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Easy part of South Austin plan done

Friday, September 30, 2005 by

Large swath of area now under plan

It was a little like eating dessert first. The Austin City Council approved a little more than 90 percent of the Greater South Austin River City Combined Neighborhood Plan on Thursday, but postponed consideration of the contested cases in the plan until October 20.

But while Thursday’s Council action was over uncontested cases, the overall plan was forged through a sometimes grueling 18-month process between residents of the area and city staff, during which many contentious issues were debated and resolved. The final plan defines future land use, zoning, transportation, and design issues for two combined areas, the South River City and the St. Edwards neighborhoods.

The South River City planning area is bounded by Town Lake on the north; Oltorf Street on the south; Interstate 35 on the east; and South Congress Avenue on the west. It is made up of the Travis Heights, Swisher and Fairview subdistricts.

The St. Edwards Neighborhood planning area is bounded by Oltorf Street on the north; Ben White Boulevard on the south; South Congress Avenue on west; and Interstate 35 on the east. The area has no subdistricts but the central portion is dominated by St. Edwards University.

When planner Adam Smith of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department told Council members that he was asking them to only consider the uncontested potion of the plan, Mayor Will Wynn quipped, “That will take all the fun out of it.”

Under the plan for both areas, small lot amnesty, secondary apartment, garage placement, front porch setback, impervious cover and front-yard parking restrictions will be put in place. During hearings before the Planning Commission, several area residents sought to have regulations put in the plan that would regulate the tearing down of existing housing to build oversized houses—called McMansions—on the same small lots. However, planners decided that such an issue could not be put in a single neighborhood plan, but must be done in the form of an ordinance that applies to the entire city.

Neighborhood plans are part of a program called the Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan, a planning process started by the City of Austin some 25 years ago. The process called for a ground-up planning process utilizing the city’s neighborhood groups, rather than the traditional top-down approach.

Council members approved the plan through a series of four motions, amending the Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan by approving the Greater South River City Combined Neighborhood Plan; approving the St. Edwards Neighborhood Plan Combining District zoning ordinance; approving the South River City Plan Combining District zoning ordinance; and postponing action on several tracts in plan and the secondary apartment and small lot amnesty special uses until October 20. All four motions passed on a 6-0 vote with Council Member Jennifer Kim recusing herself because she lives in the area.

Controversial curb islands to be axed

The controversial curb islands along Shoal Creek Boulevard could be gone by the end of the year, now that the City Council has voted to remove them. Physically taking up the traffic control devices would only take about a week, but the Council also voted Thursday to get more input on a plan for re-striping the roadway before making any changes to the current configuration.

The city has been bombarded with complaints since the curb islands were installed this spring, according to Public Works Director Sondra Creighton. “Shortly after the project started, we began receiving a lot of negative feedback from the neighborhood,” she said. “In May, we held a public meeting with 325 attendees and most opposed the project.” Creighton’s recommendation was to remove the islands, then re-stripe the road to allow for two lanes of traffic, two bike lanes, and parking on only one side of the street.

While the curb islands have generated plenty of negative feedback, those stakeholders who spoke at Thursday’s Council meeting urged the Council to hold off on any decision. “The final plan as we see it, with all the work done over the years, was a consensus plan,” said Paul Nagy of the Allendale Neighborhood Association. “At the May public meeting, there was very vocal opposition. We had people come up to us after the meeting who supported the plan, but they didn’t want to be shouted down. So I think there’s a false sense of what was really happening at that meeting.” Nagy also predicted that the staff-recommended option for re-striping the road would result in more negative feedback. “The current proposal by staff is what caused the uproar five years ago.”

Adam Haynes, who lives along Shoal Creek Boulevard, supported that point. “I would urge you to go with extreme caution in eliminating parking on Shoal Creek,” he said. He told Council that while he opposed the curb islands, “they were the default plan. They had the least opposition, and we’ve got them now. So I would urge you to hold off.”

A similar call for delay came from the cycling community. “Our first recommendation is, don’t change anything,” said Stanton Truxillo of the Austin Cycling Association. “If you really are determined to change something, we’d like to recommend some tweak changes.” Truxillo said the money for the project could be better spent making improvements on other cycling-related projects rather than demolishing improvements that have been in place for just a few months. “To remove it at the cost of a quarter-million dollars when there are lots of other bike routes across the city that could stand to be improved…. We can find lots of other uses for those city funds,” he concluded.

But Council members wanted to proceed more swiftly to resolve the situation. Council Member Betty Dunkerley moved to authorize the removal of the islands, once a decision is made on a re-striping plan. “I’d like to see those curb islands removed as soon as possible in a safe manner,” she said. “I’m not comfortable going another five years.” She was seconded by Council Member Lee Leffingwell, who suggested a six-week period for seeking out more public input and selecting a re-striping plan. At the request of Council Member Brewster McCracken, the item was set for the December 1 Council meeting, with a stop at the Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee in November. That time frame will also allow the Public Works Department to work with the Parks and Recreation Department to relocate several crepe myrtle trees planted along Shoal Creek Boulevard as part of the project.

