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Govalle activist complains

Friday, January 12, 2001 by

About neighborhood planners

But business owner defends city employees

Janie Rangel, a co-chair of the Govalle Neighborhood Planning team, has accused members of the city’s neighborhood planning staff of subverting the neighborhood planning process. But a non-resident Govalle business owner says, “The people from the city were a pleasure to work with.”

Rangel, a member of PODER (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources), made the complaint in a letter about Austan Librach, director of the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, and Carol Barrett, the manager of neighborhood planning, to the city’s Ethics Review Commission. She claimed that both Librach and Barrett “have engaged in a campaign of distortion and misinformation to the City Manager, the City Council, the Planning Commission and the Govalle Planning Team itself.” Rangel requested that the ethics panel conduct an investigation and hearing on the matter.

Last spring, the city began neighborhood planning efforts in the area. After four months of discussions, Barrett and Librach decided that the split between residents and business owners in the neighborhood was too great for planning to proceed and decided to “pause” the process, Barrett said. On July 24, Librach wrote a letter to the neighborhood withdrawing his team from the process. Librach explained in October, “The planning became too difficult. We’re going to have to find another way to accomplish our goal.” (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 16, 2000)

Barrett said representatives of area businesses met with Librach in August and were willing to sign the memorandum of understanding the city requires of all neighborhood planning teams. But other members of the planning team—who vigorously insist that all zoning except single-family housing should be stricken from the map—would not sign the agreement.

“At that time, staff said any planning team has to be fully representative of the community,” Barrett explained. City staff could not continue the planning process with only one segment of the community participating. So, the staff attempted to have a mediator from the Travis County Dispute Resolution Center resolve differences between various members of the team, Barrett said.

Barrett told In Fact Daily that only a few of the planning team members could meet with the mediator, but that the mediator later contacted the others by telephone. As a result of her conversations with those members, Barrett said, the mediator concluded that the problems were too difficult to be overcome through mediation.

Tom Calhoon, who owns a warehouse at 618 Tillery, backs up that assertion. Calhoon said, “I sat through meeting after meeting. I wanted to talk about zoning.” Instead, he said, he was subjected to “screaming and yelling” from neighbors who simply want his warehouse to be zoned SF-3(single-family). Such a change, he contends, will make the property worthless. Most of the property in the Govalle area is zoned LI or CS (limited industrial or commercial services). Barrett’s group is trying to determine the exact percentages.

But Calhoon does blame the city for the neighborhood’s current problems. He said, “The city made the decision in the ‘30s to zone it LI and in 1945 built the school and the houses. The (Govalle) elementary school should never have been built on LI land.” But the land was cheap and people started moving there, so it happened.

On Thursday, Librach commented, “There is a lot of anger and resentment about the way the city may have treated certain neighborhoods in the past. There is a lot of distrust.”

Another former Govalle property owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said those who want to roll back the zoning “are picking on people who’ve invested their whole lives in their businesses.” He said the city encouraged investment in the area, which used to be called an “economic development zone. Now this change of emphasis causes a problem.” He said if the neighborhood is going to get rid of all of its industrial zoning, it should be done through a long-term plan. Making the whole area single-family housing could lead to gentrification, he said.

Barrett said there is a larger practical reason for neighborhood planners to look closely at the Govalle situation. “We’re trying to find out whether this will be an issue to several (other) areas of the city because I think our response needs to be based on whether this is a larger issue” or if it only applies to Govalle.”

Ginny Agnew, chair of the Ethics Review Commission, said she will be writing a letter to Rangel to let her know the necessary procedures to file a formal sworn complaint. She said the commission cannot even make an evaluation of whether there might be an ethical violation until the sworn complaint is done. The panel does not have the authority to investigate any complaint not sworn to and filed with the City Clerk’s Office, Agnew said.

Historic commission plans

Changes to city ordinance

Streamlined process planned

A rewritten ordinance streamlining the criteria for a city historic landmark designation will soon be presented to both the Planning Commission and the Austin City Council.

Recommendations for the proposed rewrite were approved at a special, called Historic Landmark Commission meeting this week. The revamped ordinance will include both a revision of designation criteria and a rewrite of the owner appeals process.

“This emerged out of a letter (historic preservation officer) Barbara (Stocklin) prepared for staff and council when we started to run into our more painful cases,” Commissioner Laurie Limbacher told her colleagues. Limbacher is head of the operations subcommittee. “Some of the cases were with owner opposition. Some were cases that were emotional and difficult.”

The operations subcommittee has spent almost a year rewriting the ordinance. The goal was a better tool with clearer direction for applicants, Limbacher said. Changes in the language of the ordinance should also make it easier for city staff to interpret and enforce it. Recent cases before the commission have witnessed applicants either willfully or inadvertently circumventing historic preservation.

The commission established three new standards for historic landmark designation: The building must be 50 years old; the structure must retain enough integrity or materials and design to convey the appearance of a historic property; and the property must meet two of six important criteria designated by the commission.

