The future of Lake Highlands includes ‘iconic’ bridge, trail connections

At the heart of the planned Skillman/635 redevelopment is an "iconic bridge": from the Urban Planning Initiative Study by Omniplan
At the heart of the planned Skillman/635 redevelopment is an “iconic bridge”: from the Urban Planning Initiative Study by Omniplan

The Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association Monday hosted a meeting to discuss the future of Lake Highlands, as predicted by several leaders who possess some intimate knowledge of projects that are in the works. I’m going to chart the highlights here, but expect an expanded report on the Skillman Gateway project, which features what planners and designers are calling an “iconic” or “statement” bridge across 635, in our January February issue. Also in early 2015, look for a feature on the trail-connections project mentioned in the meeting notes. (We also will bring you more on other topics discussed at the meeting — they covered quite a lot).

County Commissioner Theresa Daniel kicked off the meeting with a useful tutorial on the differences between city and county government, noting that the county oversees housing, public health and public works. The county, she explains, works with the city (and sometimes private investors, too) on trail and park projects and works with the Department of Transportation on street and road projects as well.

Existing trails in Daniel’s district include Cottonwood, Glenville, Central, SoPac, Katy, Lake Highlands, White Rock Creek, White Rock and many more, and she says the county and city are working to match existing trails with one another — the goal is to connect them all. Here is a map of the trails.

At Walnut and Greenville a new mixed-use development will be a point where multiple trails intersect and connect to White Rock, she says (referring to the Midtown Park development, a planned 83-acre mixed-use, transit-oriented community within the Vickery Meadow Public Improvement District.)

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Then there’s I-635, which is a main topic of discussion, especially as it relates to Skillman and Audelia, throughout the meeting.

“You are very much aware of what’s going on at the west side of 635, but we are working on 635 to the east, too,” Daniel says.

Which brings us to the next speakers, Susan Morgan followed by Tip Housewright — Morgan has been leading the effort to reconfigure the 635/Skillman interchange. Housewright’s architectural firm Omniplan conducted the Urban Planning Initiative Study for the project, pro bono.

“The desire is to create an environment that is live, work, and play. Further magnifying a sense of place, the new TxDOT Skillman Bridge over LBJ is currently designed to be an iconic new gateway structure with pedestrian and bike facilities,” according to the study.

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The plan includes some 240 pages, but here’s something major — did you see the part about the construction of an “iconic bridge” across 635? It is central to the total reworking of the interchange; the revision will more effectively utilize available land in that part of Lake Highland, for one thing. Also, Housewright says, changes will improve commutability, walkability and safety, improve aesthetics, make the area more attractive to retailers and strengthen retail in the section.

Susan Morgan has been working for years to make the revision of Skillman/635 a reality. She says the project has hit important milestones this past year — for instance they finished a feasibility study as well as design schematics for the bridge, which has been approved by the city.

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“We are past the point of no return now,” Morgan says. “We have met all the approval layers and got final city council approval in October of this year and the details of the study are available online [here].” Updated: here

It is a $50 million project that still needs funding. Morgan is applying for grants and notes that so far they have “cobbled together the funding to get them to this design phase … City and county have promised to supply some funds, but we have a gap.”

Kathy Stewart from the Lake Highlands Public Improvement District spoke about the role of a public improvement district — which we wrote about here. She noted that crime in the boundaries of the PID has dropped 60 percent since the formation of the district. She also brought some LH logo stickers and explained the development of the Lake Highlands brand. She addressed a question about the Lake Highlands Town Center: “What is up with the fountain?” It is not working, she said. Everything having to do with the water at the Town Center is problematic right now. She then assured the attendees that the owners of the property were working hard to fix the problems and that everything is going to be awesome.

Ted Hill, founder of the LH Chamber, spoke about the goals of the chamber — to increase membership, engage the community, encourage people to shop locally and, basically, to develop and strengthen Lake Highlands business and retail landscape. The next big thing for the chamber is a website launch (coming soon). While you are waiting, join the Facebook or LinkedIn group. Or attend a meeting the third Wednesday of any month at Crossroads Diner at 7 a.m.

Finally, the Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association ushered in its new officers. The new president is Murray Morgan, who happens to live in my neighborhood, Woodbridge, which is near the heart of the Skillman/635/new-bridge excitement.

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