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Hyde Park neighbors resume picketing Hyde Park Baptist

Tuesday, March 7, 2000 by

Moratorium fails and church files site plan for additional garage

The war over the future of Hyde Park has broken out again, following the City Council's failure last Thursday to extend the moratorium on Hyde Park Baptist Church's project. A site plan was filed Friday for an additional parking garage and drainage project. That action triggered an immediate response from the Alliance to Save Hyde Park, whose members protested in front of the church Sunday.

ASHP spokeswoman Susan Moffat tells In Fact Daily, "We're going to be picketing every Sunday to take our message to the church." Moffat claims that church attendance today is no higher than it was in 1984-1985, according to church bulletins. "Attendance is identical to this year's, 2,700 to 2,800 each Sunday, Moffat says. "Clearly they don't have a need for this $5 million garage."

Further, Moffat says, "If they insist on building this garage, we'll insist they park in the garage." She said church members park on the streets in the neighborhood now and that's preferable to putting up the new parking structure. But if the new garage is built, she says the neighborhood will seek restrictions for on-street parking by residents only, as the Eastwoods and North University neighborhoods have done because of student parking.

The church's attorney, Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, tells In Fact Daily the site plan covers the footprint of the garage, with entrances and exits on Avenue D, and a detention pond for the south end of the surface parking lot on Speedway, near 38th St. The site plan asks for vacation of the alley behind the existing garage.

Suttle faxed letters to attorney Rachel Rawlins of George & Donaldson on both Friday and Monday in an attempt to set up a meeting for Tuesday evening between church officials and ASHP. "The church remains very committed to continuing the dialogue and the brainstorming to try to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the garage and church growth issues," Suttle wrote in the letter. "We want to pick up where we left off on the mediation," he tells In Fact Daily.

Moffat says meeting on Tuesday is not possible because the Planning Commission will be considering the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan that night. "I believe the neighborhood plan is the proper vehicle to address all this," says Moffat, who moved into Hyde Park in 1992, well after the original deal was cut with the church to settle differences in 1990.

"Individual neighbors are talking to attorneys on what legal channels may be open to them," Moffat says. "At this point, the Alliance has no plan to take legal action as an entity. We're still pursuing the neighborhood plan and taking our message to church members."

Moratorium fails by single vote

Although the City Council allowed the church and ASHP only 10 minutes apiece last Thursday to discuss the possible extension of the moratorium, the council wound up spending more than an hour and a half on the matter. Council Member Bill Spelman, whose house backs up to the south end of the church parking lot on Speedway, recused himself from discussing the matter in both an executive session and the open council meeting.

Rawlins, attorney for ASHP, told the council that the zoning on the site of the proposed parking garage remains SF-3 because the zoning map was never updated to reflect the Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD) approved in 1990. "What we have today is essentially a partial NCCD that allows projects not allowed throughout the city," Rawlins said. "What we have here is spot zoning." Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman asked Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry the definition of spot zoning, and Terry said she would supply that information later.

Moffat told the council, "We want the church to grow in a way that's compatible with the neighborhood…We'd be happy to have the church if they'd build with us and not against us."

Alice Glasco, director of the Development Review and Inspection Department, said, "I have no explanation of why the NCCD, which is an overlay for Hyde Park, was not reflected (in zoning maps). It should be on a map today." In response to a question from Goodman, Glasco said that the failure to note the change on a zoning map does not nullify an action of the council. Terry added, "The error is remedied by putting zoning on the maps and in this instance the maps have been corrected."

Moffat said ASHP was willing to talk to church officials but added, "We don't want them to vest rights in a project we don't agree with…We're terrified to do that without a hold (on the site plan).

Though pressed by Council Member Daryl Slusher to commit to more talks without a moratorium, Moffat said she could not make such a decision for the whole steering committee. "We're at a crossroads. If we don't get the hold it changes the entire picture. If they vest rights in a project we can't live with the next stop probably isn't talking," she said.