McCracken questioned the staff on other ways to slow down traffic on the street, which is averaging about 38 miles per hour. “This is not just about bicycles,” he said. “All of us who live in suburban neighborhoods with high-speed traffic, no sidewalks and little kids know that it’s about going for a run or taking your dogs for a walk,” he said. “This is an issue we need to get right on Shoal Creek, as this is the model that we can use on streets all over the city where we have the same problem that the folks on Shoal Creek Boulevard have right now.” McCracken and Public Works Director Sondra Creighton also discussed an increased presence by APD on the street, with the idea of increased traffic enforcement leading to better compliance with the posted speed limit. “We’re also suggesting looking at speeding in a different way,” said Creighton, “having some type of major initiative controlling speed comprehensively.”

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Historic zoning cases settled, scuttled . . . The City Council approved historic zoning for the Edgar von Boeckmann House, circa 1910, in the Hyde Park Neighborhood without dissent . . . The Council did not need to take action on two other requests since they were withdrawn. Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, said the new owners of the Gregg House at 2700 E.12th St. and the James and Mary Owens House at 1809 E. 13th St., which were built around 1908, had decided that they could not afford the costs of repair. After inspecting the structures, Glasco said, city staff had decided they were dilapidated beyond repair . . . Glasco also noted that the owners of an office at 1610 West Avenue who had previously requested to change their historically zoned house (from LO to W/LO) had withdrawn their request. She did not give reasons for that change of heart but the Zoning and Platting Commission had voted to deny the change . . . Appointments . . . Ying Li was appointed by consensus to the Asian American Resource Center Advisory Board . . . Amine Salim was appointed by consensus to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs .. . Mark Rogers was reappointed by consensus to the Saltillo District Redevelopment Project Community Advisory Group . . . Rosemary Wyman was reappointed by consensus to the S olid Waste Advisory Commission. . . Dunkerley off to Denver . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley will join representatives of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce for a visit to Denver beginning Sunday. The group will talk to their counterparts in the Denver area to learn how Colorado is dealing with education, downtown planning, transit-oriented development, arts funding, and libraries . . . Rita shelter closes . . . The Toney Burger Center is now closed as a shelter for hurricane Rita evacuees. The last 198 hurricane Rita evacuees in the facility were processed and placed in temporary hotel accommodations. The Disaster Recovery Center, 825 E. Rundberg Lane, is available to assist Katrina and Rita evacuees. Both American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency services are being offered at the center. For more information regarding the Disaster Recovery Center, please visit: . . . Saturday rally . . . Concerned citizens will kick off a campaign at 4pm tomorrow at Republic Square Park to demilitarize our schools. The group organizing the event is Youth Activists of Austin (YAA!), an organization founded and led by high school students from schools ranging from Garza, McCallum, and LBJ, to Dripping Springs, Waldorf, and West Lake, as well as other area schools. For more information, visit . . . Secure the Borders rally . . .A coalition of groups, taxpayers, political activists, and candidates advocating Secure Texas Borders are rallying at the Texas State Capitol from 10:30am to noon Saturday, with a news conference at 11:30ams. Young Conservatives of Texas is a group sponsor. Michele Connole, a university student and YCT publicity director, said, "We're a border state. We suffer from the draining of our economy, and we also see this as a homeland security issue" . . . Not your typical festival . . . While others are protesting, some canines and their human companions will be attending the second annual SNIP Fest Saturday from 2-6pm at DogBoy’s Dog Ranch. Those who attend will celebrate the continued success of the program that enlists businesses in the cause of fighting pet overpopulation in Central Texas. SNIP, which stands for Spay Neuter Incentive Program, was founded last year by Bart and Courtney Emken, the owners of DogBoy’s Dog Ranch. Currently, SNIP has 92 business members and 29 non-profit, or honorary, members. Event sponsors promise an afternoon of fun, food and entertainment for humans and their dogs. Dogs will enjoy a break from the summer heat at “dog cooling stations.” There will be dog agility demonstrations, a puppy petting zoo, tips from DogBoy’s trainers, and tours of the kennel. Attendees will be able to make their own customized pet bowls and accessories at a do-it-yourself crafts station, hosted by The Workshop. For more information about SNIP Fest, including directions to DogBoy’s go to . . . Director opening . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board is looking for a qualified person to serve out the unexpired term of Precinct 2 Director David Carpenter, who is moving out of the district. Candidates must have a voting residency within the boundaries of BSEACD’s Precinct 2. The unexpired term runs through May 2006, when new board members are elected. Interested parties should contact BSEACD General Manager Kirk Holland at 1124 Regal Row in Manchaca. The phone number is 242-8411 and the web address is . . . Raising the Roof . . . The 7th Annual “Raise the Roof” event is scheduled from 9am to 2 pm on Saturday. Raise the Roof is a community-oriented project in which 300 volunteers, along with skilled contractors, repair homes for low-to-moderate income homeowners, including the elderly and disabled. Volunteers will be working on 13 households in the Govalle/Holly neighborhood. The event is sponsored by the City of Austin's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, Hand on Housing, Austin Energy, Junior League of Austin and the Austin Police Department. . . . Dance with Lance, sing with Sheryl . . . Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and his bride-to-be singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow will thank the City of Austin for the many years of support with a free concert Sunday at Auditorium Shores. Gates for the celebration will open at 4pm and the program begins about 5pm, with the concert afterwards. There will be several street closings in the area. The city will offer shuttle bus service to the concert from several city parking lots. For updated information about the celebration visit

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