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New section of Guadalupe named activity corridor, despite neighborhood concerns

Monday, October 10, 2016 by Cate Malek

City Council designated a new section of Guadalupe Street as an activity corridor despite some neighborhood concerns, making its higher concentration of businesses, people and services official.

The change came as part of a package of amendments to the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan, the city’s detailed 30-year plan that was adopted in 2012. The majority of the amendments to the plan had strong community support, especially an amendment to support age-friendly policies that would address challenges faced by Austin’s seniors.

But the amendment to designate the segment of Guadalupe north of the University of Texas as an activity corridor sparked debate, largely from neighborhood representatives who said the process for amending the Imagine Austin plan was inconsistent. Council voted to pass the amendments 9-0-1, with Council Member Don Zimmerman abstaining and Council Member Ellen Troxclair on leave.

“When you don’t have consistency in process, then that clouds up the issue, and then you don’t have transparent government,” Mary Ingle, the president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, told the Austin Monitor. She said the process for amending city plans like Imagine Austin needs to be clarified and that citizens need to be notified of changes. She also said that the activity corridor is not clearly defined, so it’s hard to know how it will affect surrounding neighborhoods.

The intention for activity corridors is to create higher density areas where people can easily connect with transportation, businesses and services. Much of Guadalupe Street had already been designated as an activity corridor, but one section from 29th Street to 51st Street had been left out. According to city staff members, this was a mistake they were seeking to correct.

But other officials weren’t as confident about the designation. The Planning Commission failed to recommend the amendment because of concerns over the process for changing the Imagine Austin plan. And Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo tried to exclude the activity corridor designation from the rest of the Imagine Austin amendments, although her suggestion didn’t get enough votes to pass.

According to those who resisted the change, the worst-case scenario for the activity corridor designation is that increased density in the area would negatively affect surrounding neighborhoods, in effect overriding the neighborhood plans that are meant to protect these communities. They worried that, as more people and businesses fill the area, it could create problems with space and parking, among other issues.

“If you’re familiar with the area north of campus, you know that parking challenges are real,” Tovo said. “At the point where we have a real huge percentage of people actually getting on public transit instead of driving, then these parking reductions might be more palatable to people who live in the neighborhoods. But they are real challenges right now for people in my district.”

Despite reservations, the amendment will go forward. Because Guadalupe Street is already a busy corridor that connects key destinations in Austin, some Council members said the designation seemed like a clear choice.

“It seems to me that if we have an activity corridor in Central Austin, Guadalupe seems to be certainly one of them,” said Council Member Greg Casar.

Rendering courtesy of the city of Austin

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