Mueller used to be Austin’s airport, when the city was small and having planes land 3 miles from the center was a good idea. In 1999 the airport moved out to Bergstrom, leaving a 711 acre hole in East Austin.
Traditionally East Austin, at least East of I35, was the poorer side of town. The shifting clay made it harder to build houses that didn’t fall over, and it didn’t have the lakes of West Austin. It did however have great access to what was Town Lake, and is no Ladybird Lake. And it had some pretty short commute times to Downtown Austin. In the long past, Downtown Austin was just far enough North of the river to avoid being flooded – before the dams were built forming the “Lake”. So fast forward to 2007 and you have a large area of real estate with a few runways on it, a growing Downtown scene with destinations, dining, music, boutique hotels and large condo towers, all close to a peaceful “Lake”. It was in 2007 that the first interest lists were taken for the new homes to be built at Mueller, and after almost a decade of planning, the urban village was set to rise out of the flat expanse.
The Design of Mueller Austin
There is a large design book which outlined the vision for the Mueller development – it was a collaboration between local stakeholders and the City of Austin who owned the land and the developer – Catellus. It was designed along new urbanist ideals – which essentially means they were throwing away the McMansion ordnance – designed to avoid people building too close to their neighbors, and actively building denser housing. But this wasn’t to be the projects – this was to be housing with amenities. Each home was supposed to be close to a public park or open space, and the streets were to be wide and well lit in contrast to some of the streets in neighboring subdivisions. The streets were to have sidewalks in stark contrast to Cherrywood on the West – now sandwiched between the highway and the new homes. The design book called for different housing styles, and was aimed at bringing a range of incomes and professions into close proximity. And the mix didn’t stop there – there was also a mix of uses which brought employers into the area and retail and commercial space. The most notable is the Dell Children’s hospital which has already added an additional wing since being built. The mixed use also extends to the retail park – rather a traditional affair with big box retailers like Best Buy and The Home Depot which are the most conspicuous tenants visible from I35.
One principal of the design was that people would be able to ditch their cars and abandon the traditional suburban lifestyle. So that means houses that face each other with porches, rather than garages which face each other. This led to the alley access to many of the homes, keeping the cars out of site in theory. In practice, even those with double garages sometimes leave their cars on the street too, despite various covenants and guidelines which are thought to be unenforcible on public streets without more parking restrictions.
So there are two thrusts to the reduced car dependency approach. The first is the provision for public transport. This might sound absurd if you have ever lived in a city with buses and trams, but Austin rid itself of the original tram system many decades ago, and is only now starting to run its Capital Metro service – the red line – perhaps three quarters of a mile from Mueller Austin’s edges.
The neighborhood has been designed to accommodate a possible street car – the mighty Berkman Drive which neatly splits the subdivision is wide enough to house a rail solution. Now that the area is home to businesses and homes the buses also serve the inside of the area – shuttling people easily down to the University of Texas campus and beyond. The other thrust is having destinations and amenities within the neighborhood which both draw in non-residents and give the residents and workers somewhere to walk to. Lake Park is built alongside the Browning Hangar – an easy landmark by which to navigate if you go down Airport Boulevard. This is a popular park and is right next to the Town Center.
Mueller Austin’s Town Center
The Town Center was long planned and is starting to come together. It has been separated from the Market District – which is a fancy name for quite a fancy HEB grocery store surrounded by a raft of typical strip mall fare in addition to a few local favorites. The Town Center is the walkable jewel in the crown of Mueller Austin – it has a few noticeable tenants already such as the Thinkery – the rebadged Children’s Museum which moved out of Downtown Austin citing lack of parking as a major focus. Alamo Drafthouse will be opening a dine-in movie theater in 2016.
So yes, the Town Center does have a parking garage – one of the first buildings to be built there. It also has plans for plazas with outdoor dining and seating – taking a few tips from some of Southern European cities – and for everything from a cinema to a hotel. There is already a hotel at the periphery of the neighborhood – Austin has a chronic shortage of rooms during the many festivals it hosts – from events at the Circuit of the Americas (Formula 1, Moto GP) to the more famous South by South West and Austin City Limits. The city is bursting at the limits during these times, and the new hotels are a short journey from the action.
There are several places in which you’ll see the aviator theme – from propeller style ceiling fans in some homes to a hangar and the Air Traffic Control Tower. The Browning Hangar is a leftover from the second world war which was unusual in its construction – a wood framed structure made during metal shortages. It provides a venue for the weekly Farmer’s Market in addition to a host of other events – from festivals to runs to fundraisers.
It’s quite handy having a large shade structure built into the development during Texas summers, and it serves as a space for diners to enjoy the food from the food trailers which park there. It wouldn’t be Austin without food trailers of course. The Control Tower was renovated after a decade of decay, and there have been many proposals on using it for an aquarium, bar, sight seeing vista and a good place to hang holiday lights. Given it’s size and the difficulty of getting to the top, it remains an iconic building to show the air travel heritage, and a park is being built around it.
