Naked City

Transit ordinance moves (quickly) through pipeline

City staff have focused on seven sites – six of them 
Cap Metro rail stations – to apply the new ordinance.
City staff have focused on seven sites – six of them Cap Metro rail stations – to apply the new ordinance.

Now that commuter rail has been authorized in Austin by the citizenry, city planners want to make the most of the New Urbanism – or Smart Growth, or whatever it's called these days – benefits to be gained around the train stops that will be scattered along the line stretching from Leander to Downtown. The mechanism to make those benefits happen will be the city's proposed Transit Oriented Development ordinance, which is currently wending its way through the citizen input process.

The city is currently considering seven sites as TOD areas (one of which is a park-and-ride transit center not located on the approved Capital Metro rail line). Boiled down to the simplest explanation, the ordinance will define station areas as either "neighborhood centers," "town centers," "regional centers," or Downtown. In those areas, mixed-use buildings would rise anywhere from six to 10 stories depending on the classification; the ordinance will also prohibit certain land uses deemed unfriendly to pedestrians and urban density. The ordinance is expected to come before the City Council on Jan. 27.

If that timeline seems awfully rushed to you, you're not alone. City staff have been developing TOD-ordinance elements for years; the City Council voted to initiate the current planning process in July; and an advisory group of stakeholders has been convened since September. Public interest in the TOD effort has naturally picked up some steam since the Capital Metro rail referendum won approval in November. Neighborhood meetings have already been held in affected areas, but a few business and property owners have complained that they heard about the effort only a couple of weeks ago and haven't had time to fully investigate how it will impact them.

At Monday night's Urban Transportation Commission meeting, commission members likewise complained that they didn't have enough information to make an educated recommendation to the council. "Everything I know about this, I've learned in the last 35 minutes," said Commissioner Greg Sapire. The UTC finally voted to recommend that the council move forward with the ordinance but not approve the draft on all three readings on Jan. 27, so the public can have more time for input.

By the time you read this, the TOD ordinance will have also gone before the Zoning and Platting Commission. Look for it at the Design Commission on Jan. 3 and the Planning Commission on Jan. 11. For more info and to get involved, see www.ci.austin.tx.us/development/transit_development.htm .

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

transit oriented development, TOD ordinance, commuter rail, station areas, mixed use, new urbanism, Urban Transportation Commission, Greg Sapire

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