What Are the City's Plans for Airport Boulevard?
Airport Boulevard – or at least the bustling but non-scenic stretch of it from the Mueller development to its terminus at North Lamar – may look and function a whole lot differently in the future.
For the past several months, the City of Austin, designers and planners have worked on a plan to beautify the urban thoroughfare, making it more multimodal and pedestrian friendly. Tonight, at a meeting of the city’s Design Commission, we’ll see the result of that work, as the commission discusses and may take action on recommendations in the Airport Boulevard Corridor Study Report.
So why this stretch of asphalt? Its location has several things going for it: The ongoing infill development at the former Mueller airport speaks to the area’s redevelopment potential; so does ailing Highland Mall, the largely-vacant retail destination center that Austin Community College has a large stake in. Then there’s the new Midtown Commons development at North Lamar, located on the Capital Metro Red Line.
The push to reconsider Airport Blvd. came from City Council member Chris Riley, the council’s resident design wonk. A 2010 bond election provided funds for a mobility study of the corridor. As can be seen in the image above, a mix of car lanes, bike lanes, and widened sidewalks sheltered from traffic by trees are some of the improvements being considered.
Working along with the corridor proposals is another proposal from Riley, to establish a “form-based code” pilot project in the Airport region. Essentially, form-based code upends traditional zoning by focusing on a structure’s form and design, rather than its use (commercial, industrial, residential, etc.). The Design Commission will also receive a briefing on this effort tonight.
All that said, the lack of attention (and low rent) Airport Blvd.'s held over the years has also allowed several popular businesses to establish there: Tamale House, Quality Seafood, I Luv Video, the Coldtowne Theater and more. Concern over effects from the changes on surrounding businesses has been voiced; the Austin Chronicle noted them in 2010, but found Quality Seafood owner Carol Huntsberger receptive to the proposals.