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Recent local media coverage of the rejected proposal for a development of townhomes in the River Road Historic District has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. The developers have consistently and persistently pursued their right, for over two years now, to conduct business as they see fit, and the residents of River Road have pursued, with equal resolve, their obligation to ensure that the developers “get it right” as they, the residents, will be the long-term recipients of said development outcome.
Contrary to popular belief, River Road is not anti-development, elitist or exclusionary. You’d have a hard time coming into our neighborhood of cottages and bungalows and building a McMansion or an office building, not because residents are anti-development, but because of small lots and city zoning laws.
River Road is welcoming to anyone who understands our love and deep respect for our cherished homes and unique locale. On my street of 11 homes, we have five Latino families and six Anglo families. The neighborhood has a number of residents who were born here or who’ve lived here most of their lives. The oldest home in our neighborhood, the Zambrano Homestead, was built in 1780 on a Spanish Land Grant. The neighborhood isn’t exclusionary, but there isn’t a huge amount of turnover because people love living here.
We are in favor of historic neighborhood preservation and intelligent growth. Just as other historic neighborhoods – Monte Vista, King William, Lavaca, Tobin Hill, Monticello Park, Woodlawn Lake – are protected from unwanted encroachments, River Road should be protected in the same way. In the case of the proposed development, plans were out of scale and lot coverage disproportionate. Three-story buildings on one-story Huisache Avenue are untenable, and the critical parking situation remains an unsolved mystery.
We in the neighborhood have felt all along that it’s not our position to design a developer’s plans for them but to offer guidance and recommendations based on our knowledge and assessments as residents. We want to see development that preserves heritage trees, respects the 1776 Spanish Colonial acequia, and addresses the threat of flooding that inundates this area on a regular and damaging basis. Again, the neighborhood is not against development – but it should at a minimum respect the environment to which they, the developers are inserting themselves into. The process with the Austin developer has felt, since day one, like squeezing a very large foot into a much smaller shoe and somehow calling it a good fit.
We just held our annual River Road Neighborhood Association Zoom meeting this past Sunday. As per usual our District One City Councilman, Roberto Trevino, and his Senior Policy Advisor, Jed Maebius, were with us, as well as our District 123 State Rep. (and former District One Councilman), Diego Bernal. They all shared the sentiment they like dealing with River Road because they always know where we stand. That we care, that we speak our mind, that we participate in the public arena of ideas and differences and strive to be heard is not a failure of conciliation but a clear affirmation of our commitment to what we esteem and defend.