Transportation, housing hot issues at planning meeting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 15, 2000

Planning for the next 10 years is tough enough for anyone, but when the plans revolve around an entire city, it gets even more difficult.

Saturday, April 15, 2000

Planning for the next 10 years is tough enough for anyone, but when the plans revolve around an entire city, it gets even more difficult. Austin’s Comprehensive Plan is running more than a year behind – original plans were to have it finished by April of 1999 – but City Planning/Zoning Administrator Craig Hoium is aiming for June of this year now.

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Community trends, history, unique characteristics, employment, housing, opinion and infrastructure … all those factors and more go into developing the plan that is supposed to guide city officials in their decision making process over the next 10 or more years.

Members of the Austin Planning Commission held a workshop Tuesday night to look at the most recent draft of the comprehensive plan. Discussion centered around several issues facing the city right now. Among those are transportation – which includes streets as well as public transportation – and land use issues on properties such as the 55 acres of farmland west of the JC Hormel Nature Center and the city’s Lone Oak property that is zoned industrial/commercial, but may become the site of a $16.5 million affordable and rental housing development in the near future.

Planning Commission member Gordie Kuehne was concerned that the Murphy’s Creek housing addition will serve to isolate the people it is supposed to help. The development is proposed for the city’s Lone Oak property north of Austin on Fourth Avenue NW, which was originally meant to be available for industry. The developed land has no tenants – other than the Pacelli Corn Maze for the past two years – and Housing and Redevelopment Authority director Kermit Mahan has his eye on the land for a combination of rental and for-sale homes and townhomes.

"I’m sorry, but this stinks so badly of ‘let’s get the low income housing out and away from where everyone else lives’," Kuehne said. "It’s disturbing."

Aside from Austin’s housing needs, streets were another subject of spirited discussion at the work session. In particular, Fourth and 14th Streets NW, 16th Avenue SW and 12th Street SW, all which serve to connect areas of growing population density in Austin.

"After the public hearings, I would say there are no question marks on Fourth or 14th," Hoium said. "Stay away from our neighborhoods’ came through pretty loud and clear."

No decisions were made at the Tuesday work session; Hoium has asked commission members to write out their comments on both the plan’s philosophy and mechanics. Once those are in, he anticipates another work session with the members of the Planning Commission. After that he said he will advertise a public meeting that would also include the Austin City Council members.

If the plan meets the approval of all involved, the final step would be for the city to officially adopt the plan.

Hoium said it was still to early to pinpoint the specific differences between the last Comprehensive Plan – put together in 1988 – and this one. He did say that the differences were many, because of a change in circumstances. In 1988, the city was coming off the Hormel Strike, and simply struggling to stay together. Now, Austin is a growing, rather than shrinking, community.

"This plan needs to address how we want Austin to grow, in terms of housing and transportation," Hoium said.