Austin City Council adopts south shore planning vision, affordable housing initiative

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City Council approved the South Central Waterfront vision framework plan, a comprehensive roadmap for how to maximize the redevelopment of the south shore of Lady Bird Lake.

The plan, more than 100 pages in length, includes proposals such as adding 20 acres of open space; building new trails, bridges and bike lanes and encouraging mixed-used development with shops and restaurants at street level.

Before approving the plan, council members voted to increase the South Central Waterfront affordable housing goal from 10 to 20 percent to a flat 20 percent.

Following the adoption of the vision framework plan for the South Central Waterfront, the next step will be to explore funding options and incentives for developers and property owners as well as look into how city departments and agencies will help make the vision a reality, city planner Alan Holt said.

Mobility bond

City Council discussed, but did not vote on, two agenda items related to calling a mobility bond in 2016 and/or 2018.

Three different proposals are on the table: a $720 million plan proposed by Mayor Steve Adler that focuses on major corridors the city has already conducted studies on; a similar $720 million plan proposed by Council Members Gregorio “Greg” Casar and Leslie Pool that emphasizes local roads; and a $300 million proposal recommended by the council Mobility Committee that Council Member Ann Kitchen called “a starting point for discussion.”

Mayor Steve Adler stressed the need to “go big” when considering bond funding options for transportation needs.

“I think we are at an absolutely critical time in the city with respect to traffic and mobility, and I think our citizens are telling us that over and over and over again. … It is a crisis, and I think our citizens expect us to act and act in a meaningful and substantial way,” he said. “I believe only if we go big do we see transformative change.”

Some council members expressed concern that a large bond in 2016 could affect voters’ willingness to support a potential 2018 bond for other city needs and pointed out that the least expensive 2016 bond under consideration exceeds the largest mobility bond passed by council since 1998.

“The other part of ‘go big’ is ‘go home,'” District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair said. “There are a lot of people who have already said to me … ‘I will vote against a $720 million bond package because it’s not responsible; it eats up all the city’s bond capacity.’ … I don’t want to be put in that position as a voter, and I worry that it’s going to be a strategic mistake to try to go for $720 [million].”

Adler said if the council does not reach consensus on a bond package by the end of June, he does not think the city should move forward in the process to call a bond election.

Sidewalk Master Plan

City Council passed an updated version of the Sidewalk Master Plan, which seeks to encourage walking as a transportation mode, improve pedestrian safety and the ability to walk to and from transit stops. This aligns the plan with the goals set forward by the city’s comprehensive plan Imagine Austin, according to city documents.

The plan also seeks to help control air pollution and traffic congestion, improve quality of life, provide mechanisms to help prioritize city sidewalk repair and construction, and better conform to standards outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Following an amendment District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen proposed to the plan, city staff will return to council at a later date with recommendations for addressing concerns that senior residents may be unable to physically comply with or afford some of the vegetation management requirements outlined in the plan.

District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool said the sidewalk plan closely ties in with council discussions about a potential mobility bond and other transportation issues.

“We’ve been having a public conversation about building out our active transportation infrastructure, and this plan really helps us move that ball forward on that goal,” Pool said. “I think the plan sets a really good foundation, and I look forward to working on it as we move forward.”

Austin’s Fair Housing Initiative

City Council approved a package of policy directives to increase and improve affordable housing with several minor alterations.

District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria and District 4 Council Member Gregorio “Greg” Casar proposed the resolution—which included recommendations to strengthen affordable housing requirements in homestead preservation districts, provide tools for low-income homeowners faced with high property taxes and explore ways to commit more funding to affordable housing initiatives.

“I’ve heard for so long that our affordability crisis is getting worse and worse; community advocates have been ringing the alarm bells for years,” Casar said in a press conference the morning of June 16. “I’ve talked to far too many constituents who have lost their homes … who are choosing between paying the rent, paying for dinner and buying Christmas presents, and that’s unacceptable; we shouldn’t have that problem in a city with our level of prosperity.”

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Emilie covers community news in Central Austin and is the beat reporter for Austin City Council. She started with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 after working as a journalist in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
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