Wednesday, March 8, 2000 by

Planning Commissioners punt to City Council on Bradley settlement

Wildflower Center to be third-party grantee on conservation easement

Early this morning, six members of the Planning Commission voted to send the proposed settlement agreement between developer Gary Bradley and the city to the City Council without a recommendation. The vote came about 12:30 a.m., after Commissioners Gwen Webb, Susana Almanza and Ray Vrudhula had departed. The hearing on the matter did not begin until 11 p.m.

During the hearing the city's attorney, Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, said the National Wildflower Center had tentatively agreed to act as a co-grantee on the conservation easement. Dobson said that Bradley also had agreed to the center's participation. The Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) has criticized the deal, in part citing a need for a third party to act as a sort of guarantor of the conservation easement. The easement is designed to keep about 84 percent of the land involved undeveloped.

SOSA Vice Chair Mary Arnold told commissioners, "As it stands, the conservation easement…is legally unenforceable and not workable. The property upon which there is to be no impervious cover is not described with enough detail and the agreement calls for the area to be selected at a later time."

Arnold said SOSA's proposal was for Bradley and the other property owners to deed all of their 3,076 acres to the city. The city would then deed back 15.9 percent of the land to those landowners. The remaining 84.1 percent, she said, would be transferred to a third party. "In other words, 84.1 percent of the land would be permanently retired from development and if deeded to the third party, the charitable trust, not subject to manipulation by future City Councils." The Wildflower Center is such a trust. Arnold told In Fact Daily that she had heard that the Wildflower Center had agreed to act as the third-party grantee, but she said she was still concerned about the details of the agreement. Dobson told commissioners that Bradley had already rejected a proposal similar to what Arnold was suggesting.

Robert Singleton, who has doggedly pursued the proposal and attended every public hearing, presented what he called a "citizen's alternative to the Bradley settlement." Singleton proposed that the city swap city-owned land at Lake Walter Long "for as much of the Spillar/Pfluger Tracts as Gary will agree to." The property at Lake Long would become an 18-hole golf course, with single-family homes. The City Council is scheduled on Thursday to consider another developer's proposal to turn that same land into the Prairie Grass Golf Club and Resort. Under either scenario, voters would have to approve the release of park land. Dobson said Singleton's proposal had been conveyed to Bradley.

Commissioner Robin Cravey tried unsuccessfully to muster votes for a motion to recommend that council postpone voting on the proposal, which would settle a number of lawsuits between Bradley, the city and Circle C and set development regulations. Only Commissioner Jean Mather voted with Cravey on that motion.

Cravey said the conflict between Bradley and the city was a conflict between values–private gain vs. protection of an environmental treasure. Cravey criticized the proposal on the grounds that it will not relieve the city of the burden of litigation, one of the main reasons for the proposal. In addition Cravey said, "the proposal gives the city virtually nothing of what it seeks in land-use controls over Circle C. The proposal allows Circle C to be built out as intended. Instead, the proposal drapes a fig leaf over the offensive development at Circle C."

Cravey said, "There is absolutely no certainty that the Texas Legislature will not undo this deal at the next session. It had been reported that the agreement would prohibit the Bradley Interests from lobbying the Legislature for the sort of special bill Bradley obtained to get him out of his last contract with the city. That would have been laughable, were it not for the encroachment on the First Amendment."

Dobson said he agreed that the city could not enforce any provision that would violate the 1st Amendment's freedom of speech guarantees. However, he said a provision that prohibits Bradley from trying to extend MoPac Expressway is still in the agreement. "One of the practical effects (of the agreement) is to make the extension of MoPac unnecessary, in addition to being environmentally unattractive," he said.

Dobson told the commission that even if the city won all of its battles at the courthouse, it would not obtain as much as it is getting from the proposed settlement agreement. The city would still have to enforce its regulations against an unwilling landowner and the Legislature could easily take away the city's rights to enforce its impervious cover limitations in its extraterritorial jurisdiction, he said.

Commissioner Betty Baker, who made the motion to send the matter to the council without a recommendation, said she agreed with much of Cravey's analysis. However, she said, "I don't think we can put this off." Baker said Dobson's announcement about the Wildflower Center's tentative agreement to participate "gives a ray of hope I have not seen before."

Commissioner Jim Robertson said, "There's obviously a profound range of views. I was almost more certain at 6 o'clock (when the meeting started) than I am now." However, he said, "If the conservation easement is co-granted to a third party, I think that would go a long ways" to satisfy concerns.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the Bradley settlement Thursday. Although the settlement agreement was not posted in the regular council agenda for action, that omission was corrected by a notice of a special-called meeting posted Monday. That same special-called meeting agenda includes consideration of a resolution authorizing a management and operations agreement with a co-grantee for the conservation easement.

Planning Commission gives Southpark Meadows the go-ahead to rock ’n’ roll

Neighbors see new operation as an improvement

The Planning Commission approved a conditional-use permit last night for Southpark Meadows, which has billed itself as a "world-class outdoor amphitheater," according to attorney Richard Suttle, of Armbrust Brown & Davis, who represents House of Blues, the new owner of the facility. City Council has already granted the zoning required for the amphitheater and for sale of beer and wine.

Suttle told the commission he had worked with members of the Park Ridge Owners Association to craft an agreement that would satisfy homeowners as well as the amphitheater's promoters. Suttle said the neighborhood association sent ballots to 362 homeowners in the association and 67 percent voted to support Southpark Meadows under the agreement.

Southpark agreed to limit concerts to no more than two, 15,000-ticket concerts in any seven-day period. In general, concerts are held between April 1 and Sept. 30, according to Larry Fontana, general manager. Suttle explained that replacing the current facility with the new amphitheater will reduce noise going into the neighborhood and prevent concert-goers from parking on neighborhood streets as they have in the past.

