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Semiliveblogging the Mueller opening

Mueller's unveiling of plans and prices is in 10 minutes, but it's for "builders, dignitaries and media" only, scruffy self-described bloggers not included.

Blogger in the media slot

Part of me wants to crash it anyway (hint: if you walk in from the lake side there's no one to stop you), but instead I'll stay home and obsess about the info on the Mueller website, which is also supposed to be revealed at 10:30. As a rehearsal for back-channel chatter at SXSW, feel free to IM or Twitter me if you see anything interesting. Reload this page for updates. And see my Flickr set for my recent Mueller rambles.

11:05 am: Nothing yet. Where's my Semantic Web enabled service animal who'll bark when the Catellus site updates?

11:11 am: A friend with more gatecrashing cojones than me says the dignitaries have left already. That was quick. She couldn't score a media packet.

11:26 am: Nada. I feel like I'm standing in line for a Wii.

11:30 am: The story and a photo gallery are up at the Statesman. Yard houses are $480K to $650K; "garden" homes with shared greenspace are in the upper $200K and above range; the "affordable" houses appear to be one-story cottages; the row houses have lots of gables and inset porches, quite unlike Texas townhomes or "urban" stoop houses.

11:37 am: Catellus's own builder pages are up.

The builders: David Weekley, Meritage, Muskin, Saldaña, Standard Pacific and Streetman. Weekley and Standard Pacific are national, Meritage appears to be statewide, and Muskin, Saldaña and Streetman seem to be local.

Hmm -- I don't see a price list. Anybody found one?

David Weekley got the "affordable" houses, which include row houses and small yard houses. The latter include the option of a third bedroom. I predict those will be in high demand.

Notably, there are non-"affordable" row houses as well, which sounds like a good thing to me -- for the row-house concept to become accepted in Austin, it would be better that it not become strictly identified with "affordable" status.

The Weekley and Meritage model names are a hoot. SoCo, Willie, Antone, Keeton, Benson, Armstrong... I hope they're paying royalties to certain people's favorite charities. Standard Pacific and Streetman went with UT dorm names (but no Jester!) and downtown river streets.

There's not a lick of modernist sensibility in anything, at least not in the exteriors. Meritage's blurb does mention "contemporary urban elements and traditional neighborhood design," which I don't see in the elevations, so I guess they're referring to the open floor plan and the granite and stainless steel in the kitchens. Those of us who were dreaming of a sprinkling of Agave aesthetic at Mueller can dream on.

Maybe an even more experimental take on affordability through density is the "garden court" houses, which share greenspace around a common courtyard. There are 12 models of garden court houses from two builders, Muskin and Saldaña, and I only see one spot for a garden court on the phase 1 builder map. Are they just going to build one of each in phase 1 and see what the demand is like?

Mueller phase 1

(Turns out that yes, a site plan on the Saldaña site shows all six of their houses lined up in a row off of Camacho Street.)

I'm torn about the garden court concept. I love the idea of shared green space in theory -- a principle which Mueller follows on a macro level by having small yards and lots of park space -- but between rugged Texas individualism and the real estate maxim that "they don't make more dirt," it's not clear how many people would prefer to share their yards given a choice. A great deal depends on the details: How is it to be designed? Who will maintain it? What rules govern its use? Are the rules formalized through a land trust or covenants?

All of which connects to an even larger question which I haven't heard addressed at all: will Mueller have a homeowners' association? Is it going to have bylaws in place at the outset or will the first crop of homeowners self-organize? What is membership likely to cost? Will "affordable" residents pay "affordable" dues? And maybe most importantly, will it have the authority to tell me what color I can paint my house?

austin 2007.03.05 link


The website is clearly still being updated, so I'll hold off pointing out that price information might be useful to prospective buyers. They've been saying for so long that the affordable ones will be indistinguishable from market rate that I'm surprised by how easily distinguishable they are. If you have a 70' lot your row house is affordable, 90' it's market. (I think that also means the 90 has a 'yard' the 70 a deck on top of the garage.)

Similarly, the affordable yard houses are different models than the market ones even within David Weekly's options.

