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Mayor reconsiders today's

Thursday, November 30, 2000 by

Hearing on Stratus proposal

Watson hopes for dialogue with colleagues

Mayor Kirk Watson sent a memo to his Council colleagues Wednesday afternoon suggesting that today’s Stratus Properties hearing be postponed. KristinVassallo, the mayor’s executive assistant, said the mayor wants today’s hearing postponed so that the Council can have input from both the Planning Commission and the Environmental Board. Each has a subcommittee studying the proposal and each has expressed a need for more time to look at the term sheet.

Vassallo noted that a majority of Council Members “has already expressed major concerns” about Stratus’ proposal. She said the Mayor is hoping to have a dialogue with other Council Members about the strengths and weaknesses of the term sheet. Given the complexity of the deal and the need to have board and commission recommendations, the original timeline wouldn’t be feasible, she said. A second hearing is scheduled for next Thursday.

Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) said, “We’re completely opposed to the City Council pontificating about the proposal without a public hearing. They need to listen to the community instead. The clear indication we’ve gotten is that the city attorney is telling (the Council) ‘If you’re not going to do a deal, don’t suffer the pain.’ If they don’t have four votes to do a deal, we won’t have a public hearing. It’s rather disgusting.”

SOSA has expended a lot of effort to urge its members to attend today’s meeting. Bunch and the organization oppose the Stratus proposal because the 4,000-acre development would not be in strict compliance with the Save Our Springs Ordinance. The properties involved are Lantana, Barton Creek, and part of Circle C. Richard Suttle, attorney for Stratus, said it was his understanding that the mayor had proposed that the lawsuit related to settling the Municipal Utility District reimbursables be settled separately from the development issues. Bunch and members of the committees have also proposed that the items be separated.

ANC supports Mueller planning process

The idea of a Mueller-Stratus land swap got a cold shoulder from the Austin Neighborhoods Council last night. ANC approved two separate resolutions during the meeting. First, they supported a comprehensive strategy for the Barton Springs Zone as a basis for negotiating with Stratus on any settlement agreement.

Next, they supported the Mueller Airport Redevelopment Commission’s position that the Request for Qualifications and the Request for Proposals for a Master Developer at Mueller should be completed prior to any disposition of land or development rights. Both positions passed unanimously.

“I think it's safe to say that the Mueller Neighborhood Coalition is very thankful of the recognition and support on the importance of committing to the Mueller Airport master plan process,” said ANC president Jim Walker. Walker also serves as president of the Mueller Neighborhood Coalition and the Mueller Airport Redevelopment Commission. It’s important not to underestimate the process we give up by trading away all of the opportunities we have at Mueller.”

ANC votes to oppose

Montopolis racetrack

Austin Jockey Club would compete with Manor Downs

Investors behind a proposed Austin race track can expect no support from the Austin Neighborhoods Council, which passed a resolution last night to oppose the Austin Jockey Club.

The club—backed by the owners of Retama Race Park in San Antonio and national horse racing interests—is expected to locate on a 100-acre tract of land on the edge of Montopolis. The racetrack has already been granted a license, putting it in direct competition with the existing Manor Downs facility. The Austin Neighborhoods Council voted last night to support the Montopolis neighborhood planning process and oppose a zoning change from single-family residential to commercial services.

Racetrack interests attended early neighborhood planning sessions, said neighborhood supporter and political consultant Mike Blizzard. Then they asked for a vote on the issue by the neighborhood association.

“They attended every single meeting, and then they got voted down,” Blizzard said. “They said right after the meeting, 'We're going to go over your heads to the Planning Commission and Austin City Council.” . Such an attitude, Blizzard said, flouted the neighborhood planning process underway in Montopolis. The neighborhood plan envisions continued single-family development on the tract, with a small strip on Riverside for commercial use. Others from the meeting who attended the meeting— Susana Almanza and Daniel Llanes of PODER—supported new residential development on the property. Almanza pointed out that only 35 percent of the land in Montopolis is currently developed.

To be fair, the Austin Jockey Club had no staunch supporters to speak at the ANC meeting. A proposal handed out by neighborhood planner Robert Heil did provide some background on the racetrack, such as that it would seat 2,000 people, support a 30-day race schedule and provide year-round simulcast horse races. Blizzard said track investors courted the neighborhood but didn't like the response.

Track opponents speculated that the Austin Jockey Club already has a prospective national buyer beyond the Retama investors. That investor intends to add the Austin track to his nationwide holdings, said Mike Conkle of the Pecan Springs-Springdale Neighborhood Association. Conkle speculated that the Austin Jockey Club was also a way to put additional pressure on Manor Downs, which has until Dec. 12 to meet new Texas Racing Commission requirements to extend its track or shut down.

