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Convention Center Hotel seeks zoning overlay to add four floors

Tuesday, April 11, 2000 by

Asking for increase in floor-to-area ratio from 8:1 to 11:1

The Convention Center Hotel to be owned by the City of Austin and leased to Hilton Hotels needs to be taller to accommodate 120,000 square feet (SF) of retail and office space plus 41 apartments, triggering a need to increase the floor-to-area ratio from 8:1 to 10.1:1. Juan Cotera of Cotera Kolar Negrete & Reed says the 26-story structure would lose about four stories if the FAR change were not approved. If approved, the project would total 730,000 SF. The hotel is being designed for 800 hotel rooms and 700 underground parking spaces, he says.

Cotera, partner Phillip Reed, and architect Girard Kinney are all on the project team and all are members of the city's Design Commission, which considered the FAR increase last night. The trio limited their comments to presenting information and answering questions, and did not take part in the decision process.

Reed said, "We will ask the City Council to adopt a resolution to incorporate this block into a Convention Center Overlay and change the overlay to 11:1 FAR from 8:1." Cotera said, "The hotel alone slightly exceeds the FAR. Reed said the project would meet all applicable portions of the Draft Downtown Design Guidelines developed by the commission.

Cotera said city staff had suggested seeking the FAR change through the City Council in lieu of going through the Board of Adjustment, because the Board of Adjustment would have little reason to approve it and if denied could be appealed only through district court. "So the way is to change zoning to 11:1 FAR," he said. The project is not in a protected view corridor.

Vice Chair Perry Lorenz said, "I'm going to support this. There's nothing inherently wrong with a bigger FAR. It will result in a taller building, but it's not…in a protected view corridor, and it meets more than any other project our guidelines. It has retail and all kinds of residential so I'll support it."

Commissioner Rob Dickson noted that the Design Guidelines provide for varying the FAR for desirable projects. He, too, voiced support for the FAR change.

Commissioner Janet Seibert said instead of focusing on the FAR request itself the project should be evaluated, like any other project, in terms of the Design Guidelines to see if the FAR is justified.

When Lorenz asked for a "straw poll" to see who supported the FAR change, Commissioner John Patterson said, "to canvass support for the FAR is not consistent with the responsibility this commission has." He moved that someone be tasked with reviewing the project for compliance with Design Guidelines before the commission votes on the FAR change. That motion carried on a vote of 8-0, with Cotera, Reed and Kinney abstaining. Seibert volunteered to write the project evaluation for compliance with the Design Guidelines.

The Convention Center Hotel project is scheduled for presentation to the Downtown Commission Wednesday. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in Room 104 of Waller Creek Plaza, 625 E. 10th St.

Downtown studies mushrooming to cope with effects of fast development

Downtown Access and Mobility Plan, Downtown Parking and Great Streets studied

The booming downtown development has elicited a number of city initiatives to address concerns, many of which are centered on transportation. Last night the city's Design Commission was briefed on several actions underway.

Alan Hughes of the Public Works and Transportation Department, project manager for the Downtown Access and Mobility Plan (DAMP), said the project involves a number of consultants including Wilbur Smith Associates of Houston, WHM Transportation Engineering Consultants, GRAM Traffic Counting, Jose Martinez & Associates, Alan Tanaguchi Architects, Donna Carter Architects, and Hagler Bailly Services. "Over the next five years, 6 million square feet of residential, commercial and office will be constructed in the downtown," according to a handout Hughes provided to commissioners. Wilbur Smith Associates is also the consultant for a Downtown Parking Study that's currently underway and for which a preliminary report is due in July.

He said the DAMP study area is bounded by I-35 on the east, Barton Springs Road and Riverside Drive on the south, Lamar Boulevard on the west and 15th Street on the north, although fingers will extend to MoPac Expressway along Barton Springs Road, West Cesar Chavez Street, West 5th Street, West 6th Street and Enfield Road.

The schedule calls for completing the DAMP project within 12 months. Public involvement is invited and begins with an open house scheduled for 3-7 p.m. Monday, April 24, in the 3rd floor conference room of One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road. Other public meetings will be scheduled later.

Hughes said the project would be accomplished in three phases: Phase 1 will document existing conditions by making 250 turning movement counts at downtown signalized intersections. Phase 2 will assess construction that's committed to go on the ground and analyze the resulting traffic. Phase 3 will involve laying out three alternative scenarios on how best to handle traffic. This will include short-term, immediate improvements, mid-term improvements over the next five years, and long-term improvements beyond that. The project began last month and is scheduled for completion in February or March 2001, Hughes said. He said that consultants were being asked to come up with a street classification system based on functionality and devise a hierarchy. Later comes development of what streets will look like.

