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City unveils design guidelines for Waller Creek Tunnel corridor

Monday, December 7, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

Urban Officer Jim Robertson unveiled design guidelines for the Waller Creek tunnel corridor last week, an effort to reinforce the identity of the new downtown corridor once tunnel excavation is complete in 2014.

A city/county tax-increment finance district is intended to pay for the 30-year bonds on the tunnel’s construction, which will also include improvements at the mouth of the creek at Lady Bird Lake and at Waterloo Park. Much of what will go on the banks will be subject to design guidelines and potentially financed by local developers.

The first major development, near the mouth of lake on the former Vignette site, will be the 21c Hotel, which developers said could provide up to a sixth of the anticipated incremental tax increases if the full project is built. Much of the initial design already dovetails with what is intended for the Waller Creek corridor: hooking into the proposed corridor, including proposed and hike-and-bike ways.

According to Robertson, design guidelines – for both the entire corridor and its six individual sub-districts – were intended to regulate the form and treatment of both private and public development along the creek bed. Other goals included creating a linear greenway and riparian corridor; enhancing public access to and along the corridor; and encouraging activities that promote revitalization.

Issues addressed, which have yet to make it into city code, include ground level treatment, building setbacks, building massing, Great Streets and the treatment of service areas and parking on the alleys of the property.

Most of the land along the corridor will retain its existing Central Business District (CBD) or Downtown Mixed-Use (DMU) zoning. Properties will be eligible for density bonuses. Existing overlays, such as the Capitol View and Waterfront Overlay corridors, still are honored along Waller Creek.

In some cases, parcels had CS zoning, intended for highway frontage. That was something Robertson wanted to see addressed.

“In some ways, CS is considered too permissive because it’s not conducive towards our waterfront vision, and in other cases it seems too restrictive because it unduly restricts the capacity of that parcel to support development,” Robertson told the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee.

The overview was a quick one that included the six sub-districts, which each had individual constraints. Some were constrained by the need for creek stabilization or view corridors, Robertson said. Other parcels along the corridor had opportunities, such as a connection to Rainey Street and the potential for parkland concessions or even access to the Convention Center.

The design guidelines will be referred to the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee implementation committee in January. As the proposals evolve and go to commissions before Council approval, more specifics will make their way back to the committee, Robertson said.

In other business before the committee, Mike Trimble explained how the city’s procurement process made it difficult to pursue a public design contest. Under law, the city could seek out qualified vendors or businesses to provide professional services, but asking for some type of competition once those vendors were picked would blur the required delineation in the procurement process.

If the final selection is not based on specific qualifications of a vendor, it would put the city at risk for liability, Trimble said.

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