The Austin City Council unanimously adopted the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan in the early morning hours of June 15 after several hours of public testimony—much of which had called for the plan not to be adopted.
However, Councilwoman Laura Morrison added language prior to passage aimed at addressing the concerns raised such as those related to neighborhood plans and the regional growth concept plan.
Austin Neighborhood Council President Steve Aleman said he did not support the plan, namely because he said it lacks protection for neighborhood plans. Further, he said Imagine Austin should serve as framework for changes to the land development code, but not determine those changes.
In response, Greg Guernsey, the city's director of planning and development, said the plan leaves existing neighborhood plans unchanged and respects neighborhood planning.
But many people, including Mary Ingle, who has served as ANC vice president, remained skeptical and said the plan needs to state that neighborhood plans trump the overall plan.
"Imagine Austin is like a raw potato—it needs a little more cooking," she said.
She also called for the removal of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization 2035 growth concept map, which she said was not clear.
Several others also expressed concern about removing extension plans for SH 45 SW—which are on CAMPO's growth concept map—due to possible damage to environmentally sensitive areas.
The city initiated Imagine Austin in 2008 to direct the city’s growth and redevelopment during the next 30 years. Austin’s population is estimated to double to 1.5 million in that time.
Garner Stoll, assistant director for the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, said more than 220 public hearings have taken place for Imagine Austin, which contains community-defined priorities for sustainability, livability, mobility, equity and prosperity.
The plan also envisions a city of “complete communities” where residents can easily meet everyday needs close to their homes, jobs, schools and more.
While there was plenty of opposition, there were also those who spoke in favor of the new comprehensive plan and no shortage of praise for the hard work put into the plan.
Mandy DeMayo of HousingWorks Austin, a housing affordability advocacy group, and Frank Hurren of Congress for the New Urbanism, which supports neighborhood-oriented development, both expressed support because of the compact and connected community aspects.
“Imagine Austin recognizes the importance of diverse housing options throughout the community," DeMayo said.
“Some folks spent 2 1/2 years on the task force, and countless others contributed their passion and ideas," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. "This is a momentous achievement of working together to create a collective vision for Austin’s future, and we are committed to doing our part as a city to begin implementing this plan."
Cookie Ruiz, a member of the Citizens Advisory Task Force, which helped guide Imagine Austin’s formation, said the plan is not perfect but represents variety of views.
Changes Morrison added prior to adoption include language that says the comprehensive plan will inform—not predetermine—existing neighborhood plans and that the growth concept map will not only determine where growth should go, but where it shouldn't—such as environmentally sensitive areas and those not guided by neighborhood plan.
She also added language to enhance the priority of small, local businesses and language that requests the removal of SH 45 SW from the CAMPO plan.
Additionally, members clarified that even though a new plan was adopted, there will still be an ongoing planning process with an annual review of progress and a more thorough review every five years to determine if major updates to the plan are needed.
"This will be a continuous process," Councilman Chris Riley said.
The plan includes implementation guidelines and the following priority programs:
- A compact, connected Austin with improved transportation options
- Sustainably managed water resources
- Investing in Austin’s workforce, education systems and entrepreneurs
- Protecting environmentally sensitive areas and integrating nature into the city
- Investing in Austin’s creative economy
- Developing and maintaining household affordability throughout Austin
- Creating a “Healthy Austin” program