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Regional leaders study SH 130 development

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 by

Watson, local officials discuss how to coordinate land use planning

Local leaders from across the five-county region, convened by likely future State Sen. Kirk Watson, are back at the drawing board to talk about what it will take to coordinate the right kind of development along the State Highway 130 corridor.

The SH 130 meeting Monday took up where last November’s toll summit left off. At this point, no substantive opposition has been lodged against the toll project – a unique characteristic in and of itself — and there’s little in the way of political posturing against its construction. With the first section scheduled to open next year, SH 130 is here, and what local leaders have decided to do is live with it, without the lengthy diatribes on whether or not the road is needed.

"If it works well, if we all prepare for it the right way, then SH 130 will make those lifestyle options more available to more people," Watson wrote on his campaign website, in anticipation of the meeting. "But we need to make sure those options remain attractive. And we need to remember that we'll need our neighbors' help to live the way we want to, just as we need to help our neighbors preserve the lifestyles they value."

Watson wants to start a deliberate, focused discussion on what goals local jurisdictions have for the roadway, what challenges they are likely to face and what tools they will need to face those challenges in the coming years. These goals are likely to mesh with Envision Central Texas’ work to open a dialogue among city planners on SH 130 and CAMPO’s new task of integrating land use and transportation planning for the future.

The meetings also are likely to drive the region’s legislative agenda on a "development toolbox" for SH 130, an agenda that is likely to be carried by Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), chair of the House Transportation Committee, and Watson, who will chair CAMPO when he replaces retiring Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) in January.

Leaders from Georgetown, Austin, Travis County and the Lower Colorado River Authority outlined issues they had explored surrounding SH 130. The discussion was a thumbnail sketch of what local jurisdictions will face when it comes to a road that is either outside or just inside the extra-territorial areas of most jurisdictions.

Assistant City Manager Tom Yantis of Georgetown discussed efforts to determine the best intersections for "power retail" development and how to divert traffic off the historic thoroughfare through downtown; LCRA General Manager Joe Beal discussed his agency’s efforts to map the area for water and electric service and the possible placement of transmission lines along or near the road; and TNR Executive Manager Joe Gieselman talked about Travis County’s struggle to create the east-west connectors between IH-35 and SH 130.

The discussion focused on a couple of key issues. The first was whether counties, and especially rural counties, were prepared to take the reins on greater land use control to drive development in the corridor. The second was the sheer magnitude of what it would take to provide basic services such as water and wastewater and roads to the region, including those east-west arterials that would maximize the benefit of the road to the area.

The City of Austin clearly has done the most work on the issue, dividing the region along SH 130 into eight subdistricts, outlining the costs of bringing those subdistricts online with city services and prioritizing which areas are most desirable for annexation.

The cost of annexing all the available area along the tollway into the city – an area that is about two-thirds the current size of Austin – would be $2.4 billion. That would be what it would cost to provide the full range of city services to the 174 square miles along the corridor, City Manager Toby Futrell told the gathering.

Even if that annexation area is pared back to the bare minimum 42 square miles alongside the SH 130 corridor that is in Austin’s extra-territorial jurisdiction — and the services rolled back to the basic water/wastewater, drainage and roadways – it would cost $570 million in infrastructure improvements to bring the area into the city. That doesn’t even include the cost of police and fire protection, Futrell said.

Such costs make annexation almost economically infeasible. Of the land available for annexation, about 30 percent already is developed, Futrell estimated. Another 20 percent cannot be developed because of slopes or other environmental features. If that remaining 50 percent is developed, and fully taxed based upon highly desirable market values, it would still only generate $460 million over the next 30 years. That means that the cost of annexation outweighs the benefits the city will see from annexing the local land.

Futrell told In Fact Daily, "People think this is a cash cow—and it definitely is not. It’s your quality of life issues," that make it important.

With those numbers in mind, increased annexation powers or additional land use powers for counties may not be the answer. The region could choose, instead, to pursue something like a "desired development zone" along SH 130 that could encourage the right kind of development in the corridor. Watson said all options would be considered during the process of outlining the benefits and challenges of the road project.

Futrell said the city wanted to see four outcomes from the SH 130 forum: an orderly development pattern that avoids leapfrog and patchwork annexation; denser development in areas that warrant such development, with an emphasis on mixed-use development; a regional answer to the drainage issues in the eastern end of the county, which could be an advantage if front-end, rather than back-end, development is utilized; and a road that does not create a socioeconomic barrier, where development is more desirable on one side of the road than the other.

The group meets again on August 21.

New board could shake up Capital Metro

McCracken starts by asking questions

Capitol Metro’s Board of Directors celebrated the swearing in of two new members Monday, Austin City Council Members Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell. But the cake and punch had barely been consumed when the new members made their presence felt.

McCracken and Leffingwell replaced outgoing Board Members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas, who both retired from the Austin City Council.

McCracken, an outspoken advocate for both urban design and mass transportation, outlined his reasons for serving on the board.

"I’m thrilled to be here," he said. "I believe this agency is moving us forward as a growing city, and it all starts with an effective urban transit system."

Leffingwell agreed. "I’m a big believer in what Capital Metro is doing," he said. "You are doing more than just building a transit system; you are helping to build a modern urban community."

McCracken also made his presence known when the subject of stations along the planned Leander MetroRail project came up, asking for additional information on the project from Cap Metro staff.

"These stations are an opportunity to explore the surrounding development as a part of a larger scale development," he said. "It would be good to have sense of how this is being planned."

He recommended that Cap Metro staff plan a presentation to him and Leffingwell on how the project has evolved so far.

"It would help us to know what the strategy is and how these plans fit in to it," he said.

Following a presentation on Capital Metro’s recent All System Go Open House presentations on MetroRail stations, McCracken noted that a Highland Mall station had been added to the plan, but he wasn’t aware that the city had been notified.

"We need to let them know so they can do some analysis on the zoning needed for transit stops in that area," he said. "It’s an opportunity to integrate land use planning and transit planning. We need to update the zoning codes to make sure the right kind of development occurs in that area.

"We don’t want have to do it and then a few years later, re-do it," he said. " We need to do it right, right off the bat."

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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