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Second dwellings to be permitted over objections of neighborhoods

Friday, May 12, 2000 by

But ordinance to be fine-tuned to mitigate impact on neighbors

A modification to City Code Chapter 25-2 to allow more infill housing caught considerable flak at a public hearing last night, causing the City Council to adopt it but delay the effective date of the change until Aug. 17. The council ordered that by that same date the Planning Commission provide recommendations for fine-tuning the ordinance with recommendations for design guidelines and parking requirements.

The change will permit two detached residential dwelling units to be constructed on land zoned SF-3 (Family Residence, Small Lot) or SF-5 (Urban Family Residence). This addresses the inequality of allowing duplexes on a smaller lot than two detached residential dwelling units. The change will have no impact on zoning districts where duplexes are not currently permitted, such as SF-1 (Single Family Residence Large Lot), SF-2 (Single Family Residence Standard Lot) and SF-4A (Single Family Residence Small Lot).

An amendment added by Council Member Bill Spelman reduced the minimum lot size needed to allow a second detached residential unit from 10,000 square feet (SF) to 7,000 SF, but reduced the maximum size of the second dwelling from 1,000 SF to 850 SF.

Greg Guernsey, principal planner in the Development Review and Inspection Department, said the amendment would have no effect on setback requirements of 25 feet on the front, five feet on the sides and 10 feet in the rear. One of the dwelling units must be located at the rear of the lot, separated from the front dwelling by at least 16 feet, and be served by a paved driveway not less than 10 feet wide.

The council spent nearly two hours on the proposed change, much of it listening to central city neighborhood residents who feared that without the ability to control second dwellings through approved neighborhood plans this citywide ordinance change would throw open the gates to speculators who would build second dwellings at the expense of the quality of life enjoyed by residents.

Planning Commission Member Robin Cravey said the amendment had been a long time coming since its introduction by former Planning Commission Member Dave Sullivan. Cravey, an attorney, himself worked on it when he was executive assistant to Council Member Daryl Slusher. "It's really a very simple proposal to allow garage apartments where duplexes are now allowed," Cravey said. He said allowing the second housing unit would allow homeowners to make income from a rental unit to hedge against higher taxes that might force the homeowner to move away. It would increase taxes by putting more property on the rolls. Each homeowner would be allowed to decide to build. Additional units would be well supervised by the owner's adjacent living quarters.

I know the council had misgivings to allow this only through neighborhood plans," Cravey said. "I certainly support neighborhood plans and they should have authority, but the City Council must retain the right to legislate citywide and this is one such instance. If kept in neighborhood plans they would be implemented in a fragmented way. This is an opportunity to get affordable housing now."

Karen McGraw, chair of the Hyde Park Planning Team, said, "We really like this idea. We've been trying to get garage apartments approved in Hyde Park for over 10 years, but we can't support this. These things should be tools for neighborhood planning. You want to put tools in the hands of homeowners. Without full-blown neighborhood plans you will put tools in the hands of developers." McGraw said Hyde Park's problem was parking, as houses built in the 1930s and 1940s were exempt from parking standards. "In Hyde Park, speculators put in many bedrooms and can do it with one parking space," she said. "I support you in trying to do this but let's see if we can't do this in a way that supports neighborhoods and not to their detriment."

Steve Poole of the Rosedale Neighborhood said his neighborhood could go from lots of trees, green space and quiet surroundings to less trees and green space and more noise. "If this passes, our neighborhood will absorb some growth but it's a small fraction of the total Austin growth but it could destroy the character of the neighborhood."

Jeff Archer, president of the Rosedale Neighborhood Association, said, "I think this is based on a mishmash of ideas about helping current homeowners. It amounts to commercial development of neighborhoods."

Jeff Woodruff, president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, said he personally likes garage apartments and favors them as an individual. His rough estimate of the cost of a 1,000 SF dwelling (as originally proposed) was $100,000 to build and $1,100 a month to finance, meaning rents would cost $1,500 a month, not very affordable.

