

New article out: “After the Flood” examines the rebuilding effort, 1 year after Harvey. Interviews with Arup, Houston First, Houston Public Works, Incentifind, City of Houston, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities provide resources and best practices for funding resilience in commercial real estate.

“As a citizen-architect, I want to help our city consider the best thinking and ideas to help build forward for a better future,” Robinson says. “Mayor Turner has been adamant about not ‘funding for failure.’ As we anticipate recovery funds coming down from the state and federal government, we need to be ready with creative and innovative ideas for how to rebuild a better city.”

To read Jen’s article in Texas Architect, please click here.

“Houston Water Considers Options” in Texas Architect Magazine

“Resiliency is defined by everyone differently,” Forrest says. “Houston’s definition is still being written, and we are not making knee-jerk reactions. We are considering life-cycle costing, consolidation versus plant size, and proximity to need. In the past five years, we’ve had Harvey and drought between two major hurricanes. We must be prepared for both extremes.”

Read Jen’s article in Texas Architect here

“Park Life” in Texas Architect Magazine

“Urban parks weave together retail and natural features for unique experiential destinations. The design and programming of these interstitial veins lucidly define a city’s values today and their dreams for tomorrow. How can we program, plan and stitch together economic ideals while also celebrating the vibrancy of our local pulse?”

Check out my article in Texas Architect Magazine!

EIM Design Update

We are moving forward creating a new campus for the English in Mind Institute (EIM) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti! Above: EIM student and teachers hold informal classes and meetings on the land for the new campus. Adult learners study for English fluency in a 5-year curriculum developed by Cambridge University. With 6 mango trees, a papaya tree and several food-producing gardens in which students share and practice permaculture techniques, this lush sanctuary is a beloved hang-out.

Design Update: In our next meeting with the client, we will discuss cost, availability and time regarding structural system options. After final decisions from the Board of Directors based on our discussions, the design team will move forward with Construction Documents and renderings for release at the annual EIM “Back To School” fundraiser in September.

Non-Profit Construction Partner: The EIM has partnered with the Building Goodness Foundation (BGF) to realize their new campus. The mission of BGF is to build community and improve lives. It is a not-for-profit created by successful for-profit designers and builders in Charlottesville, Virginia. Together, they have successfully constructed 17 community structures in Haiti so far, most of them in rural areas. EIM’s new campus will be their first project in an urban area of the capitol city. We are excited to learn about their successes in Haiti construction and utilize their existing relationships and partnerships. I am particularly inspired by their teaching model: skilled construction volunteers travel to Haiti for week-long shifts on community construction sites. On the first day, they might be demonstrating or teaching a particular skill, and over the course of a week of on-the-job mentoring, the volunteers transfer skills to the local crew so that they are able to continue with that phase (to a comparable quality level) long after the volunteers depart. It’s a great way to share safe construction practices, based on the principles of apprenticeship and friendship.

Solar PotentialBGF has recommended a solar consultant to us that they have collaborated with on several projects in Haiti. Although the EIM Campus is located in an urban environment with access to power lines, power is inconsistent and blackouts are regular. Generators are large and produce exhaust, which is less than optimal on our tight urban site. The solar consultant has recommended Australian compact salt water batteries that last four times as long as standard batteries, without worry of toxicity or heat production. We are also seeking a Haitian PV panel producer so that repairs can be made for the longevity of the system. Creating high-tech solutions does not necessarily solve the problem – sending technology systems through shipping ports is costly and not delivery is not assured. Additionally, one small problem in the field will render the entire system useless if local technicians are not trained / have not seen the components before. Likely, we will install conduit for solar now and confirm potential load production and roof tilt while we try to allocate a reasonable solution.

Mural Competition: As we approach the building’s design release, we will be also be providing information for a design competition among EIM students! Thoughtfully designed murals will line the double-height walls of the Assembly Space. The Assembly Space is especially important because it not only serves the school, but becomes a venue for special events after hours. This revenue will sustain school operations for the long-term. We are delighted to reveal the selected mural in final renderings of the campus during the design release at EIM’s September annual fundraiser.

Thank you to Brunel Zamor for inviting us to realize his dream of the best adult english school in Haiti. Thank you to Kamilla Prokop, Chris Kiely, Stephanie Price, Bonni Knight and the board of EIM for inviting us to participate and working so hard to realize the funds for construction. Thank you to Dante Angelini and Tom Quintero, who continue to squeeze in volunteer time during a construction boom and long office hours in Austin, Texas. Thank you to Ethan Tate and Mike Gallahue for providing insight and experience from their years in Haiti, and for laughing at my corny jokes. And thank you to all the donors for helping EIM’s Campus come true!

