Mueller Takes Off: New Life for Austin’s Old Airport

Matt Whelan (right) of Catellus, developers of the former site, briefs CNU visitors on the project. Jana McCann (in chartreuse blouse) of ROMA, designers of the project, also talked to the group.

A busload of CNU attendees headed out Thursday morning to see Mueller, the New Urbanist redevelopment of Austin's former municipal airport. When completed, the new community is expected to have about 10,000 residents and an equal number of jobs.

The first residents moved in just last fall. But the project has been in the works for decades. It began with progressive-minded neighborhood groups – 16 of them – that recognized that Austin's "landlocked" airport would ultimately have to be relocated farther out and that once vacated, the old airport would represent an enormous redevelopment opportunity.

The old saw about location, location, and location being the important things in real estate holds true here, too. The 711-acre site is three miles from downtown Austin and two miles from the University of Texas. The Metrorail line voters approved in 2004 is not far away either. And if a new streetcar proposal is approved, it will extend into Mueller and allow many of its residents a car-free commute.

On the other hand, the "work" part of the live-work equation is very much present in Mueller, too. The Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas opened last June. And construction is under way for the new headquarters in Mueller of the Seton Family of Hospitals, which runs the medical center. It's the first move of a corporate headquarters east of Interstate 35 in decades.

The nearest analogue to Mueller in Stapleton, the New Urbanist redevelopment of Denver's former airport. Mueller has benefited from Stapleton's experience; its master plan has been more flexibly written than that of its Denver counterpart, for instance. This has meant fewer trips back to City Council for approval of changes, for instance.

Other points of interest:

To ensure that Mueller includes some mature trees, and not just saplings, the developers acquired a grove of mature pecan trees that were to be bulldozed to accommodate new construction. The trees were transplanted to another location and will be transplanted again, one by one, moved into Mueller as it is developed.

One distinctive feature of the development is "Mueller houses," four- to six-unit multifamily houses that will look like big single-family houses. Twenty-five percent of the homes are to be affordable – that is, for families earning 80 percent of the local median income.

The ongoing costs of developing Mueller's infrastructure are being paid by sales tax revenues from the "regional retail" (aka "big box") development at the northern end of the site. But even this part of the site is being developed on a regular street grid, rather than the usual sea-of-asphalt parking lot. The "orchard-style" parking features a tree for every four spaces.


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