Monday, December 4, 2000 by

Planning Commission sends

911 Call Center to committee

Design Commission asked for recommendation

City employees in charge of constructing the 911 Call Center planned for the edge of the Robert Mueller airport land came to the Planning Commission last week asking for a simple zoning change. After looking at a drawing of the proposed bunker-type building, commissioners sent the project to their Comprehensive Plan Committee and the Design Commission.

Commissioners had already heard about the “ugly bunker.” It is the first building slated for construction at Mueller. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 9, 2000)

David Stone, project manager for the facility, said the center, which will house all local 911 receptionists as well as part of the Texas Department of Transportation, requires a very tall ceiling. He said, “You have a very large mass and the mass is very hard to incorporate into the Town Center type thing in the master plan. This was intended to be a unique facility and not a part of the master-planned community.”

Stone also noted that the building “fits in the spot picked by Jim Adams (of ROMA Design Group) to have the least impact” on the rest of the Mueller community.

Two Mueller area neighborhood activists, Jim Walker, chair of the Robert Mueller Redevelopment Implementation Commission, and Rick Krivoniak of the Windsor Park Neighborhood Association voiced complaints about the design.

Walker, speaking on behalf of the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition, said area residents are concerned that the massive project—surrounded by a fence—will set a bad precedent for other Mueller projects. Under ROMA’s design guidelines, all of the Mueller property is supposed to be developed in a traditional neighborhood design (TND). Designers of the Call Center have claimed an exemption from ROMA’s guidelines, saying they could not build a secure structure—one that would withstand a tornado or a terrorist attack—within the guidelines.

Walker said, “The next project that comes along is also going to have design constraints and is going to be challenged by the TND.” He said the neighborhood does not oppose the call center, but the current plan “would set a precedent of non-compliance with the master plan.” Charles Nolan of the Public Works Department, told the commission “The master plan excludes this building.” He also told the commission that he thought “any major civic building (would be) exempted from setback requirements.”

Commissioner Jim Robertson, who was on an earlier Mueller advisory group, told fellow commissioners, “This project came up, and the representatives from the city said they were buying into the spirit of the master plan.”

Stone said, “I really feel like we made good on that commitment to you. We did it in a number of ways. He said those involved with the project looked for designers who had experience with putting such a facility in an urban environment. After hiring a California firm he said, “We also subcontracted with local firms that had direct participation and experience with the ROMA master plan process.”

Stone also noted, “We had a very aggressive schedule and it was very challenging for us to keep up with various reviews. Our design team is continuing to evolve the site plan.”

Commissioner Chair Betty Baker said, “I’m disappointed to hear that people around it feel that this is a bunker. The fact that you have negotiated out of ROMA and the TND doesn’t mean that you can’t do a better job.” She suggested that the Design Commission and Comprehensive Plan committee (CPC) look at the design. Commissioner Ben Heimsath, an architect who is chair of the CPC, said, “I think many of us have heard the concerns expressed about this building. He also indicated that he couldn’t buy “the idea that this is far enough away that it’s not going to have a negative impact on anything.”

Stone said construction on the project would be initiated this summer and the building would be occupied in ’03. He said the building would have “a fair amount of glass,” as well as limestone so it would look like “a Texas-type structure.” He said the cost of redesigning the structure is “extremely prohibitive.”

Nolan said, “We would be happy to work with the Mueller group and the design group, but I don’t think we’ve received constructive, positive recommendations” so far.

Heimsath said, “This is a big bunker and there’s not much acceptance” of that type of building. “I want to get to the bottom of what the critical criteria are—why it has to be this way.” He promised that his committee, which includes Commissioners Robin Cravey, Jean Mather and Robertson, would be able to address the design constructively.

Nolan said a one-month delay could cost $250,000 because a contractor is already “working on the building and computer systems.” The commission will reconsider the zoning question on Dec.12.

Landmark Commission hopes

To Save 3rd Street rail trestle

Rieck says bridge in path of bikeway, water pipe

The city’s plan to extend the hike-and-bike trail has not deterred the Historic Landmark Commission from voting to save the Third Street trestle over Shoal Creek from demolition.

City officials, including Public Works Director Peter Rieck, have argued that the 75-year-old bridge stands in the way of both the Ullrich water pipeline project and the Crosstown Hike-and-bike Trail. Earlier this fall, they proposed a change order for pipeline project contractors to demolish the trestle. Local leaders, led by Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association President Chris Riley, have argued that the bridge is historically and aesthetically significant.

“The bridge lends to the ambience of the area,” Riley said. “There may be some disagreement on what it would take to rehabilitate this structure… In the long run, it could make economic sense to spend a little money to fix it up if it contributed to make this area a destination spot.”

