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Triangle Advisory Group wants $5 million

Thursday, July 27, 2000 by

Money would leverage developer's investment, advocates say

The Triangle Square Project, a proposed mixed-use development on State land at 45th and Guadalupe Streets, will only succeed if the city pays nearly $5 million in "Smart Growth" dollars, according to Sabrina Burmeister, the head of Neighbors of Triangle Park. Under the current proposal, the city would purchase land for public parks and streets and would provide road and utility infrastructure at the site. But some residents of the Rosedale neighborhood are questioning why so much money will be spent on new parkland when existing parks are in need of repair and maintenance.

"There are issues of equity here, " Burmeister said Wednesday. "Should the money be spent here? But if they don't fund it, the project won't happen."

The Triangle development proposal was the subject of more than two years of intense battles by neighborhood groups objecting to an original Cencor Realty design they labeled a "strip mall." The Cencor plan included a 15-screen movie theater and a mega-sized Randall's grocery store. Neighbors were later included in a lengthy design process that got rid of the theater and made the project about 75 percent residential instead of 75 percent retail. Neighbors also made sure there would be considerable open green space for private parks.

Now the Triangle's biggest cheerleaders are neighborhood activists like Burmeister, who want the city to pay for land acquisition and other infrastructure that would add true public space to the development. The Planning Commission was set to consider a city funding package Tuesday, including $2.4 million for land, $1.6 million for water and wastewater utilities, and $882,751 for road improvements. Commissioners were being asked to recommend additions to the city’s 1999-2000 Capital Budget to facilitate expenditures by three departments– Parks and Recreation, Water and Wastewater, and Public Works. The money would come from a variety of different sources. Commissioners, however, had several questions about the plan and postponed consideration until next Tuesday’s meeting. The City Council is scheduled to consider the proposal on Aug. 3.

Burmeister said city funding is needed to leverage the developer's investment, particularly the component for residential multi-family and town home units. Although the project's lead developer, Cencor Realty, found numerous partners to help build retail space, residential developers balked at the plan. Most residential developers will only consider sites with 75-year leases or more, but Cencor's lease with the State is only 50 years.

Post Properties, a Dallas development company that has designed several popular mixed-use projects, agreed to take the challenge, then backed out. A second developer also backed out before Post returned with another attempt to design a feasible residential component. Post now would benefit from city-funded infrastructure and fee waivers, making the project more profitable. The fee waivers alone represent about $1 million of the total package being considered by the city, according to Sue Edwards, the city's director of Redevelopment Services.

Edwards said a few residents from the Rosedale Neighborhood north of 45th objected to the Smart Growth funding. "Some of their folks are saying,' Why would you spend money to buy the parkland when Ramsey Park needs renovation?' " In particular, residents are upset that city officials shut down Ramsey pool—which leaks–when water conservation measures became mandatory.

But Burmeister said the two issues are completely separate, since money pegged for the Triangle is not part of the parks budget and can't be used for parks. Even if the Triangle funding was not approved, Ramsey pool would not be fixed, she said. Area residents who signed up to speak against the funding at Tuesday's cancelled Planning Commission hearing — including Rosedale Neighborhood Association President Chris Allen–could not be reached for comment.

Burmeister stressed that the city funding also would improve the "character of the development. It would mean that anyone could go to the park space and do anything they want–as long as it's legal," she said.

Furthermore, Burmeister said the public streets and parks would "cement-in the design" and make it more likely to withstand any substantial changes by the developer or state officials. "If the streets are public and the land is public, then the city controls the scale of the development," she said.

The Triangle Square proposal itself is not a done deal, since Post Properties has not officially signed a lease for the residential component. However, Post has signed an agreement of intent with Cencor Realty. The Triangle Community Advisory Group, formed by the state and neighbors during the design process, endorsed the most recent proposals as well as the request for city funding. .

Set to settle…Former City Council Member Brigid Shea, a member of the Rainey Street neighborhood negotiating team, said her group had a productive meeting on Monday with developer Gordon Dunaway. The group will continue those negotiations on Friday, she said. When the neighborhood negotiators have what they think is a good deal for everyone, they will make recommendations to the rest of the neighborhood, Shea said. “Our recommendations are not binding. But if the committee goes for something I think it will go well across the neighborhood.” Shea emphasized that the deal would be open to any landowner within the historic district who wishes to participate… Architectural star meets the press… Zachary Scott Theater Center insiders and local architects are buzzing about who may be the internationally acclaimed architect ZACH plans to introduce to the local media today. The star has been chosen, but those who know his name are sworn to secrecy. Some local architects who were embarrassed by UT’ s handling of the Blanton Museum of Art are hoping that the hiring of Antoine Predock to design Austin’s new City Hall, plus the architect for ZACH’s new 500-seat theater, will help Austin’s architectural reputation.Some lucky Austin firm will also have the pleasure and prestige of working with said unnamed celebrity… Watching Capitol Hill… The Alliance to Save Hyde Park now is keeping an eye on national legislation in addition to city issues. The alliance, which is fighting a proposed parking garage and future expansions of the Hyde Park Baptist Church, informed its members of a new bill called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIP). The bill, introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch and Edward Kennedy, would limit land use controls such as zoning for properties used by religious organizations. A similar law– The Religious Freedom Restoration Act–was found unconstitutional three years ago. But the current bill, and similar legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, may be written to pass constitutional tests. For more information, see the American Planning Association website at… Early voting…Those who voted Wednesday in Wimberley can claim a certain distinction as having been the very first voters in the Village of Wimberley’s history. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 8 at the Wimberley ISD Administration Building on RR 12. The election is set for Aug. 12. For more information, call Joyce Cowan, Hays County Election Administrator..

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