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City embarks on plan for the future of Austin

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 by Austin Monitor

More than 70 people showed up last week for Livable City’s community conversation on the city’s upcoming overhaul of Austin’s comprehensive plan.

This new plan will be the first significant update to the Austin Tomorrow Plan of 1979. Planning is expected to be a two-year process, at a budget cost of $1.5 million. That’s just the timeframe for the plan; it doesn’t contemplate the time that will be required to update the city’s codes and ordinances.

Once the comprehensive plan process gets underway this fall, it’s going to have to move quickly to cover all 10 areas outlined in the city charter, which include issues such as open space, land use, mass transit and public services.  At last week’s Livable City meeting at Scholz’s Beer Garden, Greg Guernsey, director of Neighborhood Planning, noted the clock would start ticking soon.

“It’s important that we have the same people on the dais, and we keep the same people there for the two years we keep it going,” Guernsey said. “So we’ve tried to build in time to accommodate that.”

In an overview of comprehensive planning, John-Michael Cortez noted that comprehensive plans are nothing new to Austin and have changed to reflect the community’s changing values. Judge Edwin Waller laid out the city’s first street grid. The plan of 1929 was infamous for its use of East Avenue for the segregation of the races. And, in more recent years, the Austin Tomorrow Plan has provided some limited guidance to the process of city development.

Garner Stoll, assistant director in the Neighborhood Planning Department, was the city’s point person at last week’s meeting. Stoll, who has worked on comprehensive plans in a number of cities, said an effective comprehensive plan provides the opportunity to reach common ground regarding long-range direction and policies.

One of the prime points of the meeting was the importance of integrating the plan into the city’s actual decision-making and policy. That has been, to some extent, part of the failing of the Austin Tomorrow Plan. This time, the goal is to integrate implementation throughout the process to make sure this new plan is not one that sits on a shelf.

“It’s one thing to have a vision,” Cortez told the audience. “It’s another thing to have the policies in place to make that vision a reality.”

The planning process for the comprehensive plan will be broken down into three phases. The first phase will be a plan kick-off, in which the consultant team gathers data and information, defines the process, and establishes the roles and responsibilities for stakeholders.

The second phase will define the vision and plan framework. This phase will include a large public outreach, as well as the identification of trends and case studies.

The third phase will be the creation of the comprehensive plan. This plan will work its way through the full boards and commissions process before reaching Council.

The planning process starts moving this week. The consultant, Wallace Roberts & Todd, was picked last spring by Council. WRT’s initial scoping document will be evaluated by the Planning Commission’s comprehensive plan committee, then onto the full Planning Commission the following evening. Council is expected to approve the scope at either its July 23 or August 6 meeting. A contract with the consultants should be signed by the end of September.

A more detailed timeline is available at www.ci.austin.tx.us/compplan.

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