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Garza proposes major changes in
Development-related departmentsHeitz to lead new Development & Watershed department City Manager Jesus Garza is planning a major re-organization of departments that oversee development, neighborhood planning, code enforcement and transportation. Departmental units will be recombined—assuming the City Council agrees—so that the departments currently called Development Review and Inspection (DRID), Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services (PECSD), and Watershed Protection (WPD) would acquire new names and functions. If all goes as planned, the changes would take effect around Feb. 1. In a memo to the City Council, Garza listed as his primary goals to: • Consolidate development functions • Integrate neighborhood services and planning • Focus on transportation and CIP project management • Consolidate code enforcement • Focus on housing “There is perhaps no other area where it is more evident that we need to be more responsible and timely in service delivery . . . than that of the development process,” he wrote. Garza told In Fact Daily it was important to put all development process functions “under one leader.” He described the current organization of development oversight as “fragmented.” Mike Heitz, director of the Watershed Protection Department for the past five years, has been tapped to take over the development permitting functions of DRID. His new department will be called the Development Services and Watershed Protection Department. Asked whether the new organization would improve morale among the development review staff, Garza said he understood that employees felt overworked and underpaid. In addition, he said, “There were some issues of frustration for the way it (has been) organized. You were accountable but not responsible—you didn’t have final authority. So all those things lead to a lot of tension, a lot of stress. You’ve got people pounding on you to get things done. You’re not in control of the final decision. “I hope under this new organization that it will be clear to everyone that we’re going to organize things a little differently. The premium is teamwork.” He said Heitz and the Human Resources Department would be evaluating pay and attempting to keep experienced employees with the city. Garza said it was important “to really work on the issue of how to retain good, experienced employees.” Garza also wants to consolidate under one roof all the divisions that deal with neighborhood services and planning. “There has been something of a disconnect between the neighborhood planning process and the zoning ordinances that get implemented as a result of the plan. And we thought it would be better if we could coordinate how the zoning can affect the plan.” Alice Glasco, director of DRID, will be the head of a new department called the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department (NPZD). The Office of Neighborhood Services and neighborhood planners from PECSD will also report to Glasco. Garza said, “When the Office of Neighborhood Services was established, the purpose was to go into neighborhoods where we believed there was a lack of coordination of city services. Also, we believed that the public may have been somewhat frustrated with the level of services we did provide,” Putting all the neighborhood-oriented divisions into one department should help with coordination, he said. Austan Librach, who is director of PECSD, will lose the neighborhood planning group, but will gain transportation planning sections now controlled by other departments, including DRID and Public Works. The proposed name for this department is the Transportation, Planning and Design Department (TPDD). Under the reorganization, Public Works (PWD) would lose some transportation functions, while Solid Waste Services (SWS) would gain some. Garza told In Fact Daily, “The second thing we were trying to accomplish was to create a better coordination of policy with respect to transportation issues.” Librach, a planner by training, will coordinate the various aspects of transportation planning, traffic engineering, parking enforcement and the traffic signal synchronization project. “He’s got the urban designers. We want to take transportation beyond just a single mode—to make it multi-mode. We’ll have a much more comprehensive and holistic look at the issues of transportation under this new arrangement.” Peter Rieck will continue as director of PWD and should have plenty to do with Garza’s assignment to determine whether the department’s current structure needs revision in order to keep up with the city’s many Capital Improvements Projects. Garza said enforcement of the city’s regulations regarding such problems as illegal dumping, stagnant water and high weeds has been divided among three departments. Citizens have become confused about whether to contact Health and Human Services (HHSD), Solid Waste Services or the Watershed Protection Department, he said, because all three take complaints about different aspects of code enforcement. He is now proposing that 14 full-time positions be moved from HHSD and WPD to Solid Waste Services “to create a central call center for the new program.” Such a consolidation should result in improved efficiency and accountability and provide citizens with one easily identifiable number to call for enforcement problems, he said. In his memo to the City Council, Garza concluded, “ I am confident that implementing these changes will help us as an organization (to) better meet the issues and challenges that have arisen from our extraordinary growth and revitalization efforts.” Lazarus House on shaky ground In East Austin neighborhood Planning Commission hears neighbor's complaints In the Bible, Lazarus was a man who rose from the dead. At the Planning Commission last Tuesday night, Lazarus was a house at 1406 Waller Street whose death may be imminent. Inspector Jesse Washington warned the Planning Commission that the city is going to seek appropriate rollback zoning next month, possibly shutting down what Washington called a “transitional housing facility for men.” The tag of “transitional housing” is a sticking point for Lazarus House. Those who run the shelter refer to it as “congregate living,” which meets zoning requirements. The property is currently zoned as GR (Community Commercial). Transitional housing implies a revolving door at the facility, whereas congregate housing—for 15 people under city land use code—implies a more stable