Mueller Austin Parks
Parks are plentiful in Mueller Austin, Texas – around a quarter of the land is set aside for public space, and that includes running trails and some rather fetching landscaping. Trees are still young in the area – there weren’t any such things back when the last planes were flying in and out – so shade is coming along slowly.
The development has a trail around the outside, and it’s a haven for runners, cyclists and stroller pushers. Not all of the parks are focused at children, though there certainly are many play structures, a few pools and sports courts. You can fish in some of the lakes, there’s a petanque park (think of French people throwing shiny balls into gravel and you’ll be halfway there) and there are outdoor showers and fitness stations. On a typical early summer morning walk you might see an outdoor yoga class and a few boot-camps taking advantage of the cooler temperatures and peaceful venues.
Mueller Austin Real Estate
The homes in Mueller take a variety of forms. The design calls for a quarter of the homes to be offered in an income qualified program, which tests means and grants reduced costs to those who qualify.
The housing styles include rental apartments – there are apartment buildings for the over 55s (Wildflower Terrace) in addition to ones run by AMLI and two run by Greystar. These offer over a thousand apartments in low rise buildings with attached internal parking. In the lower floor of these buildings are commercial spaces which have been used as convenience stores, medical offices (Chiropractors) and yoga studios in addition to offices for small businesses. The apartments are self described as “luxury” and the buildings do have competitive amenities – pools, hot tubs, gyms, media rooms and the kinds of things you’d expect to find.
The private landlord market is strong too – so after owners have resided in a private home for more than a year, they are entitled to lease out their homes.
There are also Condominium Regime homes at Mueller – these range from the traditional low-rise condos like the Greenway Lofts with vertical and horizontal neighbors, to specific properties which aren’t found everywhere else. Mueller House Condominiums for example are presented from the outside as a giant estate home – and contain four or six condos inside. They’re not anything like the typical fourplex you see in Austin, and enjoy some great locations across from green spaces and the large grassy median of Simond Avenue.
Then there are townhouses – mostly two and three story homes which are connected to a horizontal neighbor. Some of them face a shared space, and this brings us to garden homes and garden court homes – these do face a green space but are detached. Since Mueller has bypassed the typical Austin building setbacks to enable it to reach its density targets, these detached homes can be very close together – think 5 feet apart sometimes. Shop Houses are the ultimate in vertical mixed use – a house on two floors of a town home with a commercial space on the ground floor.
There are also regular detached homes in RMMA subdivision – they range from the smaller single story offerings from production builders like Standard Pacific Homes, David Weekley and Meritage Homes to large custom homes built by Muskin Homes and a variety of others. The aim of the master plan to allow mixed income extends to some of the most expensive homes in East Austin – those on the largest lots facing the parks, some with guest houses, elevators, and rooftop terraces. One thing to note is that even these larger homes are all part of the grand design for getting the most return from the land – there is no such thing as a large yard in Mueller. The parks are your yard, which is handy given that Austin seems to be in perpetual drought.
Mueller Austin Homes
Home prices start at around $150,000 for an income qualified home in the Affordable Program – for that your family would need to earn less than 80% of the Austin Median Family Income which was $48,250 for a family of two in 2014. Credit scores need to be high and applicants can’t have significant debts or loans.
Of the builders, David Weekley Homes have built the most, with Standard Pacific and Meritage closely behind. Streetman Homes which was recently acquired by Standard Pacific are still going strong, and there are also homes from local builders Saldana and Muskin. Homes By Avi is building shop houses, and there are two new builders joining the team in 2014 – Wes Peoples and Centerra.
Market rate home start in the high $280,000 range (few and far betwee), with the median home price being closer to $480,000. Many of the new builds are starting in the $400-700,000 range, and the resale market for homes is strong.
Home rentals start at around $2000 per month, and apartments at around $1300 for a one bedroom.
Back at the beginning, we talked about East Austin’s history, and if you’ve read about the home prices, you might be wondering to what extent the neighborhood is segregated or distinct from those surrounding. The design calls for integration, and despite their being a green belt buffer between Mueller and its neighbors and a Home Owners Association, the plan has always been to integrate. The development aims to be inclusive, and there are links between the advisory board for Mueller and the home owners in Cherrywood, Windsor Park, and JJ Seabrook.
Mueller Austin Schools
This is evident in the school situation. While there is a 10 acre site set aside in the plan for a school in Mueller, the bond elections have always favored other areas for new school building funds. So the children in the neighborhood are zoned to go to two sets of schools in East Austin – Maplewood Elementary, Kealing Middle School and McCallum High School for the earlier houses, and Blanton Elementary, Pearce Middle School and Reagan High School for the later housing. So the families are given an opportunity to mix outside their immediate neighbors. When will there be a school at Mueller? That’s up to the voters of Austin, and some see the neighborhood as already enjoying too much privilege. That said, if you look at house prices in West Austin and the ratings of the schools that are there, you might see some inequities.
There are a number of real estate agents who specialize in the area, with some of the teams having members who have lived and practiced there from the beginning of the development and others who have moved in subsequently.