The Austin Chronicle

A Planner's Paradise

By Kimberly Reeves, September 8, 2006, News

As much as Austin likes to talk about planning – witness last week's hearings on design standards and the McMansion ordinance – planning has never quite extended to where the rubber meets the road: putting utilities and roads in places where development is desired and not in places where people decide development should be discouraged.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is proposing just that, using Envision Central Texas' vision as a template for road planning: a kind of marriage of land use and transportation planning that is rarely seen in a "property rights happy" state such as Texas. (ECT was the plan drawn up in 2004 by civic leaders over the five-county Austin region. CAMPO is the official governmental body charged with making such plans reality.) Over the next two weeks, CAMPO will be taking a "regional growth concept" to workshops across the region, gleaning feedback.

Planner Stevie Greathouse, who led similar efforts in Portland, Ore., will facilitate the workshops on the regional growth concept. The idea is to designate nodes, or activity centers, in those areas where more intense development makes more sense, Greathouse said. Once jurisdictions sign off on the regional growth plan, state transportation dollars would flow to those areas that emerge as areas of desired development.

Directing patterns of growth could have real benefits for the region. Greathouse shows two maps of the region by 2030, each with the same population. The only difference is that one directs development to activity nodes, and the other does not. The result is a map where fewer roads are necessary – and more roads are funded – in the future.

"I think the point has been made, and it's well taken, that we could spend $23 billion over the next 30 years and not improve the congestion in this region," CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick said. "We'd like to see governments take the lead to use zoning amendments and economic development incentives to determine where future growth, and future roads, should go. We want this to be a collaborative process to decide how we're spending public dollars to support the growth patterns of the future."

What makes the concept of regional growth planning interesting – and not just a plan to be placed on the shelf to gather dust – is how it intersects with so many other land use planning efforts in the region – from Capital Metro's station plans for its commuter rail lines to the SOS Alliance's fight to keep AMD off the Edwards Aquifer to the new conservation development ordinance in southwest Travis Co. to the region's State Highway 130 task force. In each case, the effort has been to plan and focus development to one area and, in some cases, away from another area.

This type of hybrid concept is common in places like Seattle or Portland, Ore. But, as Greathouse points out, those cities do it through regulation. In Central Texas, CAMPO will have to rely on the goodwill of local jurisdictions to make a regional plan work. That could be a roadblock if there's opposition to the concept.

CAMPO has placed a survey on its Web site,, but it's likely that survey would make a lot more sense after attending a regional growth concept workshop. Four workshops are scheduled:

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 5:30-7:30pm, at the Allen B. Baca Center, 301 W. Bagdad, in Round Rock;

Thursday, Sept. 14, 5:30-7:30pm, at the San Marcos Activities Center, 501 E. Hopkins;

Monday, Sept. 18, 6-8pm, at UT's Thompson Conference Center, 26th and Red River;

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 5:30-7:30pm, at Aqua Water Supply, 415 Old Austin Hwy., in Bastrop.

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