Church spokesman Richard Naylor said the church has been meeting with the neighborhood, including mediation during the moratorium, and the church's architect has spoken to the ASHP's architect "to discover new approaches for the garage, to make it as suitable as we can to the neighborhood."

Naylor said the intent of the neighborhood plan was to merge the church's NCCD with a larger NCCD in the neighborhood. He said that would conflict with the NCCD approved by the council in 1990 and requested city mediation services to resolve the situation. He estimated it would take five to six weeks to get on the council's agenda for a hearing on vacating the alley. "If we close the alley we can have a greater setback on Avenue D for more landscaping and better appearance," Naylor said. He said permission to build the additional garage was part of the deal that ended the conflict between church and neighbors in 1990.

Glasco advised the council that the decision on whether to vacate the alley would be made by the City Council; if vacation is not allowed then the site plan would have to be amended and that could be approved administratively.

Council Member Beverly Griffith moved to extend the moratorium and asked that in further talks the parties consider a 1988 rendering of a garage design that would pull back the upper floors of the garage. The drainage improvement was to be exempted from the moratorium, and the neighborhood plan was to be expedited.

Slusher said, "An agreement was reached in 1990 and it included the parking garage and I think the neighborhood is going to have to accept a parking garage there and talk about what the nature of the parking garage will be. I really hope we can get an agreement and not get back here for the council to work it out."

Suttle injected, "I understand the moratorium on anything the church wants to do is still on, and anything the neighborhood wants to do…is off?"

"That is the motion," Slusher said.

Mayor Kirk Watson noted that it was 11:10 p.m. and the council was considering the matter for the third time. He said, "This neighborhood is enormously important to the city. It is one I have fought for and people in the audience know how hard I've fought for it in situations." But he said the contract between the church and neighborhood made in 1990 should be upheld. "The church…did what they said. Now it's time for consideration." He said the church agreed not to tear down houses and was to be able to build the garage at some point.

"A deal is a deal," Watson said. "I worry about the future if developers feel they can't negotiate with neighbors…We've got to be careful we don't weaken neighborhoods because the developer will not negotiate, but will take whatever they can get at that time because down the road they may not get the consideration they bargained for." Watson continued, "With us having tried a moratorium and failed, that brings me back to the contract. We need neighbors to enter contracts and developers to enter contracts and then honor those contracts."

Council Member Gus Garcia said he wasn't sure another moratorium would accomplish anything, and he served warning that he would not vote to vacate the alley when that application comes before the council.

Naylor said that an offer made by neighbors the night before the council meeting during a confidential mediation session, if it worked out, "would be such an advantage to the church that we would amend the site plan. We want to talk because it might happen, but we have no reason to believe that it will happen." Mayor Watson asked that he not disclose that offer, in case there was a chance to keep talks going.

Council Member Willie Lewis said he had answered close to 100 e-mails on this case and "I'm not answering any more. When it comes back I don't want to hear you can't work it out. I'm ready to make a decision."

The council voted 4-2 on the motion to extend the moratorium for three more weeks, with Watson and Garcia voting no, and Spelman off the dais and not participating. Without five votes, the motion passed only on first reading. That opened the window to file the site plan.

Later Moffat, who is married to Austin Chronicle Publisher Nick Barbaro, commented on the mayor's position. "Watson's saying a deal is a deal, but this is not the deal the neighbors signed off on. The staff negotiated something else…I also have a problem with neighborhood volunteers being thrown against wealthy organizations," Moffat added. "We're as good as we can be and still get screwed…It seems a missing element is good planning."

Thomas Henderson seeks pardon to clear way to run for political office

Concedes pardon in time to run for council this year unlikely

Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson wanted to run for City Council this year but a felony conviction barred the way. Now he's seeking a pardon, executive order or legislative remedy from California Governor Gray Davis that would remove that barrier. On letterhead marked Thomas Henderson for Austin City Council Place 6, Henderson sent letters in late February soliciting people to mail letters of support to Governor Davis' office by March 6.

