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Travis County Commissioners approve Growth Guidance Guide

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

After voicing their concerns Tuesday afternoon, members of the Travis County Commissioners Court approved by a 3-1 vote the next step for a land, water and transportation plan that’s been two years in the making.

The County’s Transportation and Natural Resources Department developed the Growth Guidance Plan. The plan is meant to guide the decisions and policies that determine how the county conserves its land and resources and builds for future population growth, mainly in unincorporated areas of the county.

The next step is to release the plan for public review and comments, before bringing the draft back to the court for approval. But Commissioners worried Tuesday that parts of the plan were unclear or misleading, especially surrounding the transportation and development suggestions, and asked TNR to make some changes before bringing the draft to the public.

According to TNR, the fast-paced growth of Travis County’s metro areas is ever demanding on public services, and continues to drive residential growth farther and farther out into unincorporated land, 50 percent of which is currently undeveloped.

The conservation side of the plan looks to include farmland, endangered species habitats, springs, Post Oak savanna areas and 100-year floodplains. The development side would designate potential activity centers – or approved areas where mixed-use developments can be built – and transportation corridors to lead from other metro areas into those new activity areas.

Charlie Watts with TNR said the idea is to create higher-density areas in parts of the unincorporated county land that could support low-impact transit options like bicycling and walking, and lower the dependency on cars for transportation to needed services.

“We believe this type of development encourages less dependency on the automobile therefore reducing traffic congestion,” Watts said. The overarching idea, Watt said, is to improve the quality of life for those moving into the unincorporated areas of the county.

However, Commissioner Margaret Gómez said if the plan is to lessen the number of cars on the road, there has to be some form of public transit available, which Capital Metro isn’t currently providing.

“If we don’t want people in cars, we want them in buses,” Gómez said, “but they can’t get on the bus because it doesn’t go out there.”

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty took issue with the plan’s idea that developing these areas would allow for less congestion, and that this plan would direct people where to live and how to get around.

“The direction that I think we’re trying to push people in… is not that palatable,” Daugherty said, adding he was worried about possible “densification” of areas.

Commissioner Bruce Todd said he liked the report, and did think the plan should include more public transportation.

“(Daugherty) is absolutely right. Not everybody wants to live in that kind of environment. This isn’t about everybody. This is about a significant number of people who may want to have a different way of living,” Todd said.

The Court directed TNR to gather public input from each county precinct, clarify language surrounding transportation and development goals and to work with Capital Metro on feasible transportation options in the proposed development areas. After the public comment period, the court will have a work session to review the plan and place it on the voting agenda in December.

Daugherty voted against the measure and Gómez abstained from the vote.

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