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City Council approves direction

Friday, September 1, 2000 by

The City Council yesterday directed City Attorney Andy Martin to pursue settlement negotiations in a lawsuit over a relatively small area of land—about 23 acres—in the Barton Springs Zone. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said the Council was not just telling the staff to continue talking with developer Eli Garza. “We were also trying to send a message about some of the issues, including use of herbicides and pesticides,” Goodman said. With Mayor Kirk Watson in Brazil, the Mayor Pro Tem was in charge of Thursday’s meeting.

Martin said the lawsuit involves a dispute over which watershed ordinance the developer is required to obey on three tracts at the intersection of William Cannon and MoPac. Garza is claiming grandfathering rights under the law known as HB 1704 (or Chapter 245). The suit was filed in 1997 as Dunaway and Garza v. City of Austin.

At this stage, Martin said, the city and Garza have agreed that one 5.5-acre tract may have 60 percent impervious cover; a second tract of about 4 acres may be allowed to have 50 percent impervious cover; and a larger tract would only be allowed 13.8 percent impervious cover. In addition, Martin said, “The deal would be that they provide SOS ( Save Our Springs ordinance) water quality controls for any development. They would be required to buy a minimum of 25 acres as mitigation.” Discussion topics include a monetary payment by the developer. And no automotive repair shops or service stations will be allowed on the property, he said.

Likely tenants for the tract on the northeast corner of the intersection include a McDonald’s, a bank and a doughnut shop, Martin said.

Goodman said negotiations with Garza’s attorneys should also include provisions for ongoing monitoring of strict water quality controls. Council Member Beverly Griffith said, “I would like to see a system for monitoring so that non-degradation can be a realistic goal.”

Griffith said these lawsuit negotiations bring up issues the Council needs to clarify. “For instance, how is amount of compensation calculated? One way to arrive at how much is to value the land that’s being bulldozed and market value that land. Then, that amount of money is put into a mitigation fund and spent in other locations. Or, land in the same watershed can be purchased and contributed. That land would be presumed to be very like what’s disturbed.” Another way to calculate mitigation, she said, in cases where the acreage being disturbed is very expensive, would be for the developer to donate on a four acre to one acre basis.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “This is a lawsuit over 1704 claims—so obviously the settlement wouldn’t be how I’d like it. As in all lawsuits, it’s a compromise between what the city wants and what the developer wants.” Slusher said the agreement would not be going through the city’s commissions, but promised, “We’ll have public input” on the final agreement.

Martin said he anticipates bringing the final settlement agreement back to the Council for the first meeting in October.

Questions about the source of the city’s new Sustainability Fund and how it will be spent ran through morning, afternoon and evening sessions of the City Council Thursday. The fund takes nearly $15 million from the city’s General Fund, plus $2.3 million from the Water and Wastewater Utility, plus smaller amounts from the Drainage Utility, transportation and Solid Waste Services.

About half of the fund–$9.2 million–will be spent on the extension of South First Street, and nearly $4 million more will be spent on Giles Road. Workforce development will receive slightly more than $2 million and childcare is slated to get $1.5 million.

Council Member Beverly Griffith questioned why Drainage Utility Fee money was paying for $276,000 of the city's Sustainability Fund, which seemed to be weighted heavily toward a couple of road projects. The fund is intended to promote the oft-mentioned three E's by building "a sustainable economic, environmental and equitable infrastructure," according to city staff.

Griffith said Thursday that the only item related to the environment and water quality in the Sustainability Fund is the Barton Springs Salamander captive breeding facility at a cost of $154,000. Meanwhile, the Giles Road and South First Street projects in the fund totaled about $13 million.

However, City Manager Jesus Garza quickly pointed out that the $9.3 million South First Street project–extending the road from Slaughter Lane to FM 1626–is intended as a primary access road to a planned Austin Independent School District high school. The extension was the primary reason the city was able to persuade the district to avoid the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and build in the Desired Development Zone instead, Garza said.

Therefore, the project is an example of how road construction can protect the environment, he said. "That project crosses the line on each of the E's."

Garza said Giles Road in northeast Austin had to be done as a commitment made during annexation. “It’s an area where we have a lack of infrastructure to sustain our environment and our economy and equity. That is perhaps one of the reasons we have a lack of private investment in that area of our city. And if in fact that is where we want to grow our city and we want investment to take place, and to sustain our economy, to sustain our environment and to sustain the issue of equity, that is what we need to be doing.” If the city will make that investment, he said, then private investment would follow.

Griffith responded, “ I don’t think there is any question about the importance of the use of those funds for this purpose. The question is about the big scoop out of the general fund.” She said the money was “essentially assigned to a single use with a few accoutrements around it.”

Garza replied, “We do not prepare the budget in a vacuum. It’s after discussion with the City Council and the community.” Garza said city staff made the decisions about the roads because “of commitments we’ve made to Smart Growth. Even though it may be a roadway project, that roadway project is there to benefit the environment, because without that roadway project we would have located a school over the aquifer.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher asked whether the two roads could be funded with bonds, if the voters approve $40 million in transportation bonds set on the November ballot. Garza said bond money could be used for this type of project.

