Mueller Austin

2007 → 2017: Girard Kinney Working on Mueller’s Flight Path Since the Early 1980s

September 29, 2017

It may seem counterintuitive, but Girard Kinney and his spouse, Leyla Cohlmia, decided in 1981 to move closer to the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport to avoid the constant loud noise generated by overhead jets. They had been living more than five miles away in Northwest Hills, but learned the air traffic was much quieter next door to the airport in the Cherrywood neighborhood.

As Girard and Leyla were making the move into their new (and current) home, they heard chatter about the possibility of the airport expanding north and/or west of its boundary. Girard was certainly vested in the more immediate concern about the airport enveloping his new neighborhood but, an already prominent local architect, he also became intensely curious about what could happen to the land if the airport weren’t there.

“This was never just personal for me,” said Girard. “I firmly believed then as I do today that Mueller represents an opportunity to address much bigger problems. I-35 has been both a physical and cultural barrier, and Mueller offered an opportunity to break down that barrier. Mueller was also a way to deal with urban sprawl, and I was interested in how well Mueller could accommodate density while improving the quality of life for surrounding neighborhoods.”

As talk of big changes for the airport progressed, Girard attended a number of community meetings, and it wasn’t long before he was helping to organize Citizens for Airport Relocation (or C.A.R.E.) a group dedicated to moving the airport to a new location where there would be room for the needed expansion. The group put forward the 1984 Care Plan for what could be built if the airport were moved. Dubbed the “wedding cake model,” their plan sought to create a high-density development, providing an alternative to sprawl, and providing housing choices, jobs and needed services for surrounding neighborhoods.

In 1984, the Austin City Council appointed Girard to serve as the neighborhood representative to the Airport Advisory Board, where he served from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, chairing that board his last year there. During that period, the entire community debated and voted twice on funding for multiple relocation sites, ultimately settling on redeveloping the Bergstrom Air Force Base into the new public airport.

In October of 1995, the Austin City Council established the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Redevelopment Process and Goals Task Force (RMMA Task Force). Its 16 diverse members elected Girard to chair the committee responsible for establishing the goals for Mueller’s plan. Relying on massive community input, as well as the 1984 Care Plan, the Task Force met weekly for six months, and in April of 1996 published its final report, supported unanimously by all 16 members and endorsed by City Boards and Commissions, Mueller’s surrounding neighborhoods and many local organizations. Later that year, the City Council adopted the vision contained in the report and began searching for a master planner as recommended by the Final Report of the Task Force.

After ROMA was selected to produce a master plan for redeveloping the site, Girard was engaged by the City to provide consultation during the process, to help carry forward the goals laid out in the Task Force report as the foundation for the planning.

Despite Girard’s vast involvement with Mueller over nearly four decades, he still manages to be pleasantly surprised by many aspects of Mueller’s redevelopment, many of which got their start in Mueller’s pivotal year of 2007.

“One of greatest surprises for me has been how Mueller has become something of a laboratory for so many important topics in Austin: seamlessly integrating affordable housing all over the community, exploring ‘missing middle’ housing, testing ideas from the bicycle community, and how Dell Children’s Medical Center and Pecan Street helped lead the way toward sustainability.”

He’s also surprised the massive pair of trees transplanted to the middle of the roundabout in 2007 remains healthy, and that the Mueller Transportation Committee, first established by ROMA in the late 1990s continued after Catellus became the master developer and is still active. Girard still serves as the Cherrywood Neighborhood representative to that committee, and on the Berkman Drive Working Group, where he serves as liaison with the Austin Pedestrian Advisory Council.

Years beyond the Mueller Task Force, Girard has remained actively engaged in all things Mueller. He attends many community engagement meetings, offering important historic context to discussions. He worked to preserve the Browning Hangar and the Control Tower in the plan, and was also instrumental in the naming of the Southwest Greenway’s trail, Gordon Bennett Way, named after a fellow Cherrywood resident heavily involved in Mueller’s redevelopment.

Most recently, his talents have been requested once again, this time to assist with determining the feasibility of future use for the Mueller Control Tower, and to serve as architect for that project. It’s a far cry from the days when that control tower directed the noisy planes as they approached Mueller from the air space above Girard and Leyla’s home in Northwest Hills.

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