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The Look, the Feel of East Riverside

City planners to establish design-based code for East Riverside redevelopment

By Katherine Gregor, Fri., May 21, 2010

To begin moving the East Riverside Corridor Master Plan from vision to reality, city planning staff held a May 17 public meeting to kick off development of a follow-up regulating plan. That process, expected to take a year, will result in a design-based (aka form-based) code that establishes the look and feel of all new development and streetscapes. New zoning along the corridor will ensure compatibility of neighboring structures, said city planner Erica Leak. A custom design-based code will provide more certainty for neighbors and better redevelopment, she indicated, than simply following standard citywide "compatibility standards."

Attendance was low – around 40 people, about two-thirds of them new to the process – despite outreach efforts by city staff. Some area residents reiterated a concern that improving the area, while desirable, would force low-income renters out of the neighborhood. Others urged the city to get wide-ranging input beyond the neighborhoods: "This East Riverside Corridor Plan is about Austin, not just East Riverside Drive," said Ron Thrower. Staff solicited ideas for how to ensure productive community input and engagement going forward. One approach floated: Create a small working group to dig into the details of the code, composed of one representative each from 10 stakeholder groups.  

Leak said afterward that her department, Planning and Development Review, is charged only with completing the code; P&DR has no staff dedicated to implementing its completed urban design plans. In fact, no city department or cross-departmental group is tasked with holistic plan implementation. Realizing the vision for East Riverside will require public-private partnerships; property owners must decide to redevelop individual parcels in accordance with the vision. Leak said the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office is looking at that side of the equation.

P&DR has put East Riverside Corridor funding requests into its Capital Improvements Program list for the city's next fiscal year, said Leak. However, she did not know what projects might be in other departments' budgets. Bonding could be another way to fund streetscape and transportation improvements, she said – such as the future rail transit on East Riverside assumed in the plan. P&DR requests for capital improvement funds in 2011 include improved crosswalks, consulting services for an economic and form-based analysis to ensure that the regulating plan will actually spur desired redevelopment, and a feasibility study for the transit plaza at East Riverside and Pleasant Valley, recommended as a first catalytic project in the master plan.

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