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MACC has been a noisy neighbor,

Thursday, September 28, 2000 by

Villas on Town Lake residents say

Neighbors exaggerate, MACC spokesman says

By Doug McLeod

While residents of the historic Rainey Street neighborhood ponder developer Gordon Dunaway’ s offer to buy all their properties, some residents of the nearby Villas on Town Lake are wondering if they should look into a similar deal.

Low riders and loud noise coming from the Mexican American Cultural Center (MAAC) are driving away residents of the Villas, according to homeowners’ association president Janet Gilles. One unit of the 58-unit complex at 80 Red River St. is being sold. The people moved out because of the noise, Gilles said, “and several others said they are leaving if this isn’t straightened out.”

But Tomas Salas, site manager for the MACC, said any noise coming from the low rider car shows was well within noise ordinance levels. “We’re not violating any city ordinances,” he said. “It’s just a few people at the condos complaining. Other residents said it was okay.”

Gilles, however, said, “The noise is deafening and shakes our homes.”

“I’ve stood back there at the fence-line of the condos,” Salas said, “I had the sound meter in my hand and showed (a resident) it was 10 points below the limit. She wouldn’t look at it. She just walked off.” He said he always monitors the noise level at the perimeter of the property, along the fence by the Villas, with a decibel meter during events. “I think low riders scare them,” he added.

The most recent low rider show was held at the center on August 27. “It started at noon and was over by 8:30,” Salas said. The MACC also hosted the low riders in 1998 and 1999. A variety of events are held at the center, including live music and dance performances. Salas said the Villas homeowners call the police regularly, blaming the MACC for noise in the area. “Now, every time they hear music, they call the police, even if they don’t know where it’s coming from.”

Former City Council Member Brigid Shea, a resident of the Rainey Street neighborhood, where the MACC is located, said she had not encountered any noise problems from the center. And the only concern she has heard expressed from other residents in the neighborhood had to do with plans for an outdoor amphitheater.

Steve Maitlin, a five-year resident at the Villas and a member of the homeowners’ association board, said the focus of the center is theater, art and dance, but the facility is leased to other organizations for events “very cheaply to be a good neighbor to the Hispanic community.” He said another prime motive for leasing it out is to raise money to build a new center.

Gilles said that the center pays $1 a year to lease the facility from the city, and then leases it out to other groups for $200 a night.

“We provide a reasonable rate for arts groups that can’t afford the Paramount,” or other, expensive venues, Salas said. He said the MACC leases to a wide spectrum of groups, “not just Latinos.” The cost is low, in part, because the building lacks air conditioning. Proceeds from events go to the arts groups, he said, since virtually all are non-profit organizations.

Maitlin said two MACC representatives came to a Villas board meeting after the first low rider show. “They apologized profusely for the noise and promised to be a good neighbor and said noise would not be a problem. They had agreed with us, orally, before the election, there would be no loud events,” he said.

When the city and the MACC were working out a lease agreement, the Villas board tried to have the city’s attorney write a provision prohibiting loud events into the contract. The city refused to do that, Maitlin said, “but the city did write in that the center would have to negotiate with its neighbors concerning the noise issues. That was the carrot the city threw to us.”

“When we exchanged contracts with the center in April we submitted what we thought would be a final contract.” Maitlin said he made three separate requests to Salas, seeking a response on the proposed contract, and did not hear back from him. Finally, representatives of the MACC sat down with members of the homeowners’ association Tuesday night and returned the signed contract, Maitlin said. According to Gilles and Maitlin, representatives of the city also attended the meeting.

Gilles said. “They agreed to no longer rent (the MACC) for outdoor, amplified events, and they agreed to control the volume and work with us.” However, Maitlin told In Fact Daily that he learned from a Parks and Recreation Department employee that the MACC has already scheduled eight days of amplified music in 2001. In light of the news, he said, “I have a feeling it’s not acceptable (to the homeowners’ association).” The MACC is asking too much of Villas’ homeowners, Maitlin said.

Gilles concluded,“ I have a lot of hope that maybe this will work out.” Maitlin, on the other hand, said as far as he is concerned the jury is still out. “There have been many promises broken.”

Light rail consultant explains

Protection for shops, neighbors

Address problems with common sense, Lammie says

A national light rail consultant told the Capital Metro board this week that with the right planning a light rail line need not trample small business or disturb local neighborhoods.

