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Residents study coming changes in neighborhood plan

Friday, January 23, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

Homeowners in Central West Austin Neighborhood planning area grappled with the implications of future land use maps and neighborhood plan amendments at a meeting at the LCRA’s Red Bud Building last week.

Watching the Central Austin neighborhoods walk through their neighborhood plan – which includes, among other things, the Brackenridge tract – is an interesting, if slow paced, lesson in how homeowners perceive the benefits of neighborhood plans and how those plans are amended before Council to incorporate new uses.

Last week’s meeting was the 15th in a series of meetings that walk through the various options for the plan, roadway by roadway. It also was intended to tackle possible future uses of land at 38th Street at Lamar Boulevard.

Joyce Basciano, president of MoNAC, was probably the most vocal of those present at the meeting, raising various questions about the timing of the plan amendments and the implication of post-amendment decisions made by the city.

For instance, the Central West Austin neighborhoods, in particular are faced with station area plans for various stops along Cap Metro’s Red Line. Changes initiated by the city that might come after the Central West Austin Plan – either for the station area plans or the city’s impending comprehensive plan – still must go through the same zoning amendment process as any other developer, Paul DiGiuseppe said.

The city, like any other developer, must assure that station area plans are consistent with any existing neighborhood plan, DiGiuseppe told the group of about 30 homeowners from the various neighborhoods in Central West Austin.

Carol Haywood told the group that the station area plans have required a whole new planning process, one that identifies the area around stations and then goes through a significant public input process on how changes should be implemented.

Greg Guernsey, who also attended the meeting, said the new comprehensive plan being contemplated by the Neighborhood Planning Department is intended to be an overlay, one that reflects the Council’s overall desires and goals for the city. Some issues – such as, maybe, the definition of arterials or the desired uses within a neighborhood – will have to be reconciled with existing neighborhood plans.

“We may be coming back in and aligning those existing neighborhood plans,” Guernsey said. “Of course, we’re not going to be able to do all 57 at once. But could neighborhood plans change? Yes, that could happen.”

Planner Greg Claxton, who is also working on the Central West Austin plan, also walked through the FLUM implications, noting that the FLUM is intended to be what a neighborhood wants to see in terms of future uses. In essence, the FLUM describes a broad range of uses that the neighborhood finds acceptable for a particular property. “These uses are acceptable while anything outside is not,” Claxton said.

Specifics, and exact uses, however, are not implemented until the zoning phase.

In Central West Austin, like in many other neighborhood plans, a lot of what the FLUM suggests for land use reflects what is on the ground right now.

The session also included a discussion of mixed-use options on FLUMS. That falls into four categories: neighborhood mixed use; mixed use/office; mixed use; and high-density mixed use. The intensity of those districts will be based on the base zoning district and the form of the mixed-use option. All four allow residential uses on the property, in addition to whatever is allowed by base zoning.

On the FLUM, the mixed-use categories are intended to recognize thresholds of density that a neighborhood would prefer to see. Asked by a member of the audience, the city staff members agreed it was not common to downzone a property during a neighborhood planning process if the owner is opposed.

A few exceptions – industrially zoned land near single-family housing, for instance – have been made because of significant compatibility issues. The Central West Austin planning areas has a number of parcels to consider for zoning preferences: the Casis Shopping Center and Deep Eddy along Lake Austin Boulevard.

Neighbors will continue to meet on the Central West Austin plan through the Spring. The next meeting is scheduled on Jan. 29.

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