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Council hires Chicago-based consultant to develop Colony Park

Monday, July 8, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

A Northeast Austin neighborhood development project more than 10 years in the making is well underway now that City Council has awarded the contract to a nationally-recognized consultant with expertise in sustainable master planning.

On Thursday, City Council unanimously authorized a partnership agreement with Chicago-based Farr Associates to devise the master plan for a mixed-income, mixed-use development in Colony Park in far Northeast Austin. The consultant will collaborate with Austin-based Urban Design Group, whose portfolio includes The consultant will collaborate with Austin-based Urban Design Group, whose portfolio includes the Downtown Austin Plan, Waller Creek District Master Plan and East 11th and 12th street redevelopment.

 

In 2001, the city purchased more than 250 acres of undeveloped land in far northeast Austin near the Travis County Expo Center, north of Loyola Lane between Johnny Morris Road and Decker Lane. Last year, Mayor Lee Leffingwell helped officially announce the Colony Park Sustainable Community Pilot Project which is being funded through a $3 million community challenge HUD grant. The project process somewhat resembles the Mueller development and should incorporate new technologies in energy efficiency, water conservation and zero-waste.

The surrounding area – which the city admits is underserved – is predominately and historically made up of African Americans and Latinos, some of who on Thursday urged Council to replace the Austin-based, staff-recommended McCann Adams Studio with Farr Associates.

McCann Adams’ work includes the Mueller Airport redevelopment, the Seaholm District master plan, and the Second Street Retail District, but neighbors say the studio is not a fit for this project.

Barbara Scott, president of the Colony Park Neighborhood Association, said Farr Associates did a much better job than McCann Adams of connecting with the community and the problems and issues germane to it.

If McMann is awarded this contract, the end result will be rooftops with no infrastructure,” Scott said. “The opportunity to correct the disenfranchisement of a community for the last 30 years will be missed which will ultimately result in failure to meet the goals of the HUD grant.”

Margarita Decierdo, member of the Colony Park Neighborhood Association, broke down for Council some alarming statistics about the area.

“Our community is riddled with high crime,” she said. “In 2011, 41 percent of youth ages 18-24 did not complete high school. Fifty-six percent of youth ages 0-24, income below the poverty level, are Latino. Public transportation is almost non-existent, there are no grocery stores within walking distance, squalor can be seen by the dumping of trash, weeds growing taller and taller making it prone for a fire disaster, and the list goes on.”

Decierdo said when she asked Farr what its interest was in helping the Colony Park community, “they responded ‘planning with the whole person in mind.’ ”

A third speaker and neighbor, Helen Miller, put it poignantly and succinctly. She said, “We are losing so many children just in our community. These kids need to see something new and bright. I’m asking today, please, just award Farr Associates the contract for Colony Park.”

After recognizing McCann Adams for its “hard work,” Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole moved to approve the item as posted with the exception of authorizing Farr instead of McCann Adams for the project. The motion passed unanimously.

“It wasn’t too long ago this project felt like it was completely going off the rails,” said Council Member Laura Morrison. “I appreciate staff and the neighborhood being willing to stick with it and really come together to get us on a very productive path.”

The city reports that in the next few months, the community will be asked to give input about what it wants for the development. The grant period ends Dec. 31, 2014.

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