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Valencia plans new downtown

Thursday, June 15, 2000 by

hotel for corner of 2nd and San Jacinto

212 room, 16 story facility of up to 150,000 square feet

Valencia Hotel Corp. plans to build a 212 room hotel in downtown Austin, says Ben Turner of Consort Inc., a planning, engineering and landscaping firm. The 16-story structure would be located on the northwest corner of 2nd Street at San Jacinto Boulevard, one block west of the Austin Convention Center. Turner says the structure would be a maximum of 150,000 square feet. He declined to provide an estimated cost for the project.

Though designs drawn by Spencer Maxwell Bullock Architects are tentative, Turner says an attempt is being made to coordinate plans for structural parking on lots immediately west of the hotel. He told the Downtown Commission last night that the hotel itself is required to have 45 parking spaces, but he is talking with the city and other developers about building a larger structure to satisfy the needs of several projects.

The land on which it would sit is already permitted for an additional 45 parking spaces to satisfy another project's off-site parking needs, he said, although he declined to name the other project. Combining the two would make 90 parking spaces. A third project is required by code to have 62 parking spaces but as a practical matter needs more than that, he said. Coordinating the parking construction for all three projects is the overall goal. "That's very difficult to do because we're trying to coordinate the economics," Turner said. "One project we're working with can be built more quickly than we can, and another is a year behind us. With $11,000 to $13,000 per parking space, it's a big commitment." He said a garage can be built in four to five months, and it would take 11 to 12 months to build the hotel.

The discussion of parking ranged further than this one project. Commissioner Chris Riley, an attorney, said, "We're one of the few cities left with parking requirements downtown." Riley noted that the Convention Center Garage is only a block from the hotel site. He expressed concern that another parking garage "would have a significant (negative) impact on the vitality of the whole area."

Turner said the hotel project plans to have 14,000 square feet of ground-level retail, perhaps a restaurant. He said a restaurant would support the hotel, help increase pedestrian activity, "and the garage would be much better with it."

A license will be sought from the city to install a metal awning to cover the sidewalk around the hotel not unlike the awning that covers two sides of the Stephen F. Austin Hotel at 7th Street and Congress Avenue, Turner says. Commissioner Perry Lorenz and others said the city would likely grant the license because protecting pedestrians was a desired city goal.

Turner said his firm has been involved in numerous hotel projects in Austin but this would be its first downtown project. He said Valencia's Austin projects include the Hampton Inn Hawthorn Suites at I-35 and Ben White Boulevard, and the firm has a Hampton Suites under construction at Ben White Boulevard and Riverside Drive to serve Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Valencia Hotel Partners is based in Houston, Texas, according to appraisal rolls for the two properties maintained by the Travis Central Appraisal District(TCAD).

Turner tells In Fact Daily the hotel will be built on the corner two lots of 2nd Street and the garage will be built on the next two lots on 2nd Street. TCAD records show these four pieces of property (Lots 3-6 of Block 17 of the original city) are owned by Finley Co. The only improvement on any of the lots is a 3,016-square-foot structure that houses JW Automotive at 202 San Jacinto. The combined market value of the four lots, according to TCAD, is $824,320. The other two lots on the south side of 2nd Street in that block are owned by J17 Fortune LP and Jim Bell Motors, and carry a market value of $412,160.

Northeast Austin says no to zoning

change for halfway house in their back yard

Planning Commission postpones to ask staff for legal advice

Residents of Northeast Austin's 78723 Zip code already have more parolees living among them than Austinites in any other part of the city. That's a statistic Lark Anthony, president of the Pecan Springs/Springdale Neighborhood Association, points to as part of the reason she doesn't want a federal halfway house sited near her neighborhood.

Last month, members of the association asked the Planning Commission to postpone the request of applicant Eugene Mees for consideration of rezoning that may allow a halfway house for ex-convicts. The postponement was granted and the matter came up again this week at the commission.

Helga Williams, representing Mees, the owner of a half-acre lot at 1109 E. 52nd Street, is trying to rezone the property from LR (neighborhood commercial) to GR (community commercial). Williams opened her presentation this week by saying she had called various neighborhood representatives "and no one returned my call." Last month when a commissioner asked Williams if she had contacted the unhappy neighbors, Williams asked, "Why should I?"

Carol Kent of the Windsor Park Neighborhood Association and Anthony said their neighborhoods had voted to oppose the zoning change. However, they spoke highly of the good work being done by the residential treatment center being run by the property's current occupant, Souls Outreach Ministry. That center has a maximum of 12 occupants at any given time, according to Anthony. "If (Williams) can get the zoning changed she can lease it to the federal government and have 45 to 50 parolees" at the site, Anthony said.

