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Planning Commission rejects office intrusion into North Austin neighborhood

Wednesday, April 19, 2000 by

Neighbors show up in force to oppose zoning change

The Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend against office zoning in a north Austin neighborhood whose residents fear "commercial creep." The proposal by Debra Dozier to rezone her home at 1418 Cardinal Hill Road to allow for a medical office was rejected on a vote of 8-0, with Chair Art Navarro absent.

Ron Thrower, who represented Dozier, told the commission the property, which sits at the intersection of Parmer Lane and Willow Wild Drive, is "orphaned out of the subdivision." Thrower said the property has frontage on Parmer, but did not receive the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sound-barrier wall that other homes in the area did. He said. "The owner has tried to sell the property on four occasions, but has never been able to do it for residential use. It's now under contract for a medical office." He said, "Our first intent was to maintain the existing structure, but TxDOT denied our application to do a driveway off of Parmer." Because of the denial, he said, the owner would have to take the existing building down, put up new one," and add a driveway inside the neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, the Planning Commission postponed the case and asked Thrower to meet with neighborhood representatives to try to work out a compromise. Thrower said he had done so, offering to limit the new building to one story and to limit uses to residential, educational and office. ( In Fact Daily April 5.)

Thrower said 45,000 cars per day pass by on Parmer Lane. He estimated the medical office would add 87 trips per day to the residential street. Currently, he said there are 213 cars per day on that street, Willow Wild Drive.

More than 30 neighbors signed up to speak in opposition to the office zoning. Many of them echoed complaints made at a hearing two weeks ago, concerning traffic and parking problems that would be generated by the office.

Jonathan Luden, president of the River Oaks Neighborhood Association, told the commission, " Smart Growth is supposed to protect the existing character of neighborhoods. He gave a list of developments that have enhanced the neighborhood, including the addition of the central sewer system in 1994. He also noted addition of an elementary school and Walnut Creek Park. "Now they want to demolish a home and construct a business and build a parking lot. That's really stretching the definition of what Smart Growth is supposed to involve."

Janet Klotz, speaking for the North Growth Corridor Alliance, said the group opposes the requested LO (local office) zoning because members have already experienced the deleterious effects of allowing just one dental office into a nearby neighborhood. The traffic and parking around that office, on Silver Spur Street, she said, has continued to worsen.

Christie Manners, who lives close to the property in question, said. "Changing the zoning invites commercial creep into the neighborhood." The rezoning would bring down the value of all the homes around it, she said. Manners claimed that Dozier had not been able to sell her home because she had not done anything to enhance its appearance.

Commissioner Ray Vrudhula, who made the motion to recommend that the City Council deny the requested zoning, said, "I think it being an established neighborhood…the owner wants to make money…I'm really convinced of what the neighbors have said, that the area cannot take the traffic."

Commissioner Gwen Webb, said, "It's a lovely neighborhood. I wish something could be done to accommodate the applicant's request. But I don't see any way to avoid the commercial creep–especially when right across Parmer lane there's commercial zoning."

Commissioner Jean Mather said, "The only compromise I can see…(is) it would be ideal for a home office."

Commissioner Betty Baker said she was disappointed that no one had come up with a solution, adding, "I will vote for the motion because I'm real smart and I can vote to five…There's got to be some creative solution."

Following the hearing, Thrower said he did not know whether his client would take the case to the City Council or not. He said, "I think it's a travesty that the commission did this tonight. I tried and tried to talk to these people and all I got was fist-pounding no's."

Luden said, "We need to figure out what to do with the lot. I feel for the applicant. I really do."

Council candidates bouncing from forum to forum in election contests

Austin at Issue taping yesterday to air next two weekends

The Austin at Issue show on KLRU-TV Channel 18 taped interviews yesterday with 14 candidates vying for the three seats on the City Council. (Candidates for the mayoral race were not interviewed.) The show for Place 2 candidates will air at noon and 9 p.m. Friday, April 21, and 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 23. The show for Place 5 and Place 6 candidates will air in the same time slots on Friday, April 28, and Sunday, April 30.

Candidates were interviewed in ballot order by producer Tom Spencer, Austin Chronicle Staff Writer Mike Clark-Madison and In Fact Daily Editor Ken Martin. Each candidate was given time for a self-introduction followed by questions from the panel. Here are some of the highlights of those interviews.

Place 2

Raymond Blanchette, age 69, continues to tout his experience in the U.S. Air Force as good qualifications to serve on the City Council. He retired from active duty in 1972. Asked what he had done since then to qualify him for service on the council, Blanchette said he was a contractor for a while and had been a volunteer in a Veterans Administration hospital. He said the issues he wants to address on the council are "due process of law" and "capping taxes for elders on fixed incomes." Blanchette said people's Constitutional rights are being violated by the city "confiscating property without a hearing."

