Tuesday, November 14, 2000 by

Housing agency votes for

Bonds for Red Hill Villas

Round Rock neighbors disappointed

The Hunt Building Corp. is only one step shy of final approval for low-interest bonds to build Red Hill Villas, an affordable apartment complex that has drawn the ire of Round Rock's South Creek Neighborhood Association.

On Friday, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs signed off on $10 million in low-interest bonds on the 168-unit Red Hill Villas project, which will sit in front of the South Creek neighborhood on Gattis School Road. The final step for funding approval will come from the Texas Bond Review Board, which will review the project today and make a decision early next week.

South Creek residents complained of the traffic and crime they said Red Hill Villas would bring to their neighborhood. The resolution signed by the TDHCA board, however, stated that Round Rock needs more affordable housing, and that Hunt is financially responsible and would build a well-designed project for the area.

Hunt company officials agreed—and told the TDHCA finance committee last week—that they made mistakes in presenting the affordable housing project to the South Creek neighborhood. Those problems ultimately led a split Round Rock City Council to sign a resolution opposing state funding of the apartment project. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 13, 2000 and Nov. 6, 2000)

“I told the finance committee that I know we should have approached the neighborhood sooner. That was certainly our mistake,” said spokesman John Edmonson of the Hunt Building Corp. “However, we have gone as far down the road as we can to rectify that mistake. I don't think you pay for that mistake with the loss of the project.”

South Creek homeowners voiced strong opposition to Red Hill Villas at a public hearing on Nov. 3 and presented the state agency with a petition against it signed by almost 600 people. President Ken Lounsbury told In Fact Daily Monday that the neighborhood association's fight is over for now.

“We're just disappointed that the state doesn't listen to the residents and the local officials,” Lounsbury said. “We're not really planning on doing anything at this point because there's nothing that we can do.”

The neighborhood would still like to see Hunt sign a planned unit development agreement (PUD). That would legally tie the developer to some promises made to the neighborhood as well as to requirements under the city's zoning code. Those promises include putting up money to finish Arterial B, and if necessary, to reroute the apartment project's traffic away from South Creek Boulevard. The neighborhood association also objected to its plans for a stucco exterior and asked that higher-grade building materials and landscaping be used on the property.

Hunt met with the neighborhood association at least twice between the time the city council passed its resolution opposing the project and the state agency hearing on Red Hill Villas on Nov 3. The developer remains committed to promises it made to the neighborhood, but does not consider a PUD necessary, Edmonson said. The developer has already addressed neighborhood concerns, he said. Regarding the neighborhood’s fears of lower income residents bringing crime to South Creek, he said, “I've assured the neighborhood that their concerns and fears are unfounded.”

City staff said a PUD is typically used in cases where a project needs a zoning change or a development is requesting annexation into a city. It binds the developer to amenities and improvements beyond the city's requirements. A PUD is not required on Red Hill Villas and the Development Review Board approved the project design without concessions to the South Creek neighborhood.

The total cost of the Red Hill Villas project will be close to $14 million. If the Texas Bond Review Board approves funding next week, construction will start in December and is expected to take 10 to 12 months to complete.

Negative vote sends Capital

Metro board seeking new path

Money could be used for Build Greater Austin

Last week voters gave the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority either a firm directive to forget about light rail, or a temporary setback—depending on which member of the agency’s board of directors is talking.

Board Chairman Lee Walker told fellow board members Monday, “We must respect this vote.” Acting as if the vote had not been taken would indicate a lack of responsibility on the board’s part, he said. He directed Cap Metro staff to do a careful analysis of how the agency could use its $100 million in cash and report back early next month.

Lago Vista Mayor Pro Tem Fred Harless and City Council Member Daryl Slusher suggested using the money for the Build Greater Austin program. That program builds sidewalks, and bicycle lanes as well as street improvements. Slusher said the money could also be used to improve the bus system. Agency staff needs to investigatethe the status of Texas Department of Transportation plans to build HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes to see whether the money can be spent for that program, he said.

Slusher told In Fact Daily that he is most concerned about maintaining local control over money raised from Austin taxpayers. “In Austin’s case, we would put it into projects that have already been approved by the voters,” he said.

Former Austin Mayor Pro Tem John Trevino first joked, “I want a recount.” However, he very seriously urged other board members not to give up. Losing by only 2,000 out of 250,000 votes means working harder next time, Trevino said. He said he was on the City Council during the 1970s when that council refused to build the Highway 290 flyover at I-35. “That’s why we’re closing down I-35 on weekends,” he said.

Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez said she too was unwilling to give up the idea. “Make that solid line (train tracks) a dotted line,” she said, indicating that it still might happen in the future.

Walker said putting the money into the streets program “would take the cash flow . . . (and) put it to immediate work, back into the communities.” Walker said, “I may not like the outcome, but an election was held.” He then asked Cap Metro staff to come back to the board with “a very careful analysis” of potential uses for the money. Walker said the board also needs to learn the status of the preliminary engineering and environmental impact statement (PE/EIS) currently underway. He asked staff to schedule a board work session for the week of Dec.4.

