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Council gives go ahead to develop North Central Corridor Plan

Thursday, June 19, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

The Austin City Council voted unanimously last week to let city staff begin planning updates to portions of Burnet Road and Anderson Lane in a venture unlike any the city has never embarked on before.


Under the North Central Austin Corridor Plan, the city’s Planning Commission would first research the area surrounding Burnet Road from 45th Street to US-183 and Anderson Lane from MoPac East to Capital Metro’s railroad tracks near Woodrow Avenue. Next, the Planning Commission would create goals, policy, improvement recommendations for transportation and other infrastructure, housing strategies and land plans to support the rapidly transforming area.


The high population growth in Austin is affecting all areas of the city, and staff wants to coax the infrastructure into something more beneficial to the surrounding neighborhoods. But there’s been some pushback from neighborhoods that want to keep the character and the “weirdness” of Austin intact.


A City Council resolution allowing the planning was originally set for the May 22Council meeting but due to the neighborhood pushback and some confusion about the intent of the plans, Council Member Laura Morrison pulled it for a later date. Instead, Morrison called for a June 5 Q&A between the seven affected neighborhoods and city staff. Morrison told the Monitor that she wanted the city to have more solid input from the neighborhoods and a clearer idea of what the resolution and planning process would entail.


The original resolution mandated that the Council would direct the Planning Commission to consider neighborhood plans for Rosedale, Allandale and North Shoal Creek, which do not yet have neighborhood plans. The planning commission would also consider revised plans for the Brentwood, Highland, Crestview and Wooten neighborhoods. While some neighborhoods welcomed an update to their plans or the creation of a plan, others, like Allandale, were adamantly opposed to any kind of neighborhood plan.


Allandale resident Donna Beth McCormick has lived in the area off and on since 1962. She said the neighborhood already has trouble with the growth along the Burnet Road corridor and that being locked in to a neighborhood plan is not the best solution; flexibility in growth is needed.


“We want to keep Allandale as a family-friendly neighborhood,” McCormick said. “(The city planning staff) wants to make Burnet Road into another downtown. It’s something constant all the time. Fighting all these developers, fighting all these people that want to come in.”


At both the neighborhood Q&A and the Council meeting, citizens were concerned that small businesses would be pushed out.


Small business owner Allan McMurtry was the only commercial representative at the June 5 planning meeting and also testified at the June 12 Council meeting.


“We’re starting the study with no information. This concerns me,” McMurtry said. “Burnet Road may not be the most attractive street in Austin, but it is one of the weirdest streets. And I think this is a real benefit. I mean we’re talking about something that does represent what Austin is.”


Greg Guernsey, director of the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, said at the Council meeting that the plans came forward in the first place because Imagine Austin identified the areas as fast-growing activity corridors in Austin. Imagine Austin is a 30-year quality of life and infrastructure plan for the city based on ideas and contributions from the Austin community.


Morrison amended the resolution to exclude the neighborhood plans and solely approve the corridor planning. Morrison said she wanted to strip out the neighborhood plans until staff does a more comprehensive survey.


Morrison also noted that there has also been some concern over beginning the planning process before CodeNext, the project to revise land development and zoning code is finished. She said that the corridor plan would serve as a pilot for CodeNext, to see if CodeNext will have the appropriate tools to continue with its land use planning.


Guernsey said at the meeting while he appreciates the council’s hesitancy to move forward with the plans, even in neighborhoods that did not have plans in South Austin like Zilker and Barton Hills, growth and development has occurred along the road in a haphazard way.


“With this plan we can keep things the neighborhood wants to see,” he said. “but doing nothing serves the purpose of doing nothing to help (neighborhoods).”


Council Member Chris Riley was concerned some neighborhoods, like North Shoal Creek, which are already in the midst of creating a plan, would want to continue, despite Morrison pulling neighborhood planning consideration from the resolution. Morrison accepted it as friendly that neighborhoods could continue planning with the city if they so choose.

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