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Travis County follows comprehensive planning trend

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Although Travis County Commissioners did not take any formal action on Tuesday, it appears the county will be moving forward on its own comprehensive plan.


Joe Gieselman, the county’s director of transportation and natural resources, brought a preliminary outline of the plan before the court, and Judge Sam Biscoe and most of the court seemed enthusiastic about the idea. The county plan would be developed alongside Austin’s “Imagine Austin” initiative and CAMPO’s 2035 endeavor.


“This could not be more timely for us,” Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber said.


“Some have said, ‘Why should a county engage in this type of comprehensive planning? Because we have so little in the toolbox,’” Judge Biscoe told the court. “My response to that would be: We have a certain degree of predictability. While we can’t control what happens – we are in a reactive mode much of the time – we can predict with a certain degree of accuracy what will happen,” citing examples like solid waste. Gieselman and the court discussed the various components of such a plan, which would cover the unincorporated parts of the county. It was suggested that the plan have a scope of 20 years and focus on what Gieselman said were “fairly traditional county elements: transportation, storm-water management, drainage issues, water quality, parks and open spaces, natural resources, and environmental quality.”


Another issue the commissioners discussed was the level and structure of citizen input. Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt floated the idea of an “e-cabinet,” and Gieselman discussed the possibility of an electronic participation system similar to the one created by Manor’s recently publicized partnership with Stanford University and Manor Labs. The creation of a subcommittee of two court members seemed to be a foregone conclusion Tuesday, though no appointments were made.


Gieselman told the court that TNR had several planners on staff who could spearhead the effort in-house and who would take around a year to complete the project. The number of full-time employees commissioners argued would be necessary to complete the task fluctuated between six and eight. “I have a vacant program manager that I would like to reclassify to be the leader of that team,” Gieselman said. “I actually may also pull out of my freeze category one other planner position that in the past has served as a communications director for planning efforts.” He recommended budgeting $250,000 for outside consultants to provide occasional assistance. It would be the first time Travis County has attempted such a plan.

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