One of the things that has interested me about the Taco PUD case is Zachary Scott Theater's opposition.
If you don't read the newspaper and aren't on Save Town Lake's mailing list, you might not know that a CALIFORNIA developer is seeking PUD approval to build a 96-foot tall residential "tower" on the site of the Taco Cabana at Riverside and South Lamar:
Although Save Town Lake is spinning this as some sort of grave affront to the Waterfront Overlay, the obstacle for the developer is actually the base zoning district's height limit of 60 feet rather than the special height limit imposed by the Waterfront Overlay. Were it not for the base district height limit, the Waterfront Overlay for this subdistrict would allow the 96 feet the developer is requesting. The developer is seeking an increase in the maximum base height, among other things, via a PUD, for which it is offering various community benefits, such as $439,000 in affordable housing fees and free space for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.
The usual suspects have turned out against this. Zilker and Bouldin Creek neighborhood association opposition was predictable. I suppose the Bridges' condo owners opposition was also predictable, even though the Bridges developer left the north face of the Bridges blank in explicit anticipation of future development on the Taco Cabana site.
I was genuinely surprised, however, to see the project opposed by Zach, which just opened its new Topfer Theatre directly across South Lamar from the Taco Cabana. I assumed, based on the orientation of the Topfer Theatre, that Zach does not care much what happens along South Lamar.
Now the Topfer Theatre has a very sleek glass-and-concrete entrance that spills into a sleek plaza and (somewhat less sleek) parking lot. But neither the entrance, the plaza nor the parking lot is visible from South Lamar. All that's visible from South Lamar -- in particular, from the Taco Cabana sidewalk directly across the street -- is the Theatre's 80-foot tall fly tower:
I like a big, blue-tile-and-exposed-concrete box as much as the next guy. But you really have to wonder what specific objection Zach has to a nine-story building being built across a very busy street from a very blank wall. I'm sure that for a couple of hours each morning, the "tower" will cast a shadow on its sleek fly tower, but how will anyone inside the theater know? (There are two short rows of windows at the lower left of the building, but even these appear to be opaque from the outside.)
Things make more sense now that I've finally gotten around to reading through the case backup. Here's Zach's letter of opposition. The most interesting paragraph states:
In 2008, ZACH was approved to build an 80 ft fly tower in the new Topfer Theatre. A copy of that particular ordinance is attached for your reference. In addition, at that time, ZACH agreed to support objections for requests of additional height buildings in the surrounding area, if asked to do so by the surrounding neighborhood associations.
It might seem strange for a theater company to agree in advance to support someone else's objections without knowing whether the objections will have a principled basis. But, assuming Zach has correctly summarized the deal, it makes perfect sense. Exchanging promises to lodge or waive objections is a very cheap medium of exchange accepted as legal tender by all neighborhood groups. Such an exchange could have helped Zach get an 80-fot fly tower while giving the neighborhoods a sort of proxy objection to bolster their moral case againt forthcoming development, whatever that development might turn out to be.
Even if Zach's objection isn't merely a proxy, there's still the question how much weight it should get. After all, Zach chose to present South Lamar with the theater's featureless backside. The proposed development across the street, by contrast, will be a pedestrian's nirvana. What standing does Zach really have to complain about that?