Wednesday, August 23, 2000 by

Dallas Mayor says rejecting Light

Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk barely touched on Light Rail during his luncheon presentation before Real Estate Council of Austin on Tuesday. That is, right up until Light Rail opponent Gerald Daugherty stood up and asked if Kirk felt it wise for Austin voters to approve Light Rail, based on the fact that DART can only boast 9,000 daily riders. Kirk responded by saying that he was not personally familiar with Daugherty's numbers, but that "DART ridership has increased 100 to 200 percent since it began service and has been an explosive success." Kirk added that Light Rail has dramatically increased bus ridership in Dallas as well. To emphasize his feelings about the importance of Austin approving the November bond issue, Kirk said, "I can tell you that it will be a colossal mistake not to go forward on this (Light Rail in Austin). You are not going to be a dominant player in the new economy if you are not going to have a multi-modal system."

Kirk, whose mother still lives in East Austin, made light of the fact that DART has only one rail line, running from the "heart of the African-American community", through Downtown, and ending at North Park Mall.

On Dallas' recently approved $2.9 billion bond issue, Kirk proudly announced that it passed with 78 percent voter approval. While Light Rail will be expanded to surrounding Dallas communities, Kirk said that $250 million would be spent on transforming the Trinity River into a major tourist attraction creating a series of lakes. Kirk underscored the critical importance of marrying the 47 percent of the Dallas population who live south of the Trinity River to the rest of Dallas. He unabashedly appealed to the cream of Austin area developers to come explore development opportunities south of the Trinity River.

Kirk closed by stating the single biggest problem facing America today is our public education system. He vehemently disagreed with the idea of trying to justify vouchers by comparing the lower test scores of urban-schooled youth, against their suburban counterparts. Kirk made a compelling case about the logistical nightmare that would result from converting to a voucher educational school system and brought luncheon attendees to their feet for a standing ovation.

The Planning Commission last night recommended approval of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) project that would bring more affordable housing to Oak Hill. The 120-acre West Park PUD sits at the intersection of U.S. Highway 290 West and FM 1826, not in the city’s Desired Development Zone. Developer Rudy Belton of Buffalo Equities, LTD. plans to use the Traditional Neighborhood Criteria Manual as the basis for site development standards, including design and construction of parking lots and landscaping. His land, adjacent to the Austin Community College campus, had been zoned SF-2.

Commissioner Jean Mather said, “We shouldn’t be using the TND (Traditional Neighborhood Development standards) for building affordable housing over the Drinking Water Protection Zone.” Commissioner Robin Cravey, who votes with Mather more often than not, disagreed. Cravey said, “We’ve asked a lot of developers if they could put in affordable housing and this developer said ‘Yes, I can.’”

Laura Toups Berland of the Urban Design Group, agent for the applicant, said the developer has committed to make 20 percent of the project affordable housing. “We are excited about that,” she said. The PUD plan is to have about 70,000 square feet of offices and shops. The developed section will have a 64-acre greenspace around it, Toups Berland said.

Commissioner Sterling Lands said, “We are in such dire need in our city of housing that I think the goal of this project should be a goal for other developers to build reasonable, even if not affordable, housing.”

Vice Chair Betty Baker said she could not support the project because she did not believe such density is appropriate at that location. “The Land Development Code says (a PUD) should result in something that is superior to conventional zoning.” She said she did not think the project would be superior and she was concerned about the impact of putting “affordable or reasonable housing out there so far from employment. You’ll be putting a lot of traffic on (Highway) 290–so I do not support this development,” she said.

New Planning Commissioner Silver Garza joined Commissioners Jim Robertson, Ben Heimsath, Ray Vrudhula, Cravey and Lands in voting for the zoning change. Baker and Mather voted no and Commissioner Susana Almanza was absent.

Same song, third verse…The City Council is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m.today in One Texas Center’ s third floor conference room. Since the road bonds passed with five votes on Monday, they do not require another vote. However, Council Member Daryl Slusher’s plan to place $13.4 million returned to the city by the Austin Museum of Art on the November ballot requires two more readings. That plan, which would reallocate the money for greenspace, received only four votes, but can be finally approved on Thursday. Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas apparently will try once more to talk their colleagues into putting more bonds, for parks, recreational facilities and housing on that same ballot. Their plan has only gotten three votes on two prior occasions… Big girls don’t cry…Betty Baker, vice chair of the Planning Commission, wants everyone to know that she did not “burst into tears” at last week’s meeting, as reported in the Austin Chronicle. Baker said she had called the reporter and offered him a large sum of money if he could find her crying on a videotape of last week’s meeting. The reporter has not returned her call, she said… All about numbers…The Water and Wastewater Commission will meet at 6 p.m. tonight at the Waller Creek Center to hear about the utility’s budget. A presentation on new impervious cover regulations has been postponed because Pat Murphy, deputy environmental services manager for the Watershed Protection Department, is undergoing surgery on his injured hand. We wish him a speedy recovery… Seeking nominees… The Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities is seeking nominations for Employer of the Year, Employee of the Year and several other awards. For more information, call 499-2292….

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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