At Fifth and Trinity, a downtown Austin tower plan hits an invisible wall – TOWERS

A current view of the corner of East Fifth and Trinity streets, with the Austinian in the background. Image: City of Austin

The hotel tower planned at the southwest corner of Fifth East and Trinity Streets in downtown Austin by prolific local hotel developers white housing will contain 260 rooms in one 13-storey building, according to recent municipal documents. The quarter-block site currently preparing for development includes neighboring land at 307 and 311 East Fifth Street, respectively occupied by a downtown restaurant Russian house – sorry, that’s actually right “To lodge” now – and place of defunct event trinity hall, both of which will have to be demolished before the construction of the new hotel. (The house formerly known as the Russian house plans to get well in a new location.)

You may wonder why a new tower in a booming downtown neighborhood would only reach 13 stories, and that’s a particularly odd lack of height given that its location isn’t constrained by Corridors with a view of the Capitol. But there is another invisible wall preventing this site from rising any higher – its location opposite Brush Square puts the project under the restrictions of the Downtown Parks Overlay District, a little-known zoning category imposing a setback requirement on any building over 120 feet in height within 60 feet of any of the three downtown public plazas. You can see this height limit and setback requirement in action in Republic Square, where the neighboring Hotel ZaZa/Gables towers Republic Square and Plaza Lofts both remain under the 120-foot limit, with the ZaZa visibly stepping back from significantly from Guadalupe Street before going up. higher to avoid overlapping.

Although it does not rise to the full height permitted by the overlay like its Plaza Lofts neighbors (seen here on the left), the visible reverse of the ZaZa Hotel on its west face is a good reminder of the Downtown Parks neighborhood Overlay. Image: Hotel ZaZa

According to sources close to the White Lodging project, the owners of the corner property of the local investment company finley company originally considered much larger office and residential towers for this site, but the setback requirements here have made both projects financially unfeasible. To achieve contiguous floor plates large enough for an office tower, the development would have had to expand its footprint westward to contain the current site of Austin’s longtime blues club. at Antoine’s – and although the Finley Company also owns this land, the idea of ​​forcing this iconic local business just wasn’t worth it for anyone involved.

An aerial view of the corner under development, directly west of Brush Square at East Fifth and Trinity Streets. Image: Bing Maps

The reduction in buildable area due to the setback also apparently made a residential tower difficult to draw there, while a hotel – rumored to be part of Marriott Autograph Collection — fits perfectly into the constraints of the superposition. In the eyes of the code, Brush Square (and therefore the setback it imposes) takes up a full city block, but the situation on the ground looks different – the part of the square near the corner of Fifth and Trinity is entirely taken up by Austin Central Fire Station #1, which means the setback protects this view rather than the park space you’d expect:

In the end it’s just another way our town is old land use planning code encourages projects that otherwise would not seem like the highest and best use of precious land. recoil requirements, generally speaking, are not particularly useful in guiding the design of buildings or spaces that people really appreciate, that’s probably why so many of Austin’s most memorable places were built as part of planned unit developments or other special neighborhoods that unwind these zoning restrictions. The parks that surround downtown public squares, originally intended to protect these spaces by keeping them out of the shadows and increasing their visibility to the surrounding area, now look very much like a relic of a less bustling downtown. .

David H. Henry