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Friday, October 21, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano
Mary J. Blige would approve
Those hoping for public hearing drama at yesterday’s City Council meeting were not only let down by the hearing for the Grove at Shoal Creek planned unit development (which was upsettingly peaceful), but two other public hearings that were scheduled to take place yesterday afternoon also failed to deliver. An appeal of an outdoor music venue permit for the 145-year-old Scoot Inn is currently in mediation, and a request for an alcohol permit within 300 feet of a school for South First’s Snarf’s Sandwiches was noticed improperly. Both will be postponed until November.
Friday, October 21, 2016 by Nora Ankrum
If there’s such a thing as a good time to clean out the medicine cabinet, it’s this weekend. Saturday is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, an effort by the Drug Enforcement Agency to tackle prescription drug abuse by pulling leftover meds off the streets, or in this case, out of the cabinets, drawers and hall closets where expired or unwanted drugs tend to collect. “America is experiencing an epidemic of addiction, overdose and death due to abuse of prescription drugs,” according to the city’s press release about the event. “The majority of prescription drug abusers report that they obtain their drugs from friends and family, including from the home medicine cabinet.” Various locations around town will be hosting take-back events on Saturday (“free of charge, no questions asked”) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., including Austin High School, Barton Square Mall, the Household Hazardous Waste Facility, the Planetshakers Austin Church and the Travis County Constable offices for precincts 2 and 5. According to a press release from the Austin Independent School District, “allowable items include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, medication samples, vitamins, syrups, ointments, lotions and inhalers. Any sharp objects such as needles or syringes, disposable medical waste such as IV bags or used bandages, aerosol cans or chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide, will not be accepted.” More information, including a full list of Central Texas drop-off locations, is available here.
Friday, October 21, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano
Us: A small review
Curious about what your Austin Monitor is up to when not producing the daily quality news you depend on? Wondering what goes on at those events we keep inviting you to? Well, check out this recent coverage of the panel “Tech’s Emerging Role in Politics, Policy and Philanthropy,” which was moderated by our publisher, Mike Kanin, and GivingCity’s Monica Maldonado Williams. It’s an easy (though less fun and way less free-drink-y) way to catch up on where some of our city’s leaders thinking is on tech, philanthropy and the like.
Time to rally
The ATC Policy Coalition, Austin Tech Alliance and TechVotes are kicking off early voting this year with the Tech Votes Rally. Attendees will get the chance to schmooze with tech policy folks, “get briefed on the ballot” and learn about Proposition 1 from Mayor Steve Adler. Among the special speakers will be the Austin Monitor‘s own Mike Kanin, and the event also promises “food, drink, and swag” (plus “special” swag for attendees with “I voted” stickers). Festivities will take place Monday, Oct. 24, 5 to 7 p.m., at Capital Factory, 701 Brazos St. Register here.
Workshop to be held for North Shoal Creek plan
North Shoal Creek residents are invited to the second in a series of neighborhood workshops that are part of the process of developing the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Plan. The plan will help guide future development in the area, which is home to about 3,700 residents. As the second neighborhood plan to be developed since the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan’s adoption, it will be informed both by residents and by the vision set forth by Imagine Austin in what is expected to be a six-month process. At the upcoming workshop, staff from the Planning and Zoning Department will be seeking input from participants on mobility. The agenda will also include a briefing on the previous workshop. The date for the event has been moved from Saturday, Nov. 12, to Saturday, Nov. 5. It will take place from 9 a.m. to noon in the Pillow Elementary School cafeteria, 3025 Crosscreek Drive.
Check out a movie, then check out a book
The Austin Public Library hosts free movie screenings at various locations around town, often with special talks and events tied to them. This month’s lineup begins with a screening and discussion of the documentary GTFO, about discrimination in the videogame industry. The event, which is part of the library’s ongoing “Controversy & Conversation” series, will take place Thursday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m., at the Terrazas Branch library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St. On Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 6:30 p.m., the Yarborough Branch library (2200 Hancock Drive) will host a screening of Dear White People as part of the book club series “Read Watch Talk.” The screening will be followed by a discussion of both the movie and the book on which it is based. Screenings later in the month include two family films, Finding Dory and BFG, and the Austrian Amour Fou, part of the foreign film series.