That argument—that the bridge could be integrated into the soon-to-be-developed Seaholm area—won over many of the commissioners. The drawback is likely to be cost. Rieck, in a memo to the Austin City Council in August, estimated that rehabilitation of the Third Street trestle would cost $598,000. Dismantling the bridge and moving it to another location would take a year and cost $890,000. A new pedestrian bridge across Shoal Creek would cost $455,000; demolition alone would only be $85,000.

Estimates secured by the neighborhood put the cost of rehabilitating the bridge far lower. Jay-Reece Contractors, contracted by Riley, estimated that removing the old deck and adding a pedestrian walkway would cost approximately $138,000. Jay-Reece has credibility on the subject, having already completed a similar project in New Braunfels. The original Third Street trestle, owned by the International & Great Northern Railroad Co., was built in 1876 and replaced in 1925. Barbara Stocklin, the city's historic preservation officer, estimated that the current bridge had 30 percent of its materials replaced.

Rieck also insisted that rehabilitation of the bridge, expected to take 10 months, would require a new route for the proposed crosstown hike-and-bike trail beneath the trestle. The combination of the bike trail and the pipeline makes the chosen route under the trestle impossible. If the change order to demolish the bridge is not approved, Rieck said, the city would have to let a second contract for the hike-and-bike trail. Commissioner Laurie Limbacher remarked that such a second contract was not unprecedented.

Local bicycle activist Tommy Eden was among those who joined Riley at the podium to support saving the trestle. He said that the neighborhood had stated its support for the proposed hike-and-bike trail underneath the trestle, but no one was told that the route would require removing the bridge.

To consider the historic significance of the Third Street trestle, Stocklin completed an overview of the 19 historic railroad trestles and bridges in Travis County. The Third Street trestle, owned but unused by Union Pacific, was considered to be high in both aesthetic and preservation value. However, Stocklin did point out that the structural integrity of the bridge is still in doubt.

History won out over convenience. Commissioner Jim Fowler said no other structure exists in Austin with the Third Street trestle's historic design. The city should build its projects around it, Fowler said.

“Let's torture the planners and the architects,” Fowler joked, which brought laughter from the crowd.

Both the Planning Commission and Austin City Council must consider the Historic Landmark Commission’s recommendation before it is made official. Negotiations with Union Pacific over the historic designation and possible rehabilitation are ongoing, Stocklin told the commissioners.

SOSA, SBCA will notify agencies

Of intent to sue over 290 water line

Environmental efforts not enough, groups say

The Save Barton Creek Association ( SBCA) and the Save Our Springs Alliance ( SOSA) have agreed to sue the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) over the water line the LCRA plans to build to serve Hays County.

Bill Bunch, executive director of SOSA, said he would send a letter today notifying the LCRA that its consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service was inadequate to ensure that building the pipeline would not damage the Edwards Aquifer and the endangered Barton Springs salamander that depends on it. Bunch said similar letters would also be sent to the LCRA, the US Corps of Engineers and the US Environmental Protection Agency. Plaintiffs suing the federal agencies are required to give 60 days notice before filing suit. However, in cases of emergency, that time period can be waived, Bunch said.

The SBCA polled its board of directors, who voted to join in signing the letter.

SOSA on Sept. 9, 1999 issued a notice of intent to sue the LCRA, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and Texas Water Development Board over the Dripping Springs water line project. At that time, SOSA said the line would result in significant development and water quality degradation that could not otherwise occur, resulting in an unlawful taking of the endangered species.

The LCRA board’s approval of the line was based on a declaration by the Hays County Commissioners Court of a water emergency, after residents of the northeast part of the county reported dry wells, water shortages, and water quality problems. The LCRA pipe line project would initially provide wholesale backup water service to about 1,000 homes served by the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp. and retail service to about 500 homes outside of existing retail service areas. (See In Fact Daily, May 24, 2000, Dec. 16, 1999, Sept. 17, 1999)

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

New politician? . . Ten-year-old Angelica Davila took the helm at Thursday's City Council meeting as mayor for a day, presenting Bruce Willenzik, owner of the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, with a proclamation declaring Dec. 9-24 as “Armadillo Christmas Bazaar Days in Austin.” The young mayor said the Christmas Bazaar is an Austin tradition and a “uniquely Austin event” that represents the rich cultural character of the city . . . Pipeline fight continues . . . Opponents of the Longhorn Pipeline are holding an informational meeting for southeast Austin residents at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Langford Elementary School, 2206 Blue Meadow Drive. Public officials expected to participate include City Council Member Raul Alvarez, State Representative-elect Ann Kitchen, and Craig Smith, president of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District . . . Flying Lessons . . . The Austin Museum of Art will begin an exhibition Saturday entitled Luca Buvoli: Flying/Practical Training for Beginners (Lesson 2) at AMOA-Downtown, 823 Congress. The installation presents sculpture, drawings, and a major film by the artist, all of which explore one of man’s most ancient dreams, flying without the aid of mechanical devices.

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

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