The developers and residents of Edgewick condominiums are asking the city for permission to gate off Carlson Drive.
The Austin Planning Commission will hear Edgewick’s request at 6 p.m. Feb. 28, in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 301 W. Second Street (see the Feb. 28 agenda online). The request will go before the City Council at 2 p.m. March 8. However, the city has already postponed the commission hearing once in order to have more time to review the case; it might postpone the City Council hearing, too.
This is a hilly area filled with creeks, springs and large tracts of public property, and it was not developed with adequate connecting streets by early planners. Nearby streets twist around old property lines and natural features.
Carlson Drive is one of only three east-west roads south of East Oltorf Street that connect with the east side of Parker Lane. Of the three, it is the safest for walking, cycling or driving because it has a traffic circle to keep speeds down, is level, is wide, has few intersections, and has parallel parking on one side only.
Only two other neighborhood roads provide access to the east side of Parker in the 1.3-mile stretch between East Oltorf and Ben White Boulevard/Texas 71:
Wickshire Lane is at the midpoint between Ben White and East Oltorf. It has a single one-way lane on its eastern half, where it has no curb or sidewalk; it has a 90-degree turn at the bottom of a steep hill; and it has no guardrail at that curve. Before Carlson was built, drivers often illegally drove east on the westbound road because of the lack of alternatives – not a safe situation on the border between Linder Elementary School and Mabel Davis Park.
Glen Springs Way is a tiny residential street. Just 0.2 mile south of Oltorf and 0.1 mile long before it ends at Metcalfe Road, it is too far north to provide adequate access to most homes in the area. It was not designed to be a thoroughfare: This short stretch of road is the sole access to at least 34 residences. If Carlson Drive is closed, Glen Springs will be the only neighborhood street providing eastbound access from Parker Lane.
What is the problem, and is closing road really the solution?
A portion of Carlson Drive had existed at Parker Lane for decades. Edgewick, which does business under the name Shire’s Court, bought the adjacent land in 2005 to build condominiums. The developer for the project is Benchmark Development Inc., which also is the developer for the Austonian luxury high-rise, other Austin urban infill neighborhoods similar to Edgewick, and Plum Creek neighborhood in Kyle.
In October 2006, Benchmark executive David Mahn, listed as president of Shire’s Court, signed an agreement granting the city a “perpetual” easement on Carlson for “free and uninterrupted pedestrian and vehicular ingress and egress,” for water, wastewater and drainage utilities, and for solid waste services and emergency vehicles, “forever.” Shire’s Court then built the remainder of Carlson and connected it with Metcalfe Road. Technically, that portion of the street is Shire’s Court’s property, and it is maintained by the homeowners association.
Management at Edgewick now wants to deny public access to Carlson. It claims in its request for an amendment to the restrictive covenant that residents have had problems with crime and vandalism, including dog theft, breaking and entering, speeding, tagging, broken windows and damage to amenities. (Follow link, then see attachments. The request is on page 11 of the attachment labeled Part 2.)
The management says in its request that the problems are originating from the public who use Carlson Drive. Its also claims in its request that the road “splits” the development and “invites people outside the community to enter at any time.” However, all residences in Edgewick are south of Carlson, and all are separated from the road and sidewalk by a fence. No outsiders can enter Edgewick from Carlson without being allowed through a gate.
A search of the city’s Crime Viewer website finds only two police reports involving residential property crime in Edgewick in the past 12 months. Reports in 2011 include two auto burglaries on Carlson, one fraud and one burglary of a construction site.
In the previous 12-month period, there were nine reports of property crimes affecting residents — five criminal mischief incidents (one incident affected two addresses), three home burglaries and one theft — plus one abandoned vehicle and one harassment case. All but two occurred in 2010 during the summer and December, peak months for crime throughout Austin. Homes were only a year or two old at the time, and Edgewick was largely a construction zone, with few residents to keep watch for their neighbors.
