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Wynn, Goodman join call for end

Thursday, November 16, 2000 by

To executive sessions on Stratus

Griffith reiterates opposition to discussing Mueller with Stratus

Council Member Will Wynn and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said Wednesday that they agree with Council Member Daryl Slusher’s conclusion that the City Council should no longer discuss the Stratus Properties settlement in executive session.

Wynn released a written statement, which says, “The Stratus situation, as it stands, is not a simple, black-and-white case of development vs. no development. It's much more complicated than that, and anyone who suggests otherwise is not telling—or doesn't know—the whole story . . . It's my sense that the public perception of this situation may not be aligned with reality . . . Some people seem to believe that if we do reach an agreement with Stratus, we are somehow encouraging or facilitating development in this area. That is simply not the case. That's why we need to move all discussion of this case out of executive session and into the open, and let all concerned citizens hear and understand all of the factors that must be weighed before we make a decision about how to proceed. So I am, and will be, strongly supportive of Council Member Slusher’s proposal to do so.”

Goodman told In Fact Daily that she agrees with Slusher and Wynn “absolutely.” Council Member Beverly Griffith, who was out of town, also released a statement concerning the Robert Mueller Redevelopment Plan and a potential swap of Mueller for Stratus. Griffith said she believes that starting negotiations with Stratus prior to opening the Request for Qualifications on Mueller would “corrupt the process, because the truly world-class developers will presume we have already cut a deal, and they will not respond.” Goodman responded,“ We should at least talk to them (Stratus) about whether there’s a possibility” of a trade before rejecting the idea.

Planning Commission gives Temple

Beth Israel requested zoning change

Neighbors and congregation reach compromise

Congregation Beth Israel this week succeeded in getting city approval for changes to the community’s property at 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd. The victory will allow the city's oldest and largest synagogue to expand.

Local developer and temple member Sandy Gottesman hammered out a last-minute compromise with Rosedale neighbors prior to Tuesday night's appearance before the Planning Commission. The Board of Adjustment denied variance requests that would have allowed the congregation to add 10 feet to one building and increase impervious cover without a zoning change on the night of Yom Kippur (See In Fact Daily, Oct.10, 2000).

Congregation Beth Israel had considered moving to a site near St. Stephen's Episcopal School, but congregation members couldn't raise the $3 million to buy the site. Instead, the temple has decided to expand its facilities at the current 6-acre location.

Congregation member Richard Kooris said it's tough to expand on the Beth Israel property. At one end of the property are critical environmental water features that cannot be disturbed, Kooris said. On the other side are large, beautiful trees that should not be cut down. The outflow of a spring that crosses the property must meet a storm sewer that leads to Shoal Creek. And a major sanitary sewer line used by the Rosedale neighborhood runs underneath Beth Israel's sanctuary. “This is a textbook case of land that cannot be developed,” said Kooris before the hearing. The Temple was moved to the Shoal Creek site in 1954. “Probably only half of it is usable.”

Temple members are trying to make the best use of what little land remains to be developed. Expansion plans include adding on to the educational building, enlarging the sanctuary and renovating the social hall. The plans also call for the removal of two portable classrooms on the site and removal of paving deemed too close to the critical environmental features. Projected costs are between $12 and $14 million.

A parking garage is also being proposed for the property. Approximately 760 families currently belong to Temple Beth Israel. More than 2,000 attend temple on High Holy Days. High Holy Day activities are held at alternate sites such as The Promiseland on 51st Street.

The initial proposal before the Planning Commission was to rezone the land from SF-4 (single family) to GO-CO ((general office with a conditional overlay)). By Tuesday night, representatives of the temple agreed to rezone the property to MF-4. That would decrease the height of the buildings from 60 feet to 45 feet, Suttle said. The parking garage will be no higher than 45 feet. The congregation’s initial effort to be awarded two variances by the Board of Adjustment was thwarted by a couple of neighbors who protested the exceptions.

At least two Planning Commissioners— Robin Cravey and Jean Mather—were concerned by the flood plain on the Temple Beth Israel site. Hydrologist Steve Jensen assured them that the temple's own flood plain calculations were more accurate than features marked on an older FEMA map. He also promised that the foundation of the expanded building would be raised above the flood plain.

A motion by Cravey to approve the zoning changes but zone the part of the property in the flood plain as Rural Residential failed. Commissioner Silver Garza led a substitute motion in favor of the zoning change. He did set a conditional rollback of the land if it was used for anything other than a building for religious assembly. The final vote was 5-1-1, with Mather opposing the zoning change and Cravey abstaining. Commissioner Jim Robertson was absent from Tuesday night's meeting and Commissioner Ben Heimsath had already left.

Chair Betty Baker said she supported the zoning change because she could not imagine a religious assembly intentionally jeopardizing the safety of children. She added Congregational Beth Israel should not be constrained by earlier city mistakes that had compromised the property.

Congregation members said they were sensitive to the concerns of Rosedale neighbors. Zoning changes can be intrusive, Kooris said. It's natural for neighbors to worry that land surrounding a newly zoned area can more easily fall prey to zoning changes. Congregation members at Tuesday night's meeting agreed they wanted to keep any intrusion on the Rosedale neighborhood to a minimum.

“I think this zoning change satisfies our needs, and I think that it allows us to continue to be the good neighbors that we have been for the last 50 years,” said Paul Keeper, a former president of the Beth Israel congregation and a current Rosedale resident.

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

Bye now . . . The Wall Street Journal is dumping its six regional publications—including the four-page Texas Journal that runs each Wednesday—effective immediately. Dow Jones officials say they have chosen to focus the space on national news and national advertising . . . More about parking . . . The city is conducting its final public forum on downtown, E. 12 Street and South Congress Avenue parking tonight at Waller Creek Center, Room 104 at 6 p.m. . . . Good news, bad news . . . The good news is the city is allowing 1 hour of free parking at the airport over the Thanksgiving holidays, starting tomorrow. You can't stay more than an hour or you lose that free hour. The bad news is finding the spaces will be more challenging . . . ROMA visiting . . . Jim Adams of ROMA must feel by now that Austin is his second home. He is in town this week, talking to interested parties in ROMA’s proposals for the Sand Beach area of the Town Lake shoreline. He met with members of the Seaholm redevelopment committee, bicycle and downtown advocates Wednesday.

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

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