East Riverside

Master plan at Planning Commission tonight

East Riverside

Catching a briefing on the East Riverside Corridor Master Plan at Planning Commission tonight, or planner Tony Nelessen presenting it at council Feb. 11, at 10:30 am. But to get value-capture cash, the plan needs synching up with the Strategic Mobility Plan. More below.

City council should be posted for action to adopt the ERCMP on Feb. 25 (Adoption will kick off Phase II work on a detailed “regulating plan” to rezone the whole corridor, with a version of form-based code.)

Nelessen's presentation should refresh everyone’s memory of why this was ever a council policy initiative; it’s been three years since the original council resolution, two since council selected a consultant.

As noted in a July 3 Chronicle article, "The draft master plan hinges on the premise that rail transit will run down Riverside Drive, between I-35 and Ben White, and on out to the airport … Leveraging the transformational powers of transit-oriented development, the corridor plan shows East Riverside losing its car focus (e.g., a blur of parking lots and strip shopping centers) in favor of a people focus (attractive places to walk, recreate, eat, shop, and live)."

Also going to council on Feb. 25 is a briefing on progress on the Strategic Mobility Plan for the whole city. Its second phase of work includes a transit-oriented corridor analysis – and chief among those is East Riverside, the only corridor in the SMP publicly discussed as prime for rail transit. Those two worthy planning efforts need to be connected, to leverage the value capture financing tools around transit-oriented development.

The hard-working staff at the Planning and Development Review Department could begin Phase II of ERCMP in March. That work, expected to take a year, includes determining land use and zoning details, such as the allowable height and density around transit stops. But transit absolutely requires density (i.e. lots of people taking the train) to work and to merit the considerable investment.

So it makes little sense to invest in a rail line down East Riverside unless council also supports sufficient new density there, through the redevelopment ERCMP is supposed to stimulate. (National data reviewed by Capital Metro planners indicates East Riverside will need more density, and thus ridership, to be economically feasible.) Urban planning staff continue to team with staff in the Transportation Department, which brings a wholly different expertise in transit to its corridor work.

Land use and transportation are generally spoken in one urban planning breath these days, as we increasingly understand their dual impact on sustainability. Yet at the city of Austin, the two areas aren’t even under the same Assistant City Manager, and our sophistication on financing public-private transit-oriented development is lacking. City Council now has a great opportunity to move an integrated approach forward.

If council or planning commission members connect the dots, they may ask city management for a briefing on how to best create an East Riverside plan that combines place-making economic development with transit-oriented development.

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