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B a c k P a g e Planning Peñitas AIA LRGV offers advice for managing expected sprawl b y D a n n y B o u l t i n g h o u s e , AIA The small town of Peñitas stands in the cross hairs of progress. Situated along the Río Grande and at the western edge of the uncontrolled sprawl known as the McAllen-EdinburgMission metroplex, this community of around 1,200 people faces tremendous pressures that will affect its well-being for generations. Those pressures include plans to extend the region’s north-south expressway (U.S. 83) and the inevitable residential subdivisions and commercial development (construction has just begun on a Wal-Mart) that typically follow such major highway projects. Clearly, with its municipal government underfinanced and understaffed, Peñitas is in need of support if it is to sustain itself through the extraordinary growth currently being experienced in this region. The AIA’s Lower Rio Grande Valley chapter began efforts earlier this year to help Peñitas by sponsoring a Regional and Urban Design Assistance Team. Funded through a $10,000 AIA 150 grant to the chapter, the R/UDAT brought together local architects with key stakeholders to consider ideas for how Peñitas can turn its current challenges into opportunities for longterm benefit. Those ideas are detailed in Vision 2007 – Peñitas, a report compiled by Urban Design Associates of Austin. While the small community has few resources or infrastructure to meet the challenges it faces, Peñitas possesses several physical attributes that are significant assets. Chief among 128 t e x a s a r c h i t e c t them are two wildlife management areas located in the city, as well as the Río Grande and large tracts of unspoiled open space. A pending outer loop that will intersect with the U.S. 83 expansion is expected to enhance regional access to these natural amenities and create another node of potential development. Strategies recommended in Vision 2007 –Peñitas include: • negotiating with Wal-Mart to install a large canopy wrapping around its new store to accommodate an outdoor market; • working with transportation officials to design the extension of U.S. 83 as a four-lane highway with intersections at grade (as well as other methods to slow the traffic); • encouraging new residential subdivisions to create compact and walkable environments; • establishing a system of boulevards and tree-lined streets to connect residential and commercial areas; and • enacting city ordinances to manage zoning and landscape improvements. Culminating from the many proposals studied during the R/UDAT, this report offers local officials an array of planning tools that will help the community take charge of its future now rather than after Peñitas has been overwhelmed by the march of progress. The writer is the LRGV chapter’s designated AIA 150 “champion.” 9 / 1 0 2 0 0 7

Texas Architect Sept/Oct 2007: Design Awards

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