Austin, Texas envisions green, connected, affordable redevelopment of lakefront

Under one scenario of the city of Austin, Texas’ latest vision for redeveloping the south side of Lady Bird Lake, a watercolor image depicts a vibrant “green urban” area — but also a cluster of high-rise towers that could be taller than anything currently along that side of the lake.

In April of 2016, city planner Alan Holt showed the City Council the latest version of the ongoing South Central Waterfront Initiative, a planning effort he has been spearheading for more than three years.

The plan was met favorably by some council members, while other members expressed concerns about traffic impacts, and one questioned if a plan is needed at all.

The latest scenario calls for up to 8.6 million square feet of development within the 118-acre waterfront area, which currently has 3.2 million square feet of office, hotel, residential and other development.

The city wants to work with the landowners to balance the intensity of development on their land with the city’s desire to gain community benefits within the district, such as affordable housing; additional open space and parkland; enhanced connections to and along the waterfront and hike-and-bike trail; and a unified street network.

Council Member Don Zimmerman said Austin has a “slavish obedience to planning” and questioned the need for another plan in a city that is “one of the most unaffordable places to live.

The plan aims to avert a “piecemeal, haphazard” approach to future redevelopment in the area, and instead create a lively, pedestrian-friendly district with significant public benefits, Holt said.

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