A long-awaited comprehensive growth plan for Austin will likely be approved by the city council, but not without some contention, according to The Austin Statesman:
The City Council could adopt the plan Thursday. The vote follows a cantankerous two-year drafting process freighted with the hopes, dreams, fears and mistrust of the citizens who were involved in its creation.
“This is not a plan to dictate what gets built,” Stoll said recently, tapping the 197-page plan, which is, in city-planner parlance, mostly aspirational. “This is a plan to have some consensus so that when opportunities come along, Austin can take advantage of them.”
Still, the likely unanimous council vote will probably not happen before a round of objections, potentially hours of them.
Some business interests say the plan’s negative portrayal of traditional suburban growth could stifle the market and create new sets of problems. Others, including neighborhood activists, suspect the nontraditional planning philosophy woven into Imagine Austin will be used to wipe out years of hard-won compromises on numerous building restrictions and spur intense building in quiet central-city environs.
“It’s an elitist plan,” neighborhood activist Jeff Jack said.
The core assumption of Imagine Austin is that 700,000 more people will move into the city in the next 30 years, creating civic pressures the city should address: Where will they work? Where will they live and play? How will they get around?
Most observers focus first and foremost on the question of where people will live. The plan’s key phrase is “invest in a compact, connected Austin.”
The plan calls for a relatively dense mix of homes and businesses along corridors serviced by robust bus and rail lines, including along Airport and North Lamar boulevards. For the sake of easing traffic congestion and encouraging more mingling, Imagine Austin would also encourage growth in the north and south parts of town to happen in clusters of housing and commerce, rather than separating residences from retail.
Some of the issues mentioned in the plan are so complex that few truly understand them, and they cause disagreement even among those who do.
Imagine Austin calls for more housing in the core of Austin that middle-class and poor families can afford. Advocates for this philosophy say more housing will cool the overheated demand that is pricing families out. Skeptics respond that cities built on those so-called New Urbanist tenets, which call for more densely populated, urban-feeling neighborhoods, tend to be the most expensive. They perceive a correlation between Austin’s new condo complexes and rising prices in the neighborhoods around them.
Steve Aleman, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, points to once-dilapidated Burnet Road as an example of the tensions at work in Imagine Austin. The plan calls for more aesthetically pleasing stretches of several-story buildings and blocks where people can get around by walking or taking a short ride.
But Aleman said that would probably make Burnet Road more expensive while stifling the eccentric bars, strange little shops and oddball vibe “that’s kind of a perfect example of keeping Austin weird.”
Imagine Austin has secured its fair share of endorsements, including one from a coalition of nearly all the area’s social-service agencies. But because Imagine Austin attempts to reconcile an array of competing interests, it has something for almost everyone to dislike.
Central Austin activists successfully pressured the city to reduce the population-density targets in their neighborhoods. This led some East Austin neighborhood leaders to view Imagine Austin as a continuation of social forces that have historically worked in the favor of the neighborhoods west of Interstate 35 to the detriment of East Austin, which for decades has been home to larger concentrations of the city’s black and Hispanic residents.
“Austin is to be a compact and connected city, yet the ... goals largely excuse the wealthiest and most stable West Austin neighborhood ... from accommodating increased density and connectivity,” Tracy Witte, a former president of the Swede Hill Neighborhood Association, recently wrote to the council.
To view the plan, go to www.imagineaustin.net.