Light rail is a part of the CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) 2025 Transportation Plan. Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, who is a member of the CAMPO Policy Action Committee but does not sit on the Cap Metro board, told In Fact Daily that light rail can continue to be a part of the 2025 plan even though voters have rejected it. She said light rail was envisioned as a part of our transportation system in the 2020 plan—some time before this particular rail line was planned. Mike Aulick, executive director of CAMPO, told Sonleitner there is no need to alter the current plan as a result of the election.

She said commissioners would be considering adoption of the 2025 plan today, with their own wording of certain parts of the document.

Board of Adjustment says

No to BFI variances again

Company may use Winnebago site anyway

Last night BFI Waste Systems lost its second fight to get approval on two variances for its proposed recycling plant on Winnebago Lane. Two of five members—just the number needed to block a variance—voted no, so BFI will have to put up with the property as is or find another location.

It won't mean the end to BFI Waste Systems' new recycling plant. The city condemned BFI's Bolm Road plant for city offices after a six-alarm fire in 1996. The company must move its recycling plant to a new location by the end of next year. Part of the agreement between BFI and the city was that the city would help the company find a suitable replacement site. So far, the only site that has come close to working is a 10-acre parcel on Winnebago Lane in Southeast Austin that abuts the Kensington Park neighborhood.

“As far as the site right now, we have told the city that we are willing to move to another location if we can find one,” recycling plant manager Rick Carpenter told the board last night. “The city is looking for one right now. Our alternative, if all else fails, is that we do own this (Winnebago) property.”

The city does not look as though it is getting to close to finding an alternate site. Some of that comes from the fact that the BFI recycling plant—which deals in moving large bales of paper product—must be located on a railroad spur. That led BFI to purchase the Winnebago Lane property.

Homeowners from Kensington Park have argued the city promised—through a solemn resolution passed by Austin City Council—to find a site for the BFI plant that would be a safe distance from homes. Armed with pictures of the six-alarm fire in 1996, neighbors told the Board of Adjustment that the Winnebago property is not far enough from their homes. They also argued BFI should not be given variances no other business in the industrial park – such as neighboring Clampitt Paper — has been given.

“We feel BFI should not be allowed these variances," homeowner Lee Sloan told the commissioners. He presented a petition signed by 40 residents and six nearby businesses. “No one else in the industrial park has them, and just as we told you before, there is no compelling reason to give them these exceptions.”

Neighbors argued they have real safety concerns with the BFI facility, pointing to BFI's track record on fires and the hazard that paper debris on the plant site will cause for the surrounding neighborhood. Representatives for the company argued that BFI would meet all city code requirements for safety and that the entire plant, including the dock area where paper would be loaded, would be under sprinklers.

Consultant Jim Bennett argued in favor of two variances: One would have decreased the number of parking spaces so that truck drivers would have more room to maneuver in the parking lot. The other would have decreased a side yard setback to add a loading dock directly on a rail spur that runs along the east side of the property. With or without the variances, BFI would move forward with the project, Bennett said.

If the company can’t use the existing spur, it would build it’s own on the property. Bennett argued that new spur would be closer to the Kensington Park neighborhood. Homeowners argued that the developer had drawn the worst-case scenario as a scare tactic in negotiations.

The variances were denied by an odd quirk in the rules of the Board of Adjustment. Instead of a clear majority—three out of five votes in the case of the Board of Adjustment—it takes only two commissioners to vote down variances. When the votes were counted on a motion to deny the variances, the margin was 2-3, which was enough to deny the variance on the property.

Commissioners Barbara Aybar and Betty Edgemond voted to deny the variance. Colleagues Herman Thun, Frank Fuentes and Laurie Virkstis voted against denying the variance.

Thun attempted a second motion that would have rescinded the denial and granted the parking variance but denied the setback variance. He said the parking variance appeared to be far more reasonable than the setback variance. Thun pulled the motion when it was apparent it would fail on a 3-2 margin.

Fuentes did try to add a friendly amendment to require BFI Waste Systems to erect whatever barriers and procedures necessary to keep trash from blowing into the Kensington Park neighborhood. The condition, added to the variance, died when the motion for the variance died. When asked whether the neighborhood would support the variance in order to force the company to meet the conditions, Sloan said Kensington Park would take its chances with the denial of the variances.

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

Talking transportation . . . At their meeting today, Travis County Commissioners will consider whether to enter into an interlocal agreement with the LCRA to do a study of flooding along Onion Creek. They will also consider adopting the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization 2025 Transportation Plan, with a slight modification. When the Texas Turnpike Authority (TTA) drew the eastern alignment preferred by Austin, Round Rock and Travis County, the line went through county’s Northeast Metropolitan Park property. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said the highway would have bisected the road to the park, which is near Pflugerville. Commissioners were asked to agree to the change proposed by TTA, which will avoid the park. “Not only do we agree, but thank you for listening to us,” Sonleitner said . . . City audits . . .The City Council audit and finance committee will meet at 10 a.m. today at City Hall. The Audit office will present its FY 2001 plan to the committee . . . Airport advisors meeting too. . . The city’s cantankerous Airport Advisory Board will meet at 5 p.m. today. No doubt the three squeaky wheels in the group will have something to say to Aviation Director Chuck Griffith, who suggested the board be replaced with specifically designated professionals. The City Council put off a decision on the matter until the board could comment. The Council will not meet again until Nov. 30.

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

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