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Speakers at ZAP hearing find flaws in Austin Comprehensive Plan

Thursday, March 8, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Following a briefing Tuesday night, the Zoning and Platting Commission took public comment on the Imagine Austin plan, and it looks like Austin is gearing up for a fight.


The Austin Comprehensive Plan, also known as “Imagine Austin,” is on the road to City Council, with two more public hearings at the Planning Commission scheduled in March. The plan is intended to govern the growth of Austin, envisioning plans for future zoning, transportation, and open spaces, for example, and covering about 600 square miles of the city and its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).


The plan touches on a number of Austin’s favorite subjects, and though no vote took place at the Zoning and Platting Commission, Austinites took to the podium to speak on a variety of topics, including: neighborhood preservation, SH-45SW, watershed protection, Municipal Utility Districts, heritage trees, and traffic.


Environmentalist Mary Arnold expressed dismay with what she saw as a fatal flaw in the plan.


“There are some MUDs coming through for approval, and the growth concept map shows these little town centers out east, one of which, at least is east of (SH) 130. So what the Imagine Austin plan is saying is the town center will be compact, even though it’s not near the city limits. And it will be connected, because we’re going to allow the developer to build the water line out there. And we’re going to own it, and manage it, and in 25 years, we’re going to annex ’em. Maybe,” said Arnold.


“I am just terribly disturbed by the appearance of this old model, and the fact that Imagine Austin makes absolutely no, or at least very little, reference to how Austin has grown over the past 30 years, and the impact that Municipal Utility Districts have had on the way that we have been able to grow,” said Arnold.


Austin Sierra Club Vice Chair Roy Waley and Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch both referenced the appearance and disappearance of SH-45 in the plan, asking the commission to take it out once and for all


“I’m going to ask you to drive a stake through its heart tonight, and kill the evil once and for all. Make it clear that we do not want State Highway 45 going across one of the last pristine recharge areas of the aquifer,” said Waley. “The plan talks about reducing sprawl. This incentivizes sprawl. This is the engine that facilitates sprawl.”


Bunch also signed up to speak against the plan, saying that there were “huge holes in it.”


“There’s good things in this plan, but we’re struggling to find out if it’s really salvageable to be a good functional plan for the community, or if we need to start over… The charter calls for a water plan in the plan, not a plan to have a water plan,” said Bunch, who also noted that the document should include a “transportation plan, not just a plan to have a transportation plan.”


Brian Glass, chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee of the Allandale Neighborhood Association told the commission that his committee would be recommending that the ANA not support the comprehensive plan at this time.


“The Imagine Austin Plan promotes rapid and uncontrolled growth on activity corridors such as Burnet Road. Our community values do not include turning Burnet Road into an activity corridor, since the current definition is open-ended and allows development opportunities on corridors wherever they may occur,” said Glass. “(Imagine Austin) puts priority on rapid growth and density with no attention to infrastructure burden and cost to existing residents.”


Others showed up to ask that the process be slowed to allow time for more outreach, and to allow for more input. A representative from the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods read a letter asking the planners to include provisions for more density in their neighborhood.


The Planning Commission will host the next public hearing on the comprehensive plan March 13, and will hold at least one other hearing before making their final recommendation to City Council.

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