Williams told commissioners that if they denied her request for the zoning change because it would be used as a residential treatment facility, the Commission would be violating what she termed the "Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1998." Williams went on to explain that recovering alcoholics are considered disabled. At one point, she turned to the crowd and asked for a show of hands of anyone who did not have knowledge of a friend or family member with a substance abuse problem. Only one member of the crowd responded with a raised hand.

Commission Chair Art Navarro informed Williams that she had strayed from the subject at hand. During Williams' presentation, Commissioner Ben Heimsath questioned whether the property's current use as a residential treatment facility is legal. If not, he asked, why isn't the city taking action to shut it down? Staff could not answer his questions.

Heimsath made a motion to table the matter for two weeks to give the legal department time to research whether the current use conforms with the current zoning and whether the current use will be legal in the proposed GR zoning. His motion was approved unanimously, with Commissioner Susana Almanza absent.

Downtown Commission holds roundtable

discussion on increasing downtown vitality

City regulations possible bar to enhancement of downtown

During a far ranging roundtable discussion last night at the city's Downtown Commission, Juan Cotera, chair of the Design Commission, briefed the group on the values and goals of the Downtown Design Guidelines that his commission developed and the City Council adopted. He said the Design Commission is now reinterpreting how things are done downtown. "The FAR (floor to area ratio) is a good case in point," Cotera said. "It has lost its meaning. To determine density we need to approach things in a different way." He added later, "I think the reason we have the FAR in Austin is because it's a moderate level of density. At one time, we didn't need to go up (higher)."

Jean Mather, a member of both the Downtown Commission and Planning Commission, said the city's Fire Code may be a barrier to preserving the historic character of some structures. She also said that taxes should be changed to make preserving historic structures more affordable.

Downtown Commissioner Stan Haas, an architect, said city codes had not necessarily produced good buildings. He said, "Preservation of character is important, but examples of how bureaucracy has created really ugly buildings are 100 Congress and 301 Congress. There was good intent but it was not well executed."

Downtown Commissioner Bea Fincher said, "Yes, we need to plan, but we need to leave some room in planning for spontaneity…We need some absolutely stunning, unique buildings in Austin." Haas added, "And these guidelines don't address it." Cotera agreed that the city needs stunning buildings, and he said those are produced by great design teams, whereas owners often focus mainly on the bottom line.

Cotera said the University of Texas at Austin's Master Plan was used to kill the original design of the Blanton Museum and the State History Museum was forced to copy the design of the Capitol and the State Office Complex.

On the topic of parking, Cotera opined the city should be the developer of parking for the downtown area. "Minneapolis will not let you build parking. They build it and do well." He said parking pays for itself and makes money.

Although it's too late to do anything about it, from the standpoint of land use the commissioners all seemed to agree that the three buildings being constructed by Computer Sciences Corp. should have been made taller, because the land is being underutilized, and the same goes for the two buildings planned by Amli Residential. CSC could build the same space on two blocks instead of three, Cotera said.

Commissioner Bill Mullane suggested that one way of gauging the vitality of downtown might be to measure the number of people who live and work there. Downtown Commission Chair Robert Knight said Seattle has 30,000 dwelling units downtown, while Austin might be looking at 3,000. "We could put 30,000 people downtown and not feel it," Cotera said. "That's how far underdeveloped we are."

Cotera said the Downtown Commission and Design Commission should work together in the future. "This document (Downtown Design Guidelines) should be a living document that will evolve," he said.

Walk the walk and talk the talk…The Planning Commission has recommended that the city appropriate $1 million for sidewalks in neighborhoods next year. Staff had recommended $650,000. After discussing the item and listening to testimony for more than an hour, the commission voted unanimously to recommend the higher amount… Forget the criticism…After sounding out the members of the Downtown Commission last night, Chair Robert Knight decided they were just not worried enough about the city's planning for retail to generate a letter after all, although the commission had authorized Knight to write such a letter at a previous meeting. When no one made a motion for a letter, Knight said, "I will assume this hasn't stirred the passion of the crowd."… Help wanted…The Downtown Commission is looking for ideas on what organization could be tapped to provide a representative to the commission for human service providers. Anyone with ideas should call Perry Lorenz at 478-8774… Hates Intel's garage…That was the sentiment that Downtown Commission Member Chris Riley says downtown residents are voicing. He says Intel plans a nine-story parking garage on the banks of Shoal Creek between 3rd and 4th streets. Riley's idea for expanding the Hobby Building garage, to allow the Intel garage to be downsized, failed when he learned the state cannot allow more than 10 percent of its property to be devoted to private uses. "The Smart Growth Matrix pays them to have a garage," Riley said of Intel. "We should look at deducting points."

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