Montgomery Lee "Monty" Markland, age 22, came to Austin four years ago to study telecommunications at the University of Texas. He criticizes the City Council for spending "$2 million on lobbying" in the last session of the Texas Legislature and said, "We need someone on the council to reach out and bridge the rift." He claims the Austin Police Department is not adequately staffed. He wants to open the city's electric utility to competition. When asked how the city could afford to lose electric customers through competition–which would likely reduce the transfer of profits to the general fund–Markland said, "The free market serves best."

David "Breadman" Blakely, age 78, said he came to Austin in 1939 to go to UT. He claims the City Council does not listen to citizens, as evidenced by moving Central Booking into an established neighborhood and not closing Holly Power Plant as a previous council promised. Blakely said he would "bring an attitude of servitude" to the council. He criticizes the commitment of $3.9 million to build a homeless shelter to serve "100 hobos" and said the money could have been better spent to "build 100 affordable homes for the working class."

Raul Ruben Alvarez, age 33, is environmental justice director for the state Sierra Club. He said he would be hesitant to pursue deals with other land developers similar to the city's settlement with the Bradley Interests. He said he opposes the Bradley Settlement because citizens were brought into the process too late, after negotiations were far along. Alvarez said he would follow in the footsteps of the man he wants to succeed on the council, Gus Garcia, who is sensitive to the environment and issues of concern to Latinos. Alvarez's focus for Smart Growth would be on how better to integrate neighborhoods into the planning process.

Gloria Mata Pennington, age 62, said she has lived in Austin 35 years. Pennington said people feel left out of the process. "Whether that's a perception or the truth it needs to be addressed," she said. In terms of problems within the city government, from which she retired earlier this year, Pennington said, "Asian Americans feel they are not given upward-mobility opportunities." She said she supports the Charter Revision Commission's recommendation for single-member districts, in which council members would be elected from within geographically drawn districts.

Rafael Quintanilla, age 53, is a lawyer who has lived in Austin since 1964. When asked if it was good for the City of Austin to always have environmental candidates elected, as happened in 1996, 1997, and 1999, Quintanilla said, "What's good is that several viewpoints be represented." He said he supports the plan for single-member districts. "It's important that every segment be represented on the council as nearly as possible." Asked about his proposal to rename Smart Growth as Smart Growth and Neighborhood Protection, Quintanilla said, "It's a chance to send a signal we care and will protect our inner city neighborhoods."

Place 5

Linda Curtis, age 49, who works as an interviewer for the Gallup Organization, said she has been an activist for 30 years. Curtis said people are concerned about what the council does behind closed doors and she believes the Open Meetings Act was violated during the council's consideration of the water deal it made with the Lower Colorado River Authority. She said the this is being investigated by the County Attorney's office. "We need a movement for reform," Curtis said. Asked if she felt the campaign-finance reforms she led have made the City Council a better governmental body, Curtis said, "To be honest, no." While it has helped get money out of elections, it has not opened up debate, she said. "We need to raise the (financial) limits." Curtis said she doesn't mind the environmental candidates winning elections but other groups are underrepresented. "You cannot get environmental protection without cleaning up the polluted political system," Curtis said. "We are building a movement with this campaign that will continue after the election."

Roger Paul "Chip" Howe, age 48, is a clinical coordinator for brain-injured adults. Asked his opinion of the council's initiative to improve social equity, Howe said he thought the council had acted in good faith. "I'm a strong supporter of the living-wage campaign," he said. Asked about Smart Growth, Howe said he supports the concept of mixed-use development where people can work and live in the same neighborhood, but he would like to give neighborhoods more support by meeting every three months to solve issues. He opposes the light-rail plan and would instead like a better bus system, including express buses that would get passengers across town in 30-40 minutes. Howe said he would boost voter turnout in elections by having free taxicab service to get voters to polls and one hour of paid time off to vote.

Mary Clare Barry, age 49, has a master's degree in architecture from UT and is on leave from the Texas Department of Transportation to campaign. Asked if the Bradley Settlement was a good deal for the city and if the city should seek similar agreements with other land developers, Barry said, "I'm not confident I know what deal was made. There was great concern among the environmental community. I wish I knew more about what was accomplished." Asked her opinion on city plans for Smart Growth corridors that would densify certain major streets, Barry said that Koenig Lane and Burnet Road were so designated in her neighborhood, and residents would welcome quality development in those areas. She said neighbors who had lived in her area for decades are being forced out because they can no longer afford it. Texas Neighborhoods Together plans to try to address this in the next session of the Legislature, she said, through "an incremental approach to tax relief."