Griffith concluded “As this fund evolves… this year and in the future if we have it, I’m hoping that the size of it can be adjusted–and more broad uses can be discussed before we get to this.”.

Peter Rieck, director of the city's Public Works and Transportation Department, told City Council members Thursday that the public's perception of city streets being in poor repair is probably based on demolished and blocked-off streets downtown. A "Community Scorecard" survey of city residents shows that 85 percent considered road maintenance a top priority, while only 47 percent were satisfied with the city's maintenance efforts. The low rating is inconsistent with statistics that show Austin spending more on road maintenance than other major Texas cities.

Rieck said the downtown area is a small fraction of the total lane miles maintained by the city, yet is a very visible example of roads continuously under construction. So citizens may be reflecting their frustration with downtown, rather than with the overall assessment of Austin streets, he said. Furthermore, residents may be noting their dissatisfaction with streets like Bee Caves Road or Airport Boulevard, which are actually maintained by the state. The director said the city will try to meet a goal of maintaining 10 percent of the city's lane miles over the next fiscal year. The 10 percent mark is a target designed to keep the roadway system in good shape overall.

Council Member Beverly Griffith said many constituents are asking why it is necessary for workers to dig up the same street several different times for different projects. Rieck said much of the work involves telecommunication companies laying fiber optics and other cables. Federal law gives the companies permission to use the street right-of-way once they compensate the city. They often inform officials of their projects at the last minute to avoid giving competitors a heads-up on their plans. Thus, it is almost impossible for the city to plan for more than one company to work on the same street at one time.

Rieck also said the city should complete its signal-timing project for the entire core area (From U.S. 183 to Ben White and I-35 to MoPac) by October of 2001. The timed signals will also transmit data back to a city transportation center to alert staff if the signal is not functioning properly, or if accidents or unusually high congestion occur. "The new system will allow us to visit each of these locations electronically," he said.

Unfortunately, the timing project and other Traffic Systems Management strategies (such as intersection and turn lane improvements) will not keep up with the sheer number of new cars entering the roads each day, Rieck said. .

A second hearing on the annexation of the Canterbury Trails area last night represented some of the first action under the city's new annexation plan. The three-year plan, adopted by the Austin City Council last December, was one result of a rewrite of state's annexation guidelines during the last legislative session.

There is nothing particularly spectacular or divisive about the Canterbury Trails area. It's a 227-acre tract of land on both sides of Manchaca Road near Slaughter Creek that contains the new Canterbury Trails and Saddlewood subdivisions, as well as some undeveloped land. A draft of the service plan indicates a standard level of various city services to the area. No one signed up to comment on it at Thursday night's annexation hearing.

What will be different about the Canterbury Trails annexation is the process used to bring the tract into the city, said city planner Ben Luckens. State law now requires cities to identify land it intends to annex and put it on a rolling annexation plan so property owners and residents have enough time to comment on the area's service plan. Each plan adopted must be a three-year plan and each annexation takes three years. Cities may continue to annex eligible areas without the consent of homeowners.

A city is also required to give proper notice to the residents in the area being annexed. Letters have gone out twice to the Canterbury Hills area, and a meeting was held out in the community as recently as last week to present the latest information on the area's service plan, Luckens said.

Travis County Commissioners Court is expected to appoint five members from the Canterbury Trails community to negotiate the area's service plan– part of the new guidelines required by amendments to the Municipal Annexation Act. Last session's changes were the first major revisions to the law since it was enacted in 1963.

The City Council adopted its three-year annexation plan last December, well ahead of most major cities in the state, Luckens said. The Canterbury Trails area will be annexed into the city in December 2002. Technically, Canterbury Trails was already in the annexation process and could have been excluded from the three-year plan, but the Council decided "to go above and beyond the law in its efforts," Luckens said.

There are other exceptions in the law. The city will not have to roll the Davenport West subdivision into an annexation plan (too few homes) or Eubanks Acres (requested annexation). The city expects to annex both areas in December, Luckens said.

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

Gymnasts take off from Austin… The U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team will be departing from Austin at 7 p.m. Saturday for Sydney, Australia. The team will provide a sneak preview at a free exhibition performance at 3 p.m. Saturday at Strahan Coliseum in San Marcos. For more information call Cynthia Maddox at 583-7209… No rain in sight… Michele Middlebrook Gonzalez, chief of the city’s Public Information Office, says the city will continue under mandatory water conservation controls through Sept. 30. Chris Lippe, acting director of the Water and Wastewater Department, said the controls are working well.. . . No wonder we hit 107 degrees… Fox News 7 sent two vans, one large and one small, to the LCRA Building for Thursday’s City Council meeting. Both had their engines running in the parking lot. One car was occupied, the other contained a generator, which must remain cool and cannot be turned off, according to a reporter for the station. In the other van, another employee explained that he could not talk on the car’s phone unless the car was running. He declined the offer of a cell phone. Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch of Australia.

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

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