Downtown Redevelopment

January 2009 - Posts

Share your thoughts on new City Hall design concept

The architects working on the design for a new City Hall in southwest downtown made a presentation of their design concepts to the City Council at its Jan. 22 meeting. I know many of you interested in the Downtown Master Plan are interested in this project as well, so I wanted to share the presentation with you.

The team of Architecture Plus and Barnes Gromatsky Kosarek Architects have dubbed the design the "Texas porch," which ought to make at SWark happy (see comments on the last post). Here's a link to our Round Rock Replay page where you can watch the presentation. Go to agenda item 6C.1 on the "Jump To" drop-down menu.

The City Council is pursuing a public-private partnership with Waterstone Development for the building, which is estimated to be 55,000-60,000 square feet. The partnership would have the City occupying approximately 20,000 square feet initially, with the remainder to be leased out by Waterstone. The idea is the City could grow into the lease space over time. The City Council approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Waterstone at its Dec. 18, 2008, meeting. (For details on the MOU, this link will take you to a video of the Dec. 18 meeting. The MOU presentation and vote can be found at item 7D2 on the "Jump To" drop-down menu.)

Q&A from final Downtown Master Plan charrette presentation

As promised, here's a recap of the Q&A following our final presentation (PDF) of the Downtown Master Plan charrette. You'll want to click that link and have a look-see at the presentation slides to make much sense of the narrative below, unless of course you were at the meeting. And if you were at the meeting and think I've left something out or mischaracterized comments or questions, please let me know with a comment.

Q: How do parks and trails fit into the plan as far as providing pedestrian access into downtown?
A: You won't see very many people coming into the downtown area by foot. They'll use great streets to drive to downtown and to the parks and trail system. We don't think alleys, which you have downtown, are good for pedestrians; they're good for service trucks to use to access the businesses.

Neal Payton of Torti Gallas then asked for comments on their two proposed schemes for the Main Street ballfields site. (Many of those in attendance Friday night were at Tuesday's special focus session on the issue.) I heard comments like, "They have potential," and "It's a good start." Fair enough.

Q: If you've got 700 additional residential units and 70,000-90,000 square feet of new office and 107,000-145,000 square feet of new retail coming into downtown over the next 15 years (as our market demand study shows), where are they going to park?
A: The new residential units will "park themselves," i.e. won't use public parking spaces. As for the new retail, we've included a parking garage -- which the City had already been planning for -- at the northwest corner of Brown Street and Bagdad Avenue; you've got a lot of underutilized parking downtown today. If the redevelopment is successful, you'll likely need more but remember this: In a walkable community, the ratio of parking spaces per square foot of commercial space is lower than what you experience in non-walkable developments.

Q: You're showing a future commuter rail depot and Transit Oriented Development south of Main Street at Bagdad (south of the current City Hall). Where's the parking lot going to be for that TOD?
A: We're showing it at what is now the Parks and Recreation Department's yard site.

Q: You say the key to the plan is extending Main Street west to IH 35, and that becoming the "front door" for downtown. But IH 35 is noisy and ugly. How do you resolve that conflict?
A: The noise is not so bad, but yes IH 35 is ugly but what you have today from IH 35 looking toward Main Street is ugly.  So a well designed bridge and landscaping will make huge difference. Scott Baker from Melendrez said the landscaping can help tell the history of the community, from our cotton farming past, the Blackland Prairie, etc.

Q: Will the proposed form based code be similar to Leander's?
A: Leander has a Smart Code, Neal said, which he is familiar with because Torti Gallas is doing work for Capital Metro on its Leander rail station. Smart Code is different from a form based code. Neal noted there will be different standards for different parts of the plan area.

Q: Will sustainability standards regarding things like stormwater runoff and green building standards be included in the form based code?
A: That's certainly possible. Torti Gallas will recommend strategies and incentives to the City and it will be up to the political decision makers to include them or not.

Q: Do "green roofs" really have plants and shrubs growing on them?
A: Yes. Ironically, you do have to water them or the plants can die and then if it rains you'll have a roof of mud.

