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Design Commission sends civic

Tuesday, August 1, 2000 by

Ambitious plan would incorporate art into every project

The Design Commission last night approved policy recommendations for civic art and design which set forth strategies for involving diverse segments of the community in making downtown a more graceful place to visit. Specifically, the commission recommended that the city hire a staff member to act “as a civic art and design link between various planning groups,” advisory boards, and business organizations, such as the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA).

Commission Chair Juan Cotera said, "The policy has to be an ongoing subject. It has to be living document." The motion passed unanimously with seven members of the group present.

Janet Seibert led the committee that recommended the guidelines. Seibert said she and other members of her committee were anxious to forward the recommendations to the City Council because of the great amount of building activity occurring downtown. Seibert told In Fact Daily, “We’re really trying to affect a paradigm shift in the way art is thought of in the urban environment. (Now) art is something that is an add-on, after the fact. We’d like to see (builders) approach the urban environment in an artful vision, reflecting the cultural identity of the community.”

Seibert suggested that artists and artisans be included in design teams, “whenever there is an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) or an RFP (Request for Proposal).” Cotera stressed the need to act quickly on the civic art guidelines because the City Council would be awarding the contract for the Great Streets Program this week (see Whispers below).

The recommended guidelines include the following statement: “Major and significant cities of the world have unique identities. This is a result of how it looks, how it feels, and how easily understandable and accessible the city is. The Austin community–civic leaders, planners, artists, artisans, architects, landscape architects, developers, engineers, and resident–together participates in preserving and creating Austin’s unique cultural identity.”

In reaching their recommendations, the commission studied such disparate pieces of urban landscapes as water valves, parking meters, water catch basins, sidewalk materials, fountains, parks, light poles, and street materials. The commission studied design examples and guidelines from Phoenix, Toronto, and San Diego, among others.

The group has ambitious goals for raising awareness of civic art and design within the community. One goal in particular is to coordinate with all current city planning endeavors. The commission hopes to involve stakeholders, including city management, private developers, artists, architects, county and state representatives, as well as members of the media and other interested citizens.

Following last night’s Design Commission meeting, Chair Juan Cotera appointed Commissioners Girard Kinney and Rob Dickson to be a “task force” on the newly renamed Mirabeau–formerly called Gotham–condominiums. Kinney, who arrived late for the meeting, told fellow commissioners he was upset because he had heard that the case would be before the City Council this week. The zoning case for the property located at 200 South Congress is actually scheduled for the Aug. 17 Council meeting.

“I thought surely this would come to us (the Design Commission),” before returning to the Council for approval, Kinney said. The property, which is zoned LI (Limited Industrial) sits on the southwest corner of the Congress Avenue Bridge. Last December the Council granted a zoning change on first reading to LI-PDA (Planned Development Agreement). However, the Council also directed that the Town Lake Waterfront Overlay be rewritten. The project was postponed indefinitely in order to allow time for designing the new overlay. ( In Fact Daily, Dec 10, 2000)

In the meantime, Houston developer Randall Davis has sold his interest the property to Simmons Vedder & Co. Architect Larry Speck of Page Southerland Page assured Kinney that the new design would be far superior to the neo-classical architecture commissioned by Davis. Kinney said Speck had given him that assurance informally at a meeting in Dallas. However, Kinney said he felt that the commission had been slighted by the failure of city staff and the new owners to ask for a rehearing before the commission. In October, the commission severely criticized the proposed height, mass and design of Gotham. (In Fact Daily, Oct. 12, 1999)

Cotera directed Kinney and Dickson to report back to the Commission at next Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting. Cotera said the Commission could either voice concerns, “say we like it”, or take no action. He said it is likely that he will recommend that the Commission take no action because “the less people hear from us, the better,” – meaning that the Commission would have more influence with fewer recommendations. He said he would be glad to call Page Southerland Page about seeing the project.

Contacted later, Sarah Crocker, consultant for the project, said the project, “doesn’t need to be back to the Planning Commission,” or any other city board. “I don’t know why (Kinney) thinks that.”

“It’s not a site plan or a building permit. It’s a zoning case.” She said the LI-PDA request “will have to be modified,” but she was not ready to reveal any new details. The building is still in the process of being designed, Crocker said. “We have been working diligently with the neighborhoods. There is no façade at all. If we get to the point where we can design a building, we’ll be getting a lot of input.”

What I really meant was…Stovy Bowlin, General Manager of the BSEACD ( Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District) called to say the district does not have “any plans for the immediate future” relating to dam construction. Bowlin said his comments, reported in In Fact Daily last week, were about long range goals for the Region K Planning Group. He said planning, getting funding and permits for any construction project could take two to three years..

Great Streets contract…City staff has recommended that a Black & Vernooy and Kinney joint venture receive a contract to develop a Great Streets Master Plan for downtown streets and sidewalks. The $165,000 contract is scheduled to be approved by the City Council on Thursday. Among those included in the project are Sinclair Black and Girard Kinney, architects; Jose Martinez & Associates, public involvement consulting; Carter Design Associates, transportation planning; and Eleanor McKinney, landscape architect. Charles Thompson of Archillume would do lighting design and artist Lars Stanley would do streetscape art consulting. Black is credited with persuading the Downtown Austin Alliance to lobby for the Great Streets Program. The alternate recommendation is for ROMA Design Group of San Francisco, which has done the Mueller Airport Redevelopment Master Plan and the Town Lake Overlay reconfiguration… 17th Annual National Night Out….Neighborhoods across the city will be celebrating and turning on their porch lights tonight. The purpose of the NNO is to educate people about crime prevention and get more neighbors involved in community projects. Among those celebrating are the South River City Citizens and the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Council Member Will Wynn and Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner have been invited to address the group at Griffin Ball Field in the 11800 block of Tedford Street. .

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