Friday, August 26, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Guadalupe amendment moves to Council without endorsement

Sometimes it’s easier to say what something isn’t than to say what it is. For example, not many people know what an “activity corridor” is under the Imagine Austin plan. But, for the time being, a section of Guadalupe is most certainly not an activity corridor, at least not officially. And though the city would like to fix that error, things didn’t go that smoothly at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.

Commissioners were asked to recommend a handful of changes to Imagine Austin, a 30-year comprehensive plan for the city that was implemented in 2012. While most of the changes were endorsed without much discussion, the commission failed to recommend an amendment that would designate Guadalupe Street from 29th Street to 51st Street as an “activity corridor,” which is an area “where an increased density of people, jobs, businesses and services will be located.”

Its exclusion on the city’s Growth Concept Map, staff explained, was a mistake that needs to be fixed. Most commissioners seemed to agree that the designation makes sense for the road, but questions about the process through which that designation should be changed led to the amendment moving forward without a recommendation from the commission.

Planning commissioners voted 5-3-1 to recommend the change, which was not enough for the recommendation to pass. Commissioners Tom Nuckols, Patricia Seeger and Angela Pineyro De Hoyos voted in opposition, Commissioner Trinity White abstained, and Commissioner Karen McGraw was recused. Commissioners Michael Wilson and Fayez Kazi were absent for the vote.

Commissioner Chito Vela said he had gotten 30 to 40 letters about the matter, most of them in support of the amendments. He did note that when the change to Guadalupe Street was discussed in committee, there were people who opposed it, mainly over concerns that it would allow accessory dwelling units to be built.

“I see the whole public process as more of a red herring,” said Vela. “We know that people are going to be opposed to it, and people are going to support it. I’m not sure what benefit another round of public hearings is going to have or whose mind it’s going to change.

“It fits the definition of an Imagine Austin activity corridor. There’s no question about that. … In many ways, it’s the original Austin activity corridor,” he said. “I just don’t think there’s any legitimate debate. I think the debate is around the consequences that are peripheral to the designation.”

White said she felt torn about the change. On the one hand, she said, she completely agreed with Vela’s assessment of the road itself. On the other hand, she noted that her neighborhood had lengthy discussions about a proposed activity corridor at the time of Imagine Austin’s creation. “I just would hate to take the opportunity for that more in-depth public conversation away,” she said.

Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson said he had “a very different experience” and that when an activity corridor was established in his neighborhood, it happened “with very little notice.” He added that he “couldn’t imagine drawing a map of the corridors of Austin without Guadalupe on it.”

“It is the main street north of the Capitol,” said Thompson.

Speaking as a resident of the North University Neighborhood, Mary Ingle addressed the prospect of an “activity corridor” designation for Guadalupe. Ingle expressed concern that contact teams and neighborhood associations had not been notified about the potential change. She took the opportunity to advocate for a clear, consistent process for dealing with amendments to the comprehensive plan.

“I’m not for it; I’m not against it. I’m concerned about it, because I don’t know what it means,” said Ingle. “I know what an activity corridor means, but I don’t know what the application means. Will it unravel our neighborhood plans?”

Zilker Neighborhood resident David King backed up Ingle’s request and asked for more time to allow the change to go through a more thorough public process with the neighborhoods.

“I’m kind of new in this process of how you amend the comp plan. But I do agree that it should be a living document. It needs to change with the city. It needs to be updated,” said King.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

Imagine Austin: The city's comprehensive plan, adopted in June 2012.

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