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County seeks public input on development plan

Thursday, September 18, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Counties in Texas have few powers to regulate development in their jurisdictions, but that is not stopping Travis County from trying to make the best use of what tools they have.

County officials are seeking public input on a Land, Water and Transportation Plan — developed over the past two years by the Transportation and Natural Resources Department (TNR) — which will attempt to bring some order to the normally chaotic growth in the county’s unincorporated areas.

The plan, approved by a divided Travis County Commissioners Court in July, has been available for public review and will now face its critics. A firm hired by the county will present to plan in a number of public meetings in different parts of the county over the next two weeks to gain public feedback. One such meeting is scheduled tonight in Manor.

The plan is a set of long-term goals and policies that will provide a framework for how the county will manage land and water resources, and develop transportation and park systems. According to TNR officials, the rapid growth of Travis County is putting increased demand on public services and continues to drive residential growth farther out into unincorporated areas, 50 percent of which are currently undeveloped.

Of the plan’s main points, transportation got the most attention when it was presented to Commissioners. They were divided over the goal of encouraging growth in activity centers — small clusters of mixed-use development with easy access to roads, mass transit and parks — along corridors in the eastern part of the county, such as State Highway 130 and RM 620. The plan would also steer development away from more environmentally sensitive areas, mostly in the western parts of the county.

The plan was embraced by Commissioners Bruce Todd and Ron Davis and County Judge Sam Biscoe in July. They were encouraged by the plan’s goal of higher density population centers that would support bicycle and pedestrian traffic while getting more cars off the road.

However, two Commissioners, Gerald Daugherty and Margaret Gómez, had reservations about putting rural people in dense developments — though for very different reasons.

Daugherty, a longtime foe of mass transit, said herding people into tight, mixed-use developments runs counter to the fact that many people who move out into the county do so the live in the wide-open spaces.

“The direction that I think we’re trying to push people in … is not that palatable,” Daugherty said. “I’m all for you living downtown if that’s what you want to do, but that’s not what most people want to do. And so I think that there’s something to be said for encouraging some areas where we know that the growth is easier for people to deal with.”

Gómez, however, did not like the plan because it didn’t provide for enough mass transit in the high-density areas. She noted that Capital Metro had no plans to extend bus routes out these areas.

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

Commissioners approved the draft of the Land, Water and Transportation Plan on a 3-1-1 vote in July, with Todd, Davis and Biscoe in favor, Daugherty opposed and Gomez abstaining. After the public input process is factored into the plan, Commissioners will likely schedule a final version for adoption in December.

Meetings to gather public input will run through Sept. 29. Each meeting will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with a presentation at 6 p.m. on the following dates:

• Thursday – Manor New Tech High School Cafeteria, 10323 U.S. 290, Manor;

• Sept. 22 – McCallum High School Cafeteria, 5600 Sunshine Dr., Austin;

• Sept. 24 – Vandegrift High School Cafeteria, 9500 McNeil Dr., Austin;

• Sept. 25 – Bee Cave City Council Chambers, 4000 Galleria Parkway, Bee Cave; and

• Sept. 29 – Travis County Administration Building, 1st Floor, 700 Lavaca Street, Austin.

In addition to the 5:30 session, there will also be a Sept. 29 meeting from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Travis County Administration Building.

The draft version of the plan can be viewed on the Travis County website.

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