A child-friendly Burnet Rd?Bars on Burnet: Yes. Bar Districts: No
Steven Zettner [Email address: szettner #AT# austin.rr.com - replace #AT# with @ ]

This January I wrote the City Council a letter, available online at
www.snaustin.org/policies/bars, asking the City to define rules for determining bar density on commercial streets outside of downtown. Bar districts on Burnet Road
would threaten the potential for Burnet to evolve over time into Austin’s first child-friendly mixed use corridor. If you support such a vision, I hope that you’ll write City Council in support.

Bars, and especially small neighborhood bars, have a place on streets like Burnet. So do restaurants that serve alcohol. In fact, my non-profit, Sustainable Neighborhoods (SN), and other area organizations are planning a kid-friendly Oktoberfest event on Burnet for local craft beer makers.

The intent of the SN request is pretty narrow – to prevent the formation of bar districts in close proximity to residential areas, in particular areas with children.

Demand for bars is an outcome of new luxury apartments that cater to affluent young adults. An example is the recent request to site a Little Woodrow’s between the 5350 Burnet AMLI complex and the new Burnet Flats complex at 5453 Burnet. As more apartments get built on Burnet, one can expect more requests for bars.

Bar districts draw visitors from a wider area than the neighborhood. On South Congress, located in 78704 where bar density increased 78% from 2000 to 2010, many visitors are from downtown and can use a bus to quickly reach the district. But even there, many people drive. Once established, bar districts often get louder and operate later. This leads to
conflicts, including noise from music and late night revelers, as well as chronic traffic and parking on side streets. Burnet is more than a mile from any major transit-oriented center. Visitors to a bar district here would mostly drive.

Most bar districts are not child-friendly. The noise and behavior over-stimulate children (and adults). The greater traffic and side-street parking make those streets less safe for children. While this is certainly not the only factor that parents will consider when shopping for a house, for most proximity to a vibrant bar district would be a minus.

Children need to be a special priority for mixed use corridors. Urban areas across the US have sharply lower ratios of children in their population than suburban areas. Austin is no exception – downtown’s child-age population (78701) is just 4.3%, compared to a US average of 24.1%. Areas north and south of downtown retain children, but are still well below the national average – 78757 at 18.3% and 78704 at 16.3%. For comparison, Cedar Park has 30.8%.

Low child-age demographics should trouble environmentalists. If urban areas can’t develop mixed use neighborhoods that work for the other half of the population who today live in suburbs, the country as a whole will never be sustainable.

SN’s vision for Burnet Road is for it to be a place that works for all age groups, but especially children. This is consistent with the Imagine Austin plan. The existing residential neighborhoods adjoining Burnet have always been such places, and we have great schools and other child-friendly assets in our community. As our neighborhoods become integrated with Burnet itself by foot and on bike, we imagine a Burnet that becomes more like our neighborhoods. Lots of things are
needed to achieve that vision, but with good planning it can happen.

Please ask the City Council to take up this issue, as a down-payment on the bigger package of reforms needed to achieve a truly child-friendly mixed use corridor on Burnet in the future. More information, including Council email addresses, is available at www.snaustin.org/policies/bars.

Thank you,

Steven Zettner
Sustainable Neighborhoods
of North Central Austin