The subcommittee pared the previous list of 13 separate criteria down to 6 thematic categories, of which only natural or designed landscape with historic significance is new. They are as follows:

• Current Recognition of Historical/Architectural Significance- The property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places or has been formally recognized by the Texas Historical Commission as being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It can also be a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark or have been designated as a State Archeological Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission.

• Architectural or Artistic Significance – This encompasses six categories or characteristics, including distinguishing architecture, technological innovation in design, features of ethnic or folk art, an example of work by a noted architect, a rare example of architectural style, or a visible relationship to other architecturally significant structures.

• Association with Persons, Groups, Institutions, Businesses or Events of Historical Significance – Under this category, the structure’s architecture must be associated with a significant group or institution or be representative of a group or culture during a particular historical era.

• Archeological Significance – The property has or is expected to yield significant data concerning the human history or prehistory of the region.

• Community Value – This would include representations of cultural, economic or social heritage, as well as other special features in a unique structure that gives character to the city.

• Natural or Designed Landscape – Under the new criteria, historic areas or parks would qualify for designation. Mount Bonnell or Mayfield Park, for instance, could fall under this category as long as no significant modern structures are located in the natural or designed landscape.

The commission wrestled with neatly defining the criterion for community value. Some commissioners had difficulty pinning objective criteria on a property that is "a demonstrated source of community sentiment or public pride." Commissioner Teresa O'Connell suggested a community petition process as one objective measure, but commissioners ultimately decided other categories provided failsafe measures.

Next week, In Fact Daily will cover the two-step appeal process for city-initiated historic landmark cases, as well as review new guidelines for commission approval of historic designation with owner opposition.

The ordinance should reach the Planning Commission next month, Stocklin said. It's anticipated that a draft will go before the Council in March or April. Those who want a copy of the draft ordinance can call Stocklin at 499-2414 or e-mail her at barbara.stocklin@ci.austin.tx.us.

Round Rock seeks help

To plan economic future

Angelou Economic Advisors hired

Angelou Economic Advisors (AEA) has been hired to provide Round Rock leaders with fresh strategies to lure new business to Austin's rapidly growing neighbor.

The company made its first presentation on an updated Economic Development Strategy Action Plan at last night's Round Rock City Council work session. AEA will be working with city leaders and a 19-member economic development advisory board over the next five months. Public meetings and a web site to announce the advisory board's progress will be announced in the near future.

“We're looking for a lot of public input into this process,” said Round Rock spokesman Will Hampton. “We'll be looking at the kind of industry that makes sense for our community.”

Round Rock’s attractive sales tax abatements and property tax incentives lured a small-but-growing Dell Computer to the city in 1994. Today, the computer giant provides $12 million to the city's coffers each year, close to 40 percent of the city's sales tax revenue. City leaders are grateful, but they realize that one company cannot carry the entire city.

“We are definitely looking at diversifying our tax base and employment base,” said Nancy Yawn, director of public affairs and business development for the city. “We're very fortunate to have the tax base that we have, but our dependency upon one company is what we're looking to diversify.”

Economic development in Round Rock has been a joint function of the city and the chamber of commerce over the last three decades. Yawn said the city did have an initial economic development report drafted in 1989, which AEA updated in the mid-1990s. The cost of this new contract—$70,000—will be split between the city of Round Rock and the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce.

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

Signatures for election petitions . . . An alert reader pointed out that the maximum number of signatures needed on a petition for a City Charter election is only 20,000 or five percent of the electorate, whichever is less. Previously, a city staff member had said petitioners needed to present 51,000 signatures. As to the timing of any city election, that’s more complicated. Assistant City Attorney John Steiner said the City Council can call an election up to 45 days before the election date. However, all elections involving election regulations are subject to review by the US Justice Department. The feds have 60 days during which to object to an election, approve it, or ask for more time to review it, he said. If enough signatures were presented to force a Charter election in early June, for instance, the Council would have to hold the election on the next regularly scheduled election date, which is the second Saturday in August. That might be inconvenient if the Council wants to hold a single-member district election in November, because Charter elections can only be held once every two years, he said . . . City closing Monday . . . City offices will be closed Monday in honor of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. In Fact Daily will not be published on Monday for the same reason. No city board or commission meetings will be scheduled either . . . Watershed Spring Cleaning . . . The city’s Watershed Protection Department and the Travis County Agricultural Extension Office want to improve water quality in the Stillhouse Hollow area of Northwest Hills. Officials hope to educate area residents about use of fertilizers and how they raise nitrate levels threatening the environmentally-sensitive Northern Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. Nitrates average about 6 mg./liter at Stillhouse Hollow spring. Nitrates are measured at only about 1 mg./liter at Barton Springs, the city reports. For more information, contact Kathy Shay at 499-2446 . . . Helping kids . . . Mayor Kirk Watson will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. today at the Gazebo at Auditorium Shores. Representatives of the Austin Community Foundation, CASA, the Children’s Advocacy Center and the Children’s Shelter will join the Mayor to discuss public involvement in efforts to protect children . . . Community Action meeting . . . The Community Action Network Resource Council is scheduled to meet at 12:30 p.m. today at the AISD Board Room, 1111 W. 6th Street.

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

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