Sarah Crocker, a development consultant speaking only for herself, said she supported the ordinance amendments. Noting that most speakers lived in central city neighborhoods, she said half the population lives in suburban neighborhoods with large lots and plenty of room for second dwellings that otherwise can't be built without changing zoning to SF-6 (Townhouse and Condominium Residence) or subdividing the lot. "Neighborhood plans give tools but are only available to those who have neighborhood plans, and others who live in Austin need to be taken into consideration as well," she said.

Bouldin Creek Neighborhood resident Bob Sessa said the change is "taking power from neighborhoods with a blanket ordinance that won't fit all." He said houses with larger lots may have deed restrictions and restrictive covenants to protect them "but inner city neighborhoods don't. I'm concerned about racial and economic diversity and want to help solve those problems but this is not the answer."

Mayor Kirk Watson said, "It's not a panacea for affordable housing but it's one way to get more affordable housing."

Will Bozeman, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, said he supported the change if managed through neighborhood plans "but not citywide in a one-size-fits-all approach." He recommended that a task force formulate standards and report back to the council.

Council Member Gus Garcia said, "Many neighborhoods with mid- and low-range income people have asked for this because they need to house parents or others in the family, so this gives flexibility." As to concerns, he said, "If neighborhoods stick together, they can make it work but we need to give flexibility to others who need it."

Council Member Daryl Slusher argued to pass the measure on all three readings, but ask the Planning Commission to come back with protections for neighbors. "I don't believe there will be a mass speculation of buying houses to put garage apartments in the back," he said.

Council Member Beverly Griffith said, "The intended consequences are all 14 karat." But she said the initiative was not sufficiently tailored for neighborhoods.

Council Member Spelman noted that it would be many years before all neighborhoods had neighborhood plans.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said, "What I want are particular ways that neighborhoods with plans can modify this or opt out…I don't want mass destruction of smaller units to have larger ones."

The motion was approved 5-2 with Goodman and Griffith opposed.

Council votes itself a pay raise of 50 percent starting July 2

Motion approved unanimously on consent with no discussion

The Austin City Council voted unanimously, on consent, and with no discussion Thursday to award the next council a pay raise of about 50 percent. The amount is based on the compounded increase in the Consumer Price Index since the council pay was set in the mid-1980s. Following the vote, Mayor Kirk Watson said he voted for the raise but would not personally be accepting the increased amount. "I understand the difficulty of service–the workload, the time spent–and how difficult it makes it. I understand those arguments and I want to make it so more people are able to serve in the future," Watson said. Watson said the ordinance would raise the mayor's salary from $35,000 to about $49,000. Council members' salaries would increase from $30,000 per year to $45,000.

Several council members said they had received very limited public comment since the proposal was announced a few weeks ago. Only Gus Pena spoke in opposition to the proposal, and that was hours after council had approved the new pay scale. Pena, a regular on citizens' communications, attacked the pay raise because he said the booming economy is not helping everyone.

City Manager Jesus Garza told Pena that city employees have gotten raises every year for several years in a row and he anticipates that they will receive another raise during the next budget process.

Council Member Bill Spelman, who co-sponsored the pay raise with Council Member Gus Garcia, said his office received only three phone calls about why the raise was needed. Spelman said he took the calls himself and found the callers were not opposed after the conversation. He said when governing bodies set up independent commissions to determine salaries, those commissions frequently hand out higher pay than members of the governing bodies would. Both Spelman and Garcia will leave the council June 15. Spelman, an associate professor at the University of Texas, has never drawn a council salary due to a prohibition in the Texas Constitution for state employees. The pay raise will go into effect July 2.

Council Member Beverly Griffith told In Fact Daily, "The intent of the council when they put in pay years ago was that people of moderate means be able to serve on the council without serious sacrifice on their family's part. That amount has changed as the cost of living has changed." She said the raise was completely consistent with the original council's intention. "Judging from the absence of any expressed concerns, what we've done is consistent with the community value of paying" the council. "It's also a recognition of the responsibility of handling a $1.6 billion budget. People want us to pay full-time attention to the city's business," Griffith said.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said, "This is not a part-time job. You can't do a good job" unless you do it full time. "If you read the agenda and the back-up material and come to the meeting, you're up to 20 hours a week. I work an average of 60 hours a week. The council has not gotten a raise in 15 years and you don't want to get in a situation where only the rich can serve."

