A study of regulation and placemaking in Austin, Texas : analysis of the Grove at Shoal Creek PUD proposal
Sanders, Colton Wayne
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Land use planning requires patience, organization and fortitude. This especially true in Austin, Texas and specific to The Grove at Shoal Creek PUD that is determined to create a mixed-use development that will be a model for future urban infill projects in Central Austin. The City of Austin is currently rewriting its Land Development Code embracing form-based code to better facilitate the complete communities objectives of the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan adopted in June 2012. This report explores the strengths and hindrances of the current land development code’s planned unit development (“PUD”) regulations to address the goals of complete communities through a case study of The Grove at Shoal Creek PUD proposal. The proposed development has been touted as a leading example of how PUD zoning can be used to accomplish these objectives, and this report will critically analyze both the regulatory processes and content of the developer’s proposal against the desired objectives of the Imagine Austin Plan. CodeNEXT is a three-year undertaking by city staff to rewrite Austin’s land development code (“LDC”) that began in September 2013. CodeNEXT embodies the re-visioning of the LDC incorporating form-based code districts to providing an illustrative, hybridized land development code guided by participatory planning activities (Community Character Manual, 2015). The concepts of form-based code are introduced to discuss current trends surrounding the re-visioning of conventional (Euclidean) land development code to one that primarily focuses on the form of the public spaces and then the uses within the buildings as a secondary concern. There is also an emerging trend of hybridized code which combine convention and form-based codes, and it is expected that CodeNEXT will follow this process to guide future development in Austin, Texas with a new regulatory framework. Hybridized land development codes seek to retain and clarify the objectives of conventional code while formulating districts along activity corridors incorporating form-based code to create predictable development. This report seeks to determine, as a case study, how form-based code will facilitate or hinder future urban infill developments similar to The Grove at Shoal Creek. The developers of The Grove have submitted proprietary Project Design Guidelines to administer development within the site. The design guidelines are analyzed and compared to form-based code districts from other towns and cities in Texas and across the United States within this report. Also, the Envision Tomorrow suite of planning tools are used in connection with ArcGIS mapping analysis to compare and contrast the developer’s proposal with that of the stakeholders and a single family low density development scenario. The conceptual land use plans are evaluated against the requested entitlements of the zoning application to determine whether or not the illustrative concepts may become the final product. My report uses predictability as the ultimate indicator of a successful planning process while given consideration to flexibility required during the planning process and after approval of zoning to allow for changing market conditions. Furthermore, I find that form-based code and the phased planning approach prescribed by the Form-Based Code Institute facilitate predictable form of the built environment and flexibility with the uses within those building. The principles of form-based code seek to create a memorable relationship between the structures and the public spaces that is attractive to people allowing a place to stand the test of time by promoting compatibility and adaptability with its surroundings. My discussions with neighbors, city staff, developers and investors have afforded me a wide perspective on how land development code is understood as well as the perception of the regulatory environment in Austin. The regulatory delays inherent of real estate development in Austin have been observed for decades and widely discussed. This report seeks to address these short-comings by envisioning emerging methods of placemaking through form-based code. My hope is that the lessons learned from this analysis of The Grove PUD application process, and prescriptions formed by the creation of CodeNEXT will address recommendations from the Zucker Report through a hybridized land development code to effectuate placemaking in Austin preserving its eclectic character while guiding development to serve the needs Austin, Texas for the next thirty years.