Friday, September 8, 2000 by

On a vote of 4-3, the City Council voted Thursday to allow its attorneys to continue negotiations over the Sand Beach Reserve, based on a term sheet presented to the city by Lumbermen’s Investment Corporation (LIC). Council Member Will Wynn made the motion to move forward with negotiations, after setting forth the principles he would follow in deciding whether to accept the final proposal next month. Joining Wynn were Mayor Kirk Watson, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, and Council Member Daryl Slusher.

Council Member Beverly Griffith, who wants to slow down the process in order to come up with funds to buy the two-acre tract—if necessary—was joined by Council Members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas. However, comments by Alvarez and Thomas did not indicate a willingness to spend much city money on the property.

In a letter from Jay Hailey of Locke Liddell & Sapp, LIC offered to give the city one acre of land and pay $1.25 million for public improvements on the property. Hailey also offered to assist the city in fulfilling a consultant’s plan for the area. The lawsuit, which concerns the boundary line between the city’s property and the LIC property, was filed last November.

Wynn said, “In understanding all the history and details, and the opportunity the whole Seaholm (power plant) district includes, I’ve come up with some guiding principles. First and foremost is the long-term use of Seaholm—and that means parking. Second, is the really unique opportunity for multi-modal assimilation of light rail, commuter rail—the hike and bike trail and the cross-town bikeway. The third is the inherent mixed use potential for any place downtown. Fourth is respecting private property.” Finally, Wynn said, it is important to keep as much tax base downtown as possible. He noted that 55 percent of downtown property belongs to governmental and non-profit organizations and is non-taxable.

Wynn proposed that attorneys work to bring an agreement back to the Council on September 28th, the day that the consultant, ROMA, is scheduled to report on its Seaholm district master plan. However, by the time the vote was taken, the hearing on the settlement had been pushed back to Oct. 5, and the vote on the agreement to Oct. 12.

Griffith asked Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, who has negotiated several lawsuit settlements on the city’s behalf, whether members of the Seaholm committee had reacted favorably to the proposal. Dobson replied that he did not know. “I am settling a lawsuit for you,” he said.

Griffith said, “We need to hold off and get more information. Do you know of any possible opportunities for a public-private partnership?” Dobson responded, “Over the last few months, a few people have approached me…and said they knew someone that was interested in helping the city purchase the Sand Beach tract. I have said, whoever you are talking to, have them call me—and I haven’t gotten any calls yet.”

Watson asked Dobson what Lumberman’s options would be if the city won the lawsuit. Dobson said that there is already an approved site plan for a 15-story building on the back of the tract. Alternatively, he said, the corporation could still build the condominium project—which lies at the heart of the disagreement.

Goodman said, “We are in essence waiving our attorney-client privilege. And my real purpose in letting this go forward is to get it out of the back room.”

Several speakers noted that the State of Texas has a reverter interest in the property and could take back any land the city might sell to LIC as part of the settlement. Dobson said he and the other attorneys are well aware of the city’s obligation to get the State’s blessing before signing any settlement agreement.

Dobson and Slusher both said discussing the subject made them want to go to the site of the Sand Beach Reserve, on W. Cesar Chavez Street, otherwise known as the Cedar Door. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 7, 2000)

Hollywood Henderson presented the biggest surprise of the day to the City Council Thursday by offering to “commit one million dollars of my own money to finish the 28 homes in the SCIP II Housing project—if allowed to do so.” Henderson, who rambled through his three minutes of allotted time talking about the needs of East Austin, was surprised when Mayor Kirk Watson told him his time was up. Henderson’s friend, Council Member Danny Thomas, then asked, “Mr. Henderson, what can you do from the private side to keep us stimulated, to help us do what needs to be done on housing and park initiatives?”

After Henderson made his offer, he asked if he could have another minute, and the mayor said, he certainly could, “at a million dollars a minute.”