Thursday, October 20, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano
Although there are certainly a few people who were hoping, perhaps, that today’s City Council meeting would feature the return of Council Member Ellen Troxclair, her maternity leave will continue. Adjust your betting pools accordingly.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 by Jo Clifton
Pilot Knob decision affects posting for Grove
After Judge Stephen Yelenosky’s Friday ruling in favor of activist Brian Rodgers in his lawsuit against the city, Rodgers’ attorney Bill Aleshire emailed Assistant City Attorney Michael Siegel. Aleshire noted that he is on vacation and that upon his return, he would be filing a motion for award of attorney’s fees and a motion for final judgment. Aleshire also warned Siegel that Rodgers was monitoring “the agenda posting(s) for The Grove (at Shoal Creek) PUD which are structurally identical to the agenda posting” for the agenda item for the Pilot Knob planned unit development. That item was the subject of the City Council vote last December that prompted Rodgers’ lawsuit. Rodgers alleged – and the judge on Friday agreed – that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when Council approved zoning changes and fee waivers for Pilot Knob without posting the fee waivers in the meeting’s agenda. Aleshire’s email continued: “If the Council discusses or acts on The Grove, under the currently worded agenda, we will file suit per TOMA. We believe that if Council proceeds to discuss non-zoning matters and amendments to city code sections other than 25-2 under the current agenda wording, it shows that a permanent injunction is needed to prevent ongoing violation of TOMA notice requirements, and, if Council acts on The Grove, we will seek to have the action declared void, as we did with Pilot Knob.” The Grove’s agenda posting was amended Tuesday to include a statement that the PUD zoning may include “waiver of fees and modification of city regulations.” Rodgers told the Austin Monitor via email, “We made them comply. From now on, they cannot sneak waivers and modifications into a Trojan Horse zoning item. The public will know to watch closer.” For more on the Grove, see today’s story.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard
Court hears Central Health critics, takes no vote
The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday put off action on an agenda item that could expand the court’s oversight of Central Health. As the Austin Monitor reported last week, the proposed changes include annual audits of the hospital district’s spinoff nonprofit entities as well as a general performance review of Central Health itself. Although County Judge Sarah Eckhardt declined to vote on the proposed changes, she did allow a handful of Central Health critics to speak on the item. They echoed previous arguments that Central Health is straying from its statutory purpose of providing health care to low-income residents of Travis County. Attorney Bob Ozer raised doubts about the efficacy of the county’s proposed reforms, a sentiment shared by the other speakers. Eckhardt told the group that she is working with county staff to determine how best to address the activists’ concerns and promised “continuing conversations.” Commissioner Margaret Gómez seized that statement and asked the activists, “Is that clear to y’all? I want to make sure that we’re all on the same page here and that we’re understanding each other, that this is a first step only.”
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 by Nora Ankrum
Home prices up, sales down in city
The Austin Board of Realtors reported on Tuesday that September sales of single-family homes showed a 4.5 percent decline year-over-year within Austin’s city limits; meanwhile, the median price went up by 10.6 percent (to $345,000). At the same time, data for the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan statistical area show a 1.3 percent increase in home sales (coupled with a median price increase of 7.5 percent), while regional figures show that Central Texas sales were up by 6.1 percent. These findings, offered ABoR in its press release about the housing report, are indicative of a continuing “donut effect.” According to ABoR President Aaron Farmer, “As more and more homebuyers look outside of Austin’s city limits to find an affordable home, our region’s infrastructure is increasingly strained and the overall costs of homeownership rise because of the increased cost to commute.” ABoR is using the findings as an opportunity to note its support for the $720 million mobility bond proposition that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, declaring it “can finally bring congestion relief to our region.”
Judge hears preliminary injunction arguments in lawsuit against TxDOT, CTRMA
A hearing related to a lawsuit filed against the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was held last week. The plaintiffs – which include the Save Our Springs Alliance, the Save Barton Creek Association and others – contend that construction of State Highway 45 Southwest and the extension of the South MoPac Expressway will harm endangered species and that TxDOT and CTRMA have not followed federal law, specifically the National Environmental Policy Act, on the projects. They are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the CTRMA from beginning preparatory work – which would include destroying vegetation – on SH 45 SW ahead of construction. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel heard both sides’ arguments on the injunction last Wednesday, according to an update posted by the Save Our Springs Alliance, and a ruling is expected “within the next few weeks.”
Two days left: I-35 virtual open house
Should Interstate-35 be raised or lowered as it passes through downtown? The Texas Department of Transportation wants to know the answer to this and other pressing questions about the section of I-35 that cuts through the heart of Austin, from Riverside Drive to U.S. 183. TxDOT is conducting a study of that stretch of the highway, and the opportunity for public input is almost over. People who would like to comment may do so through the virtual open house, which closes Oct. 19.