Q: The extension of Main Street to IH 35. What's it really for?
A: To give better access to downtown.
Q: But for folks coming from the south on IH 35, they'll have to exit way back at Hester's Crossing and go through two traffic lights to get there.
A: That's true, but we can put up proper signage to guide them along the way. But the most significant benefit is that it would give you a great entrance to downtown, a pleasing visual entryway. Neal noted that people like him with disposable income won't dine and shop in a place that's not visually appealing when there are ample alternatives elsewhere in the region. They will go to a cool place. As noted from an earlier meeting, the access is really a secondary benefit. "The visibility from IH 35 is everything," Neal said.  

A downtown resident a little later noted the new entrance would also be a great exit for downtown. He said folks could travel west to the interstate frontage road, and when TxDOT completes the work currently underway at RM 620 and IH 35 they'll be able to use the new northbound to southbound turnaround lane to get back on IH 35 going south without having to wait for a light. Neal agreed, and noted that taking some traffic off Round Rock Avenue will help make it a great street that's much more pedestrian friendly.

Q: How about having a T-ball field in downtown. You've got little kids playing and their parents would come and shop. That would be a great attractor. How about in the proposed town square?
A: The proposed park at the Main Street ballfields could be a location for it. Or you could do it in the square. We think you may want to have a whole other charrette to program the town square.
Q: A baseball field in downtown would also pay homage to our recent history with the Round Rock Express.
A: Absolutely. Neal thinks that's a great idea.

Q: We need some equestrian park space in Round Rock to acknowledge our frontier past.
A: Neal said it maybe could be done in Lake Creek Park, where he says there's lots of space.

Q: Another great example of a roundabout is on Hilton Head, where the motorists turning right don't have to enter the main lanes of the roundabout.
A: Gary Schatz, our transportation engineer from Walter P. Moore, noted the example he cited in the presentation from Malta, N.Y., has that same feature.

Q: How does the cost of roundabout compare to the cost of a traffic signal?
A: Gary said a modern traffic signal costs about $250,000 per intersection to construct and program, and then there are some ongoing staff costs to monitor and re-program the signal, if necessary. A roundabout costs anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, depending on its size, but there are no ongoing monitoring costs. Gary also noted that while the computers that run traffic signals are really smart, sometimes they can "go dumb" and you've got flashing reds all around until someone can fix it. You never have that problem with a roundabout.

Q: If I worked at the proposed Citi Centre development at the old H.E.B site (on the northwest corner of U.S. 79 and Mays Street), how would I get to downtown quickly? It seems like too far to walk. Would a shuttle bus work?
A: That's a great idea, especially for tourists and folks who would be staying at the proposed hotel on that site. Someone from the audience noted a shuttle from the Dell campus to downtown would be a good idea as well.

That prompted Neal to discuss the idea that was broached early in the week about a Dell retail store/history center/product and technology showcase space in downtown. Neal related that when Nancy Yawn, the director of our Convention and Visitor's Bureau came to the charrette on Friday, she said the plan looks great but asked what will differentiate Round Rock's downtown from other downtowns. The world's only Dell store/history center/product and technology showcase space would be one way to do that. Someone from the audience noted the Intel corporate museum in Santa Clara, Calif., its hometown, and that Apple has a cool concept with its Company Store in Cupertino, Calif., home of its world headquarters.

Q: I grew up in Washington D.C. where there are roundabouts that seemed confusing for a lot of folks. How are the roundabouts you're talking about different?
A: There are good and bad roundabouts. Neal noted he lived in the Washington D.C. area for 25 years and DuPont Circle works really well. People figure them out.
Q: How do you treat the middle of a roundabout?
A: Gary said it's a place where you can have public art or landscaping, but it's not for people to access. They stay on the perimeter.

Q: Have you looked at the current and projected traffic counts on U.S. 79? Hutto is growing like crazy. Can those roundabouts you're proposing on 79 really handle the traffic that's there today and the increased volumes in the future?
A: So you fear greater backups and delays?
Q: Yes.
A: Roundabouts are more efficient at handling traffic than signals. Here are some numbers Gary cited this week:

A typical road has the capacity to handle up to 1,900 vehicles per hour per lane. Backups and congestion occur at intersections. Different intersections have different capacities, to wit:

  • All‐Way Stop - Up to 400 vehicles/hour/approach
  • Traffic Signal - Up to 600 vehicles/hour/lane
  • Roundabout - Up to 1,200 vehicles/hour/lane

Roundabouts are also safer. Gary cites the following figures from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety research on modern roundabouts that show:

  • 39 percent reduction of all crashes
  • 76 percent reduction of injury crashes
  • 89 percent reduction of fatal and incapacitating crashes

Q: I didn't see any dedicated bike lanes on your Mays Street proposal.
A: Right. We can't fit them in the right of way on Mays, but we will be looking at other streets for bike lanes.

