The City of Austin held an open house Oct. 27 at Travis High School to invite input on its East Riverside Corridor (ERC) Master Plan and Draft Regulating Plan. The regulating plan will translate the recommendations of the master plan (adopted by City Council in 2010) into design regulations so that future developments conform with the city’s desires for a mixed-use corridor. For a basic introduction to the master plan, read the city’s FAQs. You can find the recommendations for the entire plan online at the city’s East Riverside Corridor Plan website.
The city also is launching a transportation study of the 3.5-mile corridor from I-35 to Texas 71 (Ben White Blvd.). The study is designed to identify improvements that would aid the mobility and safety of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Riverside also will get an overpass at Texas 71, which will be built as the freeway is extended to U.S. 183 starting in January.
The goal of the master plan is to transform the ERC from an area dominated by cars and parking lots into one with mixed residential and business developments that is more functional, vibrant, comfortable, safe and beautiful for residents, workers, commuters and pedestrians. It focuses on providing alternative forms of transportation, such as bike paths and urban rail, and providing housing for a range of incomes.
Plans also dictate that Riverside include wide sidewalks; shade from trees, awnings and pergolas; open space, plazas and pocket parks; and bike lanes (on the street) or bike paths (dedicated bike facilities outside the area used by automobiles, similar to a wide sidewalk). Business and residential driveways would be planned for side streets, rather than Riverside, to improve safety. New streets or paths are proposed to provide better connectivity in the area without putting more of a strain on Riverside Drive. (Our neighborhood is not in the ERC boundaries, and no new streets are proposed near us.)
You can watch the video ‘How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths’ to see one possible way to design bike facilities in the East Riverside area.
The ERC Master Plan also incorporates plans for an urban rail system being considered by the city. The system would provide trains powered by overhead electric wires and would run from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to downtown Austin, the UT campus and the Mueller development. Urban rail is likely to go before voters in a fall 2012 bond election. If approved, portions of the system could be running by 2015. Learn more at the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan.
Under the master plan, future development is concentrated around four ‘hubs’ of East Riverside, tied to the location of four future urban rail stops. The densest development would be near rail stops, and building heights would vary with density — from up to three stories in areas bordering neighborhoods to up to five stories in mixed-use areas along the corridor. A large rail stop/transportation hub would be likely in the broad median at the intersection of East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road.
At the open house, citizens were able to review plans and maps, talk with city employees and consultants, and write comments on aerial photographs, maps and comment cards. Information stations provided details on how the plan will deal with cars, pedestrians/bikes, mass transit (including urban rail), affordable housing, design standards and zoning and neighborhood plan amendments. (Within the boundaries of the East Riverside Corridor, the master plan and regulating plan would replace the East Riverside/Oltorf Combined Neighborhood Plan, which includes our neighborhood and was adopted in 2006, and the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan. Those plans would stay in place outside the ERC boundaries. See documents for the city’s neighborhood plans here.)
A display on affordable housing had some interesting statistics:
- Subsidized housing in the ERC currently accounts for 23% of all existing housing within the corridor boundaries and 11% of the subsidized housing citywide.
- Market-rate housing (not subsidized, just cheap) in the ERC that is affordable to people earning 50% or below of the Median Family Income accounts for 6% of the total market-rate affordable housing citywide. (Housing is considered affordable if the combined cost of rent and utilities uses no more than 30% of residents’ income.)
Land values already have risen in the area, and future development is likely to bring more affluent residents. The plan intends for the area to provide a mix of housing options for a range of incomes, including low and middle incomes.
Some nearby residents say the plan needs more owner-occupied housing, more single-family housing and a broader mix of developments. And some are frustrated that they collaborated on the Riverside/Oltorf neighborhood plan, only to have it replaced by the ERC plan in the Riverside area. To learn more about the plan and see how some neighborhood groups are responding, read a story that ran in the Austin-American Statesman on Oct. 27.
Public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council are anticipated in the winter/spring of 2012. The regulating plan could be adopted by spring of 2012, before the city holds a bond election on urban rail.
Want to comment on the plan? Contact senior planner Erica Leak, firstname.lastname@example.org, (512) 974-2856, City of Austin Planning and Development Review Dept., P.O. Box 1088, Austin, TX 78767. You can sign up to receive updates from the city by going to the bottom of the plan’s website and clicking the link under ‘Get involved/Contact.’
What do you think of the ERC Master Plan? You can express your views here using the ‘Leave a comment’ link below.