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Downtown Commission wants

Thursday, November 9, 2000 by

Parking lot regulation enforced

Retail recommended for Four Seasons condos garage

The Downtown Commission last night voted not to recommend a variance for a parking garage attached to a proposed 28-story condominium tower.

Maritz Wolff & Co., owner of the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, has announced plans to build a 129-unit luxury condominium tower with an adjacent parking garage on the acre-and-a-half lot next door. It will be called the Residences at the Four Seasons. To fulfill the design plans, however, the developer has asked for a variance from a land-use code requirement for a garage to have a “separation from adjacent street by pedestrian-oriented uses.” The Four Seasons has no such buffer between the parking garage and Trinity Street.

Armed with drawings of the condominium project—which, at 380 feet, will be as tall as 98 San Jacinto—vice president Art Carpenter of Maritz Wolff & Co. presented the variance request to commissioners. His disagreement with the commission came down to different interpretations of “pedestrian-oriented uses.” For commissioners, it translates into retail storefront space on the street level of every new parking garage. For Carpenter, it means public art displayed on the exterior of the ground-level parking garage, along with a sidewalk down to Town Lake. The small strip of land down to Town Lake is much more suitable for an enhanced hike-and-bike trail than additional retail, Carpenter said.

“What is pedestrian-oriented use?” Carpenter queried the commissioners. “Is it reasonable that only active use qualifies? If we were actually to bring retail into this (garage) space, about 40 parking spots would be lost.”

For this reason Carpenter proposed his compromise of public art. He pointed out that the project's high-visibility frontage on Cesar Chavez would be a natural spot for four small shops, including a much-requested hair salon for Four Seasons guests. The side facing the Four Seasons will provide access to a new meeting space in the residential tower.

The Trinity Street frontage is little more than a cul-de-sac that has served and will continue to serve as a loading area for local businesses, Carpenter said. The Residences at the Four Seasons could share it with the proposed Vignette project. The two businesses will probably place their dumpsters there. It will not be high-traffic frontage suitable for retail, Carpenter said.

Commissioner Chris Riley argued the land-use guidelines were sound and the city ought to start consistently enforcing its ordinance on garage design. Riley said he strongly opposed the variance.

“This facility could be a huge benefit to the neighborhood,” Riley said. “Right now it's a dark, unused area, but if you had some pedestrian activity, it could work. This is not a viable space.”

Riley said people were uprooted and 88 homes were demolished to create the Austin Convention Center. Part of the rationale, said Riley, was that the convention center would stimulate new activity downtown.

“This is right across the street from the Convention Center,” Riley said. “If you're not going to have activity here, where are you going to have activity generated by the Convention Center?”

Commissioner Stan Haas was more inclined to see the economics of Carpenter's viewpoint. The ideal would be to place retail at the base of every building, Haas said, but forcing retail on Trinity Street as it currently stands might be forcing empty retail space on the developer.

Chair Robert Knight argued that the space did not have to be retail. The developer might consider a sculpture garden or park benches. Commissioner Bruce Willenzik suggested a bicycle rental shop or even a coffee shop. “I understand your concern about (losing) the parking, but I hate to see that (potential retail space) wasted,” Willenzik said.

Knight told Carpenter he understood the quandary of the developer, trying to grapple with the day-to-day economics of his project. The commission had faced the same argument with the Hilton's proposal on the Convention Center Hotel. The commission had strongly opposed the Hilton's approach to Red River Street.

“Our problem is that our mission is different from yours,” Knight said. “Your mission is to determine what today's market will bring you in disposable income. Our mission is to plan for the future… If you have a parking garage that has no flexibility, it's literally set in stone for the next 50 years.”

Willenzik and Commissioner Jean Mather favored Riley's viewpoint in the end, voting down the variance. Haas and Commissioner Linda Johnston favored it. Knight and Commissioner Perry Lorenz, who own property nearby, chose to abstain. Riley wanted to take the vote a step further by voting to state a firm opposition to the variance, rather than simply failing to recommend it, but that motion failed by the same 3-2-2 margin.

Maritz, Wolff & Co. intends to break ground on the Residences at the Four Seasons in the first quarter of next year, Carpenter said. After the presentation, Carpenter said he might postpone asking the Planning Commission for the variance. Mather, who opposed the variance, is the Planning Commission’s representative on the Downtown Commission.

