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Planning Commission approves East Riverside Corridor master plans

Thursday, February 11, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The East Riverside Corridor finally moved through the Planning Commission Tuesday night, with commissioners adding a couple of additional provisions to protect current single-family homes and stress strong compatibility standards.


First, commissioners designated East Riverside Drive as a core transit corridor, which will ramp up current design standards.


“This will be an interim step before new regulations take effect,” Planner Erica Leak said. “It helps ensure that new development meets higher and better urban design guidelines. There actually is quite a bit of new development all along Riverside, and some of it doesn’t have high urban design qualities.”


And, second, the Planning Commission approved a master plan for East Riverside as a multi-modal transit corridor – an eventual rail or streetcar route out to Austin Bergstrom International Airport – while avoiding the specifics on building height and density along the corridor.


Planners Leak and Molly Scarborough presented the East Riverside Corridor plan, which already has spent a number of weeks in the Planning Commission’s neighborhood plan committee. Those meetings were focused primarily on the tension in the affordable housing option between low-income residents who feared the demolition of low-end multi-family construction and homeowners who considered themselves overburdened with apartments.


In her presentation, Leak outline a number of broad goals for the corridor plan: better pedestrian amenities; the addition of pocket and neighborhood parks; inclusion of transit-oriented development around four hubs, or nodes, on the corridor; and the goal of preserving the range of housing types within the corridor.


In order to move the plan, city staff separated the corridor plan from its regulating plan, which would provide more specifics on height and compatibility. And although neighbors protested the decision, Chair David Sullivan noted that this was not the first time the choice has been made to separate the master plan and regulating plan: a similar choice was made in Burnet/Gateway neighborhood plan.


Leak and Scarbrough estimated the completion of the regulating plan would take another year of negotiations between the city and local residents.


Design professionals like Girard Kinney and cyclist Tommy Eden had much to like in the corridor plan. Members of the East Riverside/Oltorf Combined Neighborhood Planning team were leery of the split. Neighborhood leader Gayle Goff said the ideas of the corridor plan were not new to the neighborhood, but she considered the proposal flawed.


“They talk about a scheme or program or method,” Goff said. “For the accomplishment of these things, there must be a method. The master plan must state land use mix and density goals. They have no goals, no method for calculating how these proposed changes will achieve those goals.”


The city may have at least one good reason for holding off on the regulating plan. Sullivan noted John Michael Cortez of Capital Metro had contacted him. Capital Metro will be calculating the types of density necessary to support rapid bus or rail lines. That could provide more guidelines for future density goals.


Commissioners circled around the compromises they wanted to see. Commissioner Danette Chimenti carved out a number of single-family duplexes and fourplexes that had been labeled as “urban residential” on the corridor map. Chimenti’s comments were added to the final recommendation as a friendly amendment.


Commissioner Dave Anderson stressed the desire to maintain strong compatibility standards, once the density and height specifics were determined. For instance, in order to get a 60-foot tall building next to a single-family neighborhood there would have to be a 300-foot buffer between the building and the single-family neighborhood. Planners noted that the density bonus would only apply within a quarter mile of a rail stop.


An amendment to adjust the standards for a particular property on the corridor represented by agent Ron Thrower was thrown out after it was pointed out the original zoning on the property in the future land use map was zoned single family.


Commissioners passed the two motions on a vote of 8-0. Commissioner Jay Reddy was absent.

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