A plan guiding the aesthetics and traffic flow through downtown Waco will go before Waco Plan Commission for approval on Tuesday night.
The “downtown implementation plan,” drafted by the design firm Kimley Horn, lays out what architectural features fit into downtown, what streets the are best suited for cars or foot traffic, and what aesthetic standards should be for trees, planters, trash cans and benches.
The consulting firm has been working since last February on the plan in collaboration with city management and the planning and public works departments, along with a public input process.
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“We wanted to think long and hard about … what we want to make sure we include in the project, since we’re probably only going to do this one in a lifetime,” Public Works Director Amy Hyland said.
The Plan Commission meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Waco Convention Center’s Bosque Theater. The commission would recommend the plan to the Waco City Council, which will consider it in February. If it is approved, city planners will adjust the downtown overlay district to match the new requirements, helping to shape future development in the city’s core.
Hyland said the project came out of the Washington Avenue two-way conversion project, and was further spurred on by the rate of development in downtown since then.
“You might recall, we were going to do a bike lane with a median and other aesthetic things that would increase the quality of life and streetscape on that project,” Hyland said of the Washington Avenue project.
The city scaled back its plans after bids for the project came back about twice as expensive as expected.
“We decided, as we were thinking about that, that it might make a lot of sense to drop back and put together an overall plan for what we want downtown to look like,” Hyland said.
She said the plan will guide city designers as well as third-party consultants on downtown projects, making sure they follow the overall plan and aesthetic.
Hyland said about 50% of the plan consists of projects already listed in the city comprehensive plans and 50% new guidelines for the aesthetics and functions of each area.
A 12-person stakeholder group met with consultants and voted on details like bench designs, buffers between pedestrians and traffic and where to plant trees for shade. Kimley Horn consultants boiled down the sometimes contradicting aesthetics of downtown buildings into three streetscape themes: industrial, Western art deco and Brazos River, represented by water features.
The plan calls for making University Parks Drive a “green boulevard” with trees and shrubs separating traffic from wide walkways. It calls for investing in pedestrian corridors along Third and Eighth Streets and Austin Avenue, while enhancing Mary Avenue as an “activated street” for festivals and events.
According to the plan, Franklin Avenue will remain a major one-way street for car traffic.
“It’s not very attractive,” Hyland said of the arterial road. “If you want to go walking down there, there are not a lot of trees, there’s no shade there or places for people to sit and relax.”
But the plan shows opportunities to fill in gaps in the sidewalks and create a more pedestrian-friendly intersection at Fifth Street.
She said other streets outside of the study area, like 25th and 26th Streets, will go through a similar process in the future.