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Bill Spelman makes it official, will depart council on June 15

Tuesday, February 15, 2000 by

Executive assistant Vassallo going to mayor's staff immediately

City Council Member Bill Spelman said he needs to devote more time to his professional duties and his family Monday as he made official his decision not to seek reelection to the Place 5 seat. Spelman said, "I'm proud to have been a member of the team that has accomplished so much for this city in so short a time." However, Spelman, who is an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and also directs the Texas Institute for Public Problem Solving at UT, said an increased workload and "a fondness for my sanity" prompted his decision to end his council service after one term.

Spelman said the Institute is "a half-time job that was supposed to be over in two years." Instead, he said, the institute now has an eight-year timeframe and needs to be self-supporting. The institute offers training to police departments and citizens groups and has operated on federal funds, he said. Now, he said, he needs to write a business plan and seek other funding. Among the institute's clients are the Bexar County Sheriff's Office and the El Paso Police Department, Spelman said.

Among his proudest accomplishments on the council, Spelman cited dealing with urban sprawl by bringing jobs downtown, progress on neighborhood planning, and public safety issues.

"We can now say for the first time that it takes no longer and costs no more to develop in Austin's Desired Development Zone than in Round Rock," Spelman said. In addition, he said, "More people are getting job training, with assistance from the city, than ever. We've dramatically increased city subcontracts to women and minority companies, and put teeth into our Small and Minority Business Ordinance."

Spelman said he would like to enact the Smart Growth amendments proposed to the city's Land Development Code before he leaves office. In addition, he said he wants to be part of the council that makes decisions on how to spend the affordable housing trust fund.

Spelman said he supports single-member districts for the council, but "the proposal before us needs tweaking." The council currently is of a size that enables each member to talk to every other member before the issues are presented to the group as a whole, he said. The size facilitates a collegial atmosphere, he said. "We don't have to negotiate in full public view. With 13 members, you run the risk of factions." Spelman was referring to the current proposal, which calls for 10 council members and a mayor, with an expansion to 12 council members after the population grows.

"I believe I'm leaving the city in exceptionally good hands," Spelman said. "And if some future city council should ever screw it up, I reserve the right to come back and help fix it again."

Spelman praised his executive assistant, Kristin Vassallo, saying she is responsible for "at least half of the good things I've done" while in office. Spelman said Vassallo would be joining Jill George in Mayor Kirk Watson's office, beginning immediately. George, Watson's chief of staff, has previously told In Fact Daily that she would only stay through Watson's first term.

Business, technology, environmental leaders back Will Wynn for City Council

Wynn brings historic renovation and downtown development background

Downtown developer William P. "Will" Wynn has already gathered a list of heavy hitters to support his bid for the City Council seat being vacated by Place 5 Council Member Bill Spelman. Wynn is the immediate past chair of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA). An architect by training, Wynn is president of CIVITAS Investment Inc., which specializes in renovation of historic structures.

Wynn answers his own phone at CIVITAS and said the idea to run for council has come up within the last two weeks, when he learned that Spelman would not seek reelection. He said he lived in Austin from 1981 to 1983, again during 1988, and moved here for good in 1994. "Ultimately, I'm running because I want our town to be the kind of place my two young children will want to live in 30 years from now," Wynn said, in a written statement. He and his wife Anne Elizabeth Wynn live in Tarrytown, at 3604 Windsor Road.

Beverly Silas, director of external affairs for Southwestern Bell, said she has been impressed with Wynn's commitment to Austin and to mass transit. She said Wynn takes the bus from home to his downtown office every day.

Wynn tells In Fact Daily he restored the historic Randerson-Lundell Building at 701 E. 6th St. and also restored 600 E. 6th St. The latter property houses Park Avenue Bar and Grill on the first floor and, later this spring, will house an international youth hostel on the second floor, enabling young travelers to stay downtown for $15-$18 per night.

Wynn released a list of community leaders supporting his bid for council Monday, which included Silas; Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) Chair Robin Rather; Gary Valdez of Focus Strategies; Greg Kozmetsky, president of KMS Ventures Inc., and Intelliquest Founder Peter Zandan, both big players in Austin's high-tech community; and Stacey Abel, director of Community Investment Corp. Other supporters include attorney David Armbrust of Armbrust Brown & Davis; former mayoral aide Larry Warshaw; CPA Earl Maxwell of Maxwell Locke & Ritter; and investment manager Stephen Jones, who also serves as treasurer of the Texas Fine Arts Association. Bobbie Barker of Southern Union Gas and Gary Farmer of Heritage Title Co. round out Wynn's list of early supporters. Both Valdez and Maxwell are former chairs of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Rather said Wynn is "one of a handful of people who have shown up when the stakes were very high. He is unquestionably one of the people who matter in giving Austin a viable alternative to building over the aquifer." Rather said Wynn had been instrumental in convincing employers, such as Computer Sciences Corp., to locate downtown rather than on the city's edges. She also said Wynn has demonstrated an ability to unify disparate groups, such as SOSA and the DAA. Rather said Wynn has her personal endorsement, but SOSA cannot endorse candidates.

