Austin REALTORS® Help Homeowners Protect Their Community

By HOM Editor

Homeowners in Austin, Texas were concerned when they learned that a Dallas based developer had controversial plans for the 31 acres they purchased near the downtown area. The developer intended to have the area re-zoned so that it would be permissible to build high density, mixed use buildings. The redevelopment, known as “Austin Oaks”, had the potential to change the landscape of downtown Austin with tall buildings as well as creating traffic congestion.

While most homeowners were on board with the city’s “Imagine Austin” growth plan, this type of high rise development was not what they had envisioned. Signs protesting Austin Oaks were quickly planted in many front lawns and negotiations became tense, eventually resulting in a stand-off between homeowners and Austin’s city planning and zoning commision.

The Austin Board of REALTORS (ABOR) were also concerned, and in fact a great many of their REALTORS were homeowners in the northwest Austin neighborhood closest to the proposed development. ABOR supported the move to form a charrette in order to bring resolution and compromise.

A charette is a planning session that gives homeowners, designers and other community members an equal stake in the planning process. Providing designers with the advantage of getting immediate feedback and most importantly allowing everyone to have input in the planning process.

In a gesture of good faith, the developer contributed 88K in funding for the charrette and proposed that work desist until all parties could come to a resolution. ABOR also secured funding for the negotiation process with a $15k Smart Growth Action Grant from the National Association of REALTORS (NAR). The funding from NAR not only helped to sponsor the charette but kept it from being solely developer-funded. This was actually the second charrette that ABOR had sponsored with this grant, the first helping Austin to address the underdeveloped South Central Waterfront.

With the funding from NAR and the developer in hand, the community was able to hold “Vision & Values” workshops, as well as a week long design workshop. More than 250 residents participated in the intense preparatory phase.

After reviewing alternative plans presented by the designers, a consensus was reached within the community. In the end, many participants accepted the development of additional acreage in order to ensure that features like a parkland, bike lanes and a trail along the creek were included.

Andrei Lubomudrov, a policy analyst in ABOR’s public affairs department, shares what impressed him the most during the charrette. “The way the facilitator emphasized fairness and trade-offs: shorter buildings mean a bigger overall footprint; preserving heritage trees would mean taller buildings; and so on.” Lubomudrov went on to say, “The brilliance of the process was the constant striving for a balance of competing priorities.  Not that it was easy—but, as an approach, it really worked.” 


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