Wednesday, September 13, 2000 by

Neighborhoods, reach tentative accord

The Hyde Park Baptist Church and the five neighborhoods surrounding the church’s Quarries development came to an agreement in principle Tuesday night and jointly asked the Planning Commission to postpone their case for one week. The Planning Commission readily agreed to the surprise request. The church plans to build a recreation center, 600-student high school and a 200-student day care facility on its 58-acre property at 4400 Mesa Woods Drive.

Richard Naylor, a church member, said his church filed an application for the conditional use permit, which the Planning Commission must approve, in 1997. Church members plan to construct the various buildings over a 10-year period. The item has appeared on the Planning Commission agenda five times this year and been postponed each time. Steve Alderman, who lives in the Mesa Park neighborhood, said the other neighborhoods include Balcones Woods, Champion Forest, Angus Valley and Milwood. Tom Terry, who negotiated the agreement on behalf of the neighborhoods, told In Fact Daily the main issue involves traffic going through the neighborhood.

“We agreed to ongoing monitoring of the traffic on residential streets and the church agreed to limit access to their property to manageable levels on residential streets…Any limit on development in the Quarries area would be determined by the availability of access.”

Hyde Park Baptist has agreed to purchase a 25-foot wide strip of right-of-way from the Missouri Pacific railroad, which would be connected to a MoPac frontage road. The only other access to the church property will be from Mesa Woods Drive, which connects to Spotted Horse Drive and Santa Cruz Drive. The church has agreed to monitor traffic on both of those streets.

Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, who represents the church, said, “If we measure and find a traffic problem,” the church will take action. One example of what the church might do to reduce neighborhood traffic in the future, he said, would be “to force traffic to go to MoPac rather than into the neighborhood. That could be achieved by placing a gate across the entrance to the property on Mesa Woods Drive.

In addition to the traffic constraints, the neighborhood and the church agreed to continue to meet and make joint decisions on issues such as direction of lighting, landscaping and hours of operation. In addition, the church agreed to erect barriers to separate its driveways from the neighborhood, Terry said.

Terry and Suttle each said that real progress on resolving the disagreement between neighbors and the church did not come until yesterday. Negotiations began before 8 a.m. and continued throughout the day. Terry thanked Planning Commissioner Ben Heimsath for his assistance in helping the neighborhood group understand the commission’s role and obligations and in arranging a meeting place. He also said Jeff Jack, executive assistant to Council Member Beverly Griffith, helped the neighborhood.

Church negotiators will have to take the proposal back to constituents, as will neighborhood negotiators. Terry knows that the agreement is unlikely to get unanimous support from his neighbors. He indicated that some who are directly affected by the church’s plans will remain opposed to agreement. Others neighbors, including members of the church, believe the neighborhood should leave the church alone, he said. At least 40 people, most wearing yellow neighborhood buttons, waited at the Planning Commission last night, dispersing only when the tentative agreement was announced.

A last ditch effort to get more money for parks, open space acquisition and housing in next year's city budget failed Tuesday after a majority of the City Council quashed a $9.3 million proposal from Council Member Beverly Griffith and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman.

Griffith and Goodman wanted to let money from a November road bond proposal pay for an extension of South 1st Street, and the funds earmarked for that street would go to their package. The deal would only work if the road bonds passed on Nov. 7. However, they could only muster the support of Council Member Danny Thomas, while Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Members Raul Alvarez, Daryl Slusher and Will Wynn voted no.

Slusher noted that the deal would put voters in an awkward predicament. "The transportation referendum (would become) a referendum on these other matters….I'm very uncomfortable about it," he said.

Griffith previously sought a $95 million in bonds to fund park acquisition and open space conservation purchases. That measure failed to get a majority. The new plan included housing and community development expenditures and would have funded the following:

• Parks maintenance — $600,000 • Purchase of "sensitive" land along Town Lake and in the Drinking Water Protection Zone — $2 million • Colony Park Development improvements — $2.5 million • Affordable Housing initiatives — $3 million • Community Action Network — $1 million

Objecting council members listed several reasons why the idea wasn't appropriate, mostly reinforcing the idea that the South 1st Street project was approved specifically as a "cash" program funded by the budget but part of the 1998 bond package. The 1998 resolution approving the package specifically stated that any changes to funding the projects must be considered by all applicable city boards and commissions, the Planning Commission and the City Council. Watson said that going against this resolution would violate the trust of the public, who could no longer be assured that a promise for "cash" funding of projects would be kept. The South 1st Street project—-extending the road from Slaughter Lane to FM 1626 to provide primary access to a new Austin Independent School District high school–is underway and wouldn't have been delayed by the plan. "This proposition is not to stop, defer, abandon, or delay the South 1st Street project," Goodman said.

