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Council puts fate of Rainey Street into hands of boards and commissions
Battle lines formed between Rainey Street neighbors and Heritage SocietyCity Council yesterday unanimously approved a resolution allowing the Rainey Street Neighborhood to take it's conceptual plan through the board and commission process, but members of the Heritage Society at least delayed what they perceived to be a freight train bearing down on the street's Historic Register homes. Rainey Street residents voted overwhelmingly last month to ask the city to allow them to rezone their mostly single-family residential neighborhood to Central Business District (CBD). CBD is the only zoning category that does not have compatibility standards, and is therefore the only one that the neighborhood believes will ensure that they can sell their land for top dollar. Former Council Member Brigid Shea, who presented her neighborhood's conceptual plan to the council, said the neighborhood is hoping the area can become a mixed-use hub for high-tech companies. (See In Fact Daily, April 3.) Following the hearing, Shea said, "The Heritage Society out-organized us." Shea said she was confused by the council resolution, which was sponsored by Council Member Gus Garcia but amended by Council Members Beverly Griffith and Bill Spelman. Shea had tried to get a clear indication from the council about whether the neighborhood could expect to be designated CBD, but was unsuccessful in that request. Garcia leaves the council June 15 and has made it clear he has no time to waste. Garcia said the Rainey Street neighborhood was stranded from the rest of East Austin by I-35 and has suffered the encroachment of commercialization as well as the location of the Convention Center. Now residents are anticipating construction of the Mexican American Cultural Cente r. "This is not a neighborhood anymore," he said. "People need to understand that folks that are there have some issues that need to be addressed. We need to listen to the neighbors." However, Garcia denied that he was trying to push the redevelopment strategy through the board and commission process during the next 30 days. Spelman's amendment directs the city staff to evaluate the process used to come up with the conceptual plan and "to make sure that the needs of all the stakeholders are taken into account." It is unclear what effect the amendment will ultimately have, but it clearly sends the message to all that the process cannot be hurried. Following Garcia's announcement that he was not trying to get the process done in 30 days, Spelman said only half-jokingly that he hoped the plan would not make it back to the City Council before he leaves office (also June 15). Janet Gilles, a resident of the Villas on Town Lake, one block from Rainey Street, complained that the process used by the Rainey Street group was "not an inclusive process." She told the council that she had to attend their meetings "as an interloper," and was not allowed to vote. Julie Morgan, executive director of the Heritage Society, told the Council the real estate market would support historic single-family homes. Claudette Lowe, a real estate broker and member of the Heritage Society, said, "I think all the people who want to sell their homes for a lot of money should be able to do that. I just think there is more than one way to do that. There is a vast need for single-family houses, offices and retail. Admittedly, they wouldn't make as much money (with single-family zoning) as with CBD," she said, but perhaps they could sell development rights to the air space above their homes. Lowe said she would like the city to appoint an independent planner to evaluate all the issues, and come up with a plan that would suit everyone. Following the hearing, Morgan said the city does not currently have an ordinance allowing for sale of development rights above buildings. However, she said such an ordinance was used when the Capitol View Corridor came into being. Other cities, including New York, San Francisco and Chicago, allow building owners to sell the right to build higher to other developers, or to a bank. Then a developer can purchase that right and build, perhaps a 50-story building instead of a 40-story building. She said the ordinance would have to be worded so that such buildings were located in appropriate places. Robert Velasquez, co-chair of the Rainey Street Neighborhood Association, told In Fact Daily, "I feel like the Heritage Society is trying to manipulate some of the people in the neighborhood, and they're not going to be upfront with them." Velasquez accused those opposing the redevelopment plan of deceiving his neighbors by telling them they could make more money by retaining the historic designation. "But the thing (Heritage Society members) don't realize is that these people do not have the money to get these houses fixed up like Hyde Park or Tarrytown…We knew we had a battle in front of us…but it's the white-collar Anglo-Saxon who has money, depriving the right for older Hispanic families to benefit from a sale. We don't want to use the race card, because there are some of our other neighbors involved in it. But we've been working on this project for four years and nobody can tell me that they don't know what's going on." Lori Renteria, a leader