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Three finalists vie to create new comprehensive plan for city

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. It’s grown by almost a third just since 2000. And now city leaders are updating their long-range comprehensive plan, first created in 1979, which provides a framework for managing growth, including strategies for environmental preservation, affordable housing and transportation.

City departments created the first plan. But this time, the city will hire a consultant to manage the process of updating the “Austin Tommorrow Plan” and, last Thursday, the Council heard from three national firms competing for the job. Council will decide which team to hire on Feb. 26.

The first team to present to Council is led by Phil Hannaker of HNTB. Hannaker stressed that a comprehensive plan must be customized to meet the particular needs of a city. HTNB was in charge of the plan for downtown Savannah, which focused on the blocks around public plazas. In the firm’s Washington, DC comprehensive plan, the challenge was creating new guidelines for urban design and land use that protected existing neighborhoods. In Raleigh, North Carolina, the emphasis was on a plan that would decrease the city’s overall carbon footprint.

Hannaker stressed the company’s commitment to an open community process. He said it was important to pull together both agencies and independent organizations for a look at Austin’s future. Hannaker promised the company’s efforts would be on target and on time. He also highlighted his team of local consultants, including Alliance for Public Transportation’s Glenn Gadbois, Design Commissioner and architect Eleanor McKinney and civil engineer Raymond Chan, who holds a number of professional contracts with the city’s Water Utility.

Principal Johnny Longo made the pitch for his company, ACP Visioning + Planning, which has offices in New York City and Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is a good case study, since it’s a similar size to Austin, and is also the state capitol. ACP also won the first and only American Vision Award from the American Planning Association for its work in New York City. “We know what makes a great city great,” Longo said.

ACP’s team would partner with Clarion Associates and TBG Partners. The latter is well known for its work on Austin-area parks, including the master plan for Butler Park. Beverly Silas, well know for her work at Envision Central Texas, would help get the public involved in the planning process. Silas told the Council she would bring the networks and connections she established at Envision Central Texas to help with the comprehensive plan.

Wallace Roberts & Todd, or WRT, was the third team to present to Council. Partner John Fernsler led the presentation with the assistance of David Rouse, who would be the designated project manager on the Austin project. Fernsler also touted his team as being anchored by Austin-based firms. Local consultants would include engineer Raymond Chan, former RMMA Commissioner Donna Carter and economic development consultant Angelos Angelou, who is well known for his economic forecasts. Fernsler also said he would like to partner with the University of Texas on the plan.

WRT’s work includes the plan that shaped Baltimore’s renaissance. The firm, which labels itself “eco-disciplinary planning and design,” has also completed work in Omaha and is the planner on DallasTrinity River project. In Texas, the firm was the lead designer for The Woodlands and has completed smaller planning projects in Georgetown and Flower Mound, near Dallas.

“We have maintained a leadership position in growth management and sustainable planning,” said Fernsler, “before sustainability became such a watered-down word.” Fernsler stressed the company’s expertise in transit-oriented development and other issues of importance to Austin. He added that WRT was the original planner on the Lady Bird Lake.

Questions from the Council members were brief, mostly quizzing the firms about how they would address particular aspects of the current Austin Tomorrow plan. Council Member Laura Morrison asked how the teams would address health/human services. Council Member Mike Martinez wanted to know how potential land code amendments would be handled. Council Member Sheryl Cole asked how equity issues would play into the plan. Council Member Brewster McCracken asked how open space would be integrated into plans.

The city has posted an overview of the presentations and a link to the Council video of the presentations on the city’s home page at

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