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City, Stratus to settle lawsuit

Tuesday, December 5, 2000 by

Without development agreement

No hearing this week on term sheet

The city and Stratus Properties have decided to settle the lawsuit over Municipal Utility District reimbursables for the $6.3 million—the amount set forth in the term sheet—without tying that item to the controversial development agreement. Members of the Stratus Information Committee, made up of local environmental and neighborhood organizations, including the Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association and the Sierra Club, suggested separating the suit from land-use policies on Oct. 25.The case is set for trial in late January.

Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, who represents Stratus, confirmed last night that his client would accept the city’s offer. He said he expects the item to be on the City Council agenda next week.

Since most members of the Council agree that little can be gained from a hearing on the Stratus proposal this week, Mayor Kirk Watson sent a memo to other Council offices Monday saying this week’s hearing would be cancelled. No date has been set for new hearings, but the first City Council meeting of 2001 is on Jan. 18.

Council Members Daryl Slusher and Will Wynn have put an item on Thursday’s agenda to direct the city attorney to begin discussing the possibility of a swap of some of the sensitive watershed property with land at Robert Mueller. Council Member Danny Thomas reacted by releasing a written statement in opposition to swapping land or development rights at Mueller for land owned by Stratus.

Slusher told In Fact Daily the item would give the public a chance for input. He said the swap should not be discussed in executive session, but in open Council meetings. That does not mean that members of the city staff are prohibited from having conversations with Stratus’ attorneys or other employees in private, however.

Environmental Board member Tim Jones, who sits on the board’s Stratus subcommittee, said the subcommittee met Monday and agreed that the city should continue to negotiate with Stratus. That subcommittee, led by Buzz Avery, has suggested that Stratus separate negotiations on the Lantana tract—which was zoned before the Save Our Springs Ordinance was enacted—from the rest of the settlement agreement. Avery has referred to Lantana as “the anvil around Stratus’ neck” because the tract would have more density and more impervious cover than much of the rest of the property.

Suttle said including Lantana in the settlement agreement allows the city to request higher water quality standards than would otherwise be required—a hybrid of the Comprehensive Watersheds Ordinance and the Williamson Creek Ordinance—instead of just following the latter. However, he agreed that it would be possible to do one agreement on Lantana and another on the remainder of the property. He said no one from the city has suggested such an arrangement.

Last night, members of the SBCA asked Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman what part of the term sheet she would change, given the opportunity. She said she would like to change Section N, the property on Southwest Parkway adjacent to the Travis Country subdivision. Stratus wants commercial development, including research and development components, as well as multi-family zoning and a golf course. Goodman said the property is environmentally fragile and putting the commercial development there would make it a magnet for additional development.

Jones, a researcher for SBCA, said the golf course should not be allowed at the location because runoff has such a negative impact on Barton Creek. Jones said he wants the city to find out what is causing the extensive algae bloom in the creek. He gave In Fact Daily a photo of the algae-laden section. Click here for photo. Jones said the Environmental Board would consider a recommendation on paying the $6.3 million at its Wednesday meeting. The Water and Wastewater Commission is scheduled to consider that aspect of the proposal on Wednesday as well.

Historic Landmark Commission

Votes to save Oak Hill School

Jimmy Nassour plans restaurant for site

The Historic Landmark Commission voted last week to recommend that the footprint of Oak Hill School be preserved as a historic landmark. Many people who attended the hearing on the 76-year-old building area still remember the school's construction—the first school in the area originally known as Oatmanville.

James White, whose great grandfather was James Andrew Patton, provided a lineage for the commission at last week's meeting. White, the owner of the Broken Spoke, gave the commission an overview of the school's history. Great grandfather Patton, who also served as postmaster, provided the land for the school and supervised the building of the campus. He deeded the land over for a dollar and eventually served as a school trustee.

The Oak Hill site, on Highway 290, was eventually turned over to a county judge who deeded it to the Austin school district, White said. The site sat next to what was known as the Old Rock Store, which had replaced the early general store. That store was turned into The Fortress, a restaurant run by White and his wife.

When the land was deeded to AISD, a portion of the site was set aside to become Oak Hill Elementary. In recent years, the school has been neglected. The school and extra land have now been turned over to a private developer.

White argued that the integrity of the school and its site ought to be preserved. It is the only surviving public building associated with Oak Hill.

“They've got some beautiful oak trees out there,” said White after the hearing. “What we would like to see done is to make the building a community hall or library. A lot of kids still play baseball on the property. It could mean a lot.”

White's own 86-year-old father Bruce. attended school at the Oak Hill campus. The senior White, who was in the audience at the hearing, spoke about the school's early years. White reminisced that he remembered the school for its two big stoves. When he attended, the school had two teachers and basketball games were still played on dirt floors. The wooden floors of the junior high school in Austin were quite a shock to him.

“I was all but 10 years old when the school was built,” said the senior White. “I hate to see the building torn down. I'd like to see them do something with it. They shouldn't have ever have sold the building. It should have been deeded for something like a library.”

Mary Jane Morgan Ritchie also spoke at the hearing. Her family, led by Norwall Mowinkle, gave the rock for the early school building. That rock also served as the foundation for the State Capitol. Ritchie remembered her early years at Oak Hill School with teacher Gertrude Tillman. She said she had found it hard to believe that the early Convict Hill had been cut down for housing. All the major landmarks invested with Austin history are being cut down, Ritchie said.

“All of us in Mrs. Cunningham's class had to learn to read and to get out of her room to see the history of not only Texas, but also Austin,” Ritchie told the commissioners. “We're just sick about what has happened in Austin,” she said, referring to destruction of historical buildings.

The new zoning will allow owner Jimmy Nassour to put a commercial venture on the land. He intends to establish a restaurant similar to Shady Grove.

Barbara Stocklin, the city’s historic preservation officer, said most of the land on the property was within in the flood plain, thus limiting development. Nassour was concerned that the property—which is now exposed to the elements—would require extensive rehabilitation. He was assured that the historic zoning designation would also provide benefits.

Commissioners agreed that the early history of Austin must be preserved. They also assured Nassour that the historic designation would not put an undue burden on him. Commissioner Laurie Limbacher added that the designation could actually provide a tax break.

“The hope is that he may come to think of historic zoning as a good thing,” Limbacher said.

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

Partying anyway . . . The Travis County Democratic Party and all the Democratic clubs will host a Christmas party tonight 5:30-8 p.m. at the AFL-CIO Headquarters, 1106 Lavaca. The Women’s Political Caucus Christmas party is Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the home of Judge Gisela Triana, 401 E. 35th Street. For directions, call 322-9220 . . . Going to Kansas City . . . Vanguard Airlines announced yesterday that it would introduce nonstop service between Kansas City and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. You can leave Austin at 6:45 a.m. and be in K.C. at 8:30. Vanguard says it is also offering return flights in both the afternoon and evening.

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

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