Friday, November 21, 2014

Loop 360 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations

Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highways) is designated a Hill Country Roadway (1) by the City of Austin. The City annexed the roadway and land on either side of it and protected it's character though land use zoning for new construction withing 500 feet and 1,000 feet of the road. The City also planned retail development only at the major intersections of the road. The rest of the land along the road was zoned for office, residential or civic use.

At the time of the creation of the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance, there was a lot of opposition from developers and land owners. This was described by E. Charles Palmer:

“Growth-control measures inevitably cause economic hardships in some areas. The Hill Country Road Ordinance, for example, has had considerable economic impact on the investors who purchased the land at inflated prices based on highest possible building density and height. The banks that lent money for purchase of the land are also hurt, as are the architects, contractors and others affected by loss of jobs. The developers accuse city government of being inconsistent and unprogressive, while city government consoles the developers on their poor business decisions. Despite efforts at compromise and talk of working toward common goals, the lines between proponents of rapid growth and the advocates of slower, more controlled growth seem to be more clearly drawn in Austin than in San Antonio. (2)”

620 was also classified as a Hill Country Roadway. However, incremental development, traffic congestion and widespread retail zoning has greatly degraded the road's scenic value.

Developers and land owners have continued to put pressure on the development of land along the Loop 360 corridor and left unchecked will gradually, incrementally destroy its character.

Loop 360 is already classified as a congested roadway by the Mobility Investment Priorities Project (3). “The rapid growth of Austin over the last several decades has exacerbated traffic congestion on Loop 360, as the city has nearly doubled in size every twenty years. Geography and environmental constraints contribute to limiting the right of way, complicating expansion plans,  because this particular segment of 360 crosses over the Barton Creek Greenbelt, an environmentally sensitive area.” Continued development of office space in the area will increase traffic congestion all over the city as people have to commute to the area. Rapid transit systems have to play a role in solving Austin traffic congestion problems and it it is not likely that a rapid transportation system would reach this area of office development.

Attempts to modify Loop 360 by TxDOT have met a considerable amount of resistance (4, 5, 6). Yet continued development coupled with the facts that there is no alternative north-south route in west Austin, and the lack of mass transit, is going to increase congestion in the corridor.

Two recent developments in Austin's land planning efforts – Imagine Austin (7) and CodeNEXT (8) – have possibly opened the 360 corridor up for expansion discussion once again.

The concept of a neighborhood being developed in Austin's CodeNEXT project could positively or negatively influence the development along 360. If the developers and land owners manage to get this corridor classified as a neighborhood, then they could possibly control its development based on an incremental approach of “more of the same”. With the establishment and recognition of a 360 CONA, we might be able to use the concept of the 360 corridor as a neighborhood to keep it a scenic roadway.

The 360 CONA would be modeled after the 2222 CONA (9) created by Peter and Carol Torgrimson

“The purpose of the 2222 Coalition of Neighborhoods Associations (2222 CONA) is to provide a forum for influencing development of the 2222 Hill Country Corridor in a manner that benefits the people who live, work, and enjoy recreation in the 2222 Corridor

Our focus is to encourage development that minimizes traffic safety problems, minimizes negative impact on the environment, preserves the natural resources, and blends aesthetically with the natural beauty of the Hill Country.”

I think it is imperative to the future of the Loop 360 corridor that this 360 CONA be developed. Together we can exert more power than we can individually. I have estimated almost 9,000 households would be contained within this corridor. If we don't have a way to look at the Loop 360 corridor as a system, understand its past and protect its future, we will see a degradation in the scenic road way and a decrease in the quality of life for us, and a possible degradation of the economic value of our homes. As the old saying goes, we re in danger of “being nibbled to death by ducks.”

If you are interested in representing your neighborhood in discussions about the formation of a 360 CONA, please contact me.

1. Hill Country Roadway Ordinance (1985)
2. E. Charles Palmer, The Balcones Escarpment,
3. Texas A&M Transportation Institute
4. Texas State Highway Loop 360:
5. Loop 360 Issues:
6. Austin Comp Planning: A Brief History:

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