of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood, said her group has taken no position on the proposed redevelopment plan. However, Renteria said she got involved with Rainey Street in the 1980s when then- Mayor Frank Cooksey wanted to put the Convention Center on the shore of Town Lake. She said she believed that having the neighborhood designated historic was a strategy of United East Austin to prevent the city from locating the Convention Center on Rainey Street. At that time, Renteria said, Velasquez was very angry about the historical designation. Velasquez has supported development of the area for the past 15 years. Now that Velasquez has convinced a majority of his neighbors to push for redevelopment, Renteria said, she personally supports his position. Carol Barrett, who leads the city's neighborhood planning section for the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, said the ambitious schedule for the redevelopment strategy had already slipped. Barrett said the city's Design Commission is scheduled to hear the proposal next Monday. On Wednesday, the Downtown Commission is supposed to hear the proposal, she said. Thursday, April 13, a subcommittee of the Historic Landmark Commission was scheduled to hear the proposal. However, Barrett said she had been informed that the subcommittee did not have room on its agenda next week for the matter. Because of that, the Planning Commission subcommittee which was supposed to hear the matter on April 19 cannot hear the item, and the proposal won't get to either the Historic Landmark Commission (April 24) or the Planning Commission (May 2) as previously scheduled, she said. Morgan said she was quite pleased with the outcome of the hearing. "Our hope now is to work with the neighborhood and Robert ( Knight) and Perry ( Lorenz) as well, to come up with some kind of compromise that would meet everybody's needs," she said. Knight and Lorenz own a large chunk of property adjacent to Rainey Street and have assisted the neighborhood in the plan. They hope to aggregate their property with that of the neighborhood to sell to a single developer for a mixed-use, Smart Growth style development. Velasquez said, "If we don't get what we want, we just won't sell. We're five blocks from downtown Austin. Why should we be deprived of making any money when everybody else is making money all around us? These people from the Heritage Society…they're not intimidating me. They're not going to intimidate us. We're not scared of them. Win, lose or draw, we're going to fight the battle." City manager to start research for entity to manage Mueller redevelopment Will work in parallel as Roma Design Group finishes revised master plan For a ship to move in the right direction the rudder must steer and the engine must propel. When it comes to the redevelopment of Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (RMMA), Mayor Kirk Watson is the engine and Council Member Beverly Griffith wants to help with the rudder. Since a story appeared in the Austin American-Statesman to report that Watson was interested in possibly swapping RMMA property for environmentally sensitive land over the Edwards Aquifer, Watson has been fending off criticism of possible back-room dealings. (See In Fact Daily March 31 and April 4.) Griffith, who with Council Member Daryl Slusher worked for two years to get the federal government to approve swapping 2,823 acres at Bergstrom Air Force Base so income from RMMA would benefit the city's general fund, is dead set against earmarking land at the defunct airport in this manner, even for the worthy goal of environmental protection. What we need to do is relax, take a deep breath, and not go forward till we hear from our $800,000 consultants, who can advise us on funding options, a master developer, protecting the integrity of the master plan, and how to maximize the return for the city on one of its major assets," Griffith tells In Fact Daily. The consultants are Roma Design Group Inc. of San Francisco, who with an advisory group of stakeholders is reworking the redevelopment master plan for RMMA's 719 acres, in the wake of the Texas Legislature's failure to appropriate funds to buy 282 acres of the land as envisioned in the original master plan. The latest draft was unveiled to the RMMA Redevelopment Advisory Group (RAG) Jan. 19 (In Fact Daily Jan. 20) and the Roma team is due back soon with a revised draft, although the final master plan may not come for months. Griffith says the city should do a national solicitation for proposals for a master developer to guide RMMA's redevelopment. Coincidentally, Jim Musbach of Economic & Planning Systems of Berkeley, Calif., who is part of the Roma team, in December 1998 wrote an overview of case studies on the use of master developers in implementing military base reuse plans, which are analogous to the RMMA situation. Griffith is inclined to seek a master developer with experience in big redevelopment projects and then do due diligence to examine firsthand what those projects look like. "Can I go and look at one and see if it's the quality that Robert Mueller deserves?" she tells In Fact Daily. "What about governance? Are we going to have–I hope–citizen oversight? If so, what structure will that take? I want to look at others and see if they work well and learn from them." Griffith