Downtown Redevelopment

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?


SWark said:

Hi! We've loved being involved in the charrette process, to the extent time allowed. After visiting the display at McConico, our family continued to brainstorm, and we thought we'd submit those ideas as well:

1) Architecture--I know this will be addressed separately, but we wanted to drop in our 2 cents already. The newer city buildings--flat, straight walls, no shade for passersby--really don't reflect our town's unique place: Central Texas. We need to think in terms of native stone/rock, balconies and shaded porches, reaching back into our history farther than the flat-faced frontier style to more of a hacienda look.

2) Greenscaping--smart and beautiful water collection/runoff management, such as at the Lady Bird Wildlife Research Center, is the way of the future, and is cheaper to incorporate at the design stage than to retrofit. Georgetown is doing a great job in its new areas by showing how native/xeric plants can be used to make beautiful landscaping--if our city takes a similar lead, we can encourage families to build beautiful yards that benefit our native ecology rather than the traditional, resource-intensive lawns that have become the norm.

3) The towns we love to visit in Colorado--Crested Butte, for example--have many reasons to come downtown, including quick and unique breakfast/lunch places (oriented more towards spur-of-the-moment meals and snacks rather than planned sit-down meals that will take at least an hour, which is what the downtown RR eateries are) interesting public art, and comfortable places to curl up with a chatty friend or a good book. They are great places to go for a cheap afternoon of bumming around. A great book on building communities is available at the public library: The great neighborhood book : a do-it-yourself guide to placemaking / Jay Walljasper Gabriola Island, BC : New Society Publishers, 2007.

4) Physical activities--we bill ourselves as the sports capital, and draw a lot of out-of-town dollars to Dell Diamond and Old Settlers, which are far away from the heart of the city. Can we designate areas that could function like Zilker Park in Austin, to draw families into downtown for games and activities? Families could park the car for the day, then slip around downtown on paths or bikes or shuttles. Sports events and similar activities would benefit downtown businesses as families get hungry and thirsty, need items they forgot to bring, see cool shops that they want to make a return visit to, etc.

# January 22, 2009 10:16 AM

SWark said:

Okay, one last thing. At the charettes, the name on the 79/Mays plaza was "Citi Centre." I hope Citi Centre is just a working name--it's a fine working name, but for a permanent name of a prominent city feature, it's awfully cute, and reminiscent of CitiBank.

City Center, City Centre maybe, Round Rock Square/Plaza/Hub, whatever...we need to brainstorm a big list of names to find a winner for this key feature of our citi, er, city.

# January 22, 2009 10:38 AM

Will Hampton said:

Cathey Carter, a downtown area resident who participated in last week's charrette, sent me the following in an email. She said posting it to the blog would be fine.


Thank you for arranging the Master Plan charette sessions last week.  I found it very interesting and encouraging.  I apologize for the length of this letter but hope my comments may be helpful.  Feel free to share any of this with anyone.

1.  Developing a social services center on East Main Street.  I like both of the sketches Torti Gallas produced and think either would be a good use of the site.  I am aware that at least one vocal person remains very opposed to the shelter.  I hope the Community Foundation would consider two ideas:  First, in seeking PUD approval they should approach the entire neighborhood, not the few members of the Heart of Round Rock Association.  Starting from the attendance lists of the charette itself might be a good way.  Second, if the neighbors simply won’t agree to the shelter as part of the PUD, then do a PUD for the four acres that need it for Headstart and the adult daycare only, with some park.  Then put the shelter on the two acres zoned commercial with no neighborhood cooperation required.

I don’t think many residents of downtown actually know what the shelter is proposed to be.  If this was presented to the neighborhood association it didn’t get dispersed to anyone else.  I would certainly appreciate hearing more about it.  Is the purpose to protect people from freezing weather, with no questions asked?  Or is the purpose related to rehabilitation with a no-alcohol policy?  How many adult men, how many adult women and how many children are typically there?  What is the average length of stay?  What is the most common next place a resident goes?  How many of the adult residents would be likely to have a car and a job?  Would the shelter operator be willing to show downtown residents their existing shelter?

2.  Existing Owner-Occupied Houses.  The Torti Gallas folks obviously relied on aerial photos to try out some of their ideas.  I think street-level façade pictures would be a good supplement, combined with a list of which houses are owner-occupied.  I’m aware of at least six owner-occupied houses in very good condition on Pecan and Fannin plus another three in-fill houses on other streets that are no more than five years old.  There must be many others that I don’t know.  These good quality owner occupied houses should be kept as part of the master plan.

3.  Affordability.  I would love to see a commitment to keep at least a certain number or percentage of residential units very affordable.  Round Rock is not just a city of small businesses.  The big businesses like Dell, HEB, the school district, and the hospitals each need a big supply of local minimum-wage workers to empty the trash cans, wash the dishes, run the laundry, sweep the floors, etc.  There’s no public transportation network to import these workers from somewhere else, and the jobs at the bottom don’t pay well enough for people to commute to them from far away.  Our middle-class teenagers living with their parents can run the cash registers at the stores, but they aren’t going to ride the Waste Management truck twice a week.  This isn’t just a matter of Christian charity or courtesy to the neighbors we already have – it is an economic necessity for the big businesses and for all of us.  If the low-income workers aren’t going to be able to live downtown, where will they live in Round Rock?

4.  Lot sizes in the redeveloped area.  I was disappointed to see that the lot sizes in the redeveloped area seemed to be consistently tiny.  Please provide more variety.  Some people want to garden and need more room.  Round Rock already has many, many neighborhoods that fill the need for consistent small lots.  Include both large (1/2 acre) and small lots in downtown.

5.  Heights of multi-family buildings close to the creek.  Please consider limiting these so that no one on a roof deck can look directly into the backyard of the nearest single-family house.  A three-story could be okay if there’s no house in the same block, but two stories should be the limit adjacent to or immediately across the street from a house.

6.  Walkability of Highway 79.  This wasn’t officially in the study area, but it is a big and solvable problem.  I see people walking along 79 from Mays to A. W. Grimes, in daylight, and in the dark.  I see people crossing 79 on foot, sometimes one adult and several small children.  Crossing Mays or Round Rock Avenue is safe and easy compared to crossing 79.  This is dangerous now and will sooner or later be tragic.  The lights near Grimes are a big improvement.  We need lights and sidewalks on both sides of the street all the way to I-35.  We also need at least two places with safe pedestrian crossing, preferably at Mays, Georgetown, and Grimes.  I am open to anything that works:  traffic circle, overhead crosswalks, under-road tunnels, variable signal schedules, raised medians, anything.  I’m willing to pay a special tax just for this.  Moving the grocery store back to Mays would also help, but isn’t likely to happen.

7.  What I liked best about the plan so far:  a central square, the big expansion of Veterans Park including the floodplain part of my backyard, the Brushy Creek pedestrian bridge, and the Lewis-Spring triangular park.

Thanks again,

Cathey Carter

# January 22, 2009 2:08 PM
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