Henderson said he had been talking to Paul Hilgers, director of the Housing and Community Development Department, for several months. However, Henderson apparently hadn’t told him that he (Henderson) was going to make the announcement last night.

Hilgers told In Fact Daily,“What I’m going to do is develop a plan and try to incorporate his offer into a development strategy.” In response to the question, “How far does a million dollars go?” Hilgers said, “It depends on how we leverage it.”

Hilgers also said he was not sure whether Henderson was offering to donate the money outright, or if he expects any return on the funds.

The SCIP II project, between East 11th and East 12th Streets was the subject of a recent settlement agreement between the city and the Anderson Community Development Corporation. The corporation had a contract to provide the housing but failed to do so, resulting in a lawsuit. As a result of the settlement agreement, the city became the owner of the lots and now must come up with a plan for building both owner-occupied and rental units there. Hilgers said he would be making a public presentation of the plan within a few weeks.

Hilgers said he has an appointment with Thomas today to show him a three-phase approach. “We’ve got 74 more housing units to build in that project,” Hilgers said. “We’ve got to comply with HUD ( federal housing and urban development agency) regulations and with the settlement agreement,” he said.SCIP II was a pet project of former Council Member Eric Mitchell, who, along with Henderson, supported Thomas' successful bid to replace Willie Lewis on the Council. ( See In Fact Daily July 20, 1999).

Several broken and leaking city pools may be renovated under the next city budget, but it remains to be seen what other programs this work would replace. The city Water and Wastewater Department' s acting director, Chris Lippe, told the City Council Thursday that money from the department's rebate fund could be used either as a loan or as a permanent source of funding for the pool problems.

More than a dozen city pools need repairs to fix leaks and pumps. Others lack chlorination treatment systems and waste thousands of gallons of water when they are drained and refilled each day. The city's Stage 2 drought regulations closed several of these "draw and fill" neighborhood pools early this year.

The estimated cost to fix or update the city pools is about $3 million, but an immediate fix of four pools in desperate need of repair would cost about $400,000, Lippe said. Since the pools waste so much water, staff reasoned that the rebate money for water conservation might be a logical source of funding. The rebates–which are given to Austin residents for installing low-water-flush toilets and water-saving clothes washers, xeriscaping, and other programs–came to about $900,000 this year. However, Lippe said after the meeting that he is unsure what rebate programs might be affected if the pools are funded instead. Tony Greg, who heads the rebate program for the city's Water Conservation Office, was out of town and unavailable for comment. Lippe said he would have more details on the plan to present to the City Council early next week.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said she wondered if chlorinated water from pools drained each day might be able to be used for irrigation of nearby plants and landscaping. Lippe said that it was possible, although the water would have to be kept out of creeks and that the state regulated such irrigation. He noted that the best course of action would be to plan the best possible solution for water use at each individual pool.

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

Democratic Kickoff… Travis County Democrats will hold their first fundraising event of the season Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Serrano’s at Symphony Square, 1111 Red River. Everyone’s invited… Appointments…On Thursday the City Council appointed the following new members to boards and commissions. All appointments are by consensus unless otherwise noted. Animal Advisory Commission: Becky Rhone (by Mayor Pro-Tem Jackie Goodman) and Pat Valls-Trells (re-appointment by Council Member Raul Alvarez); Bond Oversight Committee: Gregory Canally; Environmental Board: Sean Garretson (by Council Member Will Wynn) ; Mechanical, Plumbing and Solar Board: Thomas Combs (re-appointment), Gerardo Garza (re-appointment) and Bertis Ward (re-appointment). Resource Management Commission: Albert Diez (re-appointment). Urban Transportation Commission: Ana Rodriguez (by Alvarez); Water and Wastewater Commission: Chien Lee (re-appointment by Goodman) and Dacio Marin (re-appointment by Alvarez). Applicants for the Planning Commission are still waiting to see who gets to step into the Lion's Den… Thanks.. to the two great guys from Channel 36 who administered first aid in the LCRA parking lot.

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

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