Henderson says there's no special timetable for action by the State of California and he set the March 6 date just to prompt people to send in letters of support. Does he expect to get clearance in time to file for the City Council ballot by the March 22 deadline? "I'm not that optimistic nor did I really have expectations for that to transpire that quickly," he tells In Fact Daily. "This was sort of put in my lap as a continual process of my personal recovery from substance abuse and some other things," Henderson says.

In his letter requesting support, Henderson says he was charged with one count of sexual assault and two counts of false imprisonment in 1983 while addicted to crack cocaine. It says he entered a treatment center Nov. 6, 1983, and starting on June 11, 1984, served 28 months in prison, until released Oct. 15, 1986, then served two years of parole. "For over 16 years, I have remained clean and sober," the letter says. "I conduct speaking engagements nationwide to focus on recovery and drug prevention education for youth and adults. I have also worked for several national treatment centers as a consultant."

Henderson told In Fact Daily, "This is more of a process as I move on in my life than something strictly political, but if (the pardon) does happen in the future there may be other things I can do…This has stimulated me to one more time walk around a wall in my recovery. I'm not looking for miracles."

David Terrell, campaign manager for incumbent Place 6 Council Member Willie Lewis, says of Henderson, "If he gets that miracle pardon, we welcome him to the race and expect a vigorous contest."

Two other men are challenging Lewis for the council seat, insurance agent Nelson Linder and Austin Police Officer Danny Thomas. Linder's campaign signs are already up in East Austin, conveying his campaign slogan, "Better people, better service, better results." Linder, age 41, has never sought public office before.

Born in Wrightsville, Georgia–a small town 40 miles south of Macon known best for producing pro football running back Herschel Walker (who was drafted by Henderson's old team, the Dallas Cowboys, in 1986)–Linder says he served in the U.S. Army 1976-1979, reaching the rank of E-4 before taking an honorable discharge. Linder says he moved to Austin in 1981 because he had a brother here who said it was a good place to live. Linder says he graduated from Huston-Tillotson in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He became an insurance agent with Allstate in 1985, he says, and is now an independent agent representing numerous companies. He offices at 3807-A N. I-35 next to Pinky's Pagers.

Linder says his campaign consultant is Akwasi Evans, publisher of Nokoa-The Observer, who is doing business as Common Sense Consulting. Linder concedes that Evans has never before done significant work in political consulting. Linder's campaign manager is Winsome Jean, he says. He hopes to raise $50,000 for the council contest.

Linder says his three major issues are education (focusing on the public school system and the university); social justice ("There's way too much unfairness, and way too many people in jail for unnecessary reasons."); and transportation. "I see a new urgency," Linder says. "This is an important time. I want to share ideas for the new millennium. This environment favors someone with a new approach. (Voters) want a more creative approach." He says his candidacy is less about challenging an incumbent than serving a changing city.

"A lot of issues are not being addressed," Linder says. Among those are social justice and economic opportunity, he says. "Certain parts of the city have been ignored for too long, especially East and Northeast Austin." Linder says he wants to bring more business to East Austin and have less suburban development and more inner city development. "I'd like to invite business, with incentives, back to the inner city."

Linder has tentatively planned a fund-raiser to be held in the cafeteria of Kealing Middle School this Saturday, March 11, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Officer Thomas could not be reached for comment on this article.

Raising McCain…Today is Super Tuesday and Texans for McCain will have (what they hope is) a victory party at Hang Town Grill at 9828 Great Hills Trail (next to the theater). The party will have a roped off area with two televisions to track the returns. The gathering starts at 6 p.m. and any meeting will be held at 7 p.m. For more info, call Bob Binder at 474-1515 or 426-2468… No strip mining please…The Bastrop County Environmental Network and Neighbors for Neighbors are touting a documentary film, To Save the Land and People, about Kentucky stripmining. Those threatened by Alcoa's plans to stripmine in Lee and Bastrop counties see parallels between what happened to Eastern Kentucky and what could happen here. The one-hour film will show at the Dobie Theater, 21st and Guadalupe, at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 11, and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 15. For more info, call Ann Mesrobian at 360-3045.

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