City proposes to make Airport Boulevard more friendly for pedestrians, businesses

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Max Smith waits for a bus with Rebecca Keply on Airport Boulevard Wednesday afternoon. An urban planning firm is in a 24 to 28 month planning process with area residents and business owners to make the street more pedestrian friendly.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Part of Airport Boulevard could become more friendly for pedestrians and businesses if a new proposal for the area comes to life.

An urban planning firm is in a 24 to 28 month planning process with area residents and business owners to develop zoning changes along Airport. The firm will present the final plan to the City Council, which will consider the recommendations for rezoning.

“They want to invigorate that stretch there, coming up with a more specific vision for the stakeholders. That vision is what informs the way that the code is written,” said Leah Bojo, a policy aide to city council member Chris Riley, who first proposed changes.

The process will invite community participation to create ideas for the future of the area. The new zoning is expected to encourage mixed-use and pedestrian-friendly development along the corridor, Bojo said.

The two-and-a-half-mile stretch between Lamar Boulevard and Interstate Highway 35 where the project is focused also runs alongside a Capital Metro rail line, and new growth in the area includes the purchase of parts of Highland Mall by Austin Community College.

Residents expressed a desire for a more walkable area with amenities and services along the corridor. By changing the way the area is zoned, the city hopes to open it up for new investments in the future, said Jorge Rousselin, urban design project manager with the city’s Planning and Development Review Department.

“The area is in transition. There is commercial development along the corridor,” Rousselin said.

Goals for the area include making the corridor more pedestrian-friendly, said Jayashree Narayana, project manager from Gateway Planning Group, the firm the city hired.

“Austin is in a good position to be able to encourage more investment closer into the city,” Narayana said. “The goal is to see how much redevelopment can happen that can prevent more sprawl.”

Justin Soechting, owner of The Grand, a bar and billiards hall on Airport Boulevard, said he is looking forward to the city updating infrastructure in the area.

Carol Huntsberger, owner of Quality Seafood Market and member of a citizen advisory board assembled by the firm, said some of the ideas envisioned for the area include a landscaped median in the road and pedestrian crossing areas near higher density development to facilitate foot traffic.

Area residents, business owners and the planning group will work on planning for the area during a four-day workshop in August, Huntsberger said.

“What’s exciting about this is that it’s not necessarily looking at all of the negatives but at what this area can become so that it becomes a really great area that people want to come to,” Huntsberger said.

Printed on 07/14/2011 as: City proposes to reinvigorate Airport Boulevard