Austin-area residents push for improving local aesthetics, walkability

Adding sidewalks, improving upkeep of commercial corridors, and preserving local character and green spaces are among the changes residents want to see in Garrison Park, Westgate and South Manchaca neighborhoods.

Residents, landowners and business owners from those neighborhoods shared their ideas for improvement with City of Austin staff at the first meeting for the South Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan Jan. 12.

Leaning over detailed maps, attendees used pushpins and sticky notes to designate areas they want to see improved as well as those they think should be preserved.

The South Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan includes land within the following boundaries: Ben White Boulevard to the north, William Cannon Drive to the south, West Gate Boulevard to the west, and South First Street to the east. City of Austin staff divided attendees into groups representing smaller parts of the planning area and collected their comments and questions during the meeting.

Residents made several suggestions including:

  • improving the quality and upkeep of the area's commercial centers
  • considering the types of commercial properties in the area and how they're developing
  • adding sidewalks and signals to make the area more accessible and safe for pedestrians and cyclists
  • adding community gardens
  • enhancing the Williamson Creek Greenbelt with trails

The Williamson Creek Greenbelt provides a local opportunity for public green space, according to resident Navvab Taylor, who is secretary of the Southwood Neighborhood Association.

"Once we get sort of the trash and debris cleared out, you could have some nice walking trails there. It's underused. We don't want it to be overdeveloped, either," she said, pointing out members of her neighborhood wouldn't want stadium lights installed, but amenities such as picnic tables, bike racks and walking trails would enhance the area.

Attendees marked watershed areas that need to be prioritized for improvement and spots where they would like to see amenities added.

Resident Sally Baulch said a project she would like to see is making the planning area more walkable. People who walk through the neighborhood to get their groceries at Central Market, for example, could benefit from traffic signals and paths.

"They're in the road because there are no sidewalks, and you see them dashing across the street trying to beat the cars in some spots," she said.

Baulch added she looks forward to seeing how the plan will support local businesses in the area and improve the upkeep of aging infrastructure. She said she hopes her neighbors will continue to voice their opinions on issues that matter during the yearlong planning process.

"Our goal is to make it easier for people to enjoy living here," she said.

Though Laura Munoz does not live in the planning area, she owns a house there where her daughter lives and is a member of the Matthews Lane Neighborhood Association. Her main priorities going into the workshop were emphasizing the need to improve aesthetics and safety as well as learning about the process itself.

"I wondered why there is no neighborhood plan for my own neighborhood," she said. "That's why I decided to get involved. I wanted to see what is involved for the planning of the neighborhood so when it comes our turn then I'll know what to expect."

Nearly 50 neighborhood planning areas have adopted neighborhood plans, according to City of Austin Planner Francis Reilly.

Austin started its neighborhood planning program in 1997 to preserve and improve quality of life in existing neighborhoods. The SACNP is the first neighborhood plan developed since the adoption of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, Reilly said.

The neighborhood plan and Imagine Austin will change during the process, planning commission member Richard Hatfield said.

"When you all finish the process, you'll come up with a neighborhood plan, it'll be formulated into a document, and each one of you will have a part of it," he said to attendees.

Before the planning meeting, surveys went out asking what is important to people who live in the planning area, from available facilities and amenities to factors such as traffic noise, types of nearby businesses, quality of parks and the way properties are maintained.

SACNP workshops are scheduled to take place Feb. 16 and March 23. More information is available at www.austintexas.gov/department/south-austin-combined-neighborhood-plan.