The Real Story Is Neighborhood Planning

RECEIVED Mon., June 28, 2004

Dear Editor,
   What happened to your reporting on the South Lamar Walgreens? Mr. Drenner's offer to rescue Taco X-Press from its enviable lease is not more important than the underlying zoning issues. The tug-of-war here is between innovative, urban, high-density, mixed-use, transit-oriented development and obsolete, suburban, low-density, stand-alone, car-only development. The city council is being asked to take an opportunity for a model infill project, adjacent to existing transit service, and turn it into a suburban parking lot with a drive-thru window. The neighborhood associations have countered with a plea for enlightened urban planning.
   In your June 25 "Austin Stories" [News], the Walgreens item is followed by an item on Schlotzsky's. If you saw Council Member McCracken's slide show on commercial design standards, you'll remember that the Schlotzsky's location at Toomey and South Lamar was lauded as the sort of project we should encourage to replace our old suburban boxes surrounded by pavement. I used to shop at that old supermarket on Toomey, and when I look at the Walgreens proposal for Bluebonnet and South Lamar, I can't see any difference between the drugstore's basic dimensions and that old suburban box. Worse still, the latest rezoning request is for footprint zoning, which means that when the prescription-drug bubble bursts and Walgreens abruptly disappears, another business will have a much harder time building outside that obsolete box the way Schlotzsky's did on Toomey.
   The real story is that neighborhood planning for South Lamar begins in about six months. If council denies the current zoning request, Taco X-Press, the land owner, the neighborhood, and the city's tax base will all have plenty of time to negotiate a much better future than Mr. Drenner is offering.
Lorraine Atherton
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