William Patrick Wynn, age 38, is a downtown developer and past chair of the Downtown Austin Alliance. He said Austin's downtown, like downtowns all over the country, is "underutilized." Asked about light rail, Wynn said, "My No. 1 priority is to attack our traffic crisis." He said the problem must be attacked with a package of plans to improve existing roads, build new roads, build light rail and commuter rail, and improve facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians. "We need the region to understand that boundaries are irrelevant" to solve the problems of air quality and mobility. "I bring collaboration to the table," he said, referring to the broad range of supporters he has garnered. "No single voice has answers to all the problems we're facing." Wynn said, "I will get as much talent to the table as possible."

Amy Juliet Babich, age 47, is a bicycle retailer and library clerk who has lived in Austin since 1976. She says she graduated with a doctorate in mathematics in 1988. "There ought to be somebody on the council who does not drive a car," Babich said. "We have some on boards and commissions and they raise questions others don't raise." She said the number of cars in Austin needs to decrease even as the population decreases. Babich supports light rail and said if it fails then a tram system (trains smaller and lighter than light rail) should be proposed. Asked how the city could move forward from dependence on automobiles, Babich said, "We can start by building sidewalk infrastructure" and putting in bicycle paths to connect the city to the suburbs. She said the city "should start with sidewalks because it's the cheapest to do and has been neglected."

Place 6

Willie Clyde Lewis, age 63, is retired from the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed. Concerning his first term, the incumbent said he is proudest of the downtown development that is occurring and working on housing initiatives. Asked to clarify his claim of living in Austin for 42 years, Lewis said that he maintained his home of record and family here since 1958 even when stationed elsewhere in the Air Force. Asked why he has been campaigning against the city manager in forums, Lewis said, "Too many people know his style of management and take advantage of it. Each organization takes on the personality of its leader." The reason he voted against the city manager's $24,000 raise (16.6 percent) was because, "I'm against that large a raise. Other city employees got 5 percent." Lewis said he supports the plan for single-member districts: "Too many people don't have representation." He said the council's recent resolution to negotiate with a developer for a Traditional Neighborhood Development in East Austin will "add 1,000 homes to the market." Once that happens, other developers will follow suit, he said.

Nelson Linder, age 41, is an independent insurance agent who said he wants to address the issues of social equity, education and social justice. He said more than $2.3 billion had been spent on the prison system and there needs to be less spent on prisons and more spent on education. Linder said he supports Smart Growth to bring more balance to protect the environment and protect neighborhoods. He said a massive public education campaign is needed before building State Highway 130 and then it should be built. Claiming that more than 50 percent of Hispanics and 40 percent of African Americans were denied home loans, Linder said, "You cannot pay someone $7 an hour and expect them to be a full citizen in society." To increase affordable housing supplies, Linder said he would boost the Housing Trust Fund to $2 million.

Danny Thomas, age 49, is a senior police officer with 21 years service in Austin making $54,000 a year. He says he's willing to postpone retirement to take the council seat at $30,000 a year. "I believe in open meetings, not keeping secrets from the public," Thomas said. Asked his position regarding the recent recommendations to institute civilian oversight of the Austin Police Department, Thomas said, "It's time citizens had the opportunity to look into misconduct." Thomas said he does not support the Charter Revision Commission's recommendations for single-member districts because only the mayor would be elected at-large. He said some of the council members should be elected at-large as well. Thomas said East Austin has not been well represented through the Austin Independent School District's single-member districts. "The system we have now makes the council more responsive to the whole city," he said.

Cap Metro in Leander…An information forum will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at Leander City Hall, 200 West Willis, to announce a transportation package that could ensure continuation of Capital Metro services and provide significant increases for road and street projects in Leander. Council Member Beverly Griffith is one Capital Metro board member participating in this initiative. For more info, call Juliana Fernandez at 389-7550… Candidates on parade…The Bouldin Creek Neighborhood and South Central Coalition will host a candidate forum starting at 6:30 p.m. at Becker Elementary, 906 W. Milton St… Alvarez fund-raiser…Place 2 City Council candidate Raul Alvarez holds a fund-raiser tonight 6-10 p.m. at Jovita's, 1617 S. 1st St. featuring music by Alejandro Escovedo and poetry by Raul Salinas. For more info, call 478-7969… Planning Commission to move…Members of the public and Planning Commission members who have been frustrated by the cramped meeting space the commission has been using in Waller Creek Center, take heart. Jill Horton of the Building Services Division told commissioners last night that she expects to have space for them at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road, by June 6. Horton said staff is "updating audio equipment and installing cameras overhead" in the building's third floor training room. The room seats about 150 people and does not have columns blocking the view, as does the current meeting facilities, she said.

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