Villas Are Not 'Bad' Infill

RECEIVED Fri., Dec. 19, 2003

Dear Editor,
   I was thrilled to read Mike Clark-Madison's relatively good take on the absolute necessity for many neighborhoods to take a more responsible stand on density in and near their own homes ["Austin@Large," News, Dec. 19]. However, I found it odd that he would put the Villas in with superduplexes as examples of "bad" infill.
   While spending the last seven years living (and owning homes) in two central Austin neighborhoods, one fairly responsible [Old West Austin Neighborhood Association] and one not, I've also been serving on the Urban Transportation Commission, a role which requires that one view issues such as development outside the prism of what is best for an individual neighborhood in the extremely short-term.
   Oddly enough, every single person I've spoken with outside the NUNA [North University Neighborhood Association] neighborhood (where I now live) views the Villas as an unquestionably good thing – since it is providing student housing within walking distance of UT with a fairly good streetscape (it's not Post on Third, but it's still among the better complexes). In fact, many wonder why the project is so small, not why it's so large, which is presumably Clark-Madison's problem with it.
   I would argue that at this point in history, anyone who opposes the Villas has a great deal of suspect credibility to overcome outside the echo-chamber of a few neighborhood associations who apparently think their mandate is to replicate Circle C closer to downtown.
Mike Dahmus
   [Mike Clark-Madison responds: Actually, Mike Dahmus presumes wrong; I do think the Villas project is too small, or at least the part of it where people actually live. Even smaller – indeed, nonexistent – is the street-level office and retail space (other than the existing Blockbuster) that could be created along (and even within) the Villas' massive street frontages. What's too large is the space devoted to cars – both the enormous parking garage and the surface parking of the Blockbuster. I can't see any way around the fact that, despite some aesthetic trappings, the Villas is a big suburban apartment complex – and, worse yet, one designed to be both overpriced and homogenous – dropped into what might be the very most viable location in the entire city for a truly urban – mixed-use, pedestrian- and transit-dependent – project. If we can't push the urban envelope on the Drag, we can't push it anywhere, and we should just give up. To say – as four council members did – that this is the best we can do, or that density alone makes a project "urban," is a failure of vision and leadership. My point was that, as Dahmus suggests, knee-jerk opposition to density per se makes it easy for the city to view such failures as acts of bravery.]
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