Austin Opera House could be revived, but some neighbors are opposed

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The stage is set for a possible comeback of an iconic Austin music venue, the Austin Opera House. But the possibility isn’t receiving a standing ovation.

New rules were placed on the property since it last operated as a music venue, so the new owners need city council members to change that zoning before moving forward.

“We are asking for the removal of a zoning overlay that was placed on the property in 1986 that does not allow for any additional development on this site,” said Richard Weiss, architect of 200 Academy.

He said current restrictions put a cap on things like building height and floor area ratio.

He and the owner of the property at 200 Academy Dr., Chris Wallin, also want to provide housing – some of it affordable – allowing musicians who work and play here to also live here.

“I was able to buy a house in the 90s, and now that is something that’s beyond most of America’s reach,” Weiss said.

The heart of the problem is the property is part of a neighborhood conservation combining district or NCCD. Those are extra rules to preserve unique neighborhoods in the city.

“In order to do the housing, we would need to be removed from the NCCD or alter every aspect of the NCCD as it relates to the property,” Weiss said.

On Thursday, they’re asking city council to remove them from that extra zoning area – the yellow area on this city map.

Some neighbors have voiced opposition to the possible traffic and noise the project might bring, which would include the preservation of Arlyn Studios, converting the parking lot into a park and including a museum inside the music venue.

“I can appreciate that they’re trying to… do it well, but SoCo and Travis Heights have developed enough,” said Nita Smith, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years.

The nonprofit group, Austin Texas Musicians, said it polled members Wednesday about the 200 Academy development. Ninety-three percent said they were in favor of the development if affordable housing is included. All supported removing the property from the zoning overlay, either way.

Wallin and Weiss have not said yet how much of their housing would be affordable.

Weiss and Wallin said they’ve tried to compromise by scaling down the size of the would-be venue: The original Austin Opera House was 42,000 square feet. The restored venue would be 17,500 square feet.

The team also said the project would bring more than $ 300,000 in neighborhood traffic improvements, and they’d be required to conduct another traffic study once they come up with a site plan for additional approval.

“As a musician and as a Texan, I’m looking forward to supporting the reopening of an Austin institution,” said Austin Opera House founder Willie Nelson. “Not only will we be able to see a venue close to my heart come back to the forefront, but we’ll also be supporting local music businesses that have suffered the worst throughout the pandemic.”

Willie said, in closing, “This is the Austin we came for. This is the Austin we want to continue. ”

But with persistent opposition, the final decision is in the hands of city council. They will take up the issue in items 69 and 70 on the agenda.

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