Jana McCann, the city's urban design officer in the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, said the overall goal is to balance the street network and pedestrian network based on engineering data. "It's a laborious process and we're limited to three tries, so it's real important to get public input," she said.

Design Commission Chair Juan Cotera questioned the methodology. "What I see lacking is an initial vision for what should be happening downtown in very nonengineering terms, starting with 'This is what we'd like to see downtown.'…What's happening here is very good but I wish there was a beginning vision (to say) this is what the outcome should be and do a study to achieve it."

Commissioner Girard Kinney echoed Cotera, saying there wouldn't be any point in constructing an alternative scenario that "supports a future we don't want. These should be geared to ways of getting us there." Later he added, "I don't want downtown to be a way to get to someplace else. I want it to be a destination."

Great Streets initiative

Commissioner Eleanor Kinney said DAMP should be integrated with the Great Streets Program, a project of the Downtown Austin Alliance. McCann said that a Request for Proposals was being prepared to find a consultant to devise a Great Streets Master Plan to address such matters as road widths and generate downtown streetscape guidelines. She anticipated the contract would take about eight months to fulfill. City voters approved $5 million for Great Streets in the November 1998 bond election, she said, and $1.6 million of it will be used for streetscape improvements for Computer Sciences Corp., Amli Residential and the new City Hall and Plaza.

Once the Great Streets Master Plan is completed, stakeholders would be invited to participate in determining where to put priority for available resources, she said, with the possibility of putting other improvements into the capital improvements project budget, bond elections, or possibly creating a tax-increment financing district. "One purpose of the consultant is to put together funding options," McCann said.

Seaholm Power Plant reuse detours for proposed Seaholm District plan

City plans to seek consultant to design district before soliciting reuse proposals

Urban Design Officer Jana McCann told the Design Commission last night that Sherry Kafka Wagner, the consultant hired to guide the process for determining how best to reuse the defunct Seaholm Power Plant, had advised the city not to issue a Request for Proposals, as had been intended, but to "step back and get a design plan for the Seaholm District." (For more on Wagner, see In Fact Daily Oct. 13, 1999, and Oct. 15, 1999.)

The Seaholm District would encompass land surrounding the power plant, including the water intake structure on Town Lake, an electric substation, Green Water Treatment Plant, and the Lumbermen's Investment Corp. tract west of the power plant that's currently under litigation with the city over a boundary dispute. Also to be noted are proposed light rail lines adjacent to the facility.

McCann said the first step would be to document the historical significance of the power plant and intake structure, both of which were built in the 1950s, and the second step would be to hire a consultant to design the Seaholm District. She said this is time-sensitive because Austin Energy has bids pending for demolition options for parts of the power plant.

Candidates on parade…Eight eastside organizations are sponsoring a forum for candidates for the AISD School Board, mayor, and City Council on Wednesday, April 12. The program starts at 6:30 p.m. with AISD candidates and at 7 p.m. switches to city races, beginning with the mayoral candidates. The forum is scheduled to run till 9 p.m. at Metz Elementary School, 84 Robert Martinez St. For more info call Marcos de Leon at 480-0829… Earth Day…The Earth Day 2000 Celebration is scheduled for Waterloo Park this Saturday, April 15, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sponsored by Ecology Action, the celebration will kickoff a week of events, culminating with an Earth Day Concert April 22 to mark the 30th anniversary of Earth Day. It's free and open to the public. For more info, call Lisa Machac at 322-0000 or 442-7339… Design a trail…The public's invited to a design workshop for improving Town Lake Trail, sponsored by Austin Metro Trails and Greenways. Participants will get to work in small groups on ideas for expanding the trail over its entire length from Red Bud Trail to U.S. Highway 183. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the 3rd floor training room at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road. For more info, call Karen Krueger at 505-5633 or Jeb Boyt at 467-0753… Wear boots, tall boots…The Gray Panthers of Austin are hosting a bull session of giant proportions on Tuesday, April 18. Tall Tales and Priceless Stories will host some of the finest bullshippers ever to grace the Texas Legislature, including State Senators Babe Schwartz and Chet Brooks, and State Representative Glen Maxey, among others. The $20 suggested donation benefits the nonprofit Gray Panthers. The event includes free food and a cash bar, and runs 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel, 303 W. 15th St. For more info, call 458-3738.

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