City of Austin reimagines Airport Blvd. corridor, invites community to open house

The area surrounding Airport Boulevard has changed immensely over the years since the road was built. The City of Austin has embarked on a program that is taking input from area residents, business owners and other stakeholders—such as Austin Community College—to imagine a new, ambitious vision for the redevelopment of the corridor up to 30 years from now.

Highland Neighborhood Association President Damon Howze said he has seen the change first-hand.

"We had a chemical plant in the middle of our neighborhood, so it's been a real positive change," Howze said.

To further facilitate the growth expected in the area, the city is planning to institute a new way of shaping the future of the corridor—from where Airport Boulevard meets Lamar Boulevard to the road's intersection with I-35 and the Mueller Development.

"What you will see at the conclusion of this initiative will be an actual ordinance for form-based code," City Urban Designer Jorge Rousselin said.

With the Capital Metro MetroRail Red Line's two stations in the corridor—Crestview Station and the Highland Station—and Capital Metro's bus stops along the way, a planned Austin Community College campus and mixed-use development at Highland Mall, Travis County's Airport Boulevard campus, the Mueller development, and what Rousselin calls "funky" businesses such as Tamale House No. 3 and Jalapeo Joe's along the way, he hopes the plan will be able to facilitate growth and redevelopment without sacrificing the character of the corridor.

"Through these visioning efforts we heard quite a bit, and it is our desire to keep these iconic businesses treasure troves of the neighborhood because they are important to the character of the area," he said.

That is one of the reasons the city plans to used form-based code. Form-based code is more apt to keep the character of a neighborhood than traditional zoning and land development code, Rousselin said, because it looks at the specific area and determines what is appropriate for that neighborhood.

"An SF 3 single-family detached dwelling here in Ridgetop is treated the same as a SF 3 single-family detached dwelling in Circle C, for example. Those are two different areas that are unique and special in their own ways."

Quality Seafood owner and Airport Boulevard Task Force Member Carol Huntsberger said the plan would be a positive thing for her business, which is located on Airport Boulevard near the Travis County campus.

"Airport Boulevard is very unique. We have incredible neighborhood associations that are so strong. They want to support this, and I think that makes it really easy for businesses when you have a neighborhood that wants to utilize your area and not leave the area to go to other places," Huntsberger said.

Thomas Gohring, who owns Kick Butt Coffee and Master Gohring's Tai Chi & Kung Fu on Airport Boulevard, played devil's advocate. One thing that he said troubled him was the fact that according to the vision drawings, the buildings that house both of his businesses would be redeveloped. That was not his only issue.

"The competing businesses coming in concerns me, because when The Triangle went in, it hurt all the businesses around it," Gohring said.

The City of Austin invites interested community members to an Upper Airport Boulevard Initiative Community Open House on May 9 at Workforce Solutions, 6505 Airport Blvd., Ste. 101-A, from 6-8 p.m. Attendees will be able to see a draft of the community vision and the form-based framework. The plan and code is expected to be presented to the City Council in June.

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