Monday, October 16, 2000 by

Govalle neighborhood

Frustrates city planners

Factions cannot agree on vision for area

Govalle may prove to be the one neighborhood that the City of Austin can’t plan.

After four months of work with leaders in the Southeast Austin neighborhood, the city’s planning staff broke off negotiations. If the warring neighborhood factions cannot resolve their differences, the city probably won’t try to proceed through the regular planning process—for the first time in the five years the city has been doing neighborhood plans.

“The planning became too difficult,” Austan Librach, director of the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department (PECSD), told In Fact Daily. “We’re going to have to look for another way to accomplish our goal.”

Govalle was one of the core neighborhoods in the East Austin Overlay that former City Council Member Gus Garcia put on the list for a neighborhood plan back in 1995. Since then, five neighborhood plans— Dawson, Chestnut, East Cesar Chavez, Hyde Park, Old West Austin and North Austin Civic Association—have been completed. Another five plans— Montopolis, Holly, Govalle, Central East Austin and Rosewood—are well underway. This fall another three plans— North Loop, Cherrywood and Bouldin—were initiated.

On the surface, the problem in Govalle appears to be a disagreement over the language in the city’s Memo of Understanding with the community. Some neighborhood leaders are critical of language inserted by the city’s legal department that says “approval of the plan does not legally obligate the City to implement any particular action item.” City staffers say the language is intended to avoid liability. Neighborhood leaders say the sentence implies the many hours of local effort may be for naught.

Daniel Llanes of the River Bluff Neighborhood Association said neighborhood leaders believed they were still negotiating the language in the Memo of Understanding when the city pulled the plug in July. Llanes addressed the Planning Commission last week, prior to a staff update on the neighborhood planning process. Llanes said the neighborhood was ready to proceed.

“We never received official word of the withdrawal of city staff,” Llanes said. “We were told we still had time, and we were responding back and forth, between meetings. It took everyone by surprise. We had made a lot of progress, and we continue to meet.”

East Austin leaders, including Susana Almanza director of PODER, said the disagreement in Govalle was between disrespectful city staffers and long-time civic leaders. Almanza said the challenges of a neighborhood plan in Govalle—where the land is 60 percent industrial—are much tougher than prior neighborhood plans. Civic leaders in Govalle are all veterans of prior planning efforts and are likely to set the bar higher than many of their peers, Almanza said.

Carol Barrett, manager of neighborhood planning in PECSD, said, “The neighborhood broke into factions, and that was the essential problem. They are not able as a neighborhood to agree on their vision.”

Almanza does not live in Govalle. City staff requested that PODER select someone who lives in Govalle to sit on the neighborhood planning team, but PODER insisted on Almanza. Barrett said it is not appropriate for Almanza, a former member of the Planning Commission, to sit on the Govalle team, “for the same reason that folks in Tarrytown shouldn’t be sitting in on Bouldin neighborhood’s planning. The (city’s) guidelines say the representatives should be from the neighborhood.”

Almanza also gave hints of just how tough the planning process in Govalle will be for the city. Like many civic leaders in East Austin, Almanza wants the zoning rolled back on many of the limited industrial (LI zoned) properties in the Govalle neighborhood.

“We’re not going to reach consensus,” Almanza told the Planning Commission. “We’re going to be stuck with this industrial.”

Not all the Planning Commissioners were happy with the tone and direction of discussion on neighborhood plans. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula gave an uncharacteristically sharp response to the complaints about city staff members from the neighborhood leaders.

“Do we have the responsibility to do something when the neighborhood says something complaining about the city?” Vrudhula asked his colleagues in frustration. “We’re a commission. We’re not elected officials. We have no power.”

Some eastside leaders talk about problems with city staff, but statements from city staff indicated Govalle itself is divided. Only last week, the city brought in a facilitator from the Austin-Travis County Dispute Resolution Center “to attempt to understand the differences within the neighborhood,” said Barrett. She said the facilitator would be presenting a report in the next couple of weeks on how to re-establish the planning process or some alternative to it.

In a July memo to the Govalle neighborhood planning team, Librach wrote that the neighborhood’s concern over language in the memo of understanding may be “representative of a larger concern held by the neighborhood as to whether cooperation with the City initiated planning process is desirable at all.”

What will happen in Govalle remains to be seen. In the meantime, Barrett said the next round of neighborhoods in the neighborhood planning process would be those impacted by light rail, should the referendum pass in November. If the referendum does not pass, staff will come back with a revised list of recommendations.

Trading Lantana for Mueller might

Be answer, Slusher memo suggests

But Mueller leader leary of swapping too soon

One Austin council member has stunned a leader of the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition with his comments on allowing Stratus Properties to redevelop Austin’s old airport property. Stratus and the city have been negotiating a development agreement to resolve land use and legal issues surrounding its 4,000 acres of property southwest of Austin.

