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City wins TRO hearing

Monday, February 26, 2001 by

Against Hyde Park church

City Council set to hear garage appeal Thursday

The City of Austin won Round One in its battle with the Hyde Park Baptist Church on Friday when District Judge Darlene Byrne refused to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the City Council from hearing an appeal on the church’s site plan for its parking garage. That appeal, which the church claims is illegal, will be heard on Thursday.

Hyde Park Baptist has one parking garage and an adjacent surface parking lot. The church wants to build a 5-story garage on the surface lot and connect it to the other garage. In order to connect the two, the church has to get permission from the city to vacate an alley. That matter is also on Thursday’s agenda. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA), the Alliance to Save Hyde Park and several individuals have asked the Council to hear the appeal.

Representing the church, Walter Mizzell of Brown McCarroll told Judge Byrne, “This has become a politically charged issue and the City Council has decided to inject itself into it.” Mizzell and co-counsel Richard Suttle of Armbrust, Brown & Davis, maintain that under the Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD) the site plan cannot be appealed after the staff has approved it. However, they were unable to convince the judge that Thursday’s hearing would create “an irreparable injury,” one of the prerequisites for a TRO.

Assistant City Attorney Dana Johnson said the plaintiffs have known about the disagreement over which law is applicable since last April and could have taken action sooner. She also pointed out that, “If this court issues a TRO, the plaintiffs can go out there and disturb the property.” Hyde Park Baptist’s lawyers did not say whether the church intended to begin construction immediately.

Since the restraining order is a tool for maintaining the status quo, Byrne said, she had to weigh the harm of having a hearing versus the harm of beginning construction. “Digging starts a direction that is a little bit more irreversible,” she said. After the hearing, Suttle told In Fact Daily that the church did not intend to begin work on the garage until after the lawsuit is over.

The city and the church are really arguing over interpretation of the city’s ordinances. Johnson argued that the city’s Land Development Code allows an appeal to the Planning Commission and then to the City Council. The NCCD, which modifies the Land Development Code when applied to Hyde Park, states that an appeal would go directly to the City Council.

The church claims that the appeal referenced in the NCCD is not about the new 5-story garage, but about the surface parking lot at the same location on Avenue D.

In a previous story, In Fact Daily stated incorrectly that the neighborhood was appealing the site plan because it