Downtown Redevelopment

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

PhxSunsFaninTexas said:

Awesome recap -- I feel like I was there!

# January 15, 2009 9:12 AM

SWark said:

Hi! I think this is a good place for this comment--it goes along with the public park space idea from this meeting.

Our "Sports Capital of Texas" campaign draws a lot of out-of-towners to the far edge of town, Dell Diamond and Old Settlers. As we redevelop downtown, can we plan spaces to draw some of those recreation dollars into the area? Our family has been brainstorming, and here are some ideas we thought we'd share:

Why can't Round Rock promote big road events, and plan the downtown road improvements to also be friendly to bike/running races? Austin is booting races out of the city as quickly as it can, mostly because of excessive road closure issues. But Austin is finished building itself; Round Rock is a work in progress, and if we think through the issue in advance, we can make our city a natural host for all of the events Austin can't accommodate.

So maybe we could consider building roads and trails with races in mind, so we can embrace the big races and enjoy the finacial benefits of them without -- and here's where the planning comes in -- inconveniencing the locals too much. It's a matter of thinking through safe routes for the racers, and alternate routes for the smooth flow of traffic.

For triathlons, in the downtown area we have the Lake Creek Pool (an underused facility with good bones), the small lake at Memorial Park (maybe?), and Krebsbach pool might even work if the trails/roads are friendly enough.

Marathons and half-marathons could bring steady streams of visitors for all of our cool-weather months, and RunTex's 20-miler, a staple in the Austin Distance Challenge, always needs a new home--why not show off downtown?

And every year when our family rides the Outlaw Trail, we wonder how much longer those roads east of town will be safe to host this wonderful biking event--why not make safe links from Old Settlers back towards downtown, and incorporate some of those miles into the event?

Athletes would pass local businesses, and may make a note to come back for lunch after the event (honestly, doesn't every runner who passes Kerby Lane Cafe in the morning promise himself he'll be back soon?). And some of these events will have lots of spectators who will want a snack. And if we have great trails and roads, training groups will come to town, too (witness the many training groups that meet at the Brushy Creek trail, plus the Sunstroke race series there every summer).

We have awesome weather here Oct-June (well, okay, we usually have a couple of rough weeks in January), and July-Sept is bearable if we can find places with shade and water. We can take care of our trees and creeks, and plan for porches and fountains, and make this a truly welcoming places for athletes.

I don't know how much of this is workable, but it's worth tossing around. And having big parks in downtown would be a benefit to the small downtown neighborhoods, sure, but it could also benefit us all. Gathering places build community, parks and trails build healthy people.

# February 5, 2009 9:54 PM
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