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Design Commission: endorses Live Music goals, wants more say in planning

Friday, January 30, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

The Design Commission caught up on some of its backlog of tasks at last night’s meeting, approved a letter for the Live Music Task Force, considered the Waterfront Overlay Task Force report and tweaked the Urban Design guidelines.

In a letter drafted by Chair Richard Weiss on the Live Music Task Force recommendations, the Design Commission acknowledged the importance of the Austin music scene as a resource that needs city support.

Asked specifically to comment on live music venues and potential incentives, the Design Commission noted that it was important to have cross-departmental collaboration to make live music venues work, from sound abatements to density bonuses to comprehensive parking plans. That’s a challenge, Weiss wrote.

The commission did support the creation of a new department to coordinate events but encouraged the access of existing programs as often as possible for incentives. That way, the strain on the city’s budget could be minimized. Direct waivers should be minimized. The commission also suggested using income from the Austin City Limits and South by Southwest music festivals as support. 

The Council has yet to act on the Waterfront Overlay Task Force report. Eleanor McKinney noted her disappointment in the fact that the Design Commission did not have a chance to offer input before the final document was drafted.

Commissioner Joan Hyde noted that the commission did review the final document and considered moving the report forward of prime importance. The Design Commission did support main recommendations in the document, although McKinney wanted to clarify some minor ambiguities.

Commissioner Bart Whatley noted that the task force document continued to circulate in the community. The Austin AIA Chapter’s legislative committee will consider the document at a luncheon next Wednesday at the AIA Offices.

A Design Commission subcommittee has tweaked the urban design guidelines after a final review two weeks ago, Weiss said. A fresh copy of the final document – which replaced some of the images incorporated into the document – was presented to the Commission members. Copies will be presented to Council.

One of the major concerns for the Design Commission about the Urban Design guidelines was the placement of parking. Commissioners consider on-street parking to be something that detracts from the streetscape and have encouraged the city to consider putting parking underground whenever possible, Weiss noted.

“I believe this commission’s position, through our urban design discussion, is that buildings are intended to last 100 years,” Weiss said. “Parking is not.”

In various reports and updates, Weiss noted that the district concept of the Downtown Austin Plan is making the round of groups. Weiss said the concept of districts – and affordable housing – was not necessarily well received in a meeting Weiss attended at Austin City Hall with various developers and downtown dwellers.

“The group was pretty much anti-district and anti-density bonus,” Weiss said. “But as the consultant pointed out, the next meeting will be with affordable housing advocates, who are expected to be very pro-district, and pro-affordable housing and pro-density bonus.”

McKinney expressed dissatisfaction, once more, that the Design Commission had been shut out of fuller discussions on the downtown plan. A committee of commissioners is expected to appeal to Council to give the commission a bigger role as a stakeholder in the Downtown Austin Plan.

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