New developments breathe life into North Burnet area

Developers have filed plans with the City of Austin to build two projects on Burnet Road, and a multiuse trail that will link Metric Boulevard to The Domain is on track to open in June. These mark the first movements toward realization of the North Burnet/Gateway 2035 Master Plan since it was adopted by Austin City Council five years ago.

TopGolf Inc., an international chain of large golf entertainment complexes, announced plans in April to construct a three-story driving range and restaurant that would open by the end of the year at 11301 Burnet Road. Adjacent to that property, Austin-based developer Endeavor Real Estate Group is planning to build The Addison on Burnet, an apartment complex consisting of 392 units in seven three-story buildings.

Christine Freundl, senior planner in Austin's Planning and Development Review Department, said the vision for the area is one in which people would not need a car to travel but could walk or ride a bicycle. The master-planned area would have buildings with a mix of uses, such as retail or other businesses on the ground floor with office or apartments above, giving the area a more urban feel. On land that has been rezoned from light industrial to commercial and residential mixed-use, warehouse buildings could be renovated to retail, office or restaurant space, similar to the former Spaghetti Warehouse on Sixth Street, Freundl said.

More than just aiding a series of commercial and residential developments, however, the master plan—covering 2,300 acres bordered by Metric Boulevard, US 183, Braker Lane, MoPac and Walnut Creek—aims to change the industrial aesthetic of the area.

"You could put a 5-foot [-wide] sidewalk on the top of Kramer, and it wouldn't necessarily make it someplace someone wants to walk, but by increasing the width of the sidewalk and by providing shade through street trees and a visual break, it makes it a more enjoyable experience for pedestrians and encourages people to walk," she said.

Neighborhood designation

The city adopted the master plan in May 2007, and as a result, city staff created in 2009 a regulating plan, which is its own zoning code and dictates the appearance of streets, sidewalks and the facades of buildings as well as building setbacks and height requirements. The North Burnet/Gateway is its own zoning designation and is not a neighborhood plan, which provides suggestions for design rather than requirements.

The core of the North Burnet/Gateway area will be similar to a transit-oriented development, which is a separate zoning designation that calls for high-density residential or office development typically over retail on the ground floor. TODs are walkable communities located near a transit station, such as the Midtown Commons near the Crestview MetroRail station. This core will be where Braker, Burnet Road and Kramer Lane meet and includes the Kramer Lane MetroRail station.

The master plan, encompassing The Domain, Gateway Shopping Center and The University of Texas' J.J. Pickle Research Campus, indicates a breakdown of what uses could occupy the area in the next 25 years:

  • 40,000 residential units,
  • 12 million to 13 million square feet of office and commercial space,
  • 4 million to 5 million square feet of retail,
  • 5 million to 6 million square feet of industrial warehouse space, and
  • 3,000 to 4,000 hotel rooms.

Freundl said most of the uses in the area are still industrial but that it is realistic to achieve those targets in 30 years.

Redeveloping the gateway

Even though it has been more than three years since the city adopted the regulating plan, Freundl said it takes about six months for a single, small development to go through the site plan application and review process. For larger developments, it could take more than a year, she said.

"Realistically, to build a building and develop a site takes a while," Freundl said. "To see development now, people would have had to put site plans in right after the regulating plan was adopted."

TopGolf and the Addison are the first projects considered for the area. For the TopGolf property, the developer will be required to extend Esperanza Crossing at Burnet Road and connect it to Kramer Lane, Freundl said.

"We have a lot of bottleneck in that development at Braker, so this will help ease a lot of the traffic congestion," she said.

TopGolf representatives declined to comment on the new site but said the facility will be outdoors with 104 hitting bays. Representatives for The Addison on Burnet also did not return phone calls.

The third project in the master-planned area is a 10- to 16-foot-wide multiuse path being built by the city. The trail follows Kramer Lane from Metric Boulevard to Burnet Road, providing access to The Domain.

The city is also working on a separate plan to transform Burnet Road from MoPac to Koenig Lane and Lamar Boulevard from Howard Lane to US 183 into complete streets with sidewalks on both sides, bike lanes, medians and landscaping with trees.

Alan Hughes, the city's project manager for the plan, said consultants working on the complete street project were provided the North Burnet/Gateway master plan to ensure that the two were complementary. Hughes said the road improvements slated for North Lamar and Burnet, though still to be funded, would enable the roads to accommodate many modes of travel, from vehicles to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The mobility project coincides with the Capital MetroRapid bus line along Burnet Road that will provide faster bus service starting in 2014.

Support for a neighborhood plan

Gabe Rojas, a member of the North Austin Civic Association, whose western border abuts the North Burnet/Gateway, said he has been a proponent of the master plan since he first heard about its approval. He said the plan was one reason he and his wife bought a home near Metric Boulevard and Braker Lane. Rojas said he hopes the city will include neighborhoods east of Metric in the plan as it comes to fruition.

"We don't want the boundary to be a hard line and say, OK, all of these great ideas for an internal pedestrian areas and bike lanes just keep to this area," he said. "We kind of want to see that extended into the neighborhoods a little more."

More can be done to improve Metric, Burnet and Braker, which Rojas said are the greatest impediments to mobility in the area. With the nearly completed Kramer Lane multiuse trail that connects to the Kramer MetroRail station, Rojas said it is a great example of how this plan could connect to neighborhoods just outside the boundary.

"It opens up the neighborhood for people being able to walk to the station without necessarily having to drive and park there," he said.

By Amy Denney
Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and then senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition and covering transportation. She is now managing editor for the nine publications in the Central Texas area.


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