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Council corrects mistake that threatened to repeal Waller Creek Master Plan

Friday, May 27, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council scrambled Thursday to amend a memo of understanding passed just a month ago after being confronted by the fact that it would have effectively repealed the Waller Creek Master Plan entirely.


The newly drafted MOU suspends the portion of Waller Creek Master Plan that details an explicit design for the area, but leaves the rest of the plan intact.


“This is a clean-up item which would cause us to undo the action we, I believe, inadvertently did a few weeks ago which promised to delete that master plan from the comprehensive plan of the city,” Council Member Bill Spelman explained.


The Waller Creek Master Plan deals with the above ground portion of the Waller Creek Tunnel project, which will install a subterranean flood diversion channel from Waterloo Park to Lady Bird Lake, as a flood control measure. The idea behind the Master Plan is to turn Waller Creek into a development similar to the San Antonio River Walk.


Council passed the erroneous MOU with the Waller Creek Conservancy on April 28.  It read “Prior to submission of invitations to design firms pursuant to Section 4.1(b)(ii), the City shall repeal Ordinance No. 20100624-151 and delete Section 5-28 of the Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan.”


Soon after passing the April MOU, Council members began hearing concern from the community.


The Waller Creek Conservancy is a non-profit that was formed in 2010. According to the group’s website, they “worked with City of Austin officials, and in April 2011, struck a unique, public-private partnership to create and implement a new master plan for land that encompasses and surrounds Waller Creek. The Conservancy will remain in close contact with the City to enact policies that support the implementation of that plan while simultaneously launching an aggressive fundraising plan to finance the rehabilitation of the creek.”


“One of the reasons I believe it passed on consent without discussion, is because some of us had not read the fine print – myself among them. When I read the fine print a couple of days later I realized, somewhat to my horror, that we’d done something that we had no intention of doing,” said Spelman.


City Council amended the Comprehensive Plan by adopting the Waller Creek Master Plan in June of 2010, after almost three years of work.


“The master plan has something basic in it, which when we adopted in June 2010, we definitely wanted to keep, and that is the thoughts and feelings of hundreds of Austin citizens who worked with the consultant, worked with the citizen advisory council over a three year period to figure out, not exactly what the design needs to look like, but what we want that creek to do, how we want it to behave, what we want the look and feel of it to be,” said Spelman.


Included in the Waller Creek Master Plan were detailed design ideas, which will remain an option, with the city reserving the right to instead choose the winner of the design competition.


“The design itself that came out of the master plan is less important. It’s one good approach to designing those creek amenities, but it’s not the only one,” said Spelman. “Probably there’s a good chance we could do better with a design competition, if we can engage the efforts of designers from all over the world, or at least the United States.”


The Waller Creek Design Competition starts in mid-September and organizers anticipate having a winning choice by July 2012.


City Council voted 7-0 to approve the amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding.

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