State of the Art Movie Theater Coming to Four Points

A new luxury theater will be coming soon to The Trails at 620 in the Four Points area.  The development will also provide retail space, a 2 mile running trail, and a play scape.  They don’t plan to have the cookie cutter look to their storefronts they want them to resemble an “Austin” flavor.

The Trails at 620, located across RR 620 from Concordia University and east of the Grandview Hills neighborhood, broke ground Feb. 12 and will be developed in two phases.

The development was originally planned to break ground in summer 2010, but getting a special permit from the City of Austin to have more than one entrance facing RR 620 took 14 months.

Under construction

Phase 1 is 90 percent leased, with a movie theater, national restaurant chains Whataburger, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Schlotzsky’s and locally owned Flores Mexican Restaurant, which serves Tex-Mex food. Flores Mexican Restaurant’s Four Points location is currently north of the shopping center at 7900 N. RR 620.

Paving of the first phase of The Trails at 620 begins in August and vertical building will begin Sept. 1, weather permitting. Businesses in Phase 1 are expected to begin opening in early 2012 and continue throughout the year.

Dinner and a show

On June 20, the developers announced Galaxy Theatre, an upscale traditional cinema and luxury dinner theater, would be the anchor business for Phase 1, with a 1,500-seat theater within 11 auditoriums on the southwest side of the development. Four of the auditoriums are dubbed Director’s Choice, featuring premium dine-in theaters, which include reserved seating, plush recliners and in-theater food and beverage services. The other seven screens will be general admission. Patrons can also order off an extensive wine, beer and cocktail list in Director’s Choice auditoriums.

“We plan to make Galaxy Theatre at the Trails the first choice in movie entertainment in the Austin area,” Speaks said.

Moviegoers can anticipate watching films at Galaxy as soon as June 2012.

Traffic and competition

While the RR 2222/RR 620 intersection is already bogged down with traffic, the developers do not believe they will be adding to it.

“The traffic in this area is congested to say the least,” Sloan said. “Going north on [RR] 620 is time-consuming and not the most convenient for area residents to go out to eat, to shop or to go to movies. We feel like this will be a good location for a large population.”

Instead of increasing traffic, Speaks believes the development will absorb traffic.

“We think we’re going to pull traffic off the road,” Speaks said. “Because instead of everyone having to drive to Lakeline [Mall] to shop or eat, we’ll pull them off five miles sooner.”

Speaks said a Randalls under construction in Steiner Ranch on RR 620, south of RR 2222, has not affected their building plans. There is also a nearby H-E-B at the RR 620 and RR 2222 intersection.

“The Randalls is strictly a Steiner development,” Speaks said. “And we’re actually a development on [RR] 620 that’s going to pull from a different area.”

Because the Galaxy Theatre in The Trails at 620 will be one of the only theaters serving the West Austin area, Sloan believes people will drive farther to visit the shopping center.

The nearest theater is about four miles away at Regal Lakeline Mall with 1890 Ranch Cinemark in Cedar Park about 10 miles away. However, there are no theaters in Austin to the south or west of the planned Trails at 620, and the closest to the east is about a 10-mile drive to the Arboretum area.

“A theater, just by the nature of it, we feel will be more of a regional draw, because there’s not a theater like it offering the large screen, the dinner theater combinations and reserved seating,” Sloan said.

Phase 2

Edge Realty Partners is preleasing for Phase 2, which will begin construction in late fall at the earliest. Sloan said the development will be more traditional retail with a combination of local and chain stores.

Some of the timing, she said, depends on signing an anchor tenant for the project, most likely a grocery store.

“We would love to have a specialty grocer, pet services, office services and some clothing stores,” Sloan said.

Phase 2 is anticipated to open about a year to a year-and-a-half after Phase 1.

Preserving the land

Of the original 169 acres, about 100 of those were given to Travis County for preservation and about nine more acres were sold to the county for additional preserve, leaving about 60 acres for development.

Because the area is in a sensitive environment, with endangered species in the nearby Canyonlands Preserve, construction must be planned carefully.

“We can’t start Phase 2 until after September because of environmental issues with nesting birds,” Sloan said. “We’ve tried to design [The Trails at 620] to save a maximum number of oak trees and take advantage of the natural terrain.”

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The Environmental Benefit of Brick

Homeowners for the first time are being educated about the eco benefit of using brick.   The need for more sustainable homes has opened the door for the latest options in clay brick.  Green benefits of using clay brick can help homeowners save on major household costs.