I'm surprised how *big* they are. Only the affordable yard houses are what I'd call moderate size. I would like to have seen 1300 market rate yard houses. I'm worried that we'll see a huge gulf between affordable and market rate, leading to the exclusion of a lot of people, particularly families...

ccosart [ccosart cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2007.03.05
I'm hoping there will be more modernist options in later phases. Not surprising that it's all retro for phase I - they can sell density to density fearing Austin if they call it "Hyde Park" style. ;)

ccosart [ccosart cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2007.03.05
Frankly, I'm disappointed in these home designs. I was thinking about plunging for one, but now I'm thinking - not right now.

eliz. s. • 2007.03.05
Frankly, I'm disappointed in these home designs. I was thinking about plunging for one, but now I'm thinking - not right now.

eliz. s. • 2007.03.05
The porches all seem to be 1940s - 1960s typical Allandale/Rosedale suck. "Like Hyde Park" should mean a nice big porch, not a little stoop to stand on while you fumble for your keys.

M1EK [mdahmus cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.05
I can't tell the damn colors apart. But it looks like there are broad areas of SF without any retail mixed in -- is that right? I thought they'd allow some light retail around the neighborhood parks.

Maybe I'm misreading the plan. Will retail be allowed in the darker yellow (row houses/shop houses)?

AustinContrarian [chrisbradford cxe sbcglobal punkto net] • 2007.03.05
Chris, I have a fairly hi-res version of the plan on which it is possible to distinguish the colors. Unfortunately the best one I can find at is this 736x820 one.

My understanding is that phase 1 will not include any retail, live/work, or multifamily housing.

It's true that on the map they're using the same slightly darker yellow for "Row Houses/Shop Houses: Townhouses, Single Family Attached, Live-Work Loft." But apparently shop houses and lofts are being reserved for later phases. That makes sense to me: I would think that they would fit in better around the mixed-use "village" northeast of the lake.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.06
Prentiss, do you know when Mueller is supposed to be finished? It looks pretty cool to me, but I'm wondering how long the "Pioneers" will have to wait before the rest of the urban village is built up around them.

AustinContrarian [chrisbradford cxe sbcglobal punkto net] • 2007.03.06
Chris, good question. The only milestones I recall hearing were for the Dell Hospital, the regional retail over by I-35, and "phase 1" of the residential.

There's at least one precedent for a new urbanist development whose "just-walk-to-it village never materialized" (dug up by the intrepid Windsor Park Coffee Rumors blog).

I'm not too worried about Mueller becoming another Intel shell -- I think the demand is high enough and Catellus has enough invested already that it will all get built out in an orderly fashion. What's not clear is how much of the hard-fought plan is binding and how much is a serving suggestion. (Take a look at the disclaimer on to see what I mean.)

As for coffeeshops, once the neighborhood retail, mixed use, live/work property goes up for sale, it's not clear that coffeeshops will be the highest bidder. Over at Pedernales, the little live/work storefronts mostly got bought by Internet design and advertising companies. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.06
The area around the old tower is supposed to be a retail area as well, a sort of neighborhood center. But I suspect it will be a while before that gets finished. I think the main town center will have the advantage of being a "lifestyle center" type attraction for the area, though I guess that's also the risk - it becomes an outdoor mall and not a town center...

ccosart [ccosart cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2007.03.06
I'll probably pay the $50 to play. I suppose if I get through the lottery, they'll have to give up the details.

AustinContrarian [chrisbradford cxe sbcglobal punkto net] • 2007.03.06
Just found out there will be 31 affordable "yard houses". I'm guessing 10-20 applicants per spot, at least...

ccosart [ccosart cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2007.03.08
I went by yesterday, and asked how long it would take to build out Mueller completely. The agent said 7-20 years, depending on demand. She said the Town Center would probably be built last. (I imagine there will be tremendous demand; still, 7+ years is a long time.)

They're having trouble finding a grocery store for the town center; apparently, no one wants to make a first-line store that small. So they're pursuing a boutique store, and also looking at alternative sites for a larger grocery store.

AustinContrarian [chrisbradford cxe sbcglobal punkto net] • 2007.03.08
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