Friday, October 13, 2000 by

Round Rock Council splits 4-3

Over affordable housing project

Resolution will ask State not to grant funding

Members of the Round Rock City Council blasted the Hunt Building Corp. (HBC) last night and joined a neighborhood protest of an affordable apartment complex, the Red Hill Villas, planned by Hunt on Gattis School Road.

If El Paso-based HBC thought a strong offense was a good defense, they were sadly mistaken. One council member after another took turns rebuking the company for its aggressive approach with the city, which the Mayor Pro Tem Earl Hairston described as both “arrogant” and “insolent.” Hairston termed the company’s interaction with the community “perfunctory, obligatory and gratuitous.”

Not even Mayor Robert Stluka’s strong words about the need for affordable housing in Round Rock and the difference between “affordable” and “low income” apartments could save UT Regent Woody Hunt’ s company from the wrath of a number of Round Rock City Council members. Developer Chris Hunt, in his speech before the City Council, said he was willing to get out of the project for the cost of the land, which he pegged at $1.6 million. Bottom line: If Hunt didn’t build an apartment complex on the site, some other company would and at a higher rate. Such talk only seemed to raise the ire of the council.

Civic leaders who stepped up to the microphone talked about overcrowded schools and heavy traffic. They talked about how high-density low-income housing was a mistake. Round Rock City Council Members, on the other hand, focused primarily on Hunt’s approach with the city.

The words of City Council Member Tom Nielson—who has represented affordable housing interests in the past—were probably the most damning to the developers, who sat in the back of the council chambers with their lawyer.

The developers should have come and made the case for affordable housing, Nielson told his colleagues in the audience in barely restrained frustration. These were not apartment units, as some might think, for people who lived on freeway overpasses, said Nielson. They were apartment units for people who made a little bit less than the general population.

“Convince us that these people aren’t different. That’s your job. That’s what you should have been doing up here,” Nielson said. “Instead, you’re telling us that if we don’t like what you’re saying, we can buy the property for $1.6 million. That’s a bit arrogant.”

When it came to a vote, the Round Rock City Council split 4-3 to support the South Creek Neighborhood Association resolution. The resolution recommends that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Service not award Hunt the low-interest bonds to build the 168-unit Red Hill Villas. Hairston and Council Members Carrie Pitt, Isabel Gallahan and Jimmy Joseph voted in favor of supporting the resolution. Mayor Robert Stluka, and Council Member Earl Palmer and Nielson voted against the resolution down. Nielson proposed a two-week delay, but didn’t get it.

Hairston, who proposed the resolution, vilified HBC for its approach with Round Rock. In his long list of complaints against Hunt, he accused the company of failing to listen to city leaders, refusing to negotiate with the neighborhood and declining to work with the city on a good faith effort to mesh the project with Round Rock’s housing needs.

“We don’t need poor buildings and poor development in Round Rock,” said Hairston’s of Hunt’s design efforts. “We’re growing, and we want to grow with muscle. We don’t want your trash and we don’t want your waste… Don’t come here from El Paso lecturing us.”

Hairston even went so far as to call Hunt and HBC “carpetbaggers” in the Round Rock community, trying to do a project “on the cheap” without due diligence. Everyone is going to carry perceptions and baggage about affordable housing, Hairston said. It was Hunt’s job to address those concerns. Instead of hiring a lawyer, he said Hunt should have hired a community organizer to broker a deal.

The resolution, Hairston said, gave the neighborhood leverage to make Hunt listen. Hairston added he doubted Hunt would have been at a Round Rock City Council meeting without it. Housing and Community Development will host a public hearing on the Red Hill Villas project on Nov. 3.

Outside the meeting, Hunt Project Manager Robert Kelly, clearly shaken by the council’s words, said the company was going to take a couple of days to regroup and consider its options. He said Hunt only brought a lawyer in case one might be needed. He added that the company was still willing to make concessions to the neighborhood association if South Creek was willing to meet with them. South Creek has broken off negotiations with Hunt’s representatives.

Austin City Council approves

Film society lease at Mueller

Lease allows film society to make films, commercials, more

With all the activity surrounding the Fortune 500 Forum, the City Council had a light load Thursday .

It was all smiles when the City Council approved a lease agreement with the Austin Film Society for an 18-acre parcel at the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. The site will be turned into a studio complex. The lease, signed Thursday, will allow the film society to manage production of films, television programs, commercials and multi-media productions, as well as be used for educational and job-training purposes. “We hope this is going to be a jewel in Austin’s crown,” said Rebecca Campbell, executive director of the Austin Film Society.

Council Member Beverly Griffith said she was excited that the film industry was growing into such a dynamic part of Austin. But, she made a point to be sure all parties were clear this was an interim lease, subject to termination with six months notice, if the city decides it needs the space for another purpose.