Clay brick is naturally organic with virtually no waste, brick helps lower energy costs and upkeep through a maintenance-free exterior that offers superior durability, moisture control, termite resistance, proven stability and enduring beauty.  Some brick companies are often incorporating recycled content, brick options including exterior, interior and landscaping features increase sustainability while meeting the highest green building criteria.

The latest options for greater sustainability and savings through brick include:

·         Buying local: like farm to table, brick is made from local resources that reduce the use of fossil fuels; at least two brick plants are located within 500 miles of 49 of the country’s top 50 metropolitan areas

·         Brick exteriors for energy efficiency/savings on fuel bills: brick’s exceptional thermal mass allows it to absorb and store heat to release at a later time, reducing the load on the home’s heating and cooling system

·         Interior brick walls as part of passive solar design/energy harvesting: frequently used in net-zero energy homes, brick walls soak up excess solar energy during the day to retain heat and naturally regulate interior temperatures; integrating structural brick walls and flooring throughout the home

·         Using salvaged brick: a growing trend among builders, brick is one of the few materials that building codes actually allow to be reused in a building application and keeps materials out of landfill

·         Brick landscaping that integrates into natural surroundings: brick patios, archways, garden walls, fountains, pathways, planters and driveways add durable value with low maintenance; light colored pavers can reflect a significant amount of solar energy, reducing the heat island effect

·         Brick paver for efficient water management/drainage: permeable brick walkways and pathways help reduce storm water runoff, puddles and filter pollutants/eliminate contaminates

·         Low-emitting materials: using brick throughout the house that do not require paint or coatings

·         No maintenance: no power washing, no repainting, brick’s beauty endures without added materials or labor

Lohmans Ford Road Improvements

Many residents don’t like the idea of Lohmans Ford Road being improved, nor do they support the building of SH 35 SW.  The residents spoke out in a public hearing with much disdain over the proposed improvements which are to appear on the ballot this November.

The hearing was held by the Travis County Commissioners Court on July 26th to discuss the final project list.  A part of the list may be considered for a part of the bond referendum.  Commissioner Karen Huber noted that SH 45 SW was not among the projects being considered.  To help determine the need and scope of a possible referendum the court appointed a citizens bond advisory committee.

County Judge Samuel Biscoe said the court would decide whether to have a referendum Aug. 9.

In a report last week, the committee endorsed having a referendum and presented 36 projects totaling $205,649,433, including inflation and issuance costs, for the court’s consideration. If approved by voters, the projects would be paid for with bonds.

Twenty-six residents spoke during public comment. Several asked the court not to include Lohmans Ford Road improvements in the referendum.

The original project was to straighten 2.75 miles of Lohmans Ford and add paved shoulders and intersection alterations. The committee later reduced the scope to $500,000 for preliminary engineering costs for a four-lane divided arterial from Boggy Ford Road to Ivean Pearson Road, according to the committee’s final report.

At the hearing, several residents said the road improvements were unwarranted due to a lack of safety concerns. They stated that the project was a poor use of taxpayer funds and would take away the public’s access to a scenic point, among other arguments.

Resident Don Killough estimated that he has driven on the road 2,500 times in the last seven years. He noted that many people stop to enjoy the view.

“If Lohmans Road was moved, the view would be from a private lot. The public would no longer have access to it,” he said. “It would be several hundred feet back. Why would you do that?”

He added that if he felt the road was unsafe, he would be the first to support it.

Cleo Schneider said safety was an issue on Lohmans Ford and encouraged anyone interested in safety to review the emergency service district records.

Others advocated for SH 45 SW, a long-proposed road that would connect SH 45 to FM 1626. Residents argued that the road would alleviate traffic on Brodie Lane.

Resident Vikki Goodwin said that Southwest Austin residents had been promised traffic relief on Brodie Lane in the 1990s. She said there are two schools and a pool along the road, as well as commuter traffic.

Residents also voiced support for parks projects such as the Arkansas Bend/Dick Pearson project and the Onion Creek greenway improvements.

The Solar Financing Program Begins

With all the talk about global warming it’s good to find people looking for solutions to green building.  That’s why MAGE SOLAR and it’s business partners have launched a very comprehensive solar financing program.

Last month MAGE had success with the introduction of their Extended Terms Program for integrators.   The provider of the complete system is now offering advanced financing options for residential customers of MAGE SOLAR business partners.

