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Planning Commission wants time to consider
new industrial zoning on rural land near airportPete Dwyer had asked for annexation this week Faced with a request to zone 650 acres of rural land along Onion Creek and the Colorado River, the Planning Commission decided Tuesday to take a few more weeks to ponder questions raised by the development. Landowner Pete Dwyer had hoped to get LI-PDA zoning (limited industrial with a Planned Development Agreement) Tuesday so the property at the intersection of State Highway 71 and Falwell Lane could be annexed at Thursday’s City Council meeting. The property is a little over a mile from the front door of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Dwyer said, catty-corner to the airport. In explaining her motion to postpone the vote, Commissioner Betty Baker said,“My basis–in looking at this–we are taking a tremendous step and we’re making a landmark decision if you will, for this area of the city. It’s an area that we’ve always expected to look out and see the cows and the horses. “This is one of the larger areas (of vacant land). There are other large vacant tracts. They will be coming before this commission. They will be going before the Council. They will be looking for annexation (and) zoning. What we do here is going to set a tone, a standard and a measure if you will, for this entire area,” she said. Commissioner Gwen Webb agreed. “My concern about this is–it is precedent setting in this area. We’ve been given a lot of information and I don’t feel like we’ve had the opportunity to balance the information we’ve been given with the agreement. …To a certain extent we’ve been asked to take a lot of it on faith.” The remaining members of the commission agreed, unanimously voting to postpone action until July 18. Much of the property lies within the 100-year floodplain, a fact that was discussed at length by commissioners, city staff members and engineers for the development. Engineer John Noell explained that he has designed a berm to protect any buildings from floodwaters. Dwyer told the commission, “we analyzed international airports around the country… a lot of development is going to take place here.” Dwyer predicts further growth of Internet-related companies in southeast Austin. Those companies will need “shipping, receiving, distribution type facilities,” he said, predicting those types of businesses would be part of the property’s industrial mix. In addition, Dwyer said the agreement calls for a minimum of 1,500 multi-family housing units. He said he also wants to develop “a mixed-use kind of boardwalk, three or four minutes from the airport. We think in the long term that will be of benefit to the city.” . Regionalize or sink 'like the Titanic' Hershberg tells downtown audience Global economy will make regions cooperate By Charles Ponzio If the 500-plus attendees at Tuesday's Downtown Alliance (DAA) luncheon were expecting a pedantic presentation on regionalism from Theodore Hershberg, professor of public policy and history for the University of Pennsylvania, they certainly got a pleasant surprise. Hershberg's presentation style fell somewhere between that of an evangelical preacher and motivational speaker Tony Robbins. Hershberg cited the global economy as the reason why it makes sense to "work together as a region instead of fighting across county lines.” He based this on the following statistics: 11% of the American economy came from import/export business in 1960, 20% by 1990, and 33% by the year 2000. He added that 40% of the Fortune 500 in 1999 were involved with international trade. The first of three reasons Hershberg gave for global trade coming into vogue was that "barriers impeding the free flow of goods and services across country borders (are) coming down. Secondly, access to capital markets is opening up in that for the first time good investments can find money anywhere in the world now." He emphasized that the third reason, technology, was why the global economy would continue to develop exponentially. "Up until now, talk of a super highway was all hype, but a single digital standard–the Internet–has emerged. By the year 2003, one billion people will be hooked up on the net. We are six years away from every person on the planet being linked up." Likening the Internet to a railway system, Hershberg asked, "As a region, do you want to be a station for passengers to get on and off the net?" Hershberg said that good transportation is imperative in the regional network. He warned that, "Any region that does not grow an indigenous work force will not be competitive in the future." The professor said that regions needed to ask themselves two critical questions: 1) What new institutions have to be put into place; and 2) How will the region position itself in the global marketplace? Stating that it was essential to build a parade of people and institutions behind elected officials so that they would embrace regionalism, he defined regional cooperation as, "Your ability to seize opportunities and solve problems in as timely a manner as possible." Hershberg listed four items as essential for regions to compete in the global marketplace. 