Council Pay in Major Texas Cities



1998 Population

1997 FTEs

1996 Revenue Austin (approved)




$1.4 billion

Austin (current)




$1.4 billion

San Antonio




$1.7 billion





$1.6 billion

Fort Worth




$604 million

Source: Material supplied by Council Member Bill Spelman

South River City Citizens strongly back new Home Depot near St. Ed's

Council approves zoning on first reading and schedules more action June 1

Yesterday's public hearing for the Home Depot project at South I-35 and Woodward was much like a wedding. The bride and groom were happy but some of the neighbors wanted to be heard before the preacher said till death do you part.

Home Depot's Regional Manager Don Riesc and attorney Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis drew praise from Clark Hammond, president of South River City Citizens. He also recognized the city staff and neighbors who participated in negotiations that has brought about an amicable peace in what started with indications of war. Hammond said the tract 3500-3600 S. I-35 had a lot of history behind it, as 13 years ago the neighbors had fought hard to get unique zoning restrictions put on this land.

"We tried something different on this," Hammond said. "We approached this on how would we talk to our neighbor. Home Depot wanted to be our neighbor and we had to decide if we wanted them to be our neighbor…I think Home Depot did a very good job of listening to us and responding to us." He took a lighthearted jab at Suttle, saying he would get framed for him an article in the day's Austin American-Statesman that said if you wanted to spend a million dollars you could get Suttle to represent you. "We asked them not to build a big orange box but to be sensitive to nearby architecture like St. Edward's ( University)." Hammond concluded, "We worked out a good arrangement and if they keep their word on everything, we'll keep ours."

Despite Hammond's strong endorsement several people who live in the area spoke against the rezoning from GR (Community Commercial) and RR (Rural Residence) to RR and CS (General Commercial Services).

Robert Wilbourn said the intersection of I-35 and Woodward was already failing. He also said the tract was dedicated cemetery land and claimed state law required it be used exclusively for that purpose unless a district court ruled otherwise. "Every time St. Ed's decided it wanted to sell off some of the cemetery it says it's gone to the records and undedicated it but I believe it's never been done, and the city is an unknowing accomplice to this." Council Member Daryl Slusher asked that the city attorney to report back to the council on this legal issue.

Rickie Bird said there were already local hardware stores in the vicinity. "We don't need a Home Deport and there's no real justification other than Home Depot wants to be there," he said, adding that the project "will screw up Blunn Creek one more time."

Jeanine Cook said she had lived on Woodward since 1960 and personally counted vehicle trips and found more than 100 cars in a 10-minute period. "It's dangerous and difficult to back out the driveway," she said. "I'm concerned if Home Depot locates (here) we will need the council's full attention on traffic calming."

Rene Barrera, former SRCC president, said master planning for the area has been underway since 1997, leading to a comprehensive understanding of the area. "So we are very confident of our vision for the area," he said. "We took time out to meet and work with Home Depot and we made concessions, just as they have…We're not just looking at Home Depot but at the entire area."

Betty Weed said neighbors had worked long hours to strike an agreement with Home Depot. "Right now our biggest concern is that agreements not get lost in translation to a legal contract."

When asked by Council Member Beverly Griffith how long would be needed by city staff to draft the zoning ordinance, Assistant City Attorney Deborah Thomas said, "I'd prefer a minimum of two weeks to get documents together and get back to parties and make sure it reflects the desires of the parties accurately."

Attorney Suttle pled for the council to put it on the May 18 agenda, "knowing full well if both parties are not comfortable it's not going to happen." (Later Suttle told In Fact Daily, "Contractual obligations that start expiring around June 1 require us to get this done.")