The program is also supported by a partnership with Renewable energy Equipment Leasing (REEL).  REEL is a financial service specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions, throughout the U.S. and Canada.   Goal of the program is to provide MAGE SOLAR’s business partners the ability to offer their customers 100% project financing for complete residential PV systems, compromised of  MAGE SOLAR’s signature high-efficiency POWERTEC Plus modules, innovative mounting systems and brand name inverters.

“A smart residential financing program like this is another integral part of the full system service we provide to our business customers,” says Joe Thomas, President of MAGE SOLAR USA. “This added bonus enables integrators to offer their customers not only the whole array of our quality system solutions, but also a viable financing answer from a solid and experienced partner like REEL.”  More info on REEL click here

The Rise of Personal Income

Data released by The U.S. Commerce Department Bureau of Economic Analysis has show significant growth to personal income.  Their data states that personal income rose 0.3 % in May, slightly below the forecasts of a 0.4% increase.  The largest component of income wages and salaries rose 0.2 % supported by a gain in hourly earnings.

Consumer spending declined 0.1%, while compared to the private sector the expectation of a 0.1% increase was pulled down by a drop in motor vehicle purchase.  Motor vehicle sales dropped in part to the tsunami in Japan siting supply disruptions.

“Today’s personal income data show continued economic growth midway through the second quarter,” U.S. Commerce Department Chief Economist Mark Doms said. “American consumers have benefited from the two percentage point payroll tax cut President Obama instituted in 2010, which has increased the income of the average American household by $245 so far this year. Coupled with falling gasoline prices and job gains, private-sector forecasters anticipate increases in personal income and spending over the remainder of 2011.”

Bans on Floating Habitual Structures on Lake Travis

At a May 24th meeting The Travis County Commissioners Court by a unanimous vote permanently banned floating habitual structures on the lake.  A little over 30 residents attend the meeting to oppose the structures, they spoke of cited safety and water quality as reasons for their opposition.

Commissioner Karen Huber stated “We are not talking about navigable houseboats, were talking about habitable structures that are permanently anchored.”

The issue of floating habitable structures reached the court when a developer proposed a 120-home marina designed to float in a cove near Lago Vista.

Developer John Shipley addressed the court in April and asked to meet with county staff.

Exectuive director for the county’s Transportation and Natural Resources Steve Mannila  stated “”We met with the developer and he had a nice presentation, but we still have serious issues with this type of development in this type of a location,”

Manilla later noted that Shipley’s designs included sprinklers for fire safety, but said fluctuating lake levels and “not having access to dry land” concerned staff.

Shipley did not attend the May 24 meeting. Manilla said he was unsure if he was directly invited, but “he knew we were coming back to court.”

The residents in opposition are urging the court to oppose the floating structures. Currently, the Lower Colorado River Authority has banned building the structures there through Oct. 31.

Resident Dave Evans described potential fire hazards in the proposed marina.

“There is no direct fire road access,” he said. “If there’s a fire, the only courses of action would be to wait for a ferry—imagine evacuating that many people in a matter of minutes—and the other is to swim.”

He said the area’s tall, steep cliffs prevent first responders from fighting a fire from above or having available fireboats fight it from below.

Manilla noted that access, particularly during stormy weather, would be difficult.

“On the Fourth of July, folks are popping off fireworks. They think, ‘I’m OK, I’m over a lake.’ It just takes one to veer off and catch a bad wind,” he said.

Rod Schaffner said he was concerned about what would happen to the marina’s waste disposal system during a flood.

Other residents mentioned Lake Travis’ history of flash flooding, Travis County’s lack of large fireboats and the cost for the county and LCRA to develop rules to regulate floating habitable structures.

Lake Travis is a flood control reservoir that also supplies water to the City of Austin and downstream communities, according to documents attached to the meeting agenda.

According to the LCRA, the lake has 7,000 permitted boat slips in marinas and 7,000 private boat docks, as well as five known floating habitable structures.

10 Design Trends for 2011

We could pessimistically assert that there are no design trends for 2011 because nothing is getting built, but that would be exaggerating.  New homes are still popping up in markets that have stabilized – just in more modest numbers, and not with the flamboyance and status-minded consumerism we saw during the housing boom. Today’s value set is more cerebral, focusing on simplicity, resourcefulness, health, community, and practicality.  Here are some design themes we expect to see more of in the year ahead as America continues its search for a new normal.

No Faux

Glitz is gone, at least for now. Honest architecture is the order of the day as homeowners look to simplify their lives – and, by association, their houses. This mantra of zen is playing out in interior spaces with natural finishes, clean lines, and few frivolous embellishments. On the outside the philosophy is being parlayed into elevations with uncomplicated massing. The plain box is enjoying a renaissance at a time when budgets are meager and value engineering is an exercise in survival. This basic geometry is easier and cheaper to frame, plumb, wire, clad, heat, cool, and maintain. And its pure form makes it less prone to crimes of bad proportion.

