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Council members lock down South Austin gate

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Planning Commission and the city’s legal department will address a section of city code today that could give commissioners discretion over connectivity in preliminary plans. Last week, City Council exercised its own discretion and passed a resolution that will install a traffic-blocking gate at Aldwyche Drive.

Both discussions were borne out of the Lightsey 2 development, which is still awaiting construction. At the time the preliminary plan was approved, neighborhood opponents pointed to Section 25-4-151 as a way for Planning Commissioners to gate or block the road. That did not work, but asking Council members to intervene directly and create a resolution that would close the new road to vehicular traffic did.

The unorthodox resolution passed 7-0-4, with Council Members Ora Houston, Pio Renteria, Greg Casar and Delia Garza abstaining.

“My guiding principle on this is letting the neighborhood decide,” said Mayor Steve Adler, who further explained he was comforted that the action gave no vested right to the neighborhood or the developer.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who sponsored the resolution, said the issue was not a development issue, but a traffic issue. Kitchen said her resolution was not meant to set a precedent and that it was a solution to a unique situation.

Renteria pulled the proposition for further discussion and expressed his concerns.

“We’re going right against what we have been working so hard for — to have compact and have a connection,” said Renteria, who added that Council was sending a message that some parts of the city would have to abide by that rule and not others. He indicated that he believed any changes made should apply citywide.

“I could also see the reverse, where people want to build a development right in the middle of your neighborhood and say, ‘We want to make sure that no one can get in,’” said Renteria. “You’re saying if we don’t want that traffic to come through our neighborhood, we can say, ‘Hey, we want to pass a resolution.’”

Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar responded, saying, “It’s an item from Council, not from staff.”

Spillar said the crash gate was an appropriate way to limit vehicular traffic.

“Imagine Austin calls for compact and connected,” said Spillar. “The definition of that connectivity between neighborhoods is being interpreted here as looking to just provide pedestrian and bicycle access.”

Spillar said that emergency vehicles could use bolt cutters to get through the gate, and Austin Resource Recovery trucks would have the combination to the lock that will hold the gate closed.

Garza, who is a former firefighter, expressed concern about delays in emergency response times that could occur from stopping to cut open a chained gate. Spillar said that he believed the city would dispatch emergency vehicles to the correct side of the gate “99 percent of the time.”

Representatives of both the Barton Oaks and South Lamar Neighborhood Associations praised the resolution and thanked Kitchen for finding a solution to their problem.

“What we are talking about is a traffic-control device in an area where residents are concerned about safety, where the infrastructure does not exist for sidewalks to handle cut-through traffic, and there’s no road now,” said Kitchen. “So we don’t have neighbors that have an expectation of a use of the road.

“The road is going to be built. This is simply a traffic-control device to handle the concerns of neighbors while keeping connectivity,” Kitchen continued, pointing out that the gate will still allow bicyclists, pedestrians and emergency vehicles to pass through.

Zilker resident David King said the issue was relevant to all neighborhoods that have similar problems. He praised the resolution as a different, proactive way of looking at concerns.

“I would like to encourage you to take this same approach when we are looking at development projects,” said King.

As stipulated by the approved resolution, the gate will remain in place until Council votes to have it removed.


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