After the plug was pulled on a bigger project that could have included a Town Center, developers have begun work on Phase One of the smaller original West Park PUD project. Construction of 300 apartments is now underway amid the charred remains of the 2011 Oak Hill wildfire.
by Ann Fowler
OAK HILL – Construction of 300 apartments is underway at the West Park Planned Unit Development (PUD). The multi-phase project is located on U.S. 290 West, between the Austin Community College Pinnacle campus and Scenic Brook Drive.
Brett Denton, co-owner of Ardent Residential, told the Gazette that his company has purchased Phase One from the original developer and is building the apartments in the first phase of the West Park PUD project—which may ultimately include 70,000 square feet of commercial development on 10.71 acres, with 766 residential units on 45 acres. The project plans more than 60 acres of open space.
The size of the current development was approved 15 years ago. A proposed Westpark Village was envisioned as an upscale retail shopping center, with five restaurants and 700 apartments in the 120-acre village.
In 2009, local residents and members of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) approached Rudy Belton, owner of the property, to develop a Town Center. The project was redesigned to include a hotel, a movie theater and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space.
While many looked forward to the amenities the development would provide, those who lived closest to it felt the commercial development was too large. The owner spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to continually redesign the project, but ultimately, with no consensus from local residents, the application to increase the PUD was withdrawn.
Rick Perkins of Granada Hills lives across the highway from the West Park PUD. He was one who had looked forward to an Oak Hill Town Center. He blames a not-in-my-backyard mentality as well as a lack of help from the Austin City Council for the loss of a town center.
Perkins said, “Thanks to … two neighborhoods’ actions, we will suffer a Highway 290 filled with strip centers up and down the roadway, stores with little character, and without a planned-development for athletic fields, shopping, offices, apartments and townhomes that was once the goal of the West Park PUD. The natural environment will suffer as well.”
Perkins added, “I apologize to future generations for not working harder for the success of the modified West Park PUD.”
But Karon Rilling, who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to the PUD, explained the concerns: “The neighborhood as a whole had no problem with the 2000 PUD. What we helped avoid city approval was a PUD ten times the square footage of development allowed by the 2000 PUD.”
Rilling pointed out that variances were required for the larger PUD. She said, “Variances mean the city of Austin is violating or overriding its own rules. When the development is following the city rules, we really have nothing to say.”
While some in the neighborhood now complain about the “damage” the excavation is doing, lamenting the loss of a long-enjoyed greenbelt view, Rilling feels some have an unrealistic expectation: “Now for leaving the land pristine, anyone with the money had opportunity to purchase the land and do so. I’m a retired principal, so it certainly wasn’t in my budget.”
She said a representative of Ardent Residential is meeting with local homeowners in early August to discuss the construction, which is expected to take 18 months to complete.
Carol Cespedes of the South Windmill Run neighborhood near the PUD property, would like to see the construction follow current water and environmental codes, but she is most concerned with the remnants of the 2011 Pinnacle Fire that burned the area. She said, “We are very concerned with management of the green space, where the 2011 fire was started, and where the skeletons of burned trees continue to blight the landscape. We hope that plans include clearing of debris and provision for re-vegetation and drainage.”
Plans include a traffic signal, approved by the Texas Department of Transportation, at U.S. 290 West and Hudson Loop. Denton of Ardent Residential said, “Ardent Residential will be responsible for the cost of installing this traffic light as well as rebuilding/widening part of Hudson Loop to include a dedicated left turn lane onto Highway 290 at the new traffic light.”
Added Denton, “The PUD includes 63 acres of open space which will remain a natural buffer to the Windmill Run neighborhood to the north and west of the property. Furthermore, there will be no access to the adjacent Windmill Run neighborhood; all access will be to Highway 290 West through the project or Hudson Loop.”