Edgewick says in its request to the city that it has added security cameras, a daily security service and security tips in the neighborhood newsletter. The drops in property crime affecting residents (77 percent drop from 2010 to 2011, and 100 percent drop from October 2011 to the date of this posting) suggest those efforts are working. The last home burglary report was 15 months ago.
There is little evidence that Edgewick residents are dealing with more difficulty than their neighbors are on the other side of the fence, and the low number of police reports in the past year and a half suggest there might be fewer crimes there. If people are entering Edgewick from Carlson to commit crimes, they are trespassing by crossing a fence or a gate. A good first step for management would be to address gates left open day and night, gaps in fences and other entry points visible all around the property.
Gating Carlson would be unlikely to keep criminals out, but it would keep law-abiding neighbors from helping to watch for illegal activity.
Who uses Carlson?
Carlson Drive provides access to schools, a public park, public transportation, homes and businesses for thousands of area residents.
Carlson has been identified as a Safe Route to School by the City of Austin Neighborhood Connectivity Division. It is used by Linder Elementary parents and students, and is on the bus route for the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a college preparatory public school. Transit users rely on Carlson as one of the only paths to and from Cap Metro buses on Parker Lane, because there is no longer a bus route on Burleson Road. Cyclists use Carlson because it is the only level, uncongested road in the neighborhood that connects with Austin Bike Route 59, which soon will get new striped bike lanes on Parker Lane — less than a block from Carlson — as part of a city mobility project.
Access is also necessary for emergency vehicles. If Carlson were closed, a fire truck or police car coming from the south or west would have to travel almost half a mile out of its way via Glen Springs before continuing to its destination east of Edgewick.
Those are some of the reasons that the City of Austin puts such great emphasis on connectivity between neighborhoods. Carlson Drive is a route that was needed in the area for decades, and it was represented on maps long before it was connected with Metcalfe. It’s too late to turn back the clock. This is a part of town that is densely populated now, and it is expected to grow even more because of its proximity to downtown, a university, major roads and a planned urban rail system.
Here’s my blatant editorializing: It doesn’t matter how affluent, educated or isolated you are — anyone who lives in the inner city has to cope with certain issues, even in million-dollar neighborhoods like Travis Heights, Hyde Park and Tarrytown. Neighborhoods around Edgewick don’t deal with crime or vandalism by walling themselves off. Instead, they have Neighborhood Watch programs, group cleanups, frequent contact with city officials, park projects that provide activities for bored teens, and other efforts to improve the quality of life for all residents.
Many neighbors are happy to see a new, attractive development that draws more professionals into our community. We would welcome Edgewick residents in our neighborhood groups and activities. We think openness is a solution that would benefit us all.
Blocking a street used by thousands of people is shortsighted, and sacrifices the needs of the many for the fears of a few.
What you can do
For the Austin Planning Commission hearing on Feb. 28, Edgewick has given the commission statements from all of its property owners asking for the road to be closed to the public. As a member of the public, you have the right to request that your statement be included in the file attachments for this case.
The city is in a difficult position, says Stephen Rye, the city’s case manager for the Carlson Drive request: Carlson is a private road with a public easement granted to the city, and support for taking away the easement is unanimous within the community that owns it. However, the city sees the road’s importance to connectivity for public users. City staff, the Planning Commission and City Council will look at statements from all sides in making their decisions.
If you cannot attend the Planning Commission meeting, you can e-mail a statement to Rye at firstname.lastname@example.org. Refer to case No. C14-04-0181.SH(RCA). You can also contact Rye at 974-7604.
Homeowners and other Carlson users can also involve organizations that see the importance of connectivity in this area. Already, the Austin Bicycle and Pedestrian Program and the League of Bicycling Voters have made statements that they oppose closing Carlson to the public, and the Austin Cycling Association told members about the possible closure in its e-newsletter. This is the time to alert the Austin Police Department, Austin Fire Department, AISD schools and bus services, parent-teacher groups and other public and private stakeholders.
Stay tuned for more news on this issue.