Mayor Pro tem Jackie Goodman said this is an opportunity to celebrate diversity and creativity in Austin.

Austin Film Society Studio Director Suzanne Quinn told In Fact Daily the lease takes effect November first. But the facility “has already drawn out of town productions. We’re really excited about the long-term effect on the economy,” she said.

In other action, Council approved a variance to allow Post Properties to develop a 16-story, mixed-use complex on the 25-year and 100-year flood plains of Shoal Creek at 801 West 5th St.

Downtown Commission gives

Thumbs up to Light Rail

Congress Avenue best street for downtown rail, Riley says

Accessibility and mobility are critical to the vitality of downtown and light rail is an important part of mobility, according to the Downtown Commission, which approved a resolution Wednesday night recommending light rail to the City Council. If voters approve light rail on Nov. 7, the commission recommends that consultants working on the Downtown Mobility Plan work closely with Capital Metro to encourage routing rail lines to foster development of a vibrant, vital downtown.

“Light rail is critically important to the vitality of downtown,” said Commission Vice Chair Chris Riley, presiding in the absence of Chair Robert Knight. If light rail is approved, he said the number one priority will be to have greater cooperation between Capital Metro and the city’s Public Works and Transportation Department staff. Light rail spurs development, Riley said. It’s not just about traffic flow, but how downtown will develop, he said, adding that Congress Avenue is where the rail line would best serve the community. Congress Avenue is Austin’s main street, he said, “and it’s been called the main street of Texas.”

“I think light rail could be the one thing that could save retail on Congress Avenue. I think it could make it vital,” he said. “Two hundred years from now, where do you want to see development focused?” He said rail running along Congress Avenue would go much further to bring retail businesses back to the heart of the citythan up and down Guadalupe Street and Lavaca Street—which is also under consideration.

Riley said there is room for rail to run along Congress Avenue, since the flow of traffic in the middle lanes is always inhibited by vehicles making left turns anyway, “and that’s where development downtown should be focused.”

The commission discussed a variety of ideas concerning downtown transportation issues. Commissioner Beatrice Fincher presented a general report about downtown mobility, outlining recommendations ranging from pedestrian safety and bicycle lanes to parking and light rail.

But Riley brought the focus back to light rail. “We are less than a month away from the most important transportation vote in my lifetime in this city,” he said, urging the group to remain focused on light rail.

In her report, Fincher tried to persuade the commission to recommend that the light rail system go underground between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 15th Street. “It makes sense—in the long term—to put it underground,” she said, citing congestion in the area that can only grow worse. It would cost more, she said, but “we need to take a long term look. I recommend we bite the bullet and go underground, at least for those two intersections (15th Street at Guadalupe Street and Lavaca Street).” She cited underground rail systems in cities such as Paris, London and Mexico City as examples of solving critical problems of congestion and safety. However, no one else on the commission agreed with her. Commissioner Stan Haas said to put the rail underground would be “catastrophic” and would “defeat the purpose.” He emphasized that it is critical to have rail cars at ground level and accessible, especially in the most densely populated areas of downtown. Having rail at grade is a big advantage, he said. It’s more convenient, adds vitality to an area, and costs much less to build.

Rush to help Vignette

The commission also voted to recommend to the Planning Commission vacating a portion of land at 90 Neches Street that serves as public right-of-way. “This is a rush per city management!!!!!” was stated at the top of the memorandum on this item delivered to the commission. Why the rush? It’s part of a deal to allow forward progress on Vignette’s plan to build a multi-use facility in the area. The company needs the land to make way for a public utility easment.

Riley said the city is not allowed to vacate a public right-of-way unless the purpose is in the public interest. “I think we can all agree the Vignette project will serve the public,” he said.

To help facilitate Vignette’s deal, the commission agreed to recommend allowing the city to sell the land to two adjacent property owners, under the condition the new owners would allow public access to Town Lake along the banks of Waller Creek.

Commissioner Perry Lorenz abstained from the vote because Vignette has an option to buy property from Lorenz and Robert Knight.

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

Motorists beware . . . No to Fortune 500 is having a parade on Congress from the Capitol to Cesar Chavez at 6 p.m. tonight. The city’s Public Information Office says, “motorists should expect delays.”. . B

. . .That’s the credo of the South Austin Culture Club, promoter of the Billion Bubba March, which begins at 3 pm Saturday at the Broken Spoke. The reason for the event is to increase voter turnout in the November election. Different neighborhood groups including the Zilker Neighborhood Association and the Bouldin Neighborhood Association will challenge one another to see who can get out the most votes. . . Appointments. . . City Council yesterday made the following appointments: Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley, Cherie Rachel and Dr. Robert Spitz to the Animal Advisory Commission; Eduardo Benavides to the Arts Commission; Debra Williams to the Environmental Board; and Rosemary McMahill to the Telecommunications Commission.

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

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