Council Member Slusher said putting it on the June 18 agenda would place an undue burden on city staff, and it wouldn't be fair to other projects in the pipeline that might be bumped to work on this one. Griffith agreed, saying, "If we take a little care and do it right the first time it usually saves time in the long run."

Slusher asked that protection of the remaining forest on the property be preserved through a conservation easement deeded to the city and Suttle agreed to that. "Home Depot's only concern is if we have responsibility for the property we need the authority to keep it up," he said. "We have another neighborhood association living there now," Suttle said, referring to a homeless camp on the site. "We will clean it up and clear out the underbrush."

Slusher also added a provision to explore the possibility of regional detention in the area and negotiate it into the agreement if feasible. He also asked that the city work with neighbors on bicycle and pedestrian safety and traffic calming in the area.

On a 7-0 vote the zoning case was approved on first reading and will be scheduled for possible second and third reading June 1. An accompanying item to amend a restrictive covenant for the property was postponed until June 1 by a vote of 7-0.

Council-appointed board will oversee redevelopment of Mueller Airport

City Council following recommendation of Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition

Yesterday the City Council directed the city manager to create a board to oversee the redevelopment of Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, based on recommendations from the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition. That process should be completed by June 8, according to the resolution. Mayor Kirk Watson said, "This council has dedicated itself to making sure the redevelopment of Robert Mueller can be utilized in way that shows that Smart Growth works." The mayor praised the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition and it's spokesman, Jim Walker.

Walker said, "The neighborhoods aren't saying we want to control this, but to participate. We want to craft it so there can't be an end run around us–with someone coming directly to you and doing an end run."

Referring to the fact that the council has been inundated with suggestions for how to use the land at the former airport, Watson laughed, saying, "That never happens. I don't know what this city did before it had the 700 acres" at Mueller to think about.

Rusthoven to succeed Arellano as mayor pro tem's executive assistant

Rusthoven had six years at Development Review and Inspection Department

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said her departing executive assistant, Richard Arellano, is "about to go off to make the world a better cyberspace," as she presented him a distinguished service award during Thursday's council meeting. The mayor told Arellano, "You want to say something? You've got three minutes." Arellano read from prepared notes, telling the council they're the best Austin has ever had, repeating comments he made to In Fact Daily last week. As reported May 5, Arellano will work for, a nonprofit that aims to increase participation in democracy.

As Arellano was saying good-bye to friends and colleagues in city council offices Thursday, Goodman's new executive assistant, Jerry Rusthoven, was getting reoriented. Rusthoven, who holds a master's degree in community and regional planning from the University of Texas, has worked in the city's Development Review and Inspection Department (DRID) for the past six years. He has recently been promoted to project manager for an area that includes downtown, one of the hottest areas in Austin for big new projects.

Rusthoven said he has been happy in DRID, but being an executive assistant to the mayor pro tem was "too good an opportunity to pass up." Rusthoven said he will be spending Friday at his old job, trying to tie up some loose ends, and he will be in Goodman's office Monday morning. Rusthoven said the new job will give him a chance to "see things from a policy standpoint instead of (from the standpoint of) implementing it."

Bennett Tract decision delayed… In Fact Daily on May 10 reported that the Planning Commission's decision to postpone action on zoning for the Bennett Tract would prevent the City Council from taking action. As expected, the City Council voted 7-0 yesterday to postpone action to allow parties time to complete negotiations for a compromise. In addition, Council Member Gus Garcia said he would bring an ordinance May 18 that will extend the current moratorium on site plans for the tract for an additional 120 days, until Oct. 16. "This extension will allow the council to effectively go through the budget process (which ends no later than Sept. 15, 2000) and will also allow for the smooth transition of new council members and new planning commissioners," Garcia wrote in a May 10 memo… Tax man cometh…When discussing the Home Depot zoning case yesterday, Council Member Daryl Slusher said that neighbors claimed that runoff from the Internal Revenue Service drains onto the tract being zoned for Home Depot. "I'd like to look into that," he said, adding, "I hope they don't get mad at us." Mayor Kirk Watson said, "That's not part of the motion is it? You're not dragging the rest of us into that?"

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