Town Centers Make a Lot of Sense, but Not Everywhere
Town centers (as defined by New Urbanists - highly walkable, well-defined communities with open space, civic features, clumped around robust mass transit) make sense. We have not met anyone who objected to density added according to this definition.
Sustainable Neighborhoods evaluated 11 locations along Anderson Ln and Burnet according to town center criteria, to determine the best places to focus density. (Click on graphic below to enlarge). Two places stood out: Anderson Ln and the North Loop area. While there are some places between these two nodes that have potential to become future town centers, these locations also have deep-rooted flaws that will require a careful planning process to rectify. For example, the Burnet Self-Storage site at 6400 Burnet thrusts deep into the neighborhood, has flooding issues, and is not near an intersection that can support a transit hub or traffic flow on and off the site.
VMU on "Between Center" Properties Is Counter-Productive
Most of the locations along the west side of Burnet Rd. are characterized by what we call "shallow lots." These are small commercial properties less than 200 ft in depth. They tend to be far from major intersections, so future VMU residents would not be within walking distance of effective mass transit. They would be near bus stops, which are less efficient in midtown areas because commutes tend to be much longer than for in-town residents. Because the lots are shallow, there are fewer destinations within walking distance, and the City is unlikely to invest in resources like civic buildings or parks in these areas. In short, these are locations that will have the lowest mass transit use and the lowest quality of life parameters.
These "Between Center" lots will have a small impact on increasing mid-town density. For one thing, they are so small and far from Austin's major destinations that developers are unlikely to make a profit and will probably ignore them for decades. Yet the very potential of someone to build a 3-story apartment complex behind existing homeowners makes these properties a lightning rod for neighborhood fears. These lots are energizing opposition to all aspects of VMU, undermining the legitimate goals that City leaders espouse.
Zone for Live-Work Instead
Sustainable Neighborhoods asked New Urbanist visionary Peter Calthorpe what he would build in "Between Center" locations. He proposed live-work, whereby small entrepreneurs live in lofts internally connected with their ground-floor place of work. These people won't be likely to drive at rush hour, will have a bigger stake in the local community, and will be among the most vigilant in spotting and reporting crime. Converting existing commercial buildings into two-story lofts is more cost-effective than VMU, is environmentally friendly, and has a much reduced aesthetic impact on existing residents to the rear.