Jim Lammie offered the Cap Metro board practical advice on mitigation issues gleaned from his own experience on a number of transit projects. Lammie, senior vice president for Parsons Brickerhoff International, was project director for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA. He's currently working on the $14 billion Central Artery tunnel project in Boston.

Light rail—and even light rail construction—does not need to be the death knell for an area, Lammie assured board members. He reminded them that approaches should be tailored to the specific problems. “When all else fails, use common sense,” Lammie told the board.

Lammie's made the following points:

• Elect neighborhood representatives. Those neighborhood representatives should “walk the job” with the construction company before the project begins, pointing out problem areas. The representative should also be a contact point for neighborhood problems. If a business has issues with a driveway, the neighborhood representative would be the one to take those concerns to the contractor. The contractor should address the problem immediately.

• Keep the signs up and entrances open during construction. In Boston, commuters have learned to look for the blue-and-yellow signs to tell them which businesses are open, Lammie said. Respond quickly to problems. If a sign needs to go up to say, “We're open,” do it. “If you do the things I've identified, you'll take care of the stores,” Lammie told the board members.

• Noise should not be an issue near homes with proper noise barriers, Lammie said. Home values may initially dip during construction but should pick up value once the rail line becomes a permanent fixture in the area. Lammie added that it's best to follow natural traffic patterns and to avoid splitting neighborhoods with any kind of barriers. When looking at safety, it's often best to coordinate existing pedestrian walkways with rail line passenger walkways.

• Try to pick long holiday weekends for disruptive construction projects. And don't be afraid to break a project down into parts – sidewalk construction one weekend, the brick pavers for the sidewalk the next weekend – if it's going to cut down on disruptions to the area. Contractors should try to anticipate the necessary delays. Construction between Thanksgiving and Christmas, for instance, ought to be avoided in areas where merchants might be impacted.

• Answer questions. When Parsons Brickerhoff heard concerns about noise abatement on a line out to John F Kennedy Airport, they created a video on noise that explained the impacts. Lammie added that a telephone hotline was also important to address community issues, especially if a city chooses to forego the appointment of neighborhood representatives.

• Don't let a wish list kill a project, Lammie said. Try to take care of as many requests as possible, but realize “if you do everything that everybody wants, you'll never get around to building the job.”

• There are no new problems, Lammie said. Any problem that Austin will face has been faced by cities in the past. The key is to match the solution to the problem. Talk to the safety experts, look to what other cities have done in similar situations and pick "what best fits" Austin.

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

Gary Bradley strikes…Developer Gary Bradley has filed a lawsuit against Hatsy Heep Shaffer in Travis County, claiming Shaffer broke an agreement to develop the Heep Ranch in partnership with him. Bradley filed the lawsuit on Aug. 31, well before Shaffer began her public attacks against the developer. Shaffer says she has witnesses and a team of attorneys that say the informal agreement she signed with Bradley is not valid. And she said an In Fact Daily report attributed to developer John Lloyd about Bradley posting a $1 million bond as a development guarantee is untrue. Shaffer said she intends to put Bradley "behind bars" for his illegal actions… Film lease on slow train…The final version of the Austin Film Society' s lease of the old hangars at Robert Mueller Airport will head to Austin City Council on Oct. 12. A vote was expected this week, but some final details still needed to be hammered out. The lease by the non-profit organization will turn an 18-acre parcel at the airport into sound and production stages for local film productions… More on Hays County water…The big topic of conversation for Buda residents and city officials this week is the Buda water treatment plant, which is at capacity and literally is stinking up the town. Officials are exploring plans to increase the plant's capacity or build a new facility. The city is also looking for more water to meet continuing growth. Buda officials will vote Thursday on a contract with the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority that would provide the city with up to 500,000 gallons a day… No Smart Growth here… Vinson & Elkins' Austin office has grown too small for it’s location downtown, according to The Texas Lawyer. The magazine reports that V&E will move from its Congress Avenue offices to a new building in the Terrace Development, one of the locations environmentalists love to hate. The move is not anticipated to occur immediately, since the new building isn't under construction yet, but Texas Lawyer quotes a partner as saying V&E will be moving “before the firm's lease in One American Center expires in 2002.” .

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

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