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A Conversation With … Kelly Byrne

Managing Member, Say You Can LLC

Posted online

What was your initial plan with the 1361 and 1365 E. Cherry St. properties when you acquired them in 2016?
I wanted to do several townhouses. I needed the tax abatement to do that. I think we had city staff support, and we had several meetings with the neighborhood. They had some concerns because they were inward facing. They took some issue with it not being street oriented. We made some changes and put some front porches on the end units. We took that to (the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority). They voted it down. We revised our plan and came up with the pocket neighborhood concept.

Describe a pocket neighborhood.
It’s looking at a more traditional design concept versus design today that centers mostly around the automobile. What that leads to is a typical suburban neighborhood where you’ve got street-lined garages and driveways. People pull into their driveway and shut the door, and there’s very little interaction with their neighbors and the community around them. The pocket neighborhood essentially tries to hide the parking in the back and force the traffic of the community through the neighborhood, onto front porches and eventually into their homes. [It’s] a very walkable, urban environment with traditional design elements that look attractive. You have cute, almost cottage-type houses that have front porches that all face a center. It’s a small niche within the community.

Your plan places six units on a lot where there are two homes currently. What’s the square footage of the homes?
It’s dense. People just don’t want all the space in the yard and all the things to take care of anymore. It’s not just millennials. Baby boomers are downsizing, as well. The six units, or little houses, they’re attached, but they look like individual houses. They’re two stories, 1,400-1,600 square feet, which is a typical three-bedroom house. There’s just not wasted space.

What makes this property eligible for a blight status?
It’s up to LCRA and City Council ultimately to make that determination. Everyone who has looked at this structure (at 1361 E. Cherry St.) says it is blighted. You walk in there and think you wouldn’t safely live here. This one (at 1365 E. Cherry St.), the city had a little questioning on. The way the law works, you need a preponderance on the site. It doesn’t matter if one is and one isn’t. We combined the lots. With the new rules with the tax abatement, you have to prove that if we don’t get the tax abatement, we cannot financially afford to do this project.

What’s the budget?
Our budget is $1.4 million. That’s not cheap. These are nice units. The rents vary, but they are all in a range of $2,000 a month. It’s designed for hopefully people who already live in the neighborhood and just want to downsize.

How did you get connected with your business partner, NBA player Anthony Tolliver, and what’s his role?
We grew up playing basketball together all the way through high school. We started out small, flipping a house here and there. We started to build up a single-family rental portfolio. And then, in development, we cut our teeth in student housing around Missouri State [University], and we did some senior housing. As far as his role, from the start, it was as an investor but more active than typical. His platform opens doors where we can bring in other people. There’s been about five players in the NBA so far that we’ve done deals one way or another with.

Do you see more pocket neighborhood developments coming to town?
I hope, but it takes the right person and a certain amount of commitment. It’s a bit of a passion project. It’s a fairly small project in terms of development – $1.4 million and six units isn’t something normally developers are spending their time doing, particularly when you add in the level of complexity with the tax abatement. The pieces of ground for a real functional pocket neighborhood aren’t really that available.

What’s the next step?
The next step is the vote from City Council on Jan. 14. It’s either, yeah this is going to work, or now what the heck are we going to do?

Kelly Byrne can be reached at kelly@sayucan.com.

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