More donations are always welcome! Please visit http://englishinmindinstitute.org/shop/

Austin Design Week Debate Wrap

Long Live Team Design is Limping! For the first annual Austin Design Week, I was invited to discuss current design events at a presidential election results preview party. Some of us believed that design works to save the world as-is, and some of us want to see greater societal changed initiated by the design community. With a little whiskey warm up, I was delighted to share ideas about the critical leadership role Austin designers can take in shaping the densification of our future city. Strip tease by Marc English revealed his stance on the raw power of design. Thanks to Beau Frail and Austin Design Week for inviting our participation and their photographers Colin Budd and Social Distillery for sharing the documentation.

“Eastside Contemporary Makes Luxury of Smallness” – Curbed Austin

Weaver Buildings is in the news!

“The 850-square-foot home, which has two stories and a finished rooftop deck, takes advantage of space restrictions by opening up vertically in a way that makes it look and seem much larger than it is. It has also been designed for sustainability and energy efficiency, with a natural ventilation system and high-grade building materials chosen for insulating quality and durability.”

Read the whole article from Curbed Austin here.

“Haskell Health House Design Manifesto”

Click HHH Design Manifesto for 38 pages of images, diagrams and design narratives about how the Haskell Health House sets a new standard for the urban home in Austin, Texas.

The Haskell Health House, modeled after concepts in Richard Neutra’s Lovell Health House, reinterprets how a conscientious architecture might be embodied in Austin, Texas today.

One of the elements I am particularly proud of is the mechanical design. An upgraded vapor barrier makes an air-tight envelope, reducing the mechanical bill (holding the interior at 70F) to $118 for our hot Texas July! Additionally, the house accommodates natural ventilation with the stair tower acting as a heat stack, allowing inhabitants to have a truly reduced energy bill if they choose! Please refer to diagrams and images in the Design Manifesto for clarification.

“Trail Tales: Closing the Gaps”

Our next step is to locate the holes and connect existing trails, closing the gaps in this critical infrastructure for more walkable cities. With Concordia University and the Texas Master Naturalists, our proposed trail master plan is broken into five phases connecting different points of interest: classrooms, protected preserve trails, accessible fitness trails, nearby shopping centers, campus apartments, a softball field, and eventually a bike trail will connect to the Austin’s existing bike trails through shoulder sharrows. All labor will be performed by Texas Trail Tamers, Texas Master Naturalists, and Concordia University students. Creating safe guidelines for development insures the federal regulations of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, Concordia University and general safe design measures are adhered during the potentially slow process of volunteer labor over the coming years. Together, we created an online tutorial, “How to Design and Build a Trail,” where volunteers can pass on methods and tricks over time. Additionally, we are working with the City of Austin Active Transportation Program to tie our trail master plan into existing bicycle trails. The League of American Bicyclists designated Austin as a gold-level bicycle friendly community and the city is seeking to improve its rating with a platinum designation and we are certainly excited to participate in this movement. Working towards closing the gaps at Concordia University brings a few questions forward. Walkable, bikeable properties are heavily demanded by consumers, with high walkability scores increasing property values and reducing time on the market. Builders, developers, realtors, and other profit-driven note the overwhelming consumer preference in trail access in trade magazines. Local businesses benefit from more customers when transportation changes from vehicular to pedestrian. Even a small percentage of trail use alleviates congestion and pollution on roadways. In site plan review of new projects, could municipalities require bicycle trail connections along with bike parking? If hike and bike trails are proven critical infrastructure, we have to stop treating it as an optional amenity and create quantity requirements and safety restrictions as we do with vehicular parking and roadways.

“Rebranding Haiti: How Changing Our Image Can Lead to Real Change”

Weaver Buildings is humbled and happy to work with such a motivated and inspiring client as the English in Mind Institute. Steph Price, the International Director for the school, shared her work in Haiti and with EIM at TEDx Great Hills this past May.

EIM’s founder Steph Price notes: “Rebranding Haiti isn’t about trying to paint a rosy picture. It’s about being able to see the country for what it is and what it isn’t. To drop our stereotypes and finally see the beauty, intelligence and humor that’s been there all along. If you’ve never been to Haiti, go. If you’ve been and didn’t have your mind blown, go back. Not because Haiti needs you, but because just maybe, you need Haiti. If image is everything, it’s time for all of us to take a closer look.”


“Building Momentum in Post-Recovery Haiti”

“By working with a specific client, creating a site-specific, situation-specific solution, and discussing safe design methods we have acquired from our professional practices, we can change the dialog in approaching the reconstruction process. Bringing momentum through design isn’t about initiating a new agenda for change, but it’s about sharing safe building practices to propel projects for freedom.”

In this TEDx talk, Jen discusses the process, challenges and excitement of designing a new school for young adults in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Watch the video here. Download the talk and slides here. To learn more about the English in Mind Institute, click here.