Mixed-Use Tower Planned for Austin, Texas

A landmark restaurant on Barton Springs Road where burgers and brews were once served could be replaced by a 14-story building with diners, office workers and condo dwellers.

The project, planned at the site of the former Filling Station restaurant, has stirred opposition from some nearby Bouldin Creek neighborhood residents who say it will be too tall for the area. The prime real estate near Town Lake and Zilker Park has attracted developers' interest since the restaurant closed in 2004.

Texas American Resources Co., an Austin-based energy company, bought the site last summer. The company wants to raze the restaurant and start construction late this year on a mid-rise building with stepped height. But it would need a variance to build up to 180 feet on the tallest part closest to Barton Springs Road, said James Cormier, consultant and project manager.

Current zoning caps height on the site at 60 feet.

The building would open in late 2009. Texas American Resources, which has branch offices in Denver, Houston and Beijing, would move its existing downtown headquarters from 98 San Jacinto Blvd. to the new development, occupying about half of the 86,000 square feet of office space, Cormier said.

About 24 condominium units are planned for six floors atop the offices. Prices haven't been set but are expected to range from the $300,000s for a unit with about 900 square feet to the $900,000s for a 2,000-square-foot unit, Cormier said.

The condos are planned amid a residential building boom downtown, with numerous projects planned or under construction, including immediately south of Town Lake and along South Congress Avenue and South Lamar Boulevard.

Amenities in the new project would include a pool and a sod roof that would help with energy conservation and water filtration, Cormier said. The building also would have exercise facilities for Texas American Resources employees.

Behind the building would be a four-story garage with 270 spaces.

Designed by Austin-based MirĂł Rivera Architects, the building also would have a ground-floor restaurant with an outdoor cafe.

Texas American Resources will seek a zoning change that ultimately would require a City Council vote.

The site is flanked by a 120-foot-tall, nine-story office building and the 62-foot-tall, five-story Austin Energy Building.

The head of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, representing about 3,000 households, says building triple the allowable height "is completely out of sync with our (City) Council-approved neighborhood plan and other comprehensive city planning efforts."

"The project certainly has promise, and we encourage the owner to identify an appropriate site in the central business district where such heights are allowed," said Kathie Tovo, president of the association.

Some residents say they're concerned about noise and light pollution. Cormier said that subject to the height approval, the developer plans to use vines and shields to screen light from the garage, and will put compressors and water chillers at the top of the building to reduce noise.

Cormier said Texas American Resources has no intention of dropping its request for additional height.

"I think we have a really good project and hope it's not just another missed opportunity," Cormier said. "A lot of people in South Austin are excited about this project, by its high-caliber mixture of uses and its aesthetics. It's OK for South Austin to have nice things."