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Council divided on Mill Pond Apartments proposal

Decision tabled for April 19 work session

The Austin City Council was divided over the issue to move forward with a proposed apartment complex during its work session Monday evening.

The proposed complex, Mill Pond Apartments, comes from Three Rivers Community Action, Inc., the same developer responsible for Fox Pointe Townhomes. Three Rivers has proposed developing the former YMCA property at 704 First Dr. NW.

The plans for the project include the following:

• 48 units consisting of one, two, three and four bedroom apartments;

• Three stories and an underground parking garage and elevator;

• Seven units for households that have experienced homlessness and six units for individuals with disabilities;

• A property management officer and management services by Lloyd Management;

• A community room; and

• Green space.

Monthly rents are anticipated to range from $678 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,080 for four-bedroom units. Approximately half of the units will have rents affordable to households with incomes at or below 50 percent of the area median income.

The projected cost, which includes $650,000 for the acquisition of the old YMCA, is $15,942,370, broken down as follows:

• Hormel Foundation grant – $525,000

• City of Austin/Austin HRA loans/grants – $1,748,680

• Three Rivers – $12,623,839

• Energy/Sales Tax Credits – $409,295

• Additional Gap financing/cost reductions – $635,556

There is also the possibility of making the building a 4-story complex, with the first story being utilized by SEMCAC’s Head Start program. The cost for the additional story would be about $2.7 million.

Austin Housing Redevelopment Authority Director Taggert Medgaarden and Three Rivers Community Development Officer Susan Strandberg discussed the project with the council during the work session. Medgaarden cited the City’s 2017 housing study, noting there is a high need for subsidized and affordable housing. He also said the project supports the HRA’s mission.

Mayor Steve King stated that he would like for the City to consider market rate housing and has been in talks with developers who have expressed interest in the old YMCA location, though they have not yet submitted a design or budget. It was noted that the old YMCA location is an ideal site with easy access to downtown.

Councilman Mike Postma agreed with King, noting that there is a demand for market rate housing downtown, particularly from young professionals, and that Austin is competing with cities like Rochester in the housing market.

Councilman Jeff Austin expressed support for the proposal, noting the City may not get another opportunity like this at the old YMCA location.

Councilman Oballa Oballa also supported the proposal, saying that providing standardized housing was important to making Austin a welcoming city. He also noted that allowing SEMCAC to utilize one story would help alleviate the childcare shortage in Austin.

There was also concern about the expense of maintaining the old YMCA, which costs about $100,000 a year, according to YMCA at Austin Community Rec Center Director Diana Baker. Baker said The Hormel Foundation helps with some of the expense, but the YMCA at ACRC is responsible for the rest. She also noted that there have been recent graffiti and homeless issues at the old YMCA building.

Councilman Jason Baskin moved that the vote be tabled to the next work session on April 19 to allow the council time to learn more. Councilman Paul Fischer seconded the motion.

Baskin, Fischer and Postma voted in favor of the motion, while Austin, Oballa and Councilwoman Rebecca Waller voted against it. Councilwoman Joyce Poshusta, who works for the HRA, abstained, resulting in a 3-3 tie. King broke the tie by voting in favor of the motion.