However, since the Griffith proposal would be contingent on a successful bond election and bond sales in the fall of 2001, there would be a delay in paying for the work. The city currently allows reimbursement of projects already underway to help get a quicker start on needed improvements. But City Manager Jesus Garza warned the Council that many conservative managers would frown on the policy to begin with. So it would be "unacceptable" to stretch reimbursement payment out more than one year, as would be the case with South 1st Street, Garza said. "It isn't any way to run an operation," he said.

Griffith tried to reiterate that the Council should have flexibility to meet changing needs and that the plan would give everyone what they wanted without having to "choose" between roads or parks and housing.

Goodman made the motion on the plan and supported it with a vote, but she also left open possible reasons for denying it. Although she wasn't deterred by reimbursement concerns, she felt the possibility of parks and housing money weakening the road package was a legitimate concern.

To Watson the issue was clear-cut. The Griffith plan was yet another attack on his road money. The $150 million proposal for Nov. 7 is intended to "supplement" projects approved in 1998–such as South 1st Street–so taking away money from the current package would weaken it substantially, he said. Watson added another "e" to the oft-mentioned trio of "environment, equity and economy" that officials want to provide for. The fourth should be a requirement for "enjoyment," he said. "People are not enjoying the way we handle transportation and traffic," the mayor added.

The mayor also reiterated that the South 1st Street project was initiated with the environment in mind, since it allowed the AISD to keep its new school off the Edwards Aquifer. So in essence, it could be considered an environmental project and not something intended to reduce congestion or increase capacity.

After deciding the final conflict in funding, the council went on to unanimously pass the $1.8 billion operating budget and $195.4 million capital budget on third and final readings. The approved tax rate of 46.63 cents per $100 valuation (down from 50 cents) will still mean an increase in annual payments for most property owners, due to big jumps in property valuations this year.

The cost to minimize the algae bloom on Barton Springs Pool could hit $300,000, if the Austin City Council chooses to follow recommendations presented last week.

Low water flow, lots of sunlight and current aquifer levels have brought daily blue-green algae blooms to the surface of the pool. City biologist Robert Hansen says it's the worst he's seen in his 10 years with the city and fixing the problem won't be easy.

A $60,000 consultant's study completed this summer recommended both short-term and long-term solutions. In the short term, consultant Peggy Glass recommended more frequent skimming by the lifeguards on duty and the use of a clear mesh to cover the beach area to discourage growth. Those options are fast and easy, but have limited benefits, Hansen said.

Long term, Glass recommended diversifying the plants and animals in the lower pool and modifying the upstream dam to increase proper circulation throughout the pool. She also suggested putting a new pebble finish in the upper pool shallow area. A pump circulation system in the pool was another suggestion by the consultant.

The pool’s ecosystem is what's out of whack, Hansen says. In 1975, a bypass was created that separated Barton Springs Pool from Barton Creek. That limited the input of fish, plants and plant seeds into the natural pool, Hansen said.

"What we need to do is restore more of the natural ecosystem in the pool to provide a better balance," Hansen said. "We've modified the pool quite a bit over the past 30 years. If we can restore that natural balance, we can decrease the number of algae blooms."

Chlorination might also be reintroduced at Barton Springs Pool. The city officially discontinued the use of chlorine after a misapplication resulted in a major fish kill in 1992.

Austin City Council could spend anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000 to fix the problem, Hansen said. Any expenditure for the pool is likely to be added during the current budget process, Hansen said. The expenditure would be a new line item expenditure outside the budgets of parks and recreation or watershed protection..

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

Missed out on the game plan?…Council was set to re-appoint Planning Commissioner Ben Heimsath and appoint newcomer Lydia Ortiz Tuesday afternoon, but nobody told Council Member Danny Thomas that consensus appointments are always done by unanimous vote. After Council Member Daryl Slusher made the motion for Heimsath and Ortiz, Thomas offered a substitute which would have put Stacy Dukes-Rhone, sister of State Rep. Dawna Dukes, on the commission in Heimsath’s place. Torres works for the federal Economic Development Administration and holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University in New York. After Thomas made his motion, Mayor Kirk Watson decided to postpone the vote until Sept. 28. He said, “when somebody volunteers his time and energy to be on the Planning Commission, it really isn’t good to vote him down, and typically, in the past, that hasn’t happened.”… Justice Jones’ fundraiser… Third Court of Appeals Justice Woodie Jones will be holding a fundraiser today from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Shoreline Grill, 98 San Jacinto Blvd., next to the Four Seasons Hotel. … Texans for Public Justice is offering Bush League Pioneer Trading Cards, featuring statistics and profiles of a Bush "Pioneers," supporters who have raised at least $100,000 for Bush’s presidential campaign. To see a sample, visit the group’s web site at http://www.tpj.org/ bush/cards.html A full set is “only $5!” the group says.

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

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