Approximately 20 neighbors signed up to address the commission on the issue. Among those speaking in favor of Southpark was Pauline Anton, president of the Park Ridge Owners Association. Anton said if House of Blues were unable to build the amphitheater the current owners would be able to have concerts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and would be able to serve alcohol. She said the agreement would improve the situation for everyone in the neighborhoods.

Among those opposing the conditional-use permit was Patrick Mikula, a freelance computer programmer who works from his home near Southpark. Mikula criticized the Southpark operation as bad for South Austin. "It's not the type of job people commute to, it's a place people move away from. I can't believe anybody in Parkridge voted for this."

When it came time to vote, Commissioner Robin Cravey said, "Austin is a music city. It's also a high-tech town. But not everybody wants to work in the high-tech industry." Cravey said some people want to work in the music industry and House of Blues would be providing good jobs for those people.

Commission Chair Art Navarro made the motion to grant the conditional-use permit. Navarro said he thought it was appropriate to have a "world-class facility" in Austin. "It appears the applicant has tried to work with the neighborhood as much as he could."

Except for Commissioner Jean Mather, the whole commission supported Navarro's motion to grant the permit. She said what scares her the most are the words, "world class." She thinks traffic on I-35 is already scary and adding more would make it worse. She was also worried about noise levels.

Place 2 council race getting crowded as Markland enters

UT college student wants to allow competition in Austin's electric market

Yet another candidate has filed to run for Place 2 on the Austin City Council, the seat being given up by Council Member Gus Garcia. Monty Markland–a University of Texas student majoring in radio, television and film, who works as a part-time web developer–paid the filing fee March 3 to enter the contest.

Attorney Rafael Quintanilla ( In Fact Daily Feb. 17) and David "Breadman" Blakely (In Fact Daily Feb. 25) have previously filed for the Place 2 race. Raul Alvarez (In Fact Daily Jan. 11) will undoubtedly file as well. In addition, Gloria Mata Pennington, who retired from the city in January, has said she will seek this seat on the council.

Markland could not be reached last night for comment but his web site has an extensive amount of material about his candidacy. The self-styled conservative lists his issues as reforming the Austin school system, streamlining the city budget, increasing reliance on renewable energy resources, expanding school choice, upholding the rights of the private citizen, and employing sensible, rapid traffic solutions. "Austin needs a young, fresh perspective," Markland says on his web site. "We need to shed our old conceptions of city government, just as the global business community has shed its outmoded conceptions of business in the face of new technologies."

Markland vows to stay in touch with the public if elected. "I will continue to walk the city streets, knocking on doors and talking with citizens. I want to always have my fingers on the pulse of the city," he said.

Markland's positions on issues include having elected City Council members lobby the Texas Legislature instead of paying lobbyists, and investing in high-technology traffic flow measures. "I am skeptical of light rail until I see a comprehensive, long-term plan that addresses past failures in other cities. I have yet to see such a plan," he said.

The candidate espouses "free-market principles" and while he advocates renewable energy use, a real shocker is his position that, "If elected, I will support allowing competition in Austin's electric market." As reported by In Fact Daily Feb. 11, the City Council was briefed Feb. 10 on the utility's strategic direction, and at this stage no one is talking about opting into competition when permitted in January 2002. Opting for competition would threaten the utility's financial viability and put at risk the transfer of profits the utility makes to the city's general fund.

Workforce shortage "near crisis"…So says the announcement of a press conference today at 10 a.m. Mayor Kirk Watson, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Capital Area Workforce Development Board, along with industry and education leaders will announce "a major education/workforce initiative" that was the result of last spring's Greater Austin @ Work Workforce Summit. "Smart employers will create collaborative partnerships with area high schools and colleges in order to meet industry needs and provide well-paid, high-skilled careers for Austin citizens," said John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Capital Area Training Foundation, in a written statement. The event will be held in the 8th floor conference room at 111 Congress Ave… Women on the move…Today is International Women's Day and the event will be marked in Austin with a women's march marking Global Women's Strike for Change. The gathering starts at 11 a.m. at Republic Park, 4th and Guadalupe, and includes a march to the south steps of the State Capitol for a rally at 12:15 p.m. Austin priorities are raising women's wages, ending rape and domestic violence, and furthering reproductive freedom. For info call Susan Broyles at 453-1511… Meet the senatorial candidate…A reception will be held tonight for Charlie Gandy, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. It's at Gilligan's Restaurant and Bar, 407 Colorado St., from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Gandy, a former state representative, can be reached at 444-3900 or send e-mail to gandysenate@aol.com… Do it yourself defibrillation…What's next? Do-it-yourself open-heart surgery? Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will become only the fourth airport in the nation and the first in Texas to be equipped with Public Access Automatic External Defibrillators (AED). Eight publicly accessible, battery powered devices will be labeled with a large red heart and located within approximately one minute of any public location in the airport. No special training is needed to operate the devices ( Agilent Technology Heartstream Forerunner), says a press release. Since a cardiac victim can lose consciousness and die in a matter of minutes, AEDs may someday save a life. A press conference is slated for March 27. For more info, call Jackie Mayo at 530-6618… So how's the economy?…Find out March 21 at the Austin Convention Center when 2000 State of the Regional Economy is put on by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. For more info, call Traci Solomon at 322-5608 or e-mail to tsolomon@austinchamber.org… First council contest forum…The Crestview Neighborhood Association will apparently be first to hold its Council Candidates Forum. President Chip Harris says the group will hear from candidates starting at 7 p.m. Monday, March 13 at St. Louis Catholic Church, 7601 Burnet Road. The filing deadline is not until March 22 but another matter is scheduled for Crestview's April meeting, Harris says. For more info call Harris at 458-2488.

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