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Council negates plan for fewer roads, for now

Monday, December 14, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A bid to throttle traffic in a District 7 development was wildly unsuccessful at City Council’s Thursday meeting. Council Member Leslie Pool led the charge to limit access into a neighborhood as a condition of a tract’s rezoning, but her plan backfired.

Council Member Pio Renteria disagreed with the idea of making an exception to the code and limiting connectivity to the neighborhood in this case, despite the goal of “compact and connected” development that is in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

“It’s really disappointing to me that we’re doing these kinds of things,” said Renteria. “If we really want to put gates for safety purposes, we should put them all up and down the frontage road of (I-35) – that’s in my district, District 3,” said Renteria. “We can’t even get stop signs. We would love crash gates – we would put them all over and keep all the people out of my neighborhood, too.”

Pool argued that the infrastructure was not ready to connect roads safely, and she suggested that the roads be blocked by bollards until the infrastructure was ready to support connections. She said that she preferred bollards to gates, though city staff generally installs crash gates that are locked with a padlock that can be cut by emergency workers if necessary.

“Please eliminate the word ‘gate’ from the conversation, because that’s not what we are doing. We are not ‘gating’ anything off. We are simply prohibiting cars at this time,” said Pool, who stressed that there would still be pedestrian and bicycle access.

Council Member Delia Garza was skeptical of assurances from Pool that the barred roads would be open once they were brought up to speed. She noted, “I think the number is, right now, that we need $800 million in sidewalks. We’re asking – when we have these perfect roads, we’ll open this gate. We all know the reality. The funding is not there to approve every single road the way it’s needed to be improved.”

Pool opened the discussion about changing the zoning for 2500 South Heatherwilde Blvd. from Development Reserve (DR) to a mix of Single Family, Multifamily and Community Commercial zoning. She proposed limiting connectivity further and shuttering all four roads to the north, instead of leaving one open to vehicular traffic, as was approved by Council on first reading. However, Pool’s suggestion proved unpopular and opened a conversation that could lead to more connectivity into the neighborhood instead.

At its second reading, Council voted 8-2 to allow connections to all four roads to the north, with only Pool and Council Member Ann Kitchen voting in opposition. The Planning and Zoning Department’s Jerry Rusthoven explained that city code requires that the existing streets be connected, though that requirement can be preempted by Council.

Pool also suggested the case could be postponed indefinitely, but Rusthoven said that he had never seen an indefinite postponement initiated by Council, and he explained it could prove logistically difficult. In order to approve the rezoning, Council will have to vote one more time on the case.

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