Is the race for VMUification of South 1st about to start?

Torchies on South 1stYou know how it is, when you start looking for something, you find loads of stuff.

And so it was the other day, on one of what must have been hundreds of times I’ve run up and down South 1st to get to the trail, I noticed that the lot, or at least part of it, on which Torchies Tacos sits, is up for sale or lease. On the way back up South 1st, I looked and sure enough there were a bunch of other properties up for sale.

The houses at 1906, 1708, 1609 and 1502 are all up for sale. They are all traditional single story houses. The there is the Big G Tire lot on the corner of W. Mary and the seemingly unused building on the north-east corner of Elizabeth and South 1st opposite Bouldin Creek Coffee shop.

1502 South 1st St with development boardOn the other side of the road from Bouldin Creek Coffee Shop is 1502 South 1st. It has a board outside showing what the developer is planning, and although it’s only 2-stories, it has VMU style setbacks. It displays other modern design and VMU characteristics. Close to the road, street furniture, trees and replacing a single story building with a multi-story that covers most of the lot and so it’s also classic eclectic Austin vs the new.

As part of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Planning team that handled the VMU opt-in/opt out, it was with some surprise to me that we eventually declined to opt any properties. Certainly that was an interesting choice and not my preference since the properties on South 1st opposite the Texas school for the deaf, and the whole of the west side of South Congress from Oltorf to the Congress bridge were included, and opted-in by default.

I’m not a great candidate to discuss old vs new, I only moved to Austin in November 2006, and I bought a new house that replaced and older, single story one. However, in what ever shape VMU takes on South 1st it will be interesting to watch it unfold, trust that it won’t just be the long time Austin residents that will be concerned once VMUification starts!

12 Comments so far

  1. juliet77 on April 26th, 2008 @ 8:00 am

    I think that drawing just illustrates two houses on one lot, so it is technically probably just an increase in density, not VMU. But I think VMU would be an even better use. I mean, So. First is a MAJOR thoroughfare in and out of downtown, and so, IMHO, more business would be great. Most of the residences that front S. First and are not apartments have already been turned into businesses. It just is not a very residential thoroughfare.

  2. triman on April 26th, 2008 @ 6:16 pm

    Thanks for the comment, I hadn’t meant to say that 1502 was VMU, and I also hadn’t meant to imply either VMU or that specific development proposal was a bad thing. It was just seeing the board reminded me of the VMU zoning change, and then when I looked I was surprised to see that many properties for sale.

    You’d be surprised though, North of Oltorf on S 1st does still have a few house that are lived in and used as homes, although it has its fair share of both houses and lots that are crying out for redevelopment. My point was, that I’m going to be watching with a mix of interest and conern once the VMU applications start going in. Thanks again for the comments though.

  3. tthomas48 on April 27th, 2008 @ 8:41 pm

    Change does always have its ups and downs, but making South First more pedestrian friendly and introducing lots of new living units will be a boon for the neighbourhood. People living directly on South 1st in single family homes are probably already aware that traffic stinks getting in and out of their driveway. VMU won’t change that.
    I’m really looking forward to VMU on South 1st. Currently it’s too hard to find businesses and you pretty much have to take a car to get to any of them. Now we just need bike lanes.

  4. triman on April 27th, 2008 @ 11:00 pm

    Since I live literally just off S 1st, I understand the point about getting on and off it, although I normally have a choice to head into the neighborhood before heading back out on one of the stop-light controlled exits. However, I have to say its no that bad except the rush hours.

    Bike paths are indeed an interesting proposition. They are up for discussion now as the city is going to relay W Mary St. Not every one is keen on them, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the old North East Neighborhood of St Petersberg Florida, they seem to work well there. The devil will be in the detail though, what the city does about parking in bike lanes, what happens when you hit a major junction, etc. Thanks for your comments.

  5. lauratex on April 28th, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    Could someone define VMU for those of us who just moved back to town and missed this conversation? Or new people? Or people who don’t pay attention. Thanks.

  6. tthomas48 on April 28th, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

    Vertical Mixed Use. It currently calls for commercial space on the ground floor and living space on subsequent floors. They also are supposed to have sidewalks that are wide and meet the street. The second street district is probably the best example right now of what they’re going for. The Triangle and the Domain are more artificial versions, but do display the idea.

  7. triman on April 28th, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

    Laura, one of the key aspects of VMU as far as we adopted it for Bouldin Creek was the inclusion of affordable housing. Brewster Mccracken as a sponsor for this in the City, has a decent PowerPoint presentation on his website.

    My surprise was during the first meeting at City Hall was the staff recommendation to reduce the affordable housing requirement. Myself and the other BCNA and BCNA Planning team reps present were stunned. I spoke against the change, but really wasn’t prepared to speak.

    In summary there are two key requirements, over and above the basic building requirements, these are a plus and a minus to the neighborhoods.

    1. Street parking for commercial in a VMU development is reduced to 60% of normal. This is because VMU is only applicable to the cities core transport corridors.

    2. For sale units have to reserve 5% of units for affordable housing, for households earning no more than 80%of MFI. For units for rent, 10% are reserved for households on 80% of MFI.

    So, you can build on more of the land, and provide less parking. My personal experience is that this won’t work with the current public transport. People arrive by cars, for restaurants and such there simply won’t be enough parking. Hey ho.

  8. tthomas48 on April 28th, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

    Here’s the link to the actual city website so you can see their goals without all of our heresay:

  9. lauratex on April 28th, 2008 @ 6:24 pm

    Thanks much. That’s pretty interesting to hear what happened with Bouldin’s plan – I was actually involved at the very beginning of the planning process but then moved out of the ‘hood and then out of the city… and am now back.

    Seems like there’s been for sale signs up along S. 1st for a long time; I don’t think it’s anything new but it does seem to be a bit more accelerated.

  10. m1ek on April 29th, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

    One thing nobody’s gotten right here so far is that VMU applies only to property zoned commercial (whether the actual building is a strip mall or a house); it’s an overlay applied on top of commercial zoning which simply specifies conditions under which residential can be ADDED to commercial.

    In other words, VMU doesn’t affect existing residential at all – or at least not any more than the current commercial zoning/use does (VMU applies additional compatibility standards that commercial zoning lacks, so in one sense it’s even better for nearby residences than straight-commercial).

  11. triman on April 29th, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

    Thanks m1ek, its a good point. For at least Oltorf down to Barton Springs both east and west side of S 1st as far as I remember, all properties actually with frontage on S 1st, where already zoned MU. Which is why many of the "houses" already have businesses in them.

    Certainly the application for 1502 lists it as an MU development. I could check when I get home by looking at the city zoning maps, but your point is valid in the general sense, irrespective of the actual zoning. Thanks!

  12. VMUification of South 1st - Redux | Austin Metblogs (pingback) on May 2nd, 2008 @ 10:25 am

    […] for all the great comments on my post of last week about the potential development of a number of lots on South 1st street for VMU. I […]

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