Tuesday, November 28, 2000 by

Vignette looking for money, may

Ask to postpone zoning case

Software maker reportedly seeking $25 million

Vignette may ask the City Council to wait a week or two before considering zoning changes for downtown property on which the company wants to build. David Armbrust of Armbrust Brown & Davis told In Fact Daily his clients might want to postpone the zoning case until they have an incentive package to present to the Council.

City Hall sources put the price of those incentives at approximately $25 million. The package is described as $5 million in fee waivers and $7 million to reimburse the costs of stabilizing the banks of Waller Creek, creating a dam and completing the hike and bike trail in the area. The rest of the package would include right-of-way for widening Cesar Chavez, building new turn lanes and other alternative transportation costs.

The incentive package was the subject of a full-page ad in last week’s Austin Chronicle. The ad criticizes the City Council for “subsidies” to Intel, Computer Sciences Corp. and Vignette, all of whom have decided to follow the city’s Smart Growth policies in putting their headquarters downtown.. City Hall sources say Mark Tschurr, chair of the Save Our Springs Alliance Board of Directors, paid for the ad. Tschurr founded Tschurr Technologies in 1986. That company merged with Microvision, Inc., which was recently acquired by Electro Scientific Industries. The ad’s final message: “Maybe growth isn’t so great. Maybe it’s time to take back our town.”

Brigid Shea, former executive director and Robin Rather, former chair of the SOS Alliance, have both worked to get Vignette to the downtown area and to help the company with its zoning. SOS has endorsed the idea of moving major employers off the aquifer, and the city has spent several hundred thousand, if not millions, of dollars in defending regulations that make it more difficult for large businesses to build in environmentally sensitive areas. Vignette says it costs $240 per square foot to build downtown, compared with $175 per square foot in suburban Austin. That translates into an extra $75 million, some of which the software maker wants the city to pay back.

Armbrust declined to discuss the incentive package, but said his clients were still negotiating with city staff on the amount. The zoning changes, which were recommended by the Planning Commission on Nov. 14, would apply to properties on East Cesar Chavez, Willow, Neches and Red River Streets. Vignette asked for CBD-CURE ( Central Business District-Central Urban Redevelopment Combining District zoning) to allow for a floor to area ratio of 10:1 and for certain other changes.

The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association and residents of the Villas on Town Lake agreed to support the zoning for Vignette with the following agreements:

• Vignette would limit building height on buildings adjacent to the Villas property. • No amplified music after 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and after 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. • Vignette will provide pedestrian/bicycle access to Waller Creek from Red River. • Vignette will improve and beautify Waller Creek in accordance with the Waller Creek Master Plan. • Vignette will landscape the area to provide visual screening. • Vignette will provide pedestrian-friendly frontage along Cesar Chavez and along Red River.

Those agreements were incorporated into the Planning Commission recommendation. Janet Gilles, president of the Villas’ neighborhood association, said she has filed a valid petition against the zoning request. However, she said she would withdraw that petition at the Council meeting when she is certain her group’s requests are being honored..

Longhorn Pipeline case may

Be moving into final stage

Plaintiffs will get environmental documents by Dec. 15

A status conference before U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks last Wednesday gave opponents of the Longhorn Pipeline more deadlines but no resolution on the controversial proposal to pump gasoline through South Austin on its way from the Gulf coast to El Paso.

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation concluded last month that the pipeline would have no significant impact on environmental quality or public safety. By mid-December, the documents used to make that government decision will be opened to the plaintiffs— Kimble County ranchers, the City of Austin, the Lower Colorado River Authority and the Barton Springs-Edwards Aquifer Conservation District—who filed suit to stop the pipeline.

To the Longhorn Pipeline Partners, the hearing moves them one step closer to a final decision from Sparks on whether he will require a full environmental impact statement. Longhorn spokesman Don Martin says the voluminous documents for the environmental assessment constitute a thorough study of the pipeline and mitigation measures to address safety concerns.

"All the parties to the lawsuit came up with an agreement that Longhorn would pay for a comprehensive study by EPA and DOT under a complicated set of guidelines," Martin said. "Everyone agreed what would be studied and what would be included in what detail. Then, any party not happy with it could come forward and we would consider an environmental impact statement rather than an environmental assessment."

Longhorn Partners has heeded public input, Martin said. The company has already agreed to more than $42 million in mitigation measures, including the replacement of 19 miles of pipeline across the Edwards Aquifer watershed. Longhorn has also agreed to add MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, at the end of the pipeline rather than risk possible water contamination. That's a first for the industry, said Martin. Longhorn Partners recognized this assessment would probably be met with resistance, Martin said, and they are prepared for further mediation with pipeline opponents.

"I think everybody realized it was going to take a long time, but we have finished the major part of it," Martin said. "We've always thought that the studies would vindicate what Longhorn has said—that the pipeline is safe—and provide a process for coming to agreed safety measures. An environmental impact statement only talks about impact. We've talked about what we can do to mitigate any potential problems in this assessment, and that's much more complicated."

Once the documents are opened, lawyers on both sides will have 30 days to amend their pleadings. Martin expects this to lead to a decision on the EIS. Renea Hicks, who represents the plaintiffs, said the mid-January deadline would only set the schedule for a decision on whether Longhorn has breached the original settlement agreement. Hicks is ready to depose a number of governmental witnesses, including Longhorn President Carter Montgomery and lobbyist Ben Barnes.

Subsequent legal proceedings should return to the original question as to whether additional environmental study will be needed, Hicks said. Hicks doesn't expect that issue to come before Sparks until mid-March.

Even then, the litigation may not be over. Mike Blizzard, grass-roots organizer of the PIPE Coalition, said he suspects one of Austin's environmental groups will file a challenge to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department's decision to approve the pipeline, in the face of possible danger to the habitat of the Barton Springs salamander. Critics have accused field supervisor David Frederick of having too close a relationship with Longhorn lobbyist Barnes. Barnes has denied that giving Frederick tickets to a party for President Bill Clinton in June implied a special favor or an improper relationship between the government official and the lobbyist.(See In Fact Daily, Nov. 3, 2000)

Blizzard said a number of points in the document emphasizing the low impact of the Longhorn Pipeline bothered him, as well as the assertion that the pipeline will transport gasoline. Instead of addressing whether the pipeline should or should not happen, the report appears to justify the pipeline's route based on the cost of mitigation measures, Blizzard said. The report disregards the possibility of replacing the entire50-year-old pipeline because of the financial burden it would place on Longhorn, Blizzard said. “It just seems to assume that, one way or another, this pipeline will go out to El Paso.”

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

Council meeting . . . The City Council will meet this Thursday in the Assembly Room at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road. The change is for this week only. Next week’s meeting will be at the LCRA, as usual. There is very little parking at Town Lake Center, home of Austin Energy. Visitors should try for surface or garage parking at nearby One Texas Center . . . Still talking . . . Most homeowners in the historic Rainey Street neighborhood have already signed a contract to sell their property to developer Gordon Dunaway. However, a spokesman for Dunaway says he is still talking with a few stragglers. Last Wednesday was the official deadline for signing, but the developer is not sticking with the deadline after all . . . Stratus talks . . . Members of the Environmental Board met for several hours yesterday, but came out without recommendations for changing the proposed settlement between the city and Stratus Properties. The committee will meet again next Monday. The Planning Commission’s Stratus committee is scheduled to meet at noon today . . . Hyde Park Baptist v. neighbors . . . Residents of the Hyde Park neighborhood were making rounds at City Council offices yesterday, getting ready to fight about the church’s proposed garage.

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

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