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Heavy workload and poor attendance drags down Planning Commission

Wednesday, March 29, 2000 by

Commissioners postpone Smart Growth amendments again

Only five of the nine members of the city's Planning Commission attended last night's meeting, so the group postponed hearings on Smart Growth amendments to city regulations relating to traffic impact and housing, even though the items are already scheduled for City Council consideration.

An amendment relating to traffic impact analyses in neighborhoods with adopted neighborhood plans was postponed for one week. The discussion on that particular Smart Growth amendment has been postponed four times and is now scheduled for a public hearing and action by the City Council on April 6, according to postings in the City Council's agenda for March 30.

Stuart Hersh, compliance services manager for the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office, was disappointed that the commission postponed the Smart Housing item until April 18. Hersh said the ordinance, which allows for waivers of water and wastewater capital recovery fees for affordable housing, is scheduled for City Council consideration on April 20. "They (planning commissioners) decided to make their input almost irrelevant by hearing it two days before the council gets it," he said.

The motion to postpone the item was made by Commissioner Gwen Webb, a member of the Housing and Redevelopment Subcommittee of the commission. Following the meeting, Webb told In Fact Daily that she wanted to postpone the item because Susana Almanza, chair of the subcommittee, was absent and the subcommittee had never reviewed the final ordinance. Webb said she would tell Almanza of the need to schedule a subcommittee meeting on the ordinance before the April 18 meeting.

Hersh said, "As far as I know, there's no known opposition" to the ordinance. He said all the organizations that had reviewed the ordinance had indicated approval. Hersh said he took the ordinance to the subcommittee in October. "When there was no action, we brought it back (to the subcommittee) in January," he said. Hersh said the proposal was approved by the Water and Wastewater Commission in October and by the Community Development Commission in February. A draft of the ordinance was attached to back-up material for the Planning Commission. (For more on Smart Housing, see In Fact Daily July 19, 1999.)

Former Planning Commissioner Dave Sullivan attended Tuesday's meeting to support the affordable housing plan. He said, "They want to expand from 500 to 1,000 the number of units that can have capital recovery fees waived," for affordable housing. In addition, he said, "the city housing people would have first right of refusal on any city property" that came open for use. Sullivan said the commission "really needs to look at approving small-lot zoning and MH (mobile home zoning)" to encourage Smart Growth in conjunction with neighborhood plans. Several neighborhoods are awaiting Planning Commission and City Council action on these initiatives so they can implement neighborhood plans.

Will Bozeman, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC), said "Paul Hilgers (director of the Neighborhood and Community Development Office) and Stuart Hersh have gone to some lengths to keep us advised," on Smart Housing. Affordable housing may only be a top priority in East Austin, he said, but the issue has become increasingly more important in Central and South Austin as well. Bozeman, who attended the commission meeting, said ANC would not have presented any objections to the amendment if the commission had heard the item Tuesday.

Bozeman said of the Planning Commission's inaction, "I'm discouraged. We're seeing the wheels fall off of the wagon–not only on Smart Growth, but in the development review process as well." Asked what might be the cause of the slowdown, he said, "We're in a hyper economy, so there are tremendous demands on the city to respond, and on the Planning Commission." The City Council then asks the commissions to give their recommendations on "big, weighty issues," such as the Bradley Settlement, which takes time. "Still, we're seeing a city development and review process that does not resolve conflict at the outset," he said, "whether it's about regulations or where a neighborhood is involved."

Finally ANC and the Real Estate Council of Austin have something they can agree on, Bozeman said. Both groups are discouraged about Smart Growth and dissatisfied with the development review process in general, he said.

Huge resistance facing Quarries project by Hyde Park Baptist Church

Church attorney says neighbors have refused to meet

The northern campus of Hyde Park Baptist Church did not square off against its northwest neighbors as scheduled at last night's Planning Commission meeting. Members of five northwest area neighborhood associations, who oppose the church's proposed multi-use facility at the Quarries, 4400 Mesa Woods Drive, were granted a postponement to April 11.

The Development Review and Inspection Department staff has recommended approval of a conditional-use permit, subject to recommendations of a traffic impact analysis. If approved, the permit would allow Hyde Park Baptist to develop a private recreation center, day care facility, and school on the nearly 58 acres. Richard Suttle, who represents the church, said he has tried to meet with disgruntled neighbors, but neighbors have refused to meet with him since February. Will Bozeman, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC), said ANC "is trying to play a mediation role" between the church and neighbors.

The Planning Commission received 135 pages of back-up material on the project, including a number of letters dating back to 1997, from neighbors mostly opposed to the project.

Council meeting location change disrupts effort to overturn amphitheater's permit

Meeting switched to the airport after mail pieces sent to neighbors

Just when you thought you had the location of City Council meetings figured out, they switched them again. A scheduling conflict prevents the City Council from meeting in the Lower Colorado River Authority's facility this week, so it's back to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for the afternoon portion of the meeting to start at 1:30 p.m. That meeting will be held in the Engineering and Airfield Operations Building (use the cargo entrance to ABIA, it's the first building on the right). The morning session, as usual, will begin at 9 a.m. in Room 304 at City Hall, 124 W. 8th St.

The change in meeting locations has upset plans for a big turnout to support the appeal of the Planning Commission's decision to approve a conditional-use permit site plan with variances for the South Park Meadows Amphitheater Improvements. This outdoor entertainment and cocktail lounge use is planned for 9600 S. I-35, off the southbound frontage road. The Planning Commission approved the conditional-use permit March 7 after attorney Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, attorney for new owner, House of Blues, said an agreement with the Park Ridge Owners Association would satisfy homeowners as well as the amphitheater's promoters. (See In Fact Daily March 8.)

Jeff Heckler of The Solutions Group tells In Fact Daily, "We sent at least 4,000 mail pieces," to generate interest in showing up for the City Council's scheduled 6 p.m. public hearing on the appeal. In addition, he says people have been phone-banking and walking the neighborhoods to notify residents. "We're going to ask the council to delay," Heckler says.

"I don't want to be contentious but they should slow down the process. I hope we can sit down and hash out issues," Heckler says. "It appears that neighborhood input doesn't have the impact it once did."

The case for Southpark Meadows has been contentious for a long time. Zoning was approved for the site by the City Council Nov. 18, ending with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who in defending her executive assistant, Richard Arellano, dressed down (without naming them) both Heckler and Mike Blizzard of Blizzard Fawal & Associates. This in response to a contentious private meeting among Arellano, Heckler and Blizzard. Blizzard claimed he was hired to facilitate meetings among the applicant, neighbors and anti-drunk-driving groups. Goodman told In Fact Daily at the time that her office received calls suggesting Blizzard and Heckler might be working for another concert promoter or venue that wanted Southpark's application denied. (See In Fact Daily Nov. 19.)

Environmentalists for Alvarez… Annette Lovoi and Jim Marston, director of the Texas office of Environmental Defense (formerly known as the Environmental Defense Fund) are hosting a campaign party for Place 2 City Council candidate Raul Alvarez in their home at 2810 Townes Lane Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Other hosts include officers of the Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, Sierra Club, PODER ( People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources), Public Citizen, and Austin Neighborhoods Council. Alvarez is running against Rafael Quintanilla, Gloria Mata Pennington, Monty Markland, David "Breadman" Blakely, and Raymond Blanchette for the seat being vacated by Council Member Gus Garcia.

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