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Tracy Watson

Friday, July 7, 2000 by

City of Austin's Director of Special Projects

By Nancy Love

Tracy Watson is the director of special projects in the office of the city manager in Austin. Watson functions as a contact liaison, serving as an ombudsman or troubleshooter for special projects as assigned by the city manager. He also runs a pilot program in the use of mediation in dispute resolution for issues involving land use and zoning concerns.

When asked what he likes about his current position, Watson responds, "It has a great deal of variety, that's for sure, and usually offers some interesting challenges in how to make things work out." He says that it is great when things work out well, but is less enjoyable when it has not been possible to make all parties involved in a project or dispute satisfied with the final outcome.

A special project underway at this time relates to the city's first effort at utilizing the Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) Ordinance. The project will be located on Dessau Road between Rundberg Lane and Braker Road, and is being proposed by the Bill Milburn Co. The plan is to create a neighborhood that harkens back to the pre-World War II era's close-knit community style of development. Whereas current development codes allow or even promote urban sprawl, this new type of development under the TND ordinance allows for narrower roads, an interconnected grid-like system of thoroughfares, alley access to residential garages, traditional front porches on homes, and community parks within walking distance.

Watson has been with the City of Austin for a total of 22 years, and has been in his current position for a year and a half. He had what he laughingly refers to as "nine years off for good behavior," during which he served as chief planner for Portland, Oregon, as well as director of planning for Orange County, Florida. He returned to Austin in 1986, he says, because, "Basically, Austin is home. There's not a much better place to live, as far as I'm concerned. Does that sound like PR?"

When asked what he likes about Austin, Watson cites the vibrancy of the community, and the quality of the citizens who reside here–he says, "It's the people. That's what makes this city. It's diverse, it has a variety of human activities, and it has a wonderful natural environment."

Watson believes that Austin's greatest challenge at this point is growth management. "That's what is on everyone's mind these days: traffic control, urban sprawl, provision of services, and protection of the environment." He states that we need to continue to analyze the situation as it evolves, but we also need to cease talking about options at some point and make some hard choices, followed by strong action. Watson says that we need to not just talk but act to preserve the quality of life in the area even while providing for the growth that is going to occur here.

"I don't think anyone wants to go back to the mid-80s economically, but how do we manage this? How do we keep the quality of life–both the human element and the natural element–and still allow for economic growth? We need to look at every aspect of it that we can and then make the best choices that we can. But we need to make the choices, not just sit there and talk things to death."

When he is off duty, Tracy Watson coaches kids in bowling for the youth leagues at Westgate Lanes. He also plays tennis, and has developed his own version of basket weaving; he sometimes restrings tennis rackets for his friends.

Watson holds a bachelor of science degree in architectural studies and a master of science in community and regional planning, both from the University of Texas at Austin. He was born in Orlando, Florida. His wife's name is Carol and they have a son, David, who is 18 years old.

Conservation awards announced…The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is calling for nominations for its 2000 Conservation Awards. The awards are given to individuals, organizations, companies or agencies that have invested considerable effort toward the protection and conservation of water resources in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The deadline for nominations is Aug. 4. Awards will be given in five categories: water conservation, water quality protection, education, research, and innovation. Forms are available on the web site at or by calling Gail Garretson at 282-8441.

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