And that was it for the Q&A. I'm not exactly sure what topic I'll post on next, but I definitely plan to continue blogging on the downplan plan as the process moves forward. Anything in particular about the plan you want to discuss?
Round Rock downtown master plan final presentation

What an extraordinary week it's been. We started on Monday with a look at downtown Round Rock today and an outline of the opportunities before us. On Friday night, I believe we saw a true vision coming into focus, based on not just the urban design expertise of the Torti Gallas team (which is considerable), but from the ideas, concerns, hopes and dreams we heard from our residents, business owners and others throughout the week. I am still amazed at how well Neal Payton and his talented designers took that input wove it so artfully and effectively into the plan.

But as Neal said to open Friday's final presentation: Welcome to the end of the beginning. There's much, much, much work to be done to vet the ideas and concepts that emerged so beautifully during the charrette. But as you'll see as you look at the presentation (PDF), what a fantastic start we have made to re-establish downtown Round Rock as the heart and soul of the community.

I'll share some of the comments and Q&A in the next post.

Comments, questions from Downtown Round Rock charrette midpoint presentation

Hopefully you've had a look at the midpoint presentation in the last post. If not, you'll want to check it out here (PDF) so you can make some sense of what's to follow.

Here is a recap of the comments and questions from Wednesday night's presentation. Again, this isn't exhaustive but meant to give you a flavor of what we heard.

Question: How can you ensure implementation of the plan? I'm concerned about the plan being implemented in a piecemeal way.
Answer: There are many facets to implementation. They are, in no particular order, inclusion of the capital components of the plan into the City's CIP (Capital Improvement Program), adoption of the zoning into the General Plan, funding of projects through bond elections and other taxing capabilities. Part of what Torti Gallas will deliver to the City is a implementation plan, including funding options and an implementation schedule. The plan will need a champion, and that's usually not an elected official but a high-ranking staff member. We promised a more comprehensive list for Friday's presentation.

Q: Are you suggesting taking Mays Street from four lanes to three?
A: Yes, within the existing right of way. The inside lane today acts as a kind of de facto left turn lane. We think the concept we're proposing will handle the traffic just fine, and would make it much safer and easier for pedestrians to cross Mays.

Q: What happens if there are a bunch of northbound cars backed up on Mays trying to get into Round Rock Donuts on Liberty; won't they block the intersection at Main?
A: They can turn left on Main Street and get there another way. One of the benefits of an improved street grid like we're proposing is that it gives motorists multiple routes to get to their destinations. Instead of having one road carry the bulk of the load, you disperse the traffic among multiple streets.

These last two questions came from the gentleman who owns the bottled water and shaved ice stores at the southeast corner Mays and Liberty. He was worried the proposed changes would make it harder for customers to get to his business. Neal Payton from Torti Gallas responded that we believe the plan will draw more people to downtown and they can shop in a much more walkable environment, which is good for all retailers in the area.

Q: Will the City use imminent domain to acquire property for the plan?
A: No. We are setting up a framework for redevelopment to occur, but we'll not force anyone to sell their property. The existence of a plan (and its implementation over time) should make property more valuable if and when someone decides to sell.

Q: I like the idea of extending Main Street west to the IH 35 frontage road, but what about having to exit all the way back at Hester's Crossing and going through two traffic lights to get there?
A: We can work to get the proper signage to guide people to Main Street. It's certainly not perfect from an ease of access standpoint, true, but the real benefit is the visibility it will give to Main Street from the 200,000 motorists who pass by daily on IH 35.

Q: Will you use rainwater collection systems on the new roadways?
A: That's called bio-retention, and Scott Baker from Melendrez said it was a concept he discussed with our parks and rec staff early in the week. It's something we'll be considering as we develop the plan.

Q: Because the plan won't be implemented all at once, what can be done at the edges of the plan area to visually show folks they've entered into a special place?
A: Great question. We can use street and sidewalk pavers, and streetscape elements like light posts and benches. The proposed bridge from IH 35 to Main Street will be the most significant visual cue, particularly to IH 35 motorists.

