Tuesday, August 24, 2021 by Amy Smith

Proposed code amendments could be the path to more trails

Urban trails provide multiple benefits, but getting those trails built isn’t always a walk in the park.

With so many residents relying on Austin’s network of trails for recreation and multi-use transportation, city officials are hoping to respond to the demand more quickly by creating a more efficient administrative process for design and permitting.

Enter two proposed amendments to the Land Development Code. One would allow cut-and-fill of up to 8 feet of a public trail, provided certain conditions are met, and the cut/fill is not within 100 feet of a classified waterway. The current cut/fill limit is 4 feet in suburban watersheds, although administrative variances are typically granted, said Katie Wettick, urban trails program manager in the Public Works Department.

A second amendment would clarify existing language that a trail within the critical water quality zone is limited to 12 feet, plus 1-foot compacted subgrade shoulders on each side.

“We’re not trying to actually change what gets constructed,” Wettick told the Environmental Commission last week. “We still want to be sure that the trails are constructed in a way that protects the environment and follows environmental regulations. It’s just the question of, can we make the processes to get there easier?” The commission gave both amendments its unanimous approval.

The proposed changes grew out of a 2020 City Council resolution that called for the formation of a stakeholder group of relevant departments and community organizations to review permitting solutions to urban trails. Following a memo from the group with recommendations early this year, another Council resolution in June directed staffers to craft new language to resolve the bureaucratic back-and-forth involved in obtaining trail variances.

Photo by Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

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