City and county leaders have agreed to launch a collaborative planning effort intended to support long-range investments in infrastructure, transportation, new development and community amenities around northeast Austin and Travis County.

Council member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents the area and sponsored a resolution last year to advance the program, called the city and county's involvement in the region’s first-ever joint planning district a "historic partnership" between entities.

“As one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, the Austin area is under the spotlight. And this initiative, I believe, lays the groundwork for transformative change in northeastern Austin and eastern Travis County,” she said.

What happened

Votes by Austin City Council members March 7 and Travis County commissioners March 19 advanced an interlocal agreement for ongoing work related to the new Northeast Planning District.

As defined by local leaders, the district covers more than 25 square miles roughly between US 183, Hwy. 290, SH 130 and the Colorado River and FM 969. The area is home to several larger metropolitan parks and Lake Walter E. Long, the Travis County Exposition Center, and the future Colony Park Sustainable Community.

The district is split between city and county jurisdictions, prompting the new shared strategy.

The latest step for planning in Northeast Austin and Travis County comes after officials started gearing up for the work last summer. County staff have called the concept a Marshall Plan for the east side, named after the post-World War II European economic recovery policy.

Harper-Madison and county Commissioner Jeff Travillion, who represents the area, have cited the need for a community-driven approach to help guide growth and local improvements in a place that historically experienced economic disinvestment, displacement and inequity as other parts of Austin flourished.

Travillion said he hopes the planning will be more systemic, rather than transactional, in providing resources for communities that have been underserved.

Outside local government, the planning process was also supported by state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and former City Council member and U.S. Rep. Greg Casar, D-Austin.

"As our region continues to experience unprecedented growth, it is essential that our most vulnerable communities to displacement are able to thrive. This approach can leverage the collective attention our community deserves," Casar wrote in a letter to county leaders.

Quote of note

“Even today, we find that if you take a bus out there, you have to sit an hour at the bus stop before the bus comes to get you. There were pocket parks that should have been there in 1975 when a lot of that property was taken by eminent domain; they don’t exist there. When you look on the other side of Johnny Morris Road, there are a lot of properties—even commercial properties—that are on septic, that don't have a water/wastewater infrastructure,” Travillion said March 19. “What we're talking about is taking a regional approach to addressing problems and not waiting for gentrification before we have investment, and allowing the people who have lived and invested in that community to stay there.”

The specifics

The first phase of the interlocal effort that's now moving forward will see city and county staff formally assess existing conditions around the district. They'll review the state of infrastructure, transit, the economy and local businesses, cultural assets, and food and health care access, among other issues, and compile information about past investments across the area.

Officials said another key early milestone will be the creation of a community advisory committee to influence how Austin and Travis County tackle the planning efforts. Members will be chosen by stakeholders, such as neighborhood groups, nonprofits and other local organizations.

“This agreement is not simply an agreement between the city and the county. It also is a promise to the current and future residents for this area, that they built the table so naturally they have a seat at it,” Harper-Madison said. “The voices of our residents, their visions, their stories and their concerns, have been and will continue to be the foundation of the Northeast Planning District every step of the way.”

The project's next phase will see city, county and community members develop a list of short-term local improvements to tackle in the next few years. Based on the needs identified in the first planning phase, a strategy for longer-term quality of life upgrades will also be developed.

For the long term, the team will then come up with implementation and financing plans for Northeast District priorities. All that work will feed into a vision plan for the area’s next few decades with oversight from Austin and Travis County leaders.

What else?

While the Northeast Austin area is now in focus, council member Vanessa Fuentes said similar efforts could be made for Southeast Austin in the future given similar conditions across the entire east side.

"What you all have laid out as a model for Northeast, I believe is a model for Southeast as well and would love to see a similar effort dedicated to our Del Valle community in southeast Austin, southeast Travis County," she said.

Katy McAfee contributed to this report.