Keeping track of Town Lake

Two construction projects irretrievably altered the south shore of Town Lake: the Hyatt west of the Congress Bridge and the Statesman building and endless vistas of parking lots just east of the bridge. Before the Hyatt, there hadn’t been much beyond Christie’s seafood restaurant, just good bird-watching. Before the Statesman moved from its downtown office and printing plant, the land under and just east of the bridge was pretty much a big hobo camp, although Duplex Signs was at the southeast end of the bridge. Every morning before dawn there’d be savory cooking aromas wafting up from the visible campfires below, mostly of coffee, bacon, and frying fish.

The advent of the Hyatt in 1984 spurred creation of various committees and task forces and the eventual implementation of a Waterfront Overlay to designate permitted setbacks from the shoreline. A wave of proposed new development of various kinds, many of which require granting of variances if they’re to be profitable as initially planned, has spurred creation of a new Save Town Lake effort. At the new Web site are summary pages of Town Lake development history, a long list of major projects proposed and currently under construction both north and south of the river, and developing news and how you can make your concerns known to those empowered to act. Important dates are November 21 and November 28.

As we’ve grown to expect, the City site doesn’t offer much assistance to those seeking to learn more about the Waterfront Overlay district. A search brought up this summary from 2000 and not much else, although there is this language found on a zoning roundup page: “Waterfront Overlay Combining District reflects the goals and policies set forth in the Town Lake Corridor Study adopted by the City Council on October 24, 1985. The District is designed and intended to provide a more harmonious interaction and transition between urban development and the park land and shoreline of Town Lake and the Colorado River. There are 15 different subdistricts within the Waterfront.”

The November 21 agenda for the Planning Commission Codes and Ordinances Committee lists as the first item for discussion and action “Waterfront overlay discussion and the Austin Town Lake Corridor South Shore Central/Travis Heights Development Standards document produced by ROMA.”

I don’t like the trail where it passes between the Hyatt and the water’s edge. Developers apparently propose to donate unbuildable land to the City that will duplicate the experience, hoping in exchange for giving away the worthless to gain the right to ignore restrictions put in place after an extensive public process. Here’s more information from the Austin Chronicle (A Waterfront War? by Katherine Gregor). The Save Town Lake site seems to change every day, so I plan to keep an eye on it.

6 Comments so far

  1. M1EK (unregistered) on November 17th, 2006 @ 9:38 am

    A fairer way to put it might be to point out that the developer is offering to increase the amount of public space next to the lake from 0 (ZERO) feet to 80.

    Nobody’s going to pay to redevelop those apartment complexes if they can’t go bigger – it doesn’t make economic sense. This is the perfect opportunity for the Forces Of Always Say No to grow up and offer a compromise: go farther back from the lake than your 80 foot opening offer, and in return, we’ll support you building higher on the land that remains.

  2. James (unregistered) on November 17th, 2006 @ 10:25 am

    The fact that the trail area may seem a little narrow and un park-like between the lake and buildings like the Hyatt and proposed projects yet to be built is because that land is, in fact, not a public park. It’s private property. The majority of the land bordering Town Lake is public property, and will continue to be protected. On the areas that are private, the public should rightly have less say over what goes on. The site planned for the project under discussion is private, and currently has no public access along the waterfront, with buildings and parking lots built up to the top of the bank. Under the proposed plan, it will have public access in an 80 ft strip of land along the lake. That seems to me like a gain for the public, the landowner, and a large improvement to the trail system. It in no way constitutes something detrimental to Town Lake itself that requires “saving” the lake, and the name of this new organization is a overreaction that makes any decent points they have to make moot.

  3. Rantor (unregistered) on November 17th, 2006 @ 10:43 am

    The value of the site is that it seems to be the only one that attempts to gather all the information about current and proposed development hugging the waterfront. If there are others, please point them out. To me anything about the trails is a bit of a side issue. The waterfront overlay was arrived at after a long, public process. It has been in place for quite some time. The developers are aware of its mandates or they wouldn’t be requesting to be freed from observing them. It’s interesting that a great deal of money has apparently already been invested in developing something that’s known in advance to require a variance. One suspects that the granting of variances is beginning to be the norm in all situations here, not adherence to duly, publicly, and lawfully adopted ordinances.

  4. M1EK (unregistered) on November 17th, 2006 @ 12:23 pm

    It’s interesting that when it comes to the McMansion ordinance’s effect on my family’s ability to develop our property, people of your political tripe continuously assure me not to worry about the investment I made which is now substantially at risk – “you can just get a variance if your plans are as reasonable as you say they are”.

    When it comes to multi-family development you oppose, though, suddenly buying in advance of a variance is a sign of nefarious intent.

    Which is it? Should we trust that variances will be granted when reasonable, or should we never trust them (which has been my position all along in opposing bad ordinances like McMansion)?

  5. Jon (unregistered) on November 20th, 2006 @ 9:39 am

    The owner was aware of the set back before he purchased the property. I suspect that if he does not get a variance on the set back, he’ll ask for a variance on the height restriction. If you can’t play by the rules in place, don’t play. The property can be a very desirable project without changing the rules.

    I also think that there are many people out there fighting deveolpers that do follow the rules. Leave them alone and let them get their projects built. Making them fight for what’s already allowed only makes their costs go up, which inturn makes the end user’s cost go up. Many of you are shouting for affordable housing, and at the same time causing housing costs to go up. Think about it.

  6. garret (unregistered) on November 20th, 2006 @ 11:48 am

    the ordinance is the rule and if you can’t make AS MUCH money on the project as you’d like without changing those rules then… boohooo… too bad… so sad. it’s funny to watch developers moan and complain about being forced to adhere to the law as they swoop down to cash in on austin. don’t buy into a project that isn’t profitable if you can’t do it without breaking the law and pissing everyone off. developers wouldn’t have to “fight” for anything if they weren’t constantly trying to break the rules in an attempt to maximize profit at all costs. are these town lake developers claiming the project will lose money if they follow the rules or will they just not make as much money as they want? i’m sure it’s the latter.

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