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.