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Commission OKs ROMA’s Phase 1 Downtown Plan

Thursday, February 21, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The Downtown Commission has added its endorsement to the Downtown Austin Alliance’s review of ROMA Design Group’s initial report on issues and opportunities downtown.


The DAA outlined its priorities in a letter addressed to Mayor Will Wynn, dated Feb. 11. The first phase of ROMA’s work on the downtown plan lists the challenges and opportunities downtown. The second phase specifies further implementation.


The DAA’s priorities are ranked in order of importance: reinvestment in the public realm; maintain downtown’s competitive position in the region; keep it authentic and diverse; and make downtown a stronger place through purposeful density. The fifth priority — dedicate the leadership, capacity and funding to implement the plan – was considered a given, according to the letter drafted under DAA President Nancy Burns’ signature.


“This is exceptional work, and we respectfully ask that the City of Austin fund all five priorities for Phase Two,” wrote Burns. “We include our recommended priorities for your consideration. We also noticed two significant omissions: the impact of the concentration of social services, as well as the need to strengthen the cultural fabric and historic preservation.”


Discussion was brief. Commissioner Mandy Dealey supported DAA’s emphasis on public re-investment in the public realm, over private investment. All methods of funding should be explored to pay for improvements, Dealey said. Reinvestment in the public realm included support for parks, Great Streets and infrastructure. The letter also referenced the addition of a bicycle and pedestrian plan.


The commission also added its own language suggesting formation of a staff-led transportation working group of interested stakeholders.


Commissioner Richard Halpin considered the role of social services to be key. He asked for inclusion of language that stressed the importance of social services as a way to invest in the human capital of downtown Austin.


Commissioner Robert Knight was interested in the fourth priority for a purposeful way to determine how density will be achieved. According to the letter, “We are keenly interested in how form-based zoning and districts might positively impact downtown. We request an educational component for downtown property owners and other stakeholders be included.”


After some discussion, commissioners agreed that the letter focused on education. Form-based zoning may or may not work, but it should be explored, the commission agreed. Form-based zoning would be based on building size and mass, rather than use.


The Downtown Commission is forwarding its recommendations to Council, which is expected to take up the ROMA report in early March.

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