Gary Valdez said Wynn can listen to all sides of an issue and come up with a solution that is positive for everyone involved. Wynn has done a good job of restoring a number of historical buildings in the downtown area and has managed to keep the integrity of the buildings, Valdez said.

Currently Wynn and Tom Stacy are working a downtown office tower called Congress at 4th, a 27-story office tower with 495,000 square feet. All the properties on the east side of Congress Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets have been assembled for that project under the ownership of Block 42 Congress Partners Inc., according to property information from the Travis Central Appraisal District. These properties run from City National Bank at 401 Congress to Mexic-Arte Museum at 419 Congress.

Stacey Abel said her organization is producing public television programs on livable communities, called Austin 2000: City at a Crossroads, for KLRU-TV Channel 18. She said she met Wynn about a year ago, when he began working with her on the television project, and he has spent many hours assisting the effort. Wynn represents "what I think is crucial to Austin in transition," Abel said. "He is someone who keenly understands the interdependence between business and the environment. He doesn't have a hidden agenda."

Brigid Shea said she has been impressed with Wynn since he first walked into the SOSA office in 1997 and offered praise for an academic conference on the Edwards Aquifer the group was hosting. Shea described Wynn as "a rare bird in the real estate community," and said he has given the downtown group much broader horizons that DAA had before Wynn's arrival. Wynn has brought in national speakers on great streets and on "the digital downtown," Shea said. Shea and Abel both praised Wynn's courage in giving the DAA's Chair Emeritus Downtown Impact Award to SOSA.

Armbrust said Wynn would have a moderate voice on the council, backed by "a lot of business experience." Armbrust said the city has a "pretty good council right now. But when Bill Spelman says he's not going to run again–I would hate for it to be someone completely on the environmental side or completely on the business side," he said.

Silas summed up what many of Wynn's supporters expressed, saying that Wynn could offer the city "a very special perspective," taking into account many different points of view. "I think he'll be refreshing," she said.

Rather said, "He's not a professional politician, or even an activist."

Others seeking the Place 5 seat on the council include bicycling advocate Amy Babich and formerly homeless Stephen "Twig" Meeks. Neighborhood activist Clare Barry is also exploring running for this seat. But at this point Wynn's potentially most formidable opponent is businessman Manuel Zuniga, who lost previous council races in 1996 and 1997. Zuniga was going to run this year in Place 2 but honored his vow not to oppose attorney Rafael Quintanilla (In Fact Daily Jan. 11). Place 5, however, is another matter. "I will consider running for this seat," Zuniga told In Fact Daily yesterday. "I haven't made a decision." He said he just found out about Spelman's intention not to run and just started thinking about his candidacy again. Zuniga says he is currently working on an affordable housing project off Convict Hill Road in which 10 Hispanic investors were to put in $50,000 apiece and one of them was Quintanilla, until Quintanilla withdrew to run for council.

Of Wynn, Zuniga said, "I respect his experience in real estate. It's a gutsy game. It's not for babies." However, Zuniga is concerned about Wynn working on a large office project downtown and serving on the council. "I think his experience is valuable. If (the project) is not a problem, that would be great," Zuniga says.

Design Commission lists improvements desired for two new high-rise projects

Seeking voluntary compliance with draft guidelines

Two downtown high-rise projects that the Design Commission heard presentations about on Jan. 24 ( In Fact Daily Jan. 25) were back on the agenda last night for a report card over how they stack up against draft Downtown Design Guidelines. The commissioners did not vote on either project last night but reached informal consensus for the content of letters that will be sent to each of the developers involved.

The first project, 300 West 6th Street, is a 22-story office story with 418,000 square feet. While the Design Commission members much appreciated the Jan. 24 presentation by CarrAmerica Realty Corp. and architect Larry Speck of Page Southerland Page, there is nevertheless room for improvement, commissioners said last night. One overriding matter of concern is how the design of the building, which fronts 6th Street, addresses the 7th Street facade to the north. Putting a garage entrance next to the old Masonic Temple building at 7th and Lavaca and wrapping a five-story parking garage around it doesn't create a proper relationship to the existing structure, commissioners said. That could be addressed through setbacks, scale and proportion, they said. At the other end of the block, at 7th and Guadalupe, the commissioners said the design misses an opportunity to interact with the historic Bremond block. Chair Juan Cotera said no street should be relegated to being unimportant. Overall, having vehicular entrances to the building on Lavaca, 7th and Guadalupe was seen as excessive interruption to the pedestrian streetscape. Other items worthy of attention, commissioners said, were:

• Awnings or other overhead protection should be provided for pedestrians on Guadalupe Street.

• The drop-off area on 6th Street and pedestrian crossings at garage entrances and exits should be provided with pedestrian-scale material, such as pavers.

• Shade trees as large as possible should remain in the budget for all four sides of the building, and the trees should be indigenous and deciduous.

• The exterior materials described in the presentation, dark gray granite and ochre limestone, should be maintained.

• The flat floors in the garage structure should be retained as designed, to provide flexibility for future uses.

• Civic art and mixed-uses are desirable.

