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Planning Commission OKs permit for Megabus to use Whitis terminal

Thursday, May 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

After a successful trip to the Planning Commission Tuesday, it looks like Megabus will be making its scheduled arrivals and departures in Austin.


The Planning Commission voted 6-2 to grant the Conditional Use Permit that will allow Megabus NE, LLC. to use the parking lot at 2002 Whitis Avenue as a transportation terminal. Commissioners Jean Stevens and Nuria Zaragosa voted in opposition, and Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez was absent.


It was the second time the commission considered granting the permit for Megabus, a low-cost, intercity transit company. The first time, it opted to postpone the case so that the company could address concerns raised by neighbors who complained about aimless, urinating passengers, noise and idling buses, among other things. From the Whitis location, riders can catch buses to San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. (See Austin Monitor, April 11)


“I think Megabus is great. I think we need this in Austin,” said Commissioner Danette Chimenti.


“I know that we were criticized for postponing it, but hopefully…the site is a little bit better for our efforts,” said Chimenti. “It’s not ideal, but it certainly looks like it is going to be better than it is now for the folks riding the bus and hopefully also, the folks living next to this property.”


Megabus representatives presented a plan for the lot that included covered bleachers and standing area, as well as a rough sketch of three potted trees that would provide a buffer between the lot and nearby condominiums.


In approving the permit, commissioners also stipulated that the site include informational signs and asked the company to provide low-level pedestrian lighting for waiting areas.


Though neighbors had asked for on-site bathrooms, Norton Rose Fulbright attorney Jerry Converse argued that bus facilities and a high percentage of female customers made the restrooms at nearby Dobie Mall a fine alternative.


Lee Smith, who opposed the permit, told the commission that he and his niece Nicolette Greco had met with Converse since the last meeting and arrived at some compromises.


“I have to admit, if you have to have someone to have a squabble with, I recommend him. He was very polite and amenable,” said Smith, who explained that they were unable to reach a compromise on the idea of building a restroom. Smith also expressed concern that buses were idling much longer than allowed under code, despite agreeing to limit that idling.


Zaragosa said that she had gone to the site in advance of the case. She was left unimpressed with a rough sketch of the improvements proposed by Megabus.


“I’m kind of saddened by this drawing,” said Zaragosa, who was later assured that the “dilapidated crumbled mess” of the current sidewalk would be addressed in the site plan.


Other commissioners were more satisfied with the compromise.


“After our first hearing on this, there was some criticism of our postponement by some transit advocates in the community. I think, as supporters of increased use of mass transit, it is our responsibility to take a critical use at how it’s being done, what are the best ways to do it, what are ways to get more people riding buses and taking any kind of alternative transportation,” said Commissioner Stephen Oliver. “As supporters, we have that right to find ways to do it better.”

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