« Updates | Main | Chris Riley for City Council »

My disingenuous sense is tingling

Allow me to present the SNAustin.org mayoral forum, with these humdingers:

1. This video shows you successful VMU projects and how nice their open spaces are and then says we need rules to make sure VMU developments provide enough open space. Wouldn't it be smarter to show some that didn't provide enough open space, if any such existed? Maybe they couldn't find any, because I can't think of any that do that bad a job.

Huh. So the VMU developers are already doing a good job providing a lot more public open space than, let's say, the typical residential or commercial areas in this part of town have done (where 'open space' is comprised of surface parking lots, driveways, swales, and huge front setbacks of St. Augustine grass - precisely none of it 'public'). Is it possible, just possible, that these folks aren't really "advocates for new urbanism", like the almost-all-the-same-folks-but-really-quite-different-no-trust-us RG4N? You know, the same folks who claimed to want a VMU development at Northcross but now say they're thrilled with a single-story Wal-Mart surrounded by acres of surface parking,

2. From this posting for the forum:

The neighborhoods - Allandale, Brentwood, Crestview, Highland, North Shoal Creek, and Wooten - have identified three priorities for discussion at the forum: code enforcement, minimum public open space in mixed use districts, and transportation policy with an emphasis on pedestrian, bicycle and transit connectivity.

Oh, so NOW they're concerned with "bicycle connectivity"?. That's swell. Allow me to suggest it's difficult to take you seriously given your failure to even address obliquely what happened the last time a clear and compelling interest in bicycle transportation conflicted with the desire of a few old coots to park their overflow cars on their side of the street. Resulting in some real cool "bicycle connectivity". As in, one of these days a bicyclist is going to end up connected with an automobile because you guys couldn't walk across the street to get to your fourth and fifth cars.

Or do your old pal M1EK a favor and just go ahead and ask them about Shoal Creek at the forum. That ought to be some fun.

Update: How could I have forgotten their other priority?

3. Code enforcement. Yes, now, only now, do these folks want to make the city respect the integrity of the city code. You know, the same code that clearly stated that Lincoln and Wal-Mart had the legal authority to build exactly what they wanted to build at Northcross? The code that so clearly stated those development rights that not one but two judges sent RG4N and ANA home crying with their tails between their legs? The code that was so obvious that the judge nearly made ANA pay Lincoln's legal bills when ANA foolishly tried to appeal? That code, the one you made the city waste a million or more dollars defending?

Oh yeah, that code. Well, now that Wal-Mart scaled back due to economics, I guess we can return to insisting that it must be defended at all costs, right?

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Bicycling in Austin , Republicans Hate Poor People , Republicans Hate Public Transportation , Republicans Hate The Environment , Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad


TrackBack URL for this entry:


FWIW, Chip isn't on the RG4N board, he left way long ago (neither are several of the others currently listed including me, the list is very out of date). I believe Zettner helped design the VMU example for RG4N but was never part of the leadership. Otherwise I'm not aware that RG4N and SN have any overlap.

Fair enough. So I could adjust my already too long compound word to read that the folks I was talking about were involved in RG4N back when it was more of a going concern?

I still see a lot of overlap in the folks providing the motive force behind both groups (back when RG4N was not a zombie, I mean).

Oh, and, if you guys left because you disagreed with their stance at the end (being happy with the standard Wal-Mart), I must have missed the memo. If you just left because the fight was over with, on the other hand, there's no grounds for objecting with being grouped with them, is there?

That was more mean than I meant to come across. What I meant was that if you guys left RG4N because you were really believers in all this good urban stuff, then it would have been nice to hear that at the time - it would have been some evidence that some of you really were just being co-opted by the reactionaries, as is the nicer interpretation of how things went down. I'd really like to believe that's how it happened, personally.

Which people involved in SN, other than Chip and Steven, had any involvement with RG4N? I am asking, I really don't know who all is involved in SN. I think there's one person in SN who is or was on the ANA board, I'm not sure though.

You are right about some subset of the people who live in this area - some don't want any VMU, additional density, etc. What I don't think you have ever realized (or believed) is that others in this area DO understand the need for increasing central city density and actually like and want VMU. The other thing I think you fail to see (or believe) is that people can agree on the goal without agreeing on the best way to accomplish it. That doesn't make them disingenuous.

Hope, regarding the "best way to accomplish it": I know enough about development to know that establishing minimum open space requirements along the lines of the (larger, exempt from property tax) Triangle or the (much taller, hence much richer) 2nd street district is, even if done with the best of intentions, going to result in very little VMU actually being built.

So this isn't a disagreement about the 'best way to accomplish X'; because I know that your method, even if done with the best of intentions, won't result in X at all (not just X later, or less well, but no X in many cases).

Sustainability requires a lot MORE VMU than the ordinance currently calls for, by the way. Anything which results in less shouldn't be allowed to call itself by that name.