and Council Member Willie Lewis sponsored a resolution considered by the City Council yesterday that would have directed the city manager to immediately create, fund, and staff an entity to assume management of the development of the RMMA site and analyze related financial issues. In reality that's nothing more than the RMMA Redevelopment Process and Goals Task Force recommended in 1996. Lewis, representing the Pecan Springs-Springdale Hill Neighborhood Association, served on that task force and now figures it is time to get on with it. Mayor Watson supported the concept of a redevelopment authority at the April 3 candidates forum sponsored by the Mueller Neighborhood Coalition, which has heavily influenced plans for reuse. (In Fact Daily April 4.) "There needs to be a mechanism put in place, as councils come and go and management comes and goes," Watson told council members yesterday. "There may be an opportunity for a development authority to protect what goes on out there." But Watson thought it premature to act before Roma delivers the revised master plan. Lewis said he wanted to have the city manager work on a parallel track to examine management alternatives for redevelopment while Roma finishes up the master plan. "Developers want assurances," Lewis said. "If we decide later and potential developers drop out, it's too late. But if we have a mechanism started, when we go out for developers we'll be that much further ahead. We should have done this years ago but we didn't." Rick Krivoniak, chair of the RMMA RAG, said, "We need to get going" on the redevelopment authority. "If it needs modification we can do that but we need to get going." Architect Girard Kinney, who chaired the RMMA Redevelopment Process and Goals Task Force, said while the group's recommendation to appoint a redevelopment authority was not implemented at the time, "work needs to be done to have a management entity." He assured the council that having a management entity in place "in no way precludes a master developer." Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman amended the resolution so that City Manager Jesus Garza would not establish the management entity but would instead recommend an appropriate entity to the City Council. Council Member Gus Garcia further amended the motion so that the city manager would be able to evaluate Roma's recommended master plan before recommending management options. Lewis accepted those amendments and gave the manager 90 days after the council receives the Roma master plan to furnish recommendations. Council Member Daryl Slusher wondered aloud if the motion was premature, but Lewis argued the manager could be gathering community input before the Roma report was received. "There are a finite number of entities," Goodman added. "There's no sense waiting till we get the Roma report to research." Griffith read what she termed the "big questions" that she wants the city manager to address, to include determining what governance structure would be best, making a commitment to a citizen-driven plan, and analyzing how to maximize return on the Mueller property (which she estimates could appraise today for $90 million to $100 million). In addition, she said the possibility of establishing a fund to compensate property owners for development rights should be considered, a matter seemingly unrelated but germane in the context of discussions about land swaps at RMMA for environmentally sensitive tracts. The council voted 7-0 to approve the much-amended motion. Council funds homeless shelter to be run by Salvation Army affiliate City to sign 40-year lease and operating agreement City Council members voted unanimously Thursday to authorize "a forgivable loan" of $3.9 million to Booth Services Inc., an affiliate of the Salvation Army, to build the Seventh Street Hope Cente r, a homeless shelter, adjacent to the Salvation Army at 501 E. 8th St. The new building will also include a resource center and health clinic, according to Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner. Conner said the shelter would provide nighttime accommodations for 100 men, which could be expanded to serve 250 men in severe weather. The day resource center will include referral and other kinds of services to assist homeless persons to attain self-sufficiency, she said. Joyce Pohlman, homeless coordinator, told council the original proposal called for a 50-year lease on the property. However, because of rising construction costs, the new agreement between Booth Services and the city will be for 40 years, which coincides with the term of the loan. The city has revised the loan and operating agreements based on comments from various stakeholders, Pohlman said, including the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Community Action Network Homeless Task Force. Pohlman said a local advisory council would oversee shelter operations. The agreement calls for the city to fund the full cost of operating the shelter, with annual budget increases based on the consumer price index, she said. If Booth Services cannot operate the shelter, the city may either operate the shelter itself or find another operator. Pohlman said the shelter might allow a person to stay for 30 days or more, depending on case manager recommendations. Unlike the Salvation Army, intoxicated persons may be admitted to the