Q: Should the proposed town square be bigger?
A: We think it's pretty big now. It's as big as the courthouse square in Georgetown, but without the courthouse building. That's a lot of space.

Q: Can you make streetscape improvements to Round Rock Avenue and not realign it onto Liberty or extend Mays to the interstate, and still accomplish what you want to?
A: We think the Main Street extension to IH 35 is the critical move to make in the redevelopment process. It creates a new front door for downtown, as discussed earlier. That said, we can also do something to Round Rock Avenue as a visual cue that you're entering a special place. 

Q: With the grid being so important to the plan, have you looked at Round Rock Avenue going away completely?
A: No, because it's part of the original street layout and has historic significance.

Q: How would somebody access the proposed park on the Henna property?
A: We would have to build a road from Mays Street, and there's also the proposed footbridge over Brushy Creek as well as possible future trails.

At this point, Neal asked for a show hands from the 40 or so in attendance what they thought about the "road diet," i.e., things like taking Mays from four lanes to three. Good idea? Lots of hands went up. Bad idea? Two hands up. What about using roundabouts? Good idea? Lots of hands up. Bad idea? Three hands up. With a laugh, Neal noted there were some who didn't vote. For those who voted bad idea on roundabouts, Neal asked why. One gentlemen (who we found out later owns a business on U.S. 79 in the old H.E.B. shopping center) said he was worried roundabouts would cause more congestion. Gary Schatz, our transportation engineer, said congestion would be about the same as it is today, but the intersections would be much more pedestrian friendly. The gentleman said he remained to be convinced, and encouraged us to study them further. We agreed we would, and noted the City's transportation staff and TxDOT district officials felt the same way.

Then Gerald Pohlmeyer, from TxDOT's district office Georgetown, said the district isn't strictly opposed to roundabouts. He noted they were partnering on a project in the City of Georgetown to build a roundabout in that community. He said he agrees taking Mays from four lanes to three would work from a traffic flow perspective; allowing on-street parking, though, is another issue. (On-street, parallel parking is critical on Mays -- or any other street, for that matter -- if we're going to have street-facing retailers on that road.) He worries about car doors opening into the traffic lanes. We understand the concern. Neal related that Connecticut Avenue in Washington D.C., where he lived for years, is a super-busy street that allows on-street parallel parking. Neal said cars parked on busy streets can provide the pedestrians on the sidewalk some safety, a series of two-ton steel buffers as it were, from the cars passing by.

We'd like to offer a big thank you to TxDOT again for the time they made for Gary, and especially to Gerald for coming to Wednesday's meeting. Gary said he typically gets a polite hour from state transportation officials when he's working on projects like this. Gary said he got two-and-a-half hours from TxDOT's senior staff in Georgetown. He said getting that much quality time and then having a staff member attend a public meeting is unheard of. There's still much work to do with our TxDOT partners, and we very much appreciate their listening to our ideas and concepts for this plan. 

Q: Is the state amendable to giving Mays Street to the City? At one time, he heard that state law didn't allow on-street parking on state roads. If the City owned the road, then City rules would apply.
A: Transferring ownership of Mays has been discussed.

With that, we wrapped up the meeting and encourage folks to drop in on the design team the rest of the week and to please come back for Friday's final presentation.

Round Rock downtown plan charrette midpoint presentation

Just a quick post (for now) on the midpoint presentation. I'll have a follow-up post to capture some of the comments and questions next time.

The presentation shows some of the initial concepts and ideas for how downtown could redevelop. Bear in mind this is not a final plan. It reflects input received so far. These ideas will be refined further as the charrette continues, and we'll show another iteration on Friday evening.

Here's the PDF of the presentation. We'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback.


Downtown charrette update 3: Main Street ballfields meeting recap

We had a really productive meeting Tuesday night to discuss the Main Street ballfields issue. My thanks to all who attended and shared their comments and listened to those of others in a spirit of mutual respect. There were many heart-felt comments, and many who attended spoke passionately about their desires. We truly had a civil conversation about a difficult challenge.