environment, like assisted-care living. The city would now like to roll back zoning. No zoning category would allow what is going on at the facility without a special conditional use permit, said Chair Betty Baker in a discussion after this week’s meeting. Baker said factors such as the size and nature of the structure, as well as zoning consistency in the neighborhood, will be taken into consideration before a zoning recommendation is made. “Given the size of the structure, it’s highly unlikely this will be single-family residential. The neighborhood may want it, but that’s not what’s going to happen,” Baker said. “I’d like to see them zone it more appropriately to Limited Office.” Neighbors near the house went to Council Member Raul Alvarez to complain that Lazarus House—which replaced the well-liked adolescent treatment facility Phoenix House—has an unscreened clientele of high-risk homeless men. However, the city has had trouble verifying that fact, Washington said. “Lazarus’ sister facility generates weekly police calls in its neighborhood, and that facility is referring clients to Lazarus,” Kim Koscheski wrote in an e-mail to Alvarez. She encouraged Alvarez to check on the permits. “I am worried about the ability of this house to operate safely in our neighborhood. I am also concerned that the city would allow this house to operate unregulated and without following its own codes for the safety of the occupants, as well as (for) the continued growth and renewal of the neighborhood.” Washington told Planning Commissioners that no one in the current or past Planning Department could find permits on Lazarus House that allowed transitional housing. The building was originally zoned commercial for the Sweetish Hill Bakery back in 1974, according to permits provided to the commission. Subsequently, the site has been used for social service agencies, but was never intended for transitional housing. Transitional housing would require a conditional use permit, said Baker. Not only does Lazarus House lack the conditional use permit for transitional housing, it also lacks a proper certificate of occupancy, Washington said. Director Alice Glasco of the Development Review and Inspection Department outlined the history of the permit inspections in a letter. Complaints were filed in October, Glasco reported, but only one tenant and one employee were present when an inspector arrived at the site. This, despite the organization’s own web site labeling the location transitional housing, Washington told commissioners. Baker said Lazarus House is a good example of spot zoning to accommodate a building or business that does not easily fit into its area. City staff will propose a new zoning category for the Lazarus House property at the Jan. 16 Planning Commission meeting. Planning Commission agrees to Continued Parmer construction Neighbor upset over noise, dust, disruption One neighbor of the Parmer Professional Center has said he's had enough of the distraction and distress its construction has caused in his life. Boyd Henry appealed the city’s one-year administrative extension for construction on the Parmer Professional Center, 3700 West Parmer Lane. Henry said 18 months of construction in his neighborhood have been enough. Henry complained that he has been plagued by dust and noise at his home, which abuts the property. City planner Chris Johnson, however, found that the site plan complied with current code, and that “the applicant had filed the original application for the site plan approval with the good faith expectation that the site plan would be constructed.” Two buildings now exist on the site and have certificates of occupancy. Mike Rivera, a civil engineer on the project, said construction had been extended because United Christian Church—the third building on the property—had yet to raise funds to begin construction. Church member Bill Rust told commissioners that the church has been sincere in its desire to build there but had needed to revise its construction plans, “to get them within our budget.” Henry argued that new parking covers in the lots did not comply with original site plans, and that construction had gone on without proper permits. Rivera countered that amended site plans had been filed. Henry said the new parking space covers look like a “big barn coming down the street.” Commissioner Ben Heimsath pointed out that granting a certificate of occupancy on the existing buildings would have been close to impossible had the builder not chosen to comply with the site plans. Heimsath added that a delay from Boyd would only mean Rivera could, and would, file acceptable site plans again on the site. Zoning on the site is Limited Office-Conditional Overlay. Johnson effectively argued that the site plan met all city codes. In the end, commissioners recommended that Henry take his case back to the inspection division. The commissioners voted 7-0 to maintain the administrative extension, with Commissioners Robin Cravey and Jim Robertson absent from the meeting. ©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved. Mueller committee picks . . . The RMMA Implementation Advisory Committee has appointed members Matt Harris and Matt Moore to sit on the committee to ponder Stratus’ development proposals . . . Highway proposals . . . Mayor Kirk Watson has proposed that Capital Metro fund projects approved in the city’s 1998 transportation bond election. His first choice for funding would be the $13 million completion of Loyola Lane. Second, the mayor proposes that Cap Metro purchase right-of-way for Loop 1 North, the I-35 corridor ( Parmer Lane) and SH 45 North. By not using the authorized bond money, the mayor proposes to reduce city debt. This would allow the city to go back to voters for more transportation bonds earlier, he said in a memo to Council colleagues . . . Almost 2001 . . . City Manager Jesus Garza told In Fact Daily he thinks the city’s biggest challenge for 2001 will be housing. “We need to focus on remaining a competitive, affordable city, so as not to become unattractive economically” . . . But first we rest . . . City offices will be closed on Monday, of course. In Fact Daily will take its annual two-week winter vacation and return on Jan. 8. Thanks to all our loyal subscribers, public information officers, and others who have given us their time, information and thoughts. We wish all of you a warm and joyous holiday and a prosperous 2001 . . © 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.
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