Neighborhoods impose conditions on new development all the time. Some of the conditions are sensible. Some are strange. Some are merely mildly irritating. But a "no pedestrian/bicyclist" provision?
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wants to sell off a tract abutting the UT Intramural Fields (the Game Warden Academy site). The tract borders Hyde Park, with 51st Street running along the northern border and Rowena Street along the eastern border. 50th Street dead-ends in the center of the tract's eastern boundary (blue arrow):
The land is currently unzoned because it was owned by the state. The developer wants to put low-density multi-family (possibly detached single family) on a narrow strip immediately to the west of Rowena, and denser multi-family on the remainder of the property. Presumably, the thin tract will serve to buffer the single-family homes on Rowena.
It's triggered a predictable zoning fight, with some neighbors complaining about the increased density and traffic and campaigning to turn the property into a park. Garden-variety stuff.
What is noteworthy is the agreement the developer reached with the neighborhood. (See p. 43 of the staff report.)
It's not particularly noteworthy that the agreement requires the units to be listed for sale; we explicitly discriminate against rental housing all the time in Austin. (Remember this one, though, the next time Hyde Park leaders lecture the rest of us about the shortage of affordable rental housing.)
Nor is it noteworthy that the agreement bars vehicle access to the property via 50th Street. That's understandable. The neighbors on Rowena and streets to the east don't want a surge in traffic on their streets. Cars will have to use 51st Street to get in and out of the development.
No, the unusual provision is this: The agreement bans pedestrian and bicycle access to 50th Street. Pedestrians and bicyclists will be barred from accessing a public right-of-way that dead-ends at their property's boundary. The neighbors just east of the development not only want to keep out the new cars, they want to keep out the new residents themselves -- whether they're on foot or on bike. Residents who naturally would like to stroll through their new neighborhood will instead be forced onto 51st Street.
Maybe they'll take the hint and stay on it.
It gets worse. The fire department might require access to the new development via 50th Street. The agreement recognizes this possibility and specifies that the 50th-street entrance be gated with emergency vehicle access only. In other words, even if AFD requires that 50th Street be extended into the development, the developer must put up a gate to keep the peds and bicyclists from wandering into Hyde Park proper.
The Planning Commission, to its credit, not only approved the zoning, but recommended that the Council require pedestrian and bicyle access.
Thus it came before Council Thursday night. There was no debate. There was no discussion . . . except for Councilmember Cole's motion to adopt the ban on bicycle and pedestrian access to 50th Street. To which the other council members meekly acquiesced.
Oh, by the way, here was item 63 on Thursday's agenda:
Approve a resolution supporting efforts to upgrade the City of Austin’s bicycle network by establishing the city’s intent to become the first Texas city to attain Gold level bike-friendly status from the League of American Bicyclists; supporting the work of the Street Smarts Task Force January 2008; and directing the City Manager to study and report back to Council with recommendations for inclusion of the Street Smarts Task Force findings into the Austin Bicycle Master Plan. (Mayor Will Wynn Council Member Brewster McCracken Council Member Sheryl Cole)
"Bike friendly" indeed.
Correction: I screwed up the orientation of the tract in the first draft. (I had 51st on the east rather than the north. Dumb.) Since there were so many references to north, south, etc., I didn't note changes with strike-throughs because it was too distracting.