This issue, in nutshell, is this: There are about six acres on East Main Street that have been used as baseball fields by the community for decades. The Sam Bass baseball league has been the most recent user of the fields, which were owned by Trisun, the company that also owns Trinity Care Center nearby. Trisun gifted the property to the Round Rock Community Foundation in 2007 August 2008 on two conditions: 1) the Hope Alliance would move its administrative offices and women's shelter to the site next to the Round Rock Serving Center, and 2) the remaining property would be used to benefit social service agencies. Two of the six acres are zoned commercial, with the remaining four acres zoned single-family residential.

Nearby residents, who belong to the Heart of Round Rock Neighborhood Association, were extremely concerned about a cluster of social service providers in that location. A schematic drawing was shown last night, which was produced in 2007 and circulated at that time, which showed four, two-story buildings on the site, with the buildings fronting the street and 350 parking spaces on the rear of the property. Former Mayor Nyle Maxwell, who sits on the board of directors of the Community Foundation board, had asked for the drawing to show maximum utilization of the site. Maxwell's vision is to give a group of social service providers the opportunity to share administrative offices and other resources while giving their clients the possibility of accessing various agencies in one location.

Some of the specific concerns voiced by residents last night were: loss of green space, additional traffic, uses incompatible with a single family neighborhood, and building designs that don't blend with the historic homes.

It seemed clear that most residents were OK with having Hope Alliance located on the site, as well as WBCO's adult day care and Head Start program, which serve children and the elderly, respectively. (The WBCO programs are currently in the former Methodist church building on Brown Street, which no longer meets their needs and which they want to sell to the City, which is considering the site for a parking garage.) Representatives from Hope Alliance said they need a total of 12,000-15,000 square feet for their offices and a 60-bed shelter; folks from WBCO said they need 10,000-12,000 square feet for the adult day care and Head Start program.

Neal Payton from Torti Gallas, who is leading the charrette and who moderated last night's discussion, noted you could fit both those facilities on the two acres zoned commercial (which is next to the Serving Center), but he also said, from an urban design perspective, you wouldn't want to leave the remaining four acres for parkland. That's too much park to benefit too few families in a corner of the neighborhood. Leaving some of that four acres for a passive park or open space probably would be appropriate.

Neal noted a Planned Unit Development (P.U.D.) could be formulated for the site. A P.U.D. is essentially a negotiated land use agreement that can provide for multiple uses that somewhat outside the box of traditional zoning. It's a way for developers and neighbors to work together to find land use solutions that are acceptable to both.

The meeting ended with the Community Foundation agreeing to work with the neighborhood to see if there is an acceptable solution that satisfies both and is in context with the overall Downtown Master Plan.

This post certainly isn't meant to be a detailed recitation of the meeting. I've just tried to capture the main points. Some residents were clear they want the ballfields to remain ballfields, period. Other residents didn't have a problem at all with social services at that location. But I believe we left the meeting with a spirit of compromise and a promise to work together to find a solution everyone can live with. As Neal said, urban planning is all about compromise. In our plan, no one will get 100 percent of what they want, but everyone should get at least a little bit of what they want.

If you feel I've left out pertinent points, please leave a comment. And again, thanks to all who participated and helped the community make some real progress on this important issue.

Comments, questions, issues from Day 1 of Round Rock's downtown charrette

Here's a recap of the questions and issues raised by folks during our kick-off presentations on Monday (as well as our responses, as appropriate). They questions are listed in the order they were asked, starting with the morning meeting. This list is fairly complete, and touches on the major issues discussed, but doesn't capture every comment or suggestion. I can only write so fast ...

Q: Explain why you have the boundaries you do for the plan.
A: Here's a link (PDF) to the plan map. IH 35 is the western boundary because it is an obvious barrier; Lake Creek and the Union Pacific Railroad are the southern boundaries because they are natural and man-made barriers, respectively. Other boundaries are not quite as obvious. We took in the Mays-US 79 intersection because it is an important transportation gateway into downtown. On the east, we wanted to include the residential neighborhood known as the Flat because of its proximity to downtown, as well as the Main Street ballfields because of potential future development of that site.

Q: What's the cost going to be to the public to complete the plan?
A:  We won't know the final costs -- some of which will be public, some of which will be paid for by the private sector-- until the plan is complete, which is scheduled for this summer. An important element of the planning process will be to present financing options to make the physical improvements needed to support the redevelopment of downtown.