One Travis County precinct

Voted on another's ballot

Free and fair elections aren't necessarily flawless

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, the woman whose job includes overseeing all county elections, stayed at Palmer Auditorium two hours after ballots were counted Wednesday morning, trying to figure out what happened in Precinct 216. What she found was that voters at the Northwest Elementary School, 14014 Thermal Drive, had voted on ballots intended for Precinct 351. The glitch occurred, she explained, because there are 229 ballot formats in Travis County.

Those formats differentiate between precincts and are called stock codes. What DeBeauvoir discovered is that the code for Pct. 351 is 216. Somehow, “Pct 216 got the stock (or ballots) for Pct. 351,” she said.

Precinct 351 voters cast their ballots at Central Market South, 4477 S. Lamar, far from the Northwest Elementary School, and in a different state representative’s district. Voters in northwest Austin re-elected Republican Rep. Terry Keel to the District 47 seat, while voters in west and southwest Austin elected Democrat Ann Kitchen, who will take over the District 48 seat from retiring Rep. Sherri Greenberg. Both Keel and Kitchen won with considerable margins over their opponents.

DeBeauvoir said that about 880 people voted in Precinct 216, but only about half of them ever registered opinions on the representative and constable races because “there was significant downballot dropoff.”

The clerk said the election judge for Precinct 216 noticed the discrepancy, but when she called the county to ask for information, she was connected with an inexperienced temporary worker. That worker assured the judge that everything was fine, apparently not understanding the significance of the judge’s questions.

DeBeauvoir reiterates that the mix-up made no difference in the outcome of any race. “Democracy is not a ballot. It’s not about people not making mistakes. It’s about free and fair elections,” DeBeauvoir says. Travis County’s largest election ever drew nearly 315,000 voters, the clerk said.

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

The latest on Sand Beach . . . Council Member Beverly Griffith and environmental activist Mary Arnold said Wednesday there are new proposals for settling the dispute between the city and Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. (LIC) over the small piece of parkland known as the Sand Beach Reserve. Griffith’s and her executive assistant, Jeff Jack, showed a new drawing of their plan to split the 2.2 acres, giving LIC property outside the Capitol View Corridor, allowing for taller buildings. Arnold said the city’s attorney, Casey Dobson, had given her the most recent settlement proposal. She said it was an improvement over previous proposals, but she still plans to ask the City Council to study the proposal for at least another week before settling the case . . . Don’t hurry . . . The City Council will begin its regular meeting today at 10:30 a.m. at the Lower Colorado River Authority Building. The Council will meet at 9 a.m. to review candidate resumes for the position of City Auditor, for which we can expect a lengthy executive session . . . New neighborhood bar? . . The old Tree House bar at the corner of Dawson and Barton Springs Road has been a sad and empty building surrounded by weeds for years. Now there are plans to replace the structure with a “neighborhood speakeasy.” Residents of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood have been invited to meet with architects next week to discuss the property’s future . . . Aquifer district meeting. . . Members of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District Board of Directors will meet at 9 a.m. today. Board President Craig Smith said the group cannot discuss the Longhorn Pipeline because the matter is not posted. He said the board will discuss that item at its next meeting, Nov. 16 . . . Jail switch . . . Sheriff Margo Frasier predicts that the new Central Booking facility will open in mid-January . . . Honoring our fathers . . . Friday is a city holiday in honor of Veteran’s Day, which will be celebrated Saturday with a parade beginning at 9 a.m. at the Congress Avenue Bridge. The City of Austin and Travis County are sponsoring a ceremony at the Capitol, which will include flyovers by the Confederate Airforce and Blackhawk helicopters, the traditional ringing of bells, and wreaths placed in honor of the Unknown Soldier. For more information, call Travis County Veterans Affairs at 473-9340. Congress will be closed between Barton Springs Road and Cesar Chavez Street from 9 a.m. until noon. In Fact Daily will also take Friday off . . . Airport Advisory Board shuffle . . . Council Member Beverly Griffith, one of the sponsors of an ordinance which would effectively remove all current members of the city’s Airport Advisory Board in January, said Wednesday, “We need to talk more with the board, as well as the staff about how the board should be configured,”

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

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