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The City of Austin’s Neighborhood Planning Process

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November 2005

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A Note to the Reader
The following description of the City of Austin’s Neighborhood Planning process should be considered as general one. The sets of issues unique to a particular combined planning area may necessitate modifications to the process.

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A. Initial Stakeholder Outreach B. Initial Survey C. First Community Workshop

Parks & Open Space
Land Use

Vision & Goals E. Task Group Meetings D. Services Forum

Transportation Zoning Special Topics

F. Final Survey
Detailed Survey: Land Use Infill Option Design Tool

G. Open House

The Neighborhood Planning Process Flowchart

I. City Council

H. Boards and Commissions

A. Initial Stakeholder Outreach

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Before the outset of the formal neighborhood planning process, Neighborhood Planning staff meets with stakeholder groups in a planning area. The participants in these meetings are usually representatives from established neighborhood associations or business organizations. Occasionally, the participants are representatives from important area institutions such as schools or churches or representatives of large employers. The initial stakeholder outreach can occur at one meeting, but usually involves multiple meetings at different locations.

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B. Initial Survey
Prior to the first community-wide meeting, a letter is mailed to every address with a utility account and to people owning property in the area but living elsewhere. This letter provides a link to a short online survey. The survey asks several general questions about people’s likes and dislikes in their neighborhood. It also asks them to identify street segments where sidewalks are needed and areas affected by flooding. They are also asked to provide contact information if they wish to receive meeting notices and update of the planning process. If they do not provide the information, they will be contacted at the end of the process. This letter is also an invitation to attend the First Community Workshop. If a household does not have access to a computer, a hard copy can be mailed to them upon request. This is true for all of the surveys in the neighborhood planning process.

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C. First Community Workshop
This workshop is the kickoff of the planning process in a combined neighborhood planning area. Attendees are presented an overview of the neighborhood planning process—what is covered in the process and what is not. Attendees participate in a brainstorming exercise that identifies strengths (attributes positively contributing to the neighborhood); opportunities (area where there is a prospect of improvement); and challenges (issues that will require efforts from multiple groups to resolve). The results from this meeting and the initial survey provide a starting point for discussions in the Vision and Goals Task Group Meetings.

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D. Services Forum
The services forum provides attendees the opportunity to discuss their concerns about issues not covered in the neighborhood planning process with representatives from the appropriate city departments or other agencies. These issues include: drainage and flooding, code enforcement, solid waste services, speeding traffic, crime, and social services.

E. Task Group Meetings

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These are a series of meeting that focus on a variety of topics and provide the largest part of the substance of a neighborhood plan. The results of these meetings provide the framework and substance of the neighborhood plan. A detailed survey will be sent out in concurrence with the Task Group Meeting.

Vision & Goals

The Vision and Goals Task Group Meetings set the framework for the planning process. At these meetings the common issues and themes from the responses captured from the Initial Survey and First Community Workshop provide the starting point for discussions. Common themes are • Preserving neighborhood character • Safe transportation networks • Preserving open space • Enhancing parks

The vision statement for a plan can be created based on the results the Vision and Goals Meetings or can evolve as the planning process moves forward.

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Land Use

The Land Use Task Group Meetings build on results of the First Community Workshop. Through a series of meetings participants will make decisions on the types of general land use categories they would like to see in the future for areas of their neighborhood. The result of these meetings will be a Future Land Use Map (FLUM) that will be part of the final neighborhood plan. This map provides the framework for the zoning recommendations that will implement many of the neighborhood plan’s land use recommendations. It is important to note that once the Austin City Council adopts a FLUM as part of a combined neighborhood plan, zoning changes cannot be made that are inconsistent with the map. Those types of changes would require a plan amendment in addition to a change of zoning.