shelter, she said. However, in response to questions by Council Member Willie Lewis, Pohlman said some persons who exhibit disruptive behavior probably would be denied shelter access. Pohlman said if someone were denied shelter, that person could appeal. She said those making the final decision would try to make a decision within 24 hours, but sometimes an appeal could take 10 days. Pohlman told In Fact Daily that Friday is her last day as a city employee. She said she has taken a job "in the private sector." New SOS leaders…The Save Our Springs Alliance announced yesterday that Vice Chair Mary Arnold will serve as acting board chair through June 11, the date of the Alliance's 10th Anniversary Soul of the City Celebration. SOSA also announced that Mark Tschurr, a high-tech executive, will be joining the SOSA board. Tschurr ran against Jackie Goodman in 1993, when she won her first term on the City Council. In addition, SOSA announced the return of Bill Bunch, the organization's chief legal counsel… More endorsements…The Austin Women's Political Caucus has endorsed (duh!) Mayor Kirk Watson for another term, Raul Alvarez for Place 2 on the City Council, and Place 6 Council Member Willie Lewis for another term. In Place 5, the AWPC delivered a dual endorsement of both Clare Barry and Will Wynn. To win AWPC support, candidates must attest to support of a woman's right to choose an abortion without government interference and without restriction; support quality, low-cost child care, and support the Equal Rights Amendment… Postponement I…After a 35-minute discussion yesterday, the City Council voted 4-2 with Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Gus Garcia opposed and Council Member Willie Lewis off the dais to postpone for one week a decision on how to improve the route over Town Lake for bicyclists and pedestrians at the Lamar Bridge. The staff presented two options. One was to add $82,000 to HDR Engineering Inc.'s existing contract to allow structural analysis of the existing bridge to see if it can support a cantilevered addition for bicycles and pedestrians. The other was to approve a $6.9 million contract with Jay-Reese Construction for a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge east of the Lamar Bridge. The week's delay will allow Jerry Garcia (an engineer, not the late Dead Head) to finish modeling the existing bridge's ability to support a cantilever. Even if modeling shows the cantilever would work, the city would still need to do an underwater inspection of the piers for deterioration… Postponement II…The City Council voted 5-2 last night with Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Gus Garcia opposed to postpone for one week a decision on whether to grant historic zoning to the Joseph Cater House at 2824 Rio Grande. The zoning was requested by the Shoal Crest Neighborhood Association and University Area Partners and opposed by the property owners. Council Member Bill Spelman wangled the week's delay to give neighbors a chance to get a second engineer's opinion on repairing the foundation of the house. Frank Lam, the structural engineer retained by the property owners, testified repair would require 100 piers drilled 30 feet deep to support the two story house with a footprint of 1,200 square feet. He said that would cost $275,000. Spelman, who lives in a Hyde Park house with a similar foundation problem, says he thinks the job can be done far cheaper. "I think a second estimate is called for," Spelman tells In Fact Daily. With a valid petition in opposition, the decision to grant historic zoning would require six votes and Watson has already stated his opposition. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman is also leaning that way, because granting historic zoning would mean putting a $275,000 burden on the owners… Postponement III…Last week Clara Touchet, president of the newly formed South Austin Neighborhood Association, won standing to appeal the conditional-use permit granted by the Planning Commission to allow the House of Blues to upgrade Southpark Meadows, a musical venue at 9600 I-35 southbound ( In Fact Daily March 31). The hearing was supposed to have been held yesterday but Touchet showed up with lawyer Steve Adler to object because Touchet had not been given the required written notice of the hearing 16 days before the hearing. Despite the fact that the council last week explicitly stated its intent to hold the hearing yesterday, the legal technicality pressed by Adler held up, and the parties reached agreement to hold the hearing April 20th. Touchet told In Fact Daily she requested the delay to allow neighbors to organize their presentation, but otherwise supportive neighbors were highly steamed. "I've been here five hours and you didn't even tell us you would ask for a postponement," one obviously angry neighbor told Touchet before storming out… Sueeyyyy…Former Travis County Commissioner Bob Honts sure knows how to turn a phrase. Representing the East Sixth Street Community Association, he told the City Council yesterday that numerous concessions had been negotiated to ease tensions over the construction of the new homeless shelter to be built on 7th Street. "Some of us didn't want this pig to get to the market, but we worked to clean it up," Honts said.
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