In an email letter, Council Member Daryl Slusher suggests “a solution that could remove us all from this ten-year conflict . . . an agreement under which Stratus would develop Mueller Airport, or parts of it, rather than its holdings over the aquifer.” Slusher’s letter comes on the heels of Stratus official Beau Armstrong’s statement to the Austin Chronicle that he “loves the idea” of swapping land over the aquifer for land where more density would be welcome. Stratus is the successor company to FM Properties, also known as Freeport-McMoran.

Slusher says he is pleased that Stratus Properties has moved “closer to compliance with the SOS ordinance” in a proposed development agreement with the city. However, Slusher adds, “The Lantana properties are of course a glaring exception to” that compliance. Stratus has proposed 270 acres of the 453-acre tract be rezoned for multi-family housing, using SOS standards. The remaining area would be developed under prior—less stringent—regulations, according to the term sheet released by the city two weeks ago.

Attorney Richard Suttle, who represents Stratus, said he could not guess how many apartments might be built on the SOS-regulated tract. However, he said the commercial and office space on the remaining acreage would be “in excess of a million square feet.”

Jim Walker of the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition and the Mueller Redevelopment Implementation Commission (MRIC) sighed heavily when discussing Slusher’s carefully-worded letter. “It’s not Stratus. It’s anybody that’s promised a piece of the pie before the pie is cooked,” Walker said. He explained that he wants the planning process to be completed before any private entity is invited to participate. “Council can divvy it up any way they want to once it’s cooked,” he said.

Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, the city’s outside counsel on the development agreement, told In Fact Daily, “We put quite a bit of work into that (Mueller option) in the spring. But it’s been on the back burner up to now.” Dobson said he has not been directed by the City Council to pursue the Mueller option again. However, he added, “We could pick that ball up very quickly” if the Council wanted it to happen..

Slusher says not only would the swap prevent development over the aquifer, but “would also offer the possibility of relieving the city of infrastructure and other development costs. That could make Mueller redevelopment happen much faster.” Walker, who said he has been involved with the former airport property for the past four years, is not in a hurry. “We are adamantly opposed to trading speed for the process,” he said. On the other hand, he said, if the Council does want to move quickly, the city needs “to direct some more city staff” in Mueller’s direction.

“I believe this is a possibility that at the very least should be given serious consideration,” Slusher’s letter says. “The redevelopment of Mueller is a once in the city’s lifetime opportunity, and particularly critical in the future of East Austin. It must be done well and done prudently. Any agreement with Stratus would have to feature very solid safeguards.”

“There’s a part of me that says this was inevitable,” Walker said. “I understand the box the city’s in with (HB) 1704 and the Legislature coming back.” He is worried that Mueller’s conceptual plan is simply not “ripe” enough to withstand the pressures a developer might put on it. Stratus has claimed protection under the law known as 1704, which allows developers to build under regulations in effect when they first started their projects. Suttle said, “Stratus has pretty solid 1704 protections based on plats filed in 1984” on Lantana.

Suttle said his client is still interested in Mueller, but he does not know whether the Mueller swap is a strong possibility.

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

Longhorn Pipeline opponents rally. . . PIPE Coalition, PODER, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, SOS Action, the Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, Austin Neighborhoods Council and ten South Austin neighborhood and community groups are holding a rally at Burger Center at 6:30 p.m. tonight. Mike Blizzard, spokesman for the PIPE Coalition, said attendees will be asked to send postcards thanking Land Commissioner David Dewhurst for his opposition to the pipeline. In addition, he said, BP Amoco, one of the Longhorn Partners, has recently changed its slogan to “Beyond Petroleum.” The company has also invested in Green Mountain, which sells renewable energy, such as wind power. Blizzard said his group will be sending letters to BP Amoco’s Sir John Browne, asking that the company get out of the pipeline. “We want them to put their money where their mouth is,” he said. . . Village moving forward. . . Wimberley now has a seven-member Planning Commission and they will be appointing a committee to draft a comprehensive plan. Glenn Fryer is the chair of the new commission. He has experience as a planning commissioner in Colorado. The group’s vice chair is Marilee Wood, formerly with the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority. . . Much ado about transit. . . The CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) Policy Advisory Committee is meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center auditorium. The group will hear a short draft report from the Peer Review Study consultant. However, for those who can attend at 3 p.m., the steering committee for the peer review study will be meeting in Room 2.120 of the Thompson Conference Center. The city’s Urban Transportation Commission also meets today at 6 p.m. to consider a recommendation on CAMPO’s long-range transportation plan, among other items. A sub-committee of the transportation commission has been reviewing the plan with a sub-committee of the Environmental Board, which is scheduled to meet on Wednesday.

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

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