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Goodman proposes new Planning Commission

Monday, September 11, 2000 by

The City Council will take a first crack at agreeing on their additions to the staff’s proposed budget today at 9 a.m.. Last week, the Council was told they could add about $5.6 million to the figure City Manager Jesus Garza had calculated. Saturday, that figure was revised downward—by about a million dollars—so that city employees can get a pay raise. Those who have received a “meets” or “exceeds expectations” at evaluation time can expect a 4 to 5.5 percent raise, if all goes as planned for the next three days.

Austin’s boom times mean more city spending, and Council Members all have projects that didn’t make it into the staff recommendations. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Beverly Griffith are both looking for ways to speed up Neighborhood Housing initiatives and get neighborhood plans done faster.

Goodman said she wants to see three new principal planners, three planners and an additional clerical position for the Development Review and Inspection Department . “I believe I have support for additions to Neighborhood Planning and also to create a (new) Planning Commission with staffing. And our current Planning Commission will become a Zoning Commission,” Goodman told In Fact Daily. “Apparently a whole lot of places have done this and there haven’t been any negative repercussions.”

Goodman said the new commission’s projected cost is about $193,000. Goodman is also proposing a new Transportation Planning Officer for the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department (PECSD), and a contract for mediation of difficult cases like those that have bogged down at the Planning Commission level for months. She said she would propose a contract of $200,000 for expert services. She envisions the new Planning Commission will be under PECSD, along with the transportation officer.

The neighborhood advocate position Goodman has long sought to create has been renamed Impact Development Officer. She said that the employee would be able to assist applicants as well as neighborhoods. “When an applicant starts into the process, (he would) get a clear understanding what this neighborhood has and has not been involved with, history of support or opposition to projects. Then, if an applicant decides to go forward…they’ll be able to tell the applicant what the issues are for the neighborhood in terms of history and planning.”

Griffith said she too is very concerned about adding positions in DRID “so cycle times can drop.” The department has had a hard time keeping staff and has not kept up with its work load. (See In Fact Daily, September 6, 2000)

Griffith and Council Member Danny Thomas will try once again to find funding for eastside parks, with $500,000 for completing Springdale Park, and $3 million for Colony Park. In addition, Griffith wants the city to put up $2.5 million in “matching funds for the Sand Beach Reserve purchase—to encourage private participation—and $1 million for renovation of existing parks. There’s a big backlog,” she said.

Griffith said she is hoping to get $13 million from the capital budget. That is the amount that has been allocated to extend S. 1st Street and complete Giles Road, she said. She said she wants those projects to be made a part of the November bond election, so that they too can be funded.

The Austin City Council didn't need fifth-grader Hilary Leo to tell them how upset Pease Elementary parents are over the fact that Central Booking might soon be moved to their neighborhood.

An anonymous council objection prevented a vote on a two-year interlocal agreement with Travis County Thursday night, but parents still waited well over three hours to have a say at the microphone. Concern was high among Pease parents and their children, especially after two county inmates attempted a break-out at the county jail in their neighborhood on Thursday morning. One of the escapees had been sentenced to serve a life term plus 50 years for aggravated sexual assault.

Pease parents and local residents who spoke during the 15 minutes of allotted discussion time said the objections to the Central Booking site came down to three core issues: safety, traffic and parking. As young Hilary pointed out to the council, the city had promised 60 days of additional security for Pease Elementary during the hours when children travel to and from school, but what happens between those times, she asked? What happens after those 60 days?

Paul Martin, chair of the Central Booking committee of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, told the Council, “I'm not aware of any other city in the country that has a Central Booking Facility in proximity of an elementary school. .As I’ve stated from the beginning, if the county or the city could just give me one city in the country that has a central booking facility within close proximity of an elementary school, then I would have nothing further to say and let you guys go on about your business and make your decisions.”

Sheriff Margo Frasier assured council members that neighbors should feel secure in their homes when the Criminal Justice Center opens but admitted a feeling of security is often subjective. She assured the Council that the local neighborhoods would hold little interest to those just released from jail. She said most would waste no time getting away from an area filled with cops.

During his presentation, Assistant Chief Michael McDonald recommended a two-year interlocal agreement with Travis County, with an annual renewal up to five years, as a cost-effective alternative to either slight or significant renovations to the current Seventh Street booking facility. Frasier reminded the Council that their vote would not stop the relocation of the county's Central Booking services to the new Criminal Justice Center on Tenth and San Antonio. The Seventh Street site no longer meets state jail commission standards, Frasier said.