The 300 West 6th Street project is the first new high-rise office building since the mid-1980s and is budgeted at $80 million-plus. Site preparation is scheduled to begin by the end of March, with completion scheduled in January 2002. The tower facing 6th Street will have 14 floors of offices above eight floors of parking.

The second project on the Design Commission's agenda last night was the residential tower planned for West 5th Street at West Avenue. The project, owned by Amicus Partners, including Robert Shaw and Roger Staubach, is in the early stages of design. The commissioners were inclined to support a zoning change from DMU (downtown mixed use) to CBD (central business district). This would boost the floor-to-area ratio from 5 to 8, and allow the height to jump from 11 stories and 120 feet to 15 stories and 155 feet. But the commissioners set conditions they felt should be met to gain their strong support for this change. The conditions are:

• Pedestrian access must remain open to Shoal Creek, at the west end of the project, and space along the creek must remain public.

• CBD zoning could be applied only to the eastern end of the tract for the tower portion of the project and buildings should be held away from the creek.

• The streetscapes on 5th and West must be pedestrian oriented, with pedestrian uses on 5th Street.

• Better graphic documentation is needed for further review for compliance with the draft Downtown Design Guidelines.

"We can allow them to do things they would not otherwise be allowed to do, in return for them doing things they would not otherwise do," said Commissioner Girard Kinney.

Downtown Design Guidelines to be presented to City Council

Not intended to be a blanket ordinance

On Thursday the Design Commission will be presenting a shortened version of its pitch for the Downtown Design Guidelines. While only a draft at this stage, the guidelines have nevertheless proved influential in shaping some emerging projects, including the new office tower that will break ground shortly at 300 West Sixth St. Chair Juan Cotera said he would ask the City Council for a resolution that includes a future role for the commission in reviewing projects to see how they adhere to the guidelines.

"If we had seen the Gotham (condominium project) earlier it would have save somebody a lot of trouble," said Commissioner Girard Kinney.

Commissioner Leslie Oberholtzer, who formerly worked with the city's urban design officer, Jana McCann, said her experience in working with design guidelines for neighborhood planning indicated that getting the law department's support for guidelines would be difficult. "The way legal saw design guidelines was it was not the city imposing something but criteria the developer took and incorporated into a project," she said. "Don't be naive about turning the Downtown Design Guidelines into an ordinance."

"We don't see (the guidelines) becoming an ordinance," replied Cotera. "We see some of these individual guidelines becoming an ordinance, some becoming policies. Some are already ordinances, like no parking at street level, and we would reinforce that. We want to keep the guidelines together so people know why something happens."

Michael Knox of Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, who provides staff support for the commission, said the Downtown Design Guidelines would remain as one document so a developer would not have to "wade through the Land Development Code."

Kinney wondered aloud if the new City Hall project, to be built on the site on the present City Hall Annex, would adhere to the guidelines. "I firmly believe that the city itself should practice what it preaches, because it shows the city puts its money where its mouth is." Kinney said he was not encouraged by what he's seen so far in the program for the design of the City Hall's ground floor. "Are we getting ready to see the first big city project not observe the guidelines?"

As to the future of how the guidelines would be applied, Cotera said, "This is an ongoing process and this gets refined over the years. We're just starting."

Home Depot resistance…Opposition is mounting to the plans for Home Depot to build at I-35 and Woodward. E-mail notices are urging communications with the City Council members to deny an amendment to the restrictive covenant, as city staff has recommended… Council meeting reminder…In continuing to revamp procedures for the moveable feast known as City Council meetings, general citizens communications has been changed (again) to begin at 1:30 p.m., as it was in the old chambers at City Hall Annex. Music starts at 5:30 p.m. followed by proclamations. The Thursday morning meeting will begin at 9 p.m. in Room 304 of City Hall, 124 W. 8th St. This week's session to resume at 1:30 p.m. will be held at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, in the Engineering Airfield Operations Building (take the cargo entrance and it's the first building on the right). A free shuttle bus service will depart from 9th and Colorado beginning at 12:30 p.m. and thereafter on the half hour to take passengers to the remote location, with pickups at Capital Metro locations along Congress Avenue between 8th St. and Cesar Chavez on its way to its last stop at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road. The bus will leave One Texas Center at 40 minutes past each hour for the council meetings. The shuttle will leave council meetings on the hour, the last one at 11 p.m. The shuttle is a regular Capital Metro bus with a large placard on the front dashboard indicating it is the City Council Shuttle. This is a pilot program that will run through May 18 and then be evaluated. For more information on the bus route, call Roberto Gonzalez at Capital Metro, 369-6035. For more on the council meeting locations, check the web site at ci.austin.tx.us… Police PAC backs Thomas…An article in the February issue of The Police Line newsletter published by the Austin Police Association (APA) says the APA Political Action Committee (PAC) will support Austin Police Officer Danny Thomas' campaign for Place 6 on the Austin City Council. "This is the first time I know of that an active police officer has sought a place on the council," said Detective Sean Mannix, PAC chairman. "Danny is very well respected not only in the police department but in the community. He will do a good job for all of us and we owe it to him to play an active role in his campaign." Others running for Place 6 include incumbent Council Member Willie Lewis and insurance agent Nelson Linder.

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