Friday, June 14, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

City leverages development review for transit goals

The Austin Transportation Department says years of efforts to institutionalize Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan visions of a compact and connected city are finally panning out.

Since signing a memorandum of understanding in December involving ATD, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and both the Development Services and Planning and Zoning departments, the city is now refining its process for aligning land use and transportation planning during the site approval phase.

City Council passed a resolution in June 2017 directing staff to draft recommendations for such a system, but Annick Beaudet, assistant director at ATD, told the Urban Transportation Commission on Tuesday that it took a while to set it up.

Beaudet said it took the department six months to come up with a response to the resolution and about another year to put the plan in place. Some of the details are still being worked out, but Beaudet said the process is pretty well defined at this point.

Examples of transit improvements include new or relocated bus stops and MetroRail stations, new bus stop amenities, transit queue jumps, and dedicated or priority bus lanes.

The MOU triggers a joint review process between ATD and Capital Metro for zoning requests that fall within a half-mile of a transit corridor.

Beaudet said the department has also revamped its review process as a result of the resolution by including a representative from Capital Metro in its “vision team,” a small group that provides an additional check to development applications before sending them back to other city departments.

Since January, ATD has also been responsible for writing the transportation section of zoning cases, which now includes consulting with the goals and policies of the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan.

Using the ASMP, Beaudet said, the department is making an effort to tell a story in each zoning review about how the case will impact the city’s transportation in light of its stated mobility goals.

“We’re feeling pretty good about what it looks like to implement the ASMP through the development process,” she said.

ATD also created a development review division this year to examine development cases through the specific priorities of each department program and division. Division project managers are assigned to one of three regions – north, central or south – to focus on the challenges of a specific area.

Caitlin D’Alton, a senior planner at Capital Metro, said the transit review process has only been in place since early this year but that previous and ongoing development cases such as the Broadmoor development at the Domain and the Austin FC stadium at McKalla Place offer examples of potential transit victories in the form of relocated and new MetroRail stations secured prior to site approval.

Other cases may represent smaller investments, D’Alton said, but are still a significant part of making transit integrated, accommodated and more useful.

Chris Yanez of Development Services said the city is cognizant of not dragging out zoning and development applications with the new review process but that there is no data yet to indicate whether or not that’s happening.

Beaudet added that commitment to deadlines will help the department self-regulate and stay mindful of the expected timelines.

Photo by Paul Kimo McGregor made available through a Creative Commons license.

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