Q: Will the plan take into consideration the location of City facilities and office spaces?
A: Yes. The impact of the new City Hall, to be built at the end of Brown Street, and the City's acquisition of the building next to the current City Hall, are recognized elements of the plan.

Q: What efforts have been made to understand the history of Round Rock?
A: A historic preservation consultant is part of the project team, and she has made a brief study of the area. (In response to this question, we scheduled and subsequently held a meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the City's history and how it can relate to the plan.)

Comment: A resident expressed concerns about possible zoning changes on Main Street. Neal Payton of Torti Gallas then asked what she would like to see. She said arts and cultural facilities and activities, artist colonies, a children's museum or children's art spaces; she wanted uses that are friendly to the neighborhood in terms of noise and trash; she wants to be able to talk to pedestrians who walk the sidewalk by her fence. Zoning changes she fears are those that would allow a lot of bars, car repair shops and the like. 

Comment and question: Downtown has lost its focus. What are its core values? There's a high turnover rate of retailers downtown.
Response: We talked a lot about downtown values at our scoping meeting 13 months ago. Here's the report (PDF) that captured that discussion and formed the basis for our current planning effort.

Q: A building owner downtown commented that he prefers leasing to professional service providers like architects, as opposed to retailers, because they tend to be more stable tenants. He wants to see downtown become vibrant and active and wants to help.
A: Tom Moriarty from ERA, our economic analysts, said it's important to understand the needs of both landlords and tenants. He added that their analysis shows there is demand to support more retail, but there's not enough retail space at this time to draw people to downtown as a shopping destination. A key part of the plan, Tom said, is to develop a strategy to locate retail in the locations downtown where they can best thrive.

Comment: Please no Target's or Starbucks in downtown. Neal noted that Tom's analysis shows local or non-national chain retailers are much more likely locate in downtown than chains. There are plenty of those kinds of retailers elsewhere in town.

Comment: While this process is great, Round Rock should hold a human charrette to look at what opportunities exist for its people, for its diverse population. (Could the person who made this comment contact me? I didn't get a chance to meet you after the meeting, but this was a really cool idea.)

Q: What about the idea of diverting traffic from Round Rock Avenue and moving it to another street to make it easier for pedestrians to cross Mays at Main Street?
A: That's an idea we're looking at in great depth this week.

Q: And what about the intersection at Georgetown and Main Street?
A: We're also looking at ways to improve that intersection.

Q: What about roundabouts?
A: They're an alternative we'll be exploring for some intersections downtown. Gary Schatz, our traffic expert, asked how many folks had used the roundabout in La Frontera. Pretty much everybody raised their hand. When he asked how many liked it, about half raised their hands. When asked who hated it, the other half raised their hands. Gary said national studies show that roundabouts are generally opposed by a 2:1 margin when they are proposed; after they are implemented, they get a 3:1 favorable response.

Q: We've seen a lot of homes in the southwest downtown area convert to commercial. We're concerned about that happening in other parts of downtown. What are the chances of re-converting from commercial to residential?
A: That's not likely to happen. The question we need to answer this week is, where is it appropriate for those residential-to-commercial conversions to happen.

Q: Describe catalyst projects.
A: It could be the re-routing of a street, it could be streetscape improvements, it could be identifying key building locations. We think connecting West Main Street to the IH 35 frontage road is a catalyst project.

Q: If the rail line on the southern boundary of the study area is abandoned, why not take McNeil Road and extend it (or Bagdad) east to A.W. Grimes in that right of way.
A: We haven't heard of plans to abandon the rail line, but we think that area has much promise as a future rail stop and thus prime for transit oriented development.
Comment: I'd like to see some places for children, like a music studio or art studio, something non-commercial in nature.

Comment: I'd like to see a space for ballroom dancing.

Comment: We need better street lighting.

Comment: We need to put a red light on top of the water tower again.

Comment: Let's keep the water tower lighted all year long. It looked great on Christmas Family Night.

Q: Will there be architectural design guidelines as part of the plan?
A: We will develop a form-based code as part of the plan.

Comment: We want sidewalk cafes.

Q: What can you do about cut-through traffic in downtown?
A: These are public streets, so you can't prevent people from driving on them. But we can create designs and engineering solutions that make it less attractive for people to cut through neighborhoods.