Portion Control

Medium-sized house?  No, wait.  Make that a small, please.  The average house lost a few pounds in the recession and is still managing to keep the weight off as buyers (and banks) avoid biting off more debt than they can chew. “Demand for very large houses over 4,000 square feet remains, but there is a diminishing demand for middle-sized homes,” observes architect Don Taylor of D.W. Taylor Associates in Ellicott City, Md. “Instead of the previously common request for a home in the 2,800- to 3,200-square-foot range, we are now seeing more requests for homes of 2,400 to 2,800 square feet. Cost obviously has helped precipitate this change, but I also think many buyers are coming to their senses and looking for homes that meet their practical needs rather than satisfying their egos.”

Fresh Ideas

Your vegetables are organic, but what about your cabinets?  Health-conscious homeowners are starting to see their homes as part of the wellness equation, right in stride with exercise and eating right. “The farm-to-table movement has now entered the design sphere,” kitchen designers Mick De Giulio, Jamie Drake, and Matthew Quinn proclaimed in a recent kitchen trends report released by Sub-Zero and Wolf. Buyers will soon be paying more attention to healthy details such as low-VOC paints, stains, and sealants, they say, along with cabinets and furniture made with natural products such as hay, wheat, eucalyptus, bamboo, and aspen; HVAC systems that improve indoor air quality; and appliances that filter water. Tomorrow’s kitchens could also end up trading freezer space for larger refrigeration units to keep locally grown foods fresh.

Village Vibe

The suburbs are starting to feel more like little cities as planners and developers find ways to weave density and walkability into existing hot spots. “Fewer large-scale development opportunities have shifted the emphasis to smaller infill projects,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker wrote in a recent design trends report. But these new nodes of “light urbanism” aren’t replacing existing subdivisions; they are popping up between them and connecting the dots. Prime targets for infill redevelopment include big box parking lots, dead shopping centers, strip malls, and transit stations. “People who want an urban lifestyle but either do not want to live in a ‘big city’ or cannot afford to will look to live in the many suburban town centers that have been emerging,” Urban Land Institute senior resident fellow John McIlwain wrote in a recent white paper.

Green Grows

Yes, we say it every year, but it’s true: green building is going mainstream. The latest anecdotal evidence comes by way of California’s CalGreen building code, which takes effect January 1, mandating many green building practices that were previously only voluntary. “I expect we’ll see an uptick in simple, low-cost approaches such as rainwater catchment, drought-tolerant landscaping, permeable hardscapes, passive solar design, and more recycling and landfill diversion,” says Mike McDonald, a green builder in Oakland, Calif. Watch also for more flat roofs with parapet walls hiding unsightly solar panels, predicts Costa Mesa, Calif.-based design consultant Miriam Tate.

Accessorize Me

Now, back to our fixation on small homes.  Here’s another development that may be coming to a suburb near you: detached accessory units that share lot space with larger houses.  No longer a luxury reserved for the well-to-do (fancied as yoga studios or casitas for weekend guests) these stand-alone structures are coming in handy as granny flats for elderly parents, studios for home-based businesses, or rental units for homeowners wishing to supplement their income. As rentals, the tidy dwellings offer an enticing alternative for singles who want to live a suburban lifestyle but can’t afford a big house. What’s making these residences possible is that zoning tides are turning. Many neighborhood covenants that once prohibited accessory units are beginning to ease, as illustrated by Seattle’s exemplary “backyard cottage” ordinance, which passed roughly one year ago. This housing type could prove especially popular with single women craving small, stylish homes in close-knit neighborhoods that feel safe.

Mix and Don’t Match

There was a time in the fashion world when your socks had to match your shirt, your belt had to match your shoes, and your kitchen had to be goldenrod or avocado green. But the age of homogeneity has passed and we’ve entered an era of mass personalization. Nowadays it’s cooler to mix different cabinet styles, wood species, and paint finishes, and to accent new stock with an antique here or there. Although the “granite standard” still lingers, many consumers are starting to explore other options for self-expression, such as terrazzo and concrete countertops that can be inlaid with sea glass or pebbles from that recent beach trip. Or the builder-grade drawer pulls that can be swapped out for antique knobs from your grandmother’s armoire.  Little things make a difference if they make buyers feel like their home was built just for them.

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