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Planning Commission puts off discussion of eastside urban renewal

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Eastside neighborhoods are looking for their chance to weigh in, again, on the tri-party agreement and the urban renewal process along East 12th Street.

 

The Planning Commission’s Neighborhood Plan subcommittee scheduled a discussion of urban renewal issues on its agenda last night. That discussion, however, was delayed until the subcommittee’s October meeting.

 

Member Dave Sullivan, who chairs the larger commission and spoke to city officials regarding the agenda item, noted Neighborhood Housing and Community Development had discouraged a full discussion of the topic before the tri-party agreement expires.

 

The tri-party agreement – a pact among the city, the Urban Renewal Agency, and the Austin Revitalization Authority – is set to expire on Oct. 1. It’s widely expected that ARA will bow out of the agreement as primary developer of the city-owned land on East 11th and 12th streets.

 

Tracy Witte, president of the Swede Hill Neighborhood Association, however, was on hand to urge the Planning Commission to address the issues along East 12th Street. In particular, Swede Hill wants to revisit the interface of new development with surrounding neighborhoods when it comes to compatibility requirements.

 

The current talk for East 12th Street is some kind of medical office corridor, Witte said. That hardly matches the mixed-use development originally proposed for the street, the kind of development that neighborhoods want to welcome.

 

“A medical corridor is not what we gave up our compatibility standards for,” Witte told the subcommittee, which is chaired by Danette Chimenti. “Now we’re trying to figure out different ways to roll back the compatibility if they’re not going to deliver mixed use. We haven’t gotten a lot of help.”

 

Austin is in the midst of creating a comprehensive plan, and neighborhoods across the city are discussing how they interface with urban development. Swede Hill and surrounding neighborhoods are locked into a plan that may not materialize.

 

“We’re an island of immunity in the middle of our community,” Witte said. “If we’re not the ones to take the stewardship of that corridor seriously, then who?”

 

Sullivan noted that the Oct. 1 deadline could mean a significant reconfiguration of the tri-party agreement, possibly one without the Austin Revitalization Authority. Witte noted that it was difficult to imagine Council would take any public action against ARA during its scheduled meeting on Sept. 30, a meeting that will occur at the Carver Center in the heart of East Austin.

 

Witte suggested the urban renewal overlay might be more hindrance than help. Sullivan, who has taken the most interest in the issue, suggested the subcommittee invite a couple of members from the development community to the subcommittee meeting in October to discuss what needs to happen to get development from the planning phase to fruition.

 

“The city could pass all the rules in the world, but it takes somebody to come in with the money to build it,” Sullivan said. “Maybe we need to understand what it takes from the economic viewpoint, get their take on whether an urban renewal area is an incentive or a disincentive.”


Swede Hill has considered a number of options to protect its area, Witte told the subcommittee, which focuses on neighborhood plans. If the existing Neighborhood Conservation Combining District can’t be adjusted, then Swede Hill might go ahead and create an NCCD of its own to abut the existing district.

 

Members of the Urban Renewal Board are interested in a meeting with the Planning Commission to discuss problems, perspectives, and potentially the URB’s future. The Planning Commission, Sullivan said, should put topics like the Central East Austin Neighborhoods, the Urban Renewal Board, and the tri-party agreement on the table. The Planning Commission would be well served to be conversant in such subject matter, Sullivan told the subcommittee.

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