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Zoning
The Zoning Meetings provide the opportunity for the community stakeholders and Neighborhood Planning staff to discuss the zoning recommendations to implement the plan’s FLUM. Although staff and the community may make recommendations concerning changes in zoning for any number of properties, the Austin City Council makes the final decision concerning any zoning changes. Because the zoning recommendations are implemented concurrently with the FLUM at the end of the process by a City Council vote, these recommendations are the most significant and sometimes most controversial elements of the process. Rezoning recommendations where there is no controversy are usually quickly passed. The controversial ones may take several months and several City Council meetings to resolve.

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Parks and Open Space

The Parks and Open Space Task Group Meeting(s) provide participants the opportunity to discuss a number of issues surrounding the topic. These can include • Preserving existing open space • The need for more, smaller parks • Enhancing existing parks The results of these meetings are forwarded to the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department for their consideration. In a number of adopted plans some of the smaller-scale Parks and Open Space recommendations have been quickly implemented or have been considered for implementation at a later date when funds may be available.

DRAFT The Transportation Task Group Meeting(s) create an opportunity for people to make recommendations on ways to improve the transportation network in their neighborhoods. The recommendations include can include changes to • Sidewalks • Transit services • Bicycle lanes • Trails.

Transportation

Urban Design

The Urban Design Task Group Meeting(s) focus on creating a vision of what the built environment of a neighborhood will look like in the future. Through a series of exercises and discussions a set of design guidelines will be established for the area that can deal with new residential, commercial, or civic development.

These guidelines are voluntary, however, they do communicate to potential developers what the community would like to see in new development.

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Special Topics

The Special Topics Task Group Meeting(s) can concentrate on an issue that may need more focused attention. These topics can range from environmental issues such as wetlands or creek setbacks, commercial corridors, or large vacant or readily redevelopable parcels of land. These meetings are called on an as needed basis and may not occur in all neighborhood planning processes.

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Detailed Survey

The detailed survey is sent out just before the Land Use Task Group Meetings. The questionnaire ask more particular questions about issues such as: • Where will new housing options be appropriate? • What types of land uses would be appropriate along specific corridors? • Where new employment centers may be appropriate? • What infill options may be appropriate for certain areas? • What design tools would be appropriate for certain areas? The responses serve as a guide when making decisions concerning these topics. For more information about the design tools and infill options go to: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/downloads/infill_tools.pdf

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F. Final Survey

A letter is sent to every address with a utility account and to people owning property in the area but live elsewhere. This letter provides a Web address to the planning area’s Web site where people can review the draft neighborhood plan. People will be able to comment on the draft plan and submit their comments to the Neighborhood Planning staff. The letter informing people of the Final Survey will also serve as invitations to the Open House. For people without access to computers, hard copies can be mailed to them upon request.

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G. Open House

Comments received from the Final Survey may be incorporated into the draft neighborhood plan. The final draft will be made available for public comment at the Open House. Elements of the plan will be available for final public comment. Participants will also be available to help prioritize elements of the plan. The final zoning recommendations will also be available for public comment prior to the Planning Commission and City Council meetings.

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H. Boards and Commissions
Prior to presenting to the City Council, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning staff will present the plan to the appropriate City of Austin boards and commissions. All plans are presented to the Neighborhood Plan committee of the Planning Commission and the full Planning Commission. During a public hearing this commission considers and recommends to the City Council all or part of the neighborhood plan and the rezonings to implement the land use elements of the plan. The Planning Commission may make recommendations that are different from those of the community or staff. Depending on issues raised during the planning process, the plan may also be presented to other boards or commissions for informational purposes or for comments. The Planning Commission is the first of two public hearings that the public has the opportunity to comment on the plan and rezonings.

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I. City Council

Presenting the plan to the City Council is the last step in the process and provides the second opportunity for the public to comment on the plan and rezonings at a public hearing. At the City Council meeting staff will present the plan and rezonings to the Council. People for and against elements of the plan will also have the opportunity to address the Council. The uncontested items and rezonings are usually voted on and passed together. The Council hears the contested rezonings separately. These contested items may take many months before they are finally resolved.

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