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Council approves update to Austin Tomorrow Plan

Friday, June 20, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The interim update of the Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan is like getting a quick roller coaster ride through every development change and “good idea” in Austin that has occurred over the last three decades.

Council approved the Austin Tomorrow Plan update at Wednesday night’s Council meeting. It also directed Greg Guernsey and his staff to begin the process for a full-scale two-year new comprehensive plan, which is intended to both knit together all the current policies and take the city into the future.

“We’ve grown a lot,” Guernsey told Council. “We’re still experiencing challenges like traffic mobility and climate change. An updated plan that addresses transportation and housing and land use and the environment would provide a possible platform for a new, less complicated and more directed Land Development Code. It also gives us a forum for discussion of city-wide policy.”

That forum is what Planning Commission Chair Dave Sullivan keyed into when he addressed Council about the plan. Sullivan said he expected the comprehensive planning process to bring people together in the same way that Envision Central Texas did. It would give people a detailed look at what problems are facing the city and, through education, win support for potential solutions, he said.

So, asked Council Member Sheryl Cole, tongue in check, would that make the meetings at the Planning Commission and Council shorter? No, said Sullivan, but the fact the Internet now exists will probably change the use of the plan.

“People are going to come in better armed so we have a more democratic process,” Sullivan said. “All the materials in it are going to be online.”

It also gives outside entities working on plans – say, CAMPO’s transit planning committee or Envision Central Texas – a chance to see where the city’s priorities for growth are set, Guernsey said. And, as is required by charter, it would be a plan that would not only get used but also be updated every five years.

The ordinance update was approved on first reading only, 6-0, with Council Member Jennifer Kim off the dais. Second and third reading will come back after the Council’s July summer break.

As Guernsey took quick spin through the pages, it was apparent just how many reforms, additions and changes Council had accumulated for the comprehensive plan, which has not been updated extensively since it was approved in 1979.

Among the additions of policies to the Austin Tomorrow Plan:

Urban Design – Land Development Code; environmental criteria manual; National Historic Preservation Act; design standards & mixed-use ordinance; complete streets resolution; bicycle plan and pedestrian master plan.

Economic Development – Austin economic development policy; Austin climate protection plan; zero waste policy;

Environmental Management – Austin climate protection plan; environmental criteria manual; airport zoning act; SMART growth initiative; drinking water protection zones; land development code; and zero waste plan;

Government and Utility Services – Austin climate protection plan; SMART growth initiative; zero waste plan; and Land Development Code;

Housing, Neighborhoods and Community Development – Consolidated Plan and Action Plan; SMART Housing resource guide; vertical mixed-use ordinance; transit-oriented development; and affordable housing task force;

Parks, Open Space and Recreational Facilities – Americans with Disabilities Act; bicycle plan; and parkland dedication ordinance;

Transportation Systems – Great Streets; transit-oriented development; neighborhood planning; bicycle plan; Clean Air Compact; climate protection plan; Hill Country roadway ordinance; and airport overlay;

Health and Human Services – Creation of the Health and Human Services Department: mission; goals; funding; and delivery systems.

Addendums in additional chapters discussed the city’s critical issues in the issues of environmental protection; downtown development; neighborhoods; and the philosophy of compact city/density.

When everything is merged, joined, squeezed and combined, it creates a new growth concept map for the city. Guernsey also presented a timeline that showed the progression of policies over the last three decades.

Looking at a 1979 map, Guernsey said the original plan for desired growth map was to encourage growth along the Interstate 35 corridor and discourage it in environmentally sensitive areas. Guernsey said the city had grown well beyond its anticipated boundaries in the intervening years.

The new interim growth development map incorporated a number of policy recommendations to pinpoint where growth was preferred: the exclusion of Water Quality Protection lands and the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve; the creation of a downtown plan, CURE boundaries, UNO, and waterfront overlay district; and the addition of other priorities such as the core transit corridors, Capital Metro rail line, and addition of major anticipated growth areas like the Burnet Gateway area.

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