Airport, passengers prep for F1
Anyone planning to fly into or out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport this week should prepare for crowds, according to a press release from the city. Thanks to the Formula One United States Grand Prix, traffic through the airport will be higher than usual, particularly on Sunday and Monday, Oct. 23 and 24, once the race is over. According to the city, “Four of the six busiest departure days in airport history are post-race Mondays.” Travelers should anticipate delays and plan to arrive at their terminals two hours early. They will be rewarded with live music.
Monday, October 17, 2016 by Jack Craver
Just like Trump
When asked by an Austin Monitor reporter to share his thoughts on this year’s stranger-than-fiction presidential election, City Council Member Don Zimmerman said that he, “like everybody else,” had a hard time making sense of it. He said that Donald Trump had been subject to “very biased reporting,” noting the number of times that pundits have predicted the brash billionaire would drop out of the presidential race over the past 15 months. Zimmerman declined to share his personal opinion of the GOP nominee, simply noting that he had been called “the Donald Trump of Austin” by liberal political strategist David Butts. “He’s only saying that because (just like Trump) I have a really intelligent, beautiful, much younger wife,” said Zimmerman, who then told the reporter he did not wish to comment further on his party’s standard bearer.
Rodgers prevails in Pilot Knob suit against city
After hearing arguments earlier this month, Judge Stephen Yelenosky ruled against the city on Friday in activist Brian Rodgers’ lawsuit over the Pilot Knob planned unit development, according to the Austin American-Statesman. City Council voted at a meeting last December to annex the Pilot Knob PUD, and in doing so, it granted the development $50 million to $80 million in fee waivers that are now void because of the judge’s decision. Several Council members have said that they did not realize that they were agreeing to such a large amount when they voted on the PUD. Meanwhile, the agenda for that meeting gave no indication that Council would be voting on the waivers, which prompted Rodgers’ lawsuit. He argued that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. Yelenosky agreed.
Reporter’s Notebook on vacation
Our usual Monday roundup of choice newsy tidbits is on hiatus this week, but never fear: Reporter’s Notebook will return next week!
Austin celebrates 25 years of tree hugging
The Parks and Recreation Department is hosting a family-friendly Arbor Day celebration this weekend to mark Austin’s 25th anniversary as a member of Tree City USA. In honor of a quarter-century of kindness toward trees, PARD is inviting volunteers to help plant native trees and make wildflower seed balls on Saturday, Oct. 22, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Southern Walnut Creek Hike and Bike Trail, 7800 Johnny Morris Road. Live music and refreshments will be provided.
Friday, October 14, 2016 by Nora Ankrum
City announces online Q&A forum for small businesses
The city’s Development Services and Economic Development departments are launching a new research tool for small-business owners looking to lease or buy property. Called Smart Start, it provides an online Q&A forum where people can “explore information about zoning, permitting, and construction regulations” by posing questions to city staff and other forum users, according to an announcement from the city. Funded by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the platform was developed by Bazaarvoice, a company that creates similar tools for retail customers. This project, according to the city, is the company’s first foray into creating such a platform for a government entity.
Friday, October 14, 2016 by Jack Craver
Council delays action on mobile home park resolution
City Council Member Pio Renteria was out sick Thursday, and as a result, Council did not act on a resolution he authored to require certain amenities for mobile home parks. The resolution directs the city manager to develop a draft ordinance that will amend the zoning code to require new mobile home parks to include a playground as well as open space that can be used for community gardens “or other open space activities.” It would also prohibit mobile home park owners from charging fees for use of such amenities. Due to Renteria’s absence, Council voted to postpone a public hearing on the resolution until next week’s meeting.
Friday, October 14, 2016 by Nora Ankrum
PARD seeks feedback on Bull Creek master plan
The Parks and Recreation Department is hosting two upcoming community meetings to get feedback on proposed concepts for the Bull Creek District Park Master Plan. The plan, once complete, will provide guidance for future improvements to the 48-acre West Austin park. The public outreach effort for the plan has been ongoing, and city staff derived the current proposed concepts from input received through that effort, which included an online survey. For the next step in the process, PARD is holding two meetings at St. Matthew’s Church, Huffman Hall, at 8134 Mesa Drive. The first meeting will take place on Thursday, Oct. 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the second is on Thursday, Nov. 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.