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Planning Commission likes

Wednesday, January 31, 2001 by

St Michael's plan for PUD

Variances granted in spirit of ordinances

Planners of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church won a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission last night on changes to their PUD (Planned Unit Development) on Loop 360. The original PUD was part of Davenport West and subject to the Loop 360 Ordinance, which has since been replaced by the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance. The old PUD, approved in 1988, allowed buildings to be set back from the road 75 feet.

Don Bosse of Bosse Compton & Turner, said his plan would protect the property’s hilltop from development, but he needed an extra 25 feet at the front of the property. In addition, Bosse requested deletion of right-of-way for a new street and an extra driveway on Loop 360.

Commissioner Sterling Lands, a minister, moved for approval of the variance request. Commissioner Ben Heimsath seconded the motion, adding an amendment to limit use to religious or civic purposes. Commissioner Robin Cravey made a substitute motion to instead accept the staff recommendation—to deny all but one of the applicant’s requests. The staff had recommended approval of the request to change the method of determining building heights to follow current regulations.

Commissioner Jean Mather gave Cravey his second, but no one else joined them in voting for the substitute motion. Commissioner Jim Robertson abstained from the discussion and voting.

Commissioner Silver Garza praised the creativity of the designers, noting that locating the buildings closer to the highway “actually hides them, as opposed to the other way around—where you push them up against a prominent point like that big mountain. I think they’ve an outstanding job.” Chair Betty Baker said, “In looking at this, I would rather see that steeple and a roof top than more of those big boxy buildings on 360.”

Mather said she might vote for the other variances if the church would agree to leave untouched a 50-foot buffer between the building and the roadway. Attorney Glenn Weichert said his clients would consent to that. He said the area would remain undisturbed even if the church had to place a building a few feet farther away from the road. Lands said, “I think there was some creative genius going on with the way they have attempted to preserve the hilltop, but they chose to move forward and enhance the appearance of it. This is a win-win situation for the Hill Country Ordinance” and the church.

Lands’ motion was approved on a vote of 6-2, with Mather and Cravey voting no.

Design Commission seeks

To assist City Hall architects

Discussion brings out thinking behind conceptual scheme

Austin’s Design Commission worked Monday night to craft recommendations for City Hall architects without interfering in the creative process of the project’s renowned lead architect, Antoine Predock.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the conceptual plan on Thursday. Chair Juan Cotera and Commissioners Phillip Reed and Eleanor McKinney did not work on the recommendations since they are members of the design team. Instead, they sat at the opposite end of the conference room table and fielded questions from their colleagues.

A drawing released to the public shows a rectangular building with a grand staircase leading off of a public plaza on the Cesar Chavez side of the building. There has been criticism of the schematic because the plaza seems much smaller than the stairs. New Commissioner Richard Weiss, attending his first meeting, said he saw the giant stairs “almost like bleachers, as a part of the public scape.” He and Commissioner Joan Hyde suggested raising the plaza. Weiss said the plaza “needs some kind of buffer from the traffic of Cesar Chavez.”

Hyde said, “The plaza seems small to me to begin with and the steps seem to make it smaller. We might want demonstrations on the plaza. If you had 300 people,” there might not be enough room.

Commissioner John Patterson, who led the discussion, said raising the plaza would create a physical barrier. He said the architects “want to have chance to extend the plaza across Cesar Chavez and onto the shore of Town Lake.” He said Predock had suggested “some kind of texture on the street to make the plaza seem bigger.”

Cotera explained why the architects had offered the stairs. “The thinking was that given the constraints—a 60-foot height and 115,000 square feet—the only solution is to only build on half the block and have a rectangle . . . let the plaza protrude into the building. The point of the stairs on the right side is that they’re really a series of landscaped terraces, with the risers being stone, but the treads being ground cover to sit on. They’re bleachers more in size, not steps. It’s kind of a gentle way of going up . . . In a very large gathering I would see people on those, everywhere.”

Reed said members of the city staff have drawings that show the Drake Bridge (1st Street) without the triangular piece he called “grackle island.” The island will effectively block the view of City Hall for drivers and pedestrians approaching from the south. He said the Texas Department of Transportation plans to build a high occupancy vehicle lane (HOV) from MoPac along Cesar Chavez. Since that is not appropriate in front of City Hall, Reed said there has been a suggestion that the lane could be depressed. The architects do not envision a major redesign of the bridge right away, but it could be done in the future in order to expand the plaza, Reed said. Several commissioners said there was a conflict between having the plaza and having a softscape—grass and trees—dominate the new building. The public has expressed a strong preference for the greener elements,

Patterson said he was “concerned about raising consternation (for the designers) . . . I now have (the) benefit of seeing the public forum the City of Austin provided. I watched the tape and listened very carefully.” He said he now understands the significance of the proposed tower in front of City Hall.

“The towers have a historical significance. They provided light, but they also provided a symbol for the city.” The towers, he said, helped the city to establish an urban quality. “This tower is proposed as an element of community symbols that mimics those historical structures. But my pure rote reaction is I think the tower is too large. In proportion to its context, I think it’s overwhelming,” he concluded.

McKinney, a landscape architect, said the City Council has ordered all city buildings to meet sustainability standards under a program called LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design). She said one way that the new City Hall might qualify for points toward LEED certification is by shading over 30 percent of the area. You can view the conceptual plan at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/cityhall/

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

CSC rumors . . . Howard Falkenberg, Austin spokesman for Computer Sciences Corp., dismisses rumors that CSC is considering not building on one of its three downtown lots. He said Tuesday that CSC is still expecting to put 3,500 people into 700,000 square feet of space on those prime blocks. “The ramp rate is just different” than originally anticipated . . . Unity Day . . . The Dorothy Turner Committee for Community Kwanzaa is hosting a Unity Day celebration Thursday at Doris Miller Auditorium, 2300 Rosewood Avenue, from 6-9 p.m. . . The celebration had been postponed on December 26 due to bad weather. The event is co-sponsored by City of Austin Eastside Story, Austin Energy, Parks and Recreation, Mitchie’s Fine Black Art Gallery, AT&T, Austin Heritage Council, Austin Revitalization Authority, and others . . . Update on Events Center . . . Austin City Council Members and Convention Center Director Bob Hodge will provide an update on the $48.3 million construction of the Lester E. Palmer Events Center and Parking Garage today at 3 p.m. Officials will unveil a new color sign for the complex, as well as renderings of the new buildings.

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