Oh and regarding the membership of the two groups, I'm judging based on the neighborhood associations behind each, as well as the similar rhetoric about "oh, yeah, we DO want all that good urban stuff, but we have these objections that will so conveniently lead to nothing getting built but the standard strip sprawl, so sorry".

I judge based on actions (and likely consequences of intended actions), not just words. After all, every single city council candidate answers the general density versus neighborhoods question with the same exact words, right?

"So this isn't a disagreement about the 'best way to accomplish X'; because I know that your method..." Not my method. SN's.

Have you or they looked to see whether/how other cities regulate open space within such development? If so, has there been any analysis of the impact of such regs on development?

Really, I don't know much about development policy. But I know Chip pretty well I think, and know Steven well enough, and I feel confident vouching for their integrity and straightforwardness. Of course, I acknowledge that my endorsement holds less than no weight here. ;) The point being, in their case, I encourage you to take them at their word and just argue approach rather than motive.

Also, can you clarify: is it your position that any VMU, with or without open space or whatever else, is preferable to what exists currently, thus we should encourage it via as few regs as possible and take it even if it isn't what we think is ideal?

Will you be giving us your mayoral and CC recommendations soon? I think I hate all the choices and I don't know what to do. Give me the Bile 2009 Endorsements!

"This video shows you successful VMU projects and how nice their open spaces are . . . "

No it doesn't. It shows some nice VMU projects downtown interspersed with shots of Austin's magnificent central parks and hike and bike trail. None of that open space was privately supplied. Are the people in ANA now claiming that they shouldn't have to "endure" VMU until the city builds a hike and bike trail for them? Or, better, that it should be privately funded as a reward for grudgingly allowing more people to live in their area?

Neighborhoods deserve parks. ANA. SLNA. All of them. But 3- or 4-story mixed-use buildings don't create a need for parks. The density they provide makes parks better, by increasing the number of users, which increases safety, which increases the number of users . . .

Shifting the responsibility to the property owners to fund what ought to be publicly provided just functions as a tax on density. And a very heavy tax for narrow tracts that front major arterials. Which, I suspect, is the real point of that slick little video.

I don't know what it is about this part of town . . .

"Also, can you clarify: is it your position that any VMU, with or without open space or whatever else, is preferable to what exists currently, thus we should encourage it via as few regs as possible and take it even if it isn't what we think is ideal?"

I could give a little more wiggle room if the neighborhoods in question were a little more dense already - but they're not - so ANY VMU is not just an improvement, but a HUGE improvement.

CB, I did notice the focus on public parks too - but was referring to the large amount of publically-usable open space within the VMU projects themselves - which they noted in the video.

It seems a bit odd to complain that the market won't provide any such space when it's already doing so - but then again, I also called the "force VMU not to occur on thin tracts" bet on facebook, so I'm with you there too.

"Also, can you clarify: is it your position that any VMU, with or without open space or whatever else, is preferable to what exists currently, thus we should encourage it via as few regs as possible and take it even if it isn't what we think is ideal?"

(1) City Code already heavily regulates VMU, more than necessary, IMHO. But these regulations are there to ensure that a VMU project will improve the public space. "As few regs as possible" is a phrase that makes no sense for VMU.

VMU sidewalks will be a tremendous improvement over what's already on Anderson or Burnet (or South Lamar).

(2) Whose preferences are we to take into account? There are the people who will live in the VMU project. There are the commuters who will use the retail and services in the VMU. There are the people who will work at the VMU's shops and offices. There are the people who will use its sidewalks. And then there are the homeowners who live in the vicinity. I'm not sure why we should allow upzonings on busy arterials only when the project meets area homeowners' definition of "the ideal."

(3) As I said, the City should be doing its part to provide public parks and spaces. VMU projects, depending on size, sometimes might be the best place for this open space. There are several ways to fund it. Several of the mechanisms proposed by SN would simply act like a tax on VMU. (Several wouldn't, and I'm OK with those.)


In case anybody doubted the narrow lot thing.

1) 'Heavily regulated' is often one of those eye-of-the-beholder things. But perhaps my generic phrasing was due to my lack of familiarity with the regs.
2) I actually don't think the nearby homeowners are the only consideration (yes, I hear you choking in disbelief). I do think their preferences are *A* consideration, even if not the only - or even most important - one. I would think there are arguments aside from homeowner preference that would support minimum open space requirements, though.
3) I can see the point in not requiring a VMU developer to pay for the full cost of open space. Not all the benefits of the open space accrue solely to the developer (via the people who pay to live/work within the development). There's some public good-ish value to the space too. But it seems to me that the costs associated with growth and development of any kind have to be paid by somebody, and the developers who profit from it should have to kick in a fair amount (understanding, of course, that 'fair' is defined differently by different folks).

Post a comment