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Staff updates neighborhood on East Riverside Corridor plan

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Interested citizens gathered last Thursday to hear the latest recommendations for the East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan, which aims to transform the corridor into a walkable, diverse, and vibrant area over the next 20 years.


City Council adopted the ERC Master Plan in February 2010, following more than a year and a half of planning and public input. Creation of a regulating plan is currently underway, with the project expected to come before Council sometime this summer.


“A regulating plan is a new way of dealing with design standards and zoning. It actually combines zoning and design standards under one set of regulations,” explained Alan Holt, senior planner with the Planning and Development Review Department. “As I understand it, this is the first regulating plan that is being done corridor-wide in Austin, but they’ve been doing quarter-wide and citywide regulating plans other places.”


The East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan centers on four “hubs,” which will be dense, mixed-use urban spaces. Planners have identified Lakeshore Center, Pleasant Valley Transit Plaza, Montopolis Gateway, and East Riverside Gateway as these hubs.


Planners based the perimeters of the hubs on the concept of the “five minute walk,” with the center of each oval being a proposed urban rail station.


“This is the urban rail system that is being planned to go to the airport. Even in pre-planning they have envisioned these four hot spots, which is one of the key reasons why this corridor is being studied. This whole study goes hand in hand with the notion of light rail becoming an actuality,” said Holt. “If it doesn’t then a lot of these projections start to collapse.”


“These 20-year scenarios, basically the market studies, have shown that none of this development happens, regardless of the bonus, until light rail is a certainty,” said Holt. “And that is going to be a game changer.”


Current recommendations for ERC compatibility height limits suggest a limit of 60-foot tall buildings allowed 100 feet from triggering property lines. Developer bonuses on properties 200 feet from the property line could allow buildings up to 120 feet tall. After 300 feet, building heights would be determined solely by development bonus height limits.


Molly Scarborough, planner principal with the Planning and Development Review Department, explained that developer bonuses will encourage construction, in part by loosening some standard regulations. “A lot of our zoning rules have density caps embedded within them, along with floor-to-area ratio caps; there are all of these hidden things that kind of restrict how much you can develop on a site, so this would allow buildings to be taller, but it would also remove some of those caps.”


The regulating plan will require a dedicated amount of affordable housing in exchange for granted development bonuses.


“In Texas, those things aren’t allowed by state law, so there are very, very few tools, this being perhaps the only tool that’s legal, where you can actually somehow regulate and require affordable housing,” said Holt.


The Planning and Development Review Department is currently considering expanding the compatibility height limits and design standards proposed for the hubs to the whole ERC. They are also asking for feedback about whether schools and religious assemblies located outside of the hubs should trigger compatibility standards. Based on feedback, they will present a draft regulating plan to the public sometime this spring before heading to City Council.

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