1) Develop human resources 2) Lower costs of goods and services 3) Use scarce investment capital wisely 4) Stabilize the Core City of the region. Hershberg told the crowd, "There is no more important issue facing America today than the development of human resources." Citing the vast income disparity between the haves and have-nots, and the fact undereducated minorities will be the dominant population by the year 2020, He said, "sometimes I feel like I'm on the deck of the Titanic and I'm the only one with binoculars who can see the iceberg coming. He went on to say that we have a chance to turn the ship, but only if we act soon. Hershberg pleaded, "The only way to succeed is to provide our children and grandchildren (with) a lifeline of far greater skills than what was required in the past." He added that in the future we would no longer be able to compete on wages, but instead on skills. Hershberg asked parents of children attending suburban schools not to be complacent as the real question needing to be asked wasn't how their kids were performing against their urban peers–but instead, how their kids rate against international benchmarks. "In a study of 40 suburban school districts, only one-fifth of those kids are (on a) par with their international counterparts," he said. Insisting that teachers be retrained to teach children not only to memorize concepts but also to think critically and be problem solvers, Hershberg added that we need a wake-up call for educators and an education system that holds educators accountable for what they teach. Hershberg commented, "it's one thing to be well off in a middle-class America, and it's another to be well off in an America that's become a third world nation." He warned that the latter brings with it real dangers in just day-to-day living. On lowering costs of goods and services for a region, Hershberg said workers and voters needed to ask government to find another way to conduct its business. The critical question needing to be asked was whether government should offer goods and services, or privatize. And that cost benefit analysis be applied to everything currently done by government. As to using scarce investment capital wisely, Hershberg warned that if regions were going to spend available dollars as freely as in the past, they would not have money to spend on research and development or other areas affecting their regional economy. He suggests that government should work with developers to see that they make a profit, and at the same time, guide the region's growth. "You will make your future based on policies you put into place right now," Hershberg said. In stabilizing the core city of the region, Hershberg said, "Most American cities are operating on greased skids. What distinguishes one from the other is the degree of descent." Citing a study of 28 metropolitan areas, he noted that those with the healthiest urban cores had the slowest-growing suburban areas. Although polls indicate that suburbanites generally believe that their fate is determined by the fate of their urban core –they appear to be suffering from the deer-caught-in-the-headlights-syndrome. The question that should be asked by both sides in this issue is–what exactly should suburbanites do to help the urban core? Hershberg suggested that 1) City schools needing more money should tie additional money to performance; 2) require by law that every city service be bid competitively; and 3) Wage and benefit packages of city workers be tied to the rise and fall of gross revenues. Hershberg was at this point approaching the frenzy reached by Baptist ministers at the height of a revival meeting. "This is the moment for Austin, with its booming economy, to reach out and develop interests and establish trust with its suburban neighbors." He added that the regional approach is a metaphor for most of the problems facing America today. He closed by asking, "If not regionalism, how are going to govern this society when we are the most racially and economically segregated in history?" . Battle over septic system regulations Continues at commission level Planning Commission puts off hearing Around 10:45 p.m. last night, the Planning Commission told staff and citizens that they could not consider proposed on-site sewage facilities (OSSF) rules until July 18. The Commission still had several other items to discuss before they could get to those rules, which had been listed last on the commission’s lengthy agenda. After months of arguing, and listening to public testimony about changes to the regulations, members of three city boards—the Planning Commission, the Water and Wastewater Commission, and the Environmental Board—arrived at a set of proposed rules to forward through the process. Last week, the Environmental Board saw that city staff had changed the rules sent forward by the three-commission group and recommended against those changes. In addition, Environmental Board members recommended that the city provide a checklist for inspectors, description of a functioning system and criteria for failure. One of the changes was a recommendation that the Water and Wastewater Department take over enforcement of the regulations. In the past, the Health Department has handled OSSF regulation. What role engineers should play—as opposed to sanitarians—was another area of concern, with the Environmental Board voting to ensure that only engineers design systems. The Water and Wastewater Commission will hold a special called meeting on the regulations tonight at 6 p.m. at Waller Creek Center, Room 104. Gotham to change… Although the controversial Gotham condominium project was scheduled to return to City Council this week, consultant Sarah Crocker said her client, John McKinnerney of Austin-based Simmons Vedder & Co., has requested a postponement until mid-August. By that time, it will have a name more in keeping with Texas tradition, she said, adding, “We went to a joint meeting with the South River City Citizens, Bouldin Neighborhood Association, and Zilker Neighborhood Association.” She said members of the groups will meet again this Friday to discuss the design of the building “taking into consideration the Roma report” which is scheduled to be presented to City Council Thursday. Moving on up… Leslie Pool, a veteran of many city campaigns has gone to work for the Austin office of Congressman Lloyd Doggett….
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