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Travis commissioners ask to be involved in Imagine Austin process

Thursday, December 16, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Travis County commissioners on Tuesday voted to formally ask the City of Austin to include the county as a collaborative partner in the city’s comprehensive plan. Their action comes as part of a resolution that also offers the city a host of other suggestions about how to proceed.

The document does not give Austin officials an answer about which of the plan’s four growth scenarios the county prefers. However, Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt gave the executive manager of Travis’ Transportation and Natural Resources division, Joe Gieselman, an opportunity to tell the court that he favors some combination of the so-dubbed “crescent” and “centers” scenarios.

Court members also heard from three appointees to the citizen’s task force charged with reviewing Austin’s plan. They were each supportive of the county’s approach.

“I’m very thankful and grateful that the county has elected not to pick one of the four plans,” said advisory task force Member Mark Lind. “I think that would have played into the fears of the public — that the plan is sort of being steered by city … and county authorities. … I think it’s much more appropriate for the county to take the position … where you are asking for coordination and collaboration with the city.”

According to Gieselman, in addition to calling for cooperation between the city and the county, the resolution highlights the county’s feeling that the SH130 corridor is important. “Travis County has invested a good amount of capital dollars both in the county as well as state road system, and the parks system.”

 

He added that the region is also “currently a desired development corridor for the city.”

 

“We’re asking the city to acknowledge some of those things in how they choose their future scenario, whatever that might be,” Gieselman said. “(This is) a resolution to pursue coordinated policy development between the city and the county.” 

Austin’s comprehensive plan, called Imagine Austin, would offer the city development guidance as it continues to grow. Its four scenarios include one that imagines the region continuing to expand with little change; one that sees growth concentrated in a crescent-shaped sweep of eastern Travis County; one that would focus development around regional, mixed-use transportation centers; and one that would concentrate construction back toward Austin’s city core.

The court began its discussions of the plan last week. That debate included concerns expressed by Eckhardt and Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols that neither the city nor the county could do much to force development away from certain corners of their jurisdictions.

Lind offered a different take. “I was made very much aware at our last discussions about the limitations that the county has,” he said. “It did seem to me in the ensuing weeks that the county does have the power of the purse — that the county can incentivize the kind of projects that might be considered preferential with things like tax breaks.”

 

He added that the county could also “increase fees on the kinds of projects that you wish to discourage.”

Gieselman added, “We’ve been working with them on other things, so this doesn’t come as any big shock to them.”

 

The county is in the process of preparing a comprehensive plan of its own. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is also working on a plan that will offer its take on regional growth out to 2035.

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