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City chooses comprehensive planner

Friday, April 24, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The long-delayed Comprehensive Plan for the City of Austin took a big step forward at Thursday’s City Council session, when members unanimously voted to select the firm Wallace Roberts & Todd of Philadelphia for the project, which could cost up to $1.3 million. Three firms were considered finalists.


In choosing WRT, council waived the staff recommendation, which had been for ACP Visioning and Planning. Council Member Laura Morrison introduced the motion saying WRT “brings together everything to be successful in the coming year or so.” She continued,  “Their understanding of the role of staff and citizens is what we really need,” and complimented their broad approach to economic policies and the fiscal impact of growth.


The chosen consultant had the support of Liveable City, which argued for WRT behind the scenes.


Council Member Randi Shade agreed and said “If there is a silver lining in this economic situation, it’s that we can engage in planning without it being dominated by development.” Shade told In Fact Daily, “I think they were all incredibly close,” but said WRT was actually ranked the highest on the staff review before the optional interviews. “Given the complexity of the written proposals I guess I felt the interview was given undue points, it was 20 percent of the final score which just made ACP a few points ahead.”


She said in project experience and availability of staff WRT ranked higher. “I really like how WRT acknowledged what problems might exist in the citizen participation process and they’ve addressed these problems in the past and had some interesting ideas of how to deal with that going forward. Council Member Sheryl Cole also complimented the WRT team and said, “they seem to want to also freely discuss the equity issues we’d deal with in transportation.”


Such issues would presumably include the proposed East 290 toll road in East Austin, which was under fire on Thursday from a lawsuit alleging a violation of the Civil Rights Act. Three groups filed a joint complaint against TxDOT, CTRMA and CAMPO. Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA), the SOS Alliance and the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment, filed the complaint on behalf of three Travis County residents and the Bluebonnet Neighborhood Association. The complaint says that the road would have “a disproportionate impact on the low-income and minority communities that surround and use the highway.”


Austin currently operates under the Austin Tomorrow plan adopted in 1979. Greg Guernsey, director of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning, gave a brief presentation to council outlining the goals of the new plan. It would establish a vision for the city and the ETJ and cover policies that would affect 10 charter-required components. These include, land use, transportation, conservation of environmental resources, open space, housing, public services, public buildings, health and human services, commercial and industrial development and redevelopment.


The city has had several meetings this year in an attempt to gather feedback from citizens. Guernsey said the last meeting, on April 7, drew 43 people who had 78 comments on the plan. Council was presented with these comments and additional comments from a March community forum. Chris Ewen, a member of the city’s Planning Commission urged council to move forward with an appointment saying, “we know that every consultant has their weaknesses and I think despite those weaknesses we need to select one of them… and I believe we can account for some of those weaknesses.”


Alice Glasco, a local consultant and independent city planner also encouraged council to act. “Our current comprehensive plan is 30 years old and the last update to the plan was initiated in the mid-80s. It made it all the way to the city council after several years of dialogue with Austin citizens and the city council then did not adopt it.” Glasco said that was in 1989.


The money for the Comprehensive Plan would come from a transportation bond and be meted out over the next two years.

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