Blizzard, like Almanza, also opposed putting the track so close to neighborhood development. Blizzard said the track was placed without regard to the temptation it might present to at-risk youth in the area. Almanza added the track would only bring gambling, noise, lights, traffic and liquor to a low-income neighborhood of color. She said Montopolis is already burdened with its own grease trap and wastewater plant. “I sure don't want to smell a bunch of horseshit when I come out my front door,” said Almanza, who lives across the street from the proposed property.

“I think there's a lot of land you can put it on,” said Almanza, stressing the need for local housing. “You don't need to put it adjacent to people, and I don't think anyone here would like to see 20,000 people a year, around the clock, participating in parimutuel gambling in their neighborhood.”

Heil said he could not speculate how successful a residential development might be on the tract. The City of Austin has purchased adjacent land for possible future residential development..

City Council Plays Referee

In Continuing Hyde Park battle

Church, opponents disagree on meaning of 1990 ordinance

As the Hyde Park Baptist Church moves closer to building an additional parking garage, neighbors who oppose the structure have worried that they may not be able to appeal an administrative decision from the Development Review and Inspection Department. Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, attorney for the church, said, “Under the NCCD (Neighborhood Conservation Combining District) ordinance I don’t think there is an appeal of the garage site plan on that site. The ordinance doesn’t grant any appeals.”

Former Council Member Bill Spelman, who lives in Hyde Park, said he and other neighborhood members disagree with that interpretation. That is why members of the Alliance to Save Hyde Park and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA) asked members of the City Council to sponsor a resolution establishing their appeal rights.

Council Members Raul Alvarez and Will Wynn sponsored a resolution “ensuring that all interested parties have the right to appeal decisions of city staff on site plans.” However, Veronica Briseno, executive assistant to Alvarez, confirmed late Wednesday that the item has been pulled from the agenda. “The Law Department sent us an email to say that the neighborhood will get to appeal,” she said.

Last July, the church requested permission from the Planning Commission to vacate an alley adjacent to the proposed parking lot. The Planning Commission denied the request and the church filed a site plan showing the alley intact. (See In Fact Daily, July 19, 2000)

Susan Moffat of the Hyde Park Alliance said that she recently received a notice from the city that the church has appealed the Planning Commission’s decision. That notice gives the City Council hearing date as December 7, she said. She said the neighborhood was puzzled by the church’s appeal because it does not match the current site plan. Moffat is hoping that the hearing on the church’s appeal can be postponed until January because of the difficulty of rallying opponents during the holidays. She questions whether the church can appeal six months after the decision, just as Suttle questions the neighborhood’s right to appeal.

“We’re just trying to stand up with HPNA and protect the rights of HPNA under the agreement,” Moffat said. That ordinance allows the church to build a multi-story parking garage but does not waive compatibility, landscaping or impervious cover requirements, which the church’s plan violates, she said. That’s why the neighborhood wants to appeal the site plan if it is approved by DRID.

But Suttle contends, “The ordinance doesn’t grant any appeals. I have given up trying to determine what the City Council wants to do to this church. It’s very difficult to recommend to people that they work out agreements with neighborhood associations and City Councils only to find out 10 years later” that the new City Council and neighborhood won’t uphold the agreement.“ If this Council does something contrary to the agreement and the NCCD Ordinance, then it seems like the agreement reached 10 years ago was to no avail. But I’m confident this Council will uphold the previous agreement.” .

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

Thursday’s City Council meeting . . . The Council will be at Town Lake Center, with additional parking at One Texas Center . . . Sally Jacques will perform “Bodycount” in honor of World AIDS Day at Barton Springs Friday at 6:30 p.m. . . . CURE District expanded . . . The Planning Commission voted to expand the downtown Central Urban Redevelopment Combining District to include property between East Cesar Chavez and Driskill Streets east of Red River about 400 feet. The area includes property where Vignette has said the company would like to locate its world headquarters . . . Holiday exhibition . . . The Austin History Center Association will host its annual open house at the History Center, 9th and Guadalupe, Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Scheduled events include a performance by the Austin Children’s Choir and an electric train display by the AustNtrak Model Railroad Club. The Center will also begin a month-long display of antique dolls from the Austin Doll Collectors’ Society . . . Transit options . . . Will Bozeman, former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, told neighborhood representatives last night the group will talk about Capital Metro’s options at ANC's next meeting, as well as the possible diversion of tax dollars during the next legislative session..

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

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