Q: Will the City's Transportation Master Plan accept some of those designs that create a little more congestion?
A: That's an important question: Are we willing to slow down traffic in exchange to higher quality of life, i.e., a walkable downtown district? The consultants will make suggestions and present options; the final decisions will be make by the City Council.

Q: Is TxDOT involved in this planning effort?
A: Gary noted he had spoken with TxDOT staff in both its Austin and Georgetown offices. (On Tuesday, Gary was able to schedule a meeting with TxDOT personnel in Georgetown for Wednesday morning.)

Q: What about parking?
A: Neal responded he's heard a lot of people say there's not enough parking downtown but we have a parking garage with plenty of empty spaces. We agreed there needs to be more done to raise awareness of the FREE parking garage next to City Hall. Neal also made this point: "You've never been to a really great place that has enough parking." Gary added we'll be looking at parking strategies as part of the plan.

Q: How do the demographics of Round Rock figure into the plan?
A: Tom Moriarity of ERA said they have looked at demographic information for the market demand analysis.

Comment: I've lived in Round Rock for more than 30 years and know a lot about change. I'm not opposed to change. We talked about our core values in this community, and this plan needs to adhere to our core values.

Comment: The lot next to the City Hall and parking garage where the old senior center was could be turned into a sidewalk cafe.
A: We're not sure yet what the best use for that space might be. We'll explore some options this week.

That's all I've got in my notes. If you're reading this and believe I missed something significant, please comment and let us know.

In my next post, I'll provide some details about the Tuesday night special focus session on the Main Street ballfields. I can say this: It was well attended, with around 65 residents, as well as representatives from the Round Rock Community Foundation, Hope Alliance and Williamson-Burnet Counties Opportunities (WBCO), which runs an adult day care center and Head Start program downtown. We had a productive, civil discussion and made some real headway. Again, more details in the next post.

Downtown Round Rock master plan charrette, Update 1

We have launch! Day 1 of our downtown plan charrette is complete; we've had two public kickoff presentations and a day's worth work sessions. I'm estimating we had at least 100 folks turn out for the presentations.

Our plan designers were busy during the day (and night) sketching out preliminary ideas and concepts, as well as meeting with citizens and others who have dropped in the Community Room at the McConico Building to share their thoughts. 

For those who couldn't make it, here's a PDF of today's presentation.

Some of the highlights of the presentation include:

  1. Neal Payton of Torti Gallas provided an overview of the elements that make up a great place
  2. The market demand analysis performed by ERA shows there is a solid market for more retail and residential units in downtown; the demand isn't as strong for office space, because there is significant vacancy in Class A space in the Austin-Round Rock market, but there is still enough demand to contribute to a healthy mix of uses downtown.
  3. There are various approaches to dealing with the pedestrian issues downtown, particularly when it comes to crossing Mays Street. We will be evaluating the trade-offs associated with those options as we explore them further this week.
  4. Neal also presented the idea of re-thinking how we define outdoor spaces. It is helpful, in this kind of urban planning, to think of the street as a room, with clearly defined edges and enclosures. Neal contends Mays Street can become a truly great street, one that's walkable and attractive that functions just as well for pedestrians as it does for vehicles.

Again, these are just a few of the highlights. There is more detail in the presentation, particularly on the economic analysis.

I'll share some of the comments and questions that were raised in yesterday's meetings in my next post. If you can't make it to the charrette, feel free to communicate with us via the blog.

News and notes on the Downtown Plan charrette

We're almost there! Just a few days left until we kick off the charrette for the Downtown Master Plan.

A couple of things to note from the last post. We have decided to hold three meetings in the Baca Center instead of the Community Room at the McConico Building, where most of the charrette will take place, because we anticipate a large crowd. The Monday evening kickoff meeting, Tuesday evening special session on the Sam Bass ballfields issue, and the Friday final presentation will be held in the grand room at the Baca Center (where we had the big downtown meeting in November 2007), which is next door to the McConico Building.

The Monday morning kickoff presentation and Wednesday evening interim presentation, as well as the daily work sessions, will remain at McConico.

I plan on live blogging the charrette, so folks who can't attend can keep up with goings-on as the design process unfolds over the course of the week. Not sure exactly how frequently I'll post, but it should be at least once a day. So please provide me comments via the blog if you can't make it but still want to provide input. I'll make sure the design team receives all comments I get here.

Look forward to seeing you (or hearing from you) next week.