The city could renovate the Seventh Street facility and run its booking operation through the police department, but a five-year budget to do this would be in excess of $30 million, said McDonald. By comparison, the cost of a five-year interlocal agreement with Travis County was projected at $15.1 million. Council members asked to be presented with additional budget figures.

The soonest the Council could consider the matter is Sept. 28. After this week’s budget meetings, the Council is not scheduled to meet again until that date.

A proposed city fee will help ensure the Pay-As-You-Throw garbage program works more equitably, said Willie Rhodes, director of Solid Waste Services.

Rhodes told the City Council that the city would bill residents $4 per bag left outside containers for pickup, unless they are marked with the "Extra Garbage Stickers," which are available at local grocery stores for $2. The proposal is part of the department's 2000-01 budget, which the council is expected to vote on next week.

Under the city's current garbage program, any waste that can't fit in the can must be put in plastic bags on the curb, with each bag marked by a sticker. If the bags aren't marked, the crews aren't supposed to pick them up. Rhodes said the problem is that when some residents who don't buy the stickers come home to find their garbage still there, they put it back in the container, call the city and complain that their garbage was not picked up. Crews then are forced to drive all the way back out and pick it up. Conversely, after the crews started picking up bags without stickers, people who used the stickers called to complain that by following the rules they were being penalized.

Under the new proposal, crews would leave the bags without stickers, mark the address, and a separate truck would come out to pick up the garbage. That second truck would then fill out a form to ensure that the resident is billed $4 per bag. The two-truck system was needed because garbage crews servicing entire streets are usually in too much of a hurry to fill out the proper paperwork.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said she was concerned that students leaving for the summer, or others who move and need to put out a larger number of items outside the container, would be unaware of the program and get a big bill from the city. Rhodes said the idea would be that city staff would recognize a change in utility service had been made and would not bill the resident. Goodman also asked Rhodes to look into ways to expand the number of days after Christmas and during "spring clean-up" that customers are allowed to place extra garbage on the curbside without stickers.

Developer Pete Dwyer has some work to do to get the City Council to approve the heights and exact zoning he wants for Interport, 650 acres of land about a mile from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Dwyer envisions Internet companies, among others, locating on the property. He wants the flexibility that a uniform height of 75 feet on the entire tract would give him. On Thursday, the Council voted on second reading to annex the property, as Dwyer had asked. However, the Council Members were not willing to raise the heights on all the property’s buildings to 75 feet Instead, they voted once again to approve the Planning Commission’s complex recommendation. That zoning, which gives Dwyer LI-PDA(limited industrial with a Planned Development Agreement) over the entire tract, includes height restrictions of 40 feet in certain areas and 60 feet in others. Both Onion Creek and the Colorado River run through the property.

Dwyer wants to put retail or commercial property along the river and said he was trying to put down less impervious cover in that area by proposing higher buildings. Council Member Daryl Slusher told Dwyer he was happy the developer has chosen land in the Desired Development Zone for his proposed office/warehouse/multi-family project. Dwyer argued that Austin Energy is building a new power plant next door, with a tower at 120 feet. However, Chuck Manning, Austin Energy’s general manager, said the exhaust stack is 1,500 to 2,000 feet back from the river. Dwyer’s plan puts construction only 300-400 feet from the water’s edge.The property lies at the intersection of State Highway 71 and Falwell Lane(see In Fact Daily, June 28, 2000, July 18, 2000).

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

Rail trestle on hold… The City Council directed Peter Rieck, director of transportation, to find out how much it would cost to make the 3rd Street rail trestle safe and bring the answer back to Council. So, for now, the 1925 bridge will remain.. . Publisher declares war on Mayor… Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy, a persistent critic of various city activities, sent a seven-page email to the entire City Council, the city manager, and local media on Saturday. The subject was reports from Levy’s “spooks” inside the Austin Police Department that the city is planning to spend too much of the department’s overtime money for security at an upcoming convention. Levy blamed Mayor Kirk Watson for that, as well as the fact that it’s hard to get around downtown with all the new construction. A master of understatement, Watson explained, “Mike’s mad at me.” The mayor also said he does not know the details of plans on security at the Fortune CEO conference. However, he said, “Part of the wonder that is Austin right now is everybody wants to come here.” And when they do, the city is responsible for their safety, he said… Many sweaty Democrats…It’s not that Democrats sweat more than Republicans. It’s just that an outside meeting in early September means lots of sweat. So, other than beating Gov. George Bush and electing a full slate of Democrats, that was the topic of most conversations at the well-attended event yesterday. ..

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

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