The Austin Chronicle

Page Two

By Nick Barbaro, June 12, 1998, Columns

The more things change... Almost a year ago (July 4, 1997), I wrote a "Page Two" about Cencor Realty's proposed Triangle Square development on state-owned land, in which, among other things, I asked, "...and really, now, isn't a supermarket about the most brain-dead use of that space you can imagine? Not only is it about the least neighborhood-friendly, most surface-parking- and traffic-intense usage possible, it's also geographically redundant in an area of town that's already saturated with grocers...."

A lot has happened since then, including good faith efforts from many, many people from many directions to try to improve Cencor's plan, but all efforts inevitably run up against the same brick wall: You can't fit a 60,000+ square foot supermarket and its acres of surface parking - plus a 10+ screen multiplex cinema, and its deadline-driven traffic - onto this site and have anything left that could reasonably be called mixed-use urban development. Common sense tells us this; civic planners tell us this; heck, even the state's own master plan for the property (seemingly discarded in the rush to contract) tells us this.

Yet throughout, the inclusion of those two anchor tenants has been the single inviolable, non-negotiable element from Cencor's side of the table. Perhaps this is due to the egregious bidding process which forces bidders to pre-lease 40% of the project, but if that's the only consideration, then surely some accommodation would have happened before now.

After all, the message from neighborhoods, the city - and again, even the state itself - to potential developers (such as Cencor or whomever else steps up next) has been clear and consistent all along. In the original packet that went out to prospective bidders for the development, the "Triangle Mixed-Use Master Plan Site Development Principles," dated 10/95, set forth 12 requirements which a "successful bidder" would have to fulfill. Cencor misses on at least seven:

*Intensify density of development on-site, recognizing its urban location.

*Provide development areas for a public/private mixed use project....

*A master plan approach should be taken... Pedestrian circulation between all buildings and uses on site and between the private development and the five-acre state office tract will be encouraged through site design.

*Avoid large uninterrupted expanses of parking lots and, as much as possible, screen or buffer parking areas from adjacent streets through the placement of buildings and the use of walls, berms, and landscaping.

*Limit surface parking to minimum programmatic needs for public use, emphasizing structure parking as a way to limit impervious cover and preserve larger green/landscaped areas.

*Establish a "node" (focal point), at the north end of the site at the convergence of Lamar Blvd. and Guadalupe St. Site and architectural elements can include: plazas, fountains, terraces, permanent water features/detention areas, landscaping, etc. Other "people-oriented" places within the proposed development would reinforce this concept.

*Limit number of curb cuts by establishing inner vehicular circulation and direct east-west access from Lamar Blvd. to Guadalupe St.

Clearly, this project does not meet the required criteria. The city did well to recognize that fact and ask for a more reasonable effort. But once again, they're being met by a brick wall regarding the single biggest, most obvious sticking point.

Now, MHMR and Cencor are going to the state review board on Monday, June 15, to ask that the state override its own prerequisites and the city's unanimous vote against the requested zoning. One has to wonder why on earth the state would even consider doing so. Faced with proposed anchor tenants so clearly incompatible with the development criteria, why would they fight so hard to keep Randalls, in particular, in the project?

In that same July 4 issue of a year ago, Mayor Kirk Watson articulated the city's bottom line: "It's important that one of the first tests of our urban infill approach be a development that doesn't just steal the language and still use conventional development methods. It's not New Urbanism just because it's not in the suburbs. We need to ensure a human scale, that it doesn't change the face of the neighborhoods forever but rather complements them. We need to set a clear example of what's important."

The city carried through on their part. The state should now do the same, and uphold the city's decision. If MHMR, Garry Mauro, and the General Land Office can't get Cencor to conform their plan to the stated guidelines, it's clearly time to cut Cencor loose, and give the project to someone who can.

The articles cited above, and other articles related to this issue, are available in their entirety on the Chronicle website. Go to the following addresses:

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