Thursday, March 9, 2000 by

Council apt to approve only small part of Bradley Settlement today

Two week delay gives time to try to buy Spillar and Pfluger tracts for preserve

It appears that the City Council will only eat the chips and dip and not the whole enchilada today from the proposed Bradley Settlement. The entire deal if approved would settle litigation and establish development regulations for 3,076 acres of land in the recharge zone of the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer.

Council Member Daryl Slusher says he anticipates that the council today will approve some 350 acres for development within Circle C Ranch on all three readings, subject to the terms of the agreement, but postpone final action on the rest of the deal until March 23, including consideration of wholesale water and wastewater service. The initial 350 acres represents just over 11 percent of the total acreage under consideration.

"There is a lot of sentiment to somehow buy the Spillar and Pfluger tracts," Slusher tells In Fact Daily. Slusher says he discussed that possibility with developer Gary Bradley yesterday. "He doesn't really want to do that but said we could continue to talk," Slusher says. Asked where the money would come from to pay for this land, Slusher said the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) is talking about raising the money privately. Noting that the Spillar property is sandwiched between preserve tracts the city purchased with Proposition 2 funds approved by voters in May 1998, Slusher said, "It would be an incredible preserve, so we need to find out the price and give it a try."

Grant Godfrey, staff attorney for SOSA, tells In Fact Daily, "We definitely believe that buying as much of that land as we can is the best way to preserve it, the same as what happened in Proposition 2. If Bradley gets the right deal and it's good business for the city, then we should do it." Godfrey says, "That deal would be a lot better if we could point to tracts that would be preserved as opposed to a having a floating right to inspect and enforce and calculate (to keep track of how much impervious cover was used)–all these complicated things the city could not do in the past."

Godfrey said it was too soon to talk about the source of funds to buy land from the Bradley Interests to add to the preserve, but envisioned the end result might be a mix of public and private funds. Asked whether the pact between SOSA and the Real Estate Council of Austin, which set a goal of purchasing 50,000 acres within five years, might be brought to bear, Godfrey said, "This is an excellent opportunity for that group to show its willingness to go ahead, despite the State Legislature thumbing its nose at us, and showing Austin can deal with a lot of its own problems."

Slusher says the agreement on the 350 acres to be approved on all three readings today concerns land for which grandfathering rights are claimed. The result for this property would be less impervious cover and better water quality controls than would be possible for the city to mandate, Slusher said. "It's better than 1704 but not as good as the Save Our Springs Ordinance on these tracts," he said. He said this acreage encompasses parts of Circle C West and the Hielscher tracts. Slusher said the agreement for the initial 350 acres would remain in place regardless of whether the rest of the agreement is approved.

Slusher anticipates the council will approve the remainder of the Bradley Settlement on first reading only. "Then we'll have another two weeks to look at it more closely and have citizens review it," Slusher said last night. "I also felt like it would be better under normal circumstances on a deal of this size that we could pass it on first reading and come back for another reading." The council member said that the delay also will permit the city to brief the Hays County Commissioners Court on the proposed deal next Tuesday.

Cap Metro terminates Longhorn Railway's contract and hires Trans-Global

Longhorn manager vows to fight to keep the railway

The protracted battle between Capital Metro and the Longhorn Railway moved into a higher gear Wednesday, as Capital Metro announced termination of Longhorn's contract to provide freight service to Central Texas. Cap Metro released a written statement blaming Longhorn for failing to maintain the railroad facilities, a source of conflict between the two entities for months. In addition, Cap Metro said Longhorn had failed to pay taxes on time and failed to supply Cap Metro with records. Cap Metro's statement says Trans-Global Solutions of Houston will take over rail operations on the Giddings-to-Llano line effective March 22.

Don Cheatham, general manager of Longhorn Railway, said by unilaterally breaking the contract Cap Metro had violated a federal statute. "They can't just tell me to quit. Whoever they've got (to take over rail operations) has got to file the requisite papers with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to show that they're capable of operating the railroad. And they also have to get me discontinued. I have to give my employees adequate notice." Cheatham said when he took over the railway operations from the previous carrier, it took about six weeks "and that was with cooperation." Cheatham made it clear that he would not cooperate with Cap Metro's plan to have Trans-Global Solutions take over the rail operations.

Cheatham provided In Fact Daily with a letter sent to Cap Metro Wednesday from Tom McFarland of McFarland & Herman, Longhorn's attorney. Longhorn "has no intention of filing an application with the STB for authority to discontinue its rail operations," the letter says. "Consequently, (Cap Metro) will be required to file such an application if it seeks to lawfully terminate (Longhorn) operations. Any refusal to allow Longhorn to access the rail line in order to provide rail service to shippers prior to a final STB decision authorizing discontinuance" of Longhorn's operation would be illegal, he said.

Cheatham has criticized Cap Metro for inaction on maintenance and safety improvements to the track, signals and bridges since last September (In Fact Daily Sept. 9, 1999). Cheatham blamed Cap Metro for two derailments in East Austin, one of which was an apparent act of sabotage. Last fall, rail cars loaded with lime derailed twice at Cherrywood and East 38-1/2 Street. At the time, Cheatham said the derailment was directly attributable to the fact that Cap Metro had not kept the track in good repair. Karen Rae, Cap Metro's general manager, has said Longhorn failed to provide adequate records and information on which portions of the track might be unsafe.

Waterfront study crystal balls future of Town Lake's south shore

Consultant tasked to present council with recommendations by May 15

It may not be long before a new vision of much of Town Lake's south shore is incorporated into revised development standards governing projects from South 1st Street to I-35. New development standards that could be included in the Land Development Code and directly tied to the goals of the 1986 Town Lake Corridor Study are to be developed by Roma Design Group Inc. of San Francisco. Recommendations are due to reach the City Council by May 15. To guide Roma's efforts the council-appointed, 16-member Town Lake Waterfront Overlay Advisory Board held its first meeting last night.

The work involves establishing binding development standards for just two segments of the Waterfront Overlay District: the South Shore Central Subdistrict and the Travis Heights Subdistrict. South Shore Central includes property bounded by the Town Lake shoreline on the north, East Bouldin Creek on the south and east, and South 1st Street on the west. The Travis Heights Subdistrict includes property bounded by the Town Lake shoreline on the north, East Bouldin Creek on the west, East Riverside Drive on the south, and I-35 on the east.

The main impetus for revisiting the Waterfront Overlay was the proposed Gotham condominium project at the southwest corner of the Congress Avenue Bridge. The City Council found gaps in existing regulations that made it difficult to determine how the Gotham project would fit into the desired development scheme for the waterfront. John Gilvar, executive assistant to City Council Beverly Griffith, said, "One problem the council has, and why this body was created, was that ruling on ongoing applications on a piecemeal basis is hell. There's no continuity in land use. No one wanted to create a precedent for other development that might be used in a haphazard way."

The pace of the consultant's work will be fast, with only two more Advisory Board meetings contemplated over the next two months. Jim Adams of Roma will return in mid-April with ideas developed from last night's discussion, and come back in May with recommendations. Considerable ground work had been done before last night's meeting, and was evident as Adams ran through a half-hour slide show to review existing conditions and examine models for possible change, including images drawn from San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Sydney, and Berlin. "One of the objectives of the Corridor Study was to create an appropriate relationship between urban development and the waterfront," Adams said.

Whatever recommendations that come out of this revisiting of the Waterfront Overlay must dovetail with existing major projects, including the Town Lake Park Master Plan that will bring the retrofitting of Palmer Auditorium, a new civic facility, and a vastly upgraded park stretching to Auditorium Shores. Also in the area being studied is the Hyatt Regency Austin–the project so tall and close to the waterfront that it triggered the original Town Lake Corridor Study–and the Austin American-Statesman's Planned Unit Development, which envisions expanded production facilities, more offices and a structured parking garage. "The goal is to make sure regulations are adequate to complete the vision of Town Lake, and to encourage high-quality development to happen–not to prevent development at all," Adams said.

In the slide show Adams illustrated how the pattern of development along Riverside Drive east of 1st Street has resulted in a "very scattered urban pattern." "I find this whole area disorienting," he said. Height limitations range from 60 feet to 200 feet. Floor-to-area ratios range as high as 8:1, allowing building up to eight times the area of the site. Setbacks vary as well. "The regulations are kind of all over the map and need to be looked at carefully," Adams said.

As to the shoreline, access is completely blocked from east of the Statesman's building to I-35 by private property including apartments, office buildings, Landry's Seafood House, the Edgecliff Neighborhood ( Wendy Price Todd noted that the Advisory Board had no representative from the Edgecliff Neighborhood.), and an escarpment creating a high bluff above the water's edge. "One thing to explore is how to put development regulations in place and the politics that will complete public access to this stretch," Adams said. "This is the one last stretch of Town Lake not completed for public access along the lake." He said there are opportunities to negotiate public access with private owners and opportunities for redevelopment that could include public access. One possible solution being examined by the city is a boardwalk over the water that would extend all the way to Lakeshore Boulevard, east of I-35. That project carries a price tag of some $10 million.

One key to identifying redevelopment possibilities is the value of improvements on various tracts vs. the value of the land itself. Parcels whose major value is in the land offer better economic possibilities for redevelopment, such as the triangular tract bordered by South 1st, Riverside and Barton Springs Road, home to Hooter's and Jalisco Restaurant.

Adams, who had already met with several of the Advisory Board members, asked how the group sees the area evolving over the next 10-15 years. Several members complained of the poor pedestrian and bicycle access east of Congress Avenue that persists despite the upgraded look of the area created by medians and landscaping. "It's visually nice but not for pedestrians," said Max Woodfin of the Travis Heights Neighborhood. "Roughly eight years ago Riverside Drive was reconfigured and the neighborhood lost the battle to make it more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. There were some concessions but not many." He asked that whatever redevelopment is done along Riverside be engineered so as not to throw more traffic into the neighborhood.

Gary Hyatt, president of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, suggested long-term thinking that establishes the vision and acquires properties as they become available. This would accommodate both the overall cost and ease concerns of property owners who do not want to sell, he said.

Consultant Sarah Crocker, who is not on the Advisory Board but represented the Gotham developer that set this process in motion, said there are mechanisms in the Land Development Code that allow the city to ask for additional right of way in the development process, and that might present opportunities over time for improving Riverside Drive. "It would be a good thing if we had a concrete set of rules and expectations people could look at. Zoning is hell on the developer, hell on the neighbors, and hell on the council."

Gilvar said Smart Growth incentives could play a role by cutting fees for redevelopment projects that meet criteria.

Hyatt cautioned members to look beyond the borders of the two subdistricts and think about both sides of Town Lake before recommending changes. "I like closing Riverside Drive in the park but it would be ridiculous now with all the construction. In 10 years, maybe."

The use of shared parking facilities was discussed at length. Austin Librach, director of the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, said that parking structures at two city owned buildings, One Texas Center and Town Lake Center, would be available for night and weekend parking for events at the new performing arts center and civic center.

Chris Riley, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said, "I'm troubled there hasn't been much use of the word pedestrian. A key is making this area pedestrian oriented." That drew support from Silver Garza, president of Byram Properties, who pointed out the danger of trying to cross Barton Springs Road on foot from Threadgill's Restaurant. Adams said it was clear that priority is now given to moving traffic through, and traffic calming might be needed. Parks Board Member Elaine Carter said setbacks were needed for sidewalks and perhaps speed limits should be reduced as for school zones. Adams said it's possible to narrow lanes and make way for other modes of transportation. Several people suggested that shade is needed to enhance walking conditions.

As the meeting was drawing to a close some members expressed concern that recommendations would go to the City Council from the consultant and not from the Advisory Board. "I feel worried about having the consultant interpret," said Roland Ortiz of the Montopolis Area Neighborhood Improvement Council. Adams said, "We're going to work with you to come up with something that reflects the values and the opinions expressed." He suggested waiting till later to see if there were disagreements.

Architects on parade…Word has it that the City Council may pick the architects to design the new City Hall at this morning's session of the council meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. in the old City Hall, 124 W. 8th St., in the 3rd floor conference room. For more on the four teams competing for this $4 million job, see In Fact Daily March 6.

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