Waterfront Planning: Professionals Needed

Yet activist Mary Arnold gets the first nod

Waterfront Planning: Professionals Needed
Photo by John Anderson

It's troubling that the first and only nominee to the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board at yesterday's council meeting – Mary Arnold, nominated by Council Member Laura Morrison – is a longtime activist entrenched in the old neighborhood-vs.-developer politics, rather than a professional in one of the nine fields of expertise council had specified for the board.

Nothing personal against the esteemed Ms. Arnold, but back in May, the revised Waterfront Overlay ordinance established that WPAB members should be "drawn from the fields of urban design, environmental protection, architecture, landscape architecture, historic preservation, shoreline ecology, neighborhood conservation, civic art, and real property development." That wisely defined a professional board, on the model of the Design Commission.

The make-up of this board is critical, for it’s tasked with "promoting excellence in the design, development, and protection of the City's waterfront." Read that triple-barreled charge again: 1) design, 2) development, and 3) protection. Council has a rare opportunity to appoint a board of unbiased professionals, who each are adept at supporting and advancing all three of its goals, simultaneously.

The full council must vote to appoint the nominees of individual council members. If members pack the Board with positional advocates, we can expect the same old Austin fights and resulting stasis, after two decades of seeing little or no positive redevelopment or new public lakefront amenities. But if instead council assembles a truly unbiased professional board, Austin might just realize a 25-year dream – creating a truly great urban waterfront.

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