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Ever-Present Development Divides a Transforming District 5

All photos courtesy of the City of Austin except for the bottom left and top right photos, which are courtesy of Anna Gonzalez and

Austinites are voting in 10 different geographically drawn city council districts this fall. And, with such a big change, we've been taking a closer look at each district.

Today, we look at District 5, which stretches from Onion Creek in South Austin to parts of Auditorium Shores downtown. At its heart is South Lamar, where lots of new construction is coming up, but this flurry of development is just the beginning.

The district and surrounding areas are currently planning to re-develop each of its neighborhoods into something called the "South Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan,” which hopes to plan for inevitable future development, while preserving South Austin neighborhoods.

“This plan is probably for your grandchildren,” says Carol Haywood of the city’s Planning and Development Review Board – the group that oversaw the plan’s creation. Haywood says implementing the neighborhood plan may happen quickly, or it may never happen at all.

She says there are too many variables at play – whether the Austin economy will continue its upward trend; whether neighborhoods embrace the plan; and whether the new city council embraces the plan.

As of right now, there’s no telling, but one thing is evident: Not all the neighborhoods are completely happy with the plan.

Rollin MacRae is a retired ecologist, and lives in the Southern Oaks neighborhood between Manchaca Road and Westgate Boulevard. He says the plan doesn’t go far enough to address environmental concerns. The goal of the combined neighborhood plan is to incorporate a city planning concept called "complete communities,” a plan dependent upon people working and playing right there where they live. In order to do that, amenities would need to be built into these South Austin neighborhoods. McRae says that idea terrified some of his neighbors.

“They would be allowed to, say, have a café,” he says. “And that would mean people coming out of a place serving alcohol at 11 o'clock at night, and getting into cars that were less than 15 feet of the bedroom of my neighbor's small children.”

Since there was so much discontent with some of these ideas, the city's Carol Haywood says planners had to go back to the drawing board and renegotiate with neighbors. Some sessions, she says, were exhausting – filled with “big visioning,” handwringing and plenty of maps.

Finally, a plan is in place and it's been presented to the current city council, which is on its way out.

Starting in January, a new Austin City Council will be in place. Perhaps then it will be clearer what will happen to the controversial South Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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