Developer Kahn hopes to invoke spirit of Teddy Roosevelt with new hotel project in serene part of Austin
Local real estate investor David Kahn is moving ahead with plans to build a hotel in an idyllic setting in Northwest Austin.
The proposed “Spicewood Lodge” would be constructed on an 11.4-acre parcel at 6315 Spicewood Drive near where Bull Creek intersects with Capital of Texas Highway.
Kahn wants to rekindle the ambiance of a National Park Service lodge — perhaps something reminiscent of Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park or the Majestic Yosemite Hotel at Yosemite National Park — on a more modest scale.
Something between 85 and 125 rooms, most likely.
Many of this country’s iconic inns located within the National Park Service were created when adventurer Theodore Roosevelt was president between 1901 and 1909.
With that inspiration in mind, Kahn is back with the push to develop the property after he pulled plans off the table in December when neighbors demanded a say about what would be built in a beautiful cleft of Austin’s Great Hills area. It’s a controversy I chronicled at the time.
Since then, Kahn said he was determined to forge a compromise.
“I met at least four times with the neighborhood, and their only position was ‘We want a park,’” Kahn told me this week. “I talked about limiting size, height, room count and such but they were inflexible. Their only response time and time again was ‘We want it to be a park.’”
Richard Brimer, president of the Bull Creek Foundation and an informal spokesman for people opposed to Kahn’s plan, agrees with Kahn’s assessment.
“(Kahn) wants to keep what he had in that site plan and we prefer nothing there,” Brimer said.
Compromise is not the goal, Brimer confirmed. Even though there is no rezoning to protest, he’s hoping political pressures will be brought to bear in other ways that will prevent Kahn from ultimately building on the site.
Next step for developer
While zoning is not at stake, utilities are.
Kahn has formally filed a service extension request to Austin Water, which is largely an administrative process.
Should that be granted, Kahn will then proceed with annexation into the city and develop the hotel under city standards and guidelines. His development company will pay for the extension of the utilities and maintenance. There would be other benefits to the city, he said.
“In addition to paying for all utility costs, Spicewood Lodge would also pay property taxes and hotel occupancy taxes to the city of Austin, which is a long-term benefit to Austin’s tax base,” Kahn said.
If the city declines the request, Kahn said he will proceed with construction of the lodge under the county’s less strict development codes and regulations.
“Spicewood Lodge could easily have a water well … and sewage can easily be handled and collected,” Kahn said. “(Our) civil engineers are confident that this is not an insurmountable challenge since it is common throughout Travis County and much of Texas where municipal services are unavailable.”
Still, Kahn said he’d rather develop the property with access to city utilities.
According to detailed information Kahn provided, the proposed lodge and ancillary structures would create 28,734 square feet of impervious cover on the 11.4 acres. That means concrete and other man-made objects would cover about 5.8 percent of the lush site. The lodge would be several stories high, but Kahn said the design — which has yet to be revealed in architectural renderings — would not tower over an adjacent limestone bluff that rises 342 feet above Bull Creek.
“The lodge will be far too small to obstruct the view of the wall,” he said.
Neither Neighbors nor motorists in the area won’t have to look at the lodge if they don’t want to, he added.
“The abundance of trees on the property will still block most of the views as they do now,” Kahn said.
Concerns that neighbors raised about water quality, traffic, public safety and other environmental protections have all been addressed in detail, Kahn said. He emphasized that the development — whether completed inside or outside the city limits — will still have to adhere to strict requirements under the local Watershed Protection Ordinance enacted in 2013.
He provided detailed data about projected traffic counts — and the minimal impacts to that end — but the information was tabulated and analyzed by his consultants.
Kahn said he hopes to know this fall whether the city will allow him to connect to municipal utilities. Once that decision is made, construction will begin quickly and take 20 to 30 months.
For people who demand that the site be conserved as a park, Kahn offers an observation
“If the city of Austin or Travis County wanted to turn our property into a park, they should do it under the condemnation procedure available to them by law, in which case they would have to pay the fair market value,” Kahn said.
Kahn is not disclosing what he paid for the property in 2015, but records at the Travis Central Appraisal District show it was most recently valued at about $1.2 million for tax purposes.
Kahn said he’s always loved that area and hiked along Bull Creek many times and wants to make the picturesque setting available for more nature lovers to enjoy
“We are a local group and we take the stewardship of this site very seriously,” Kahn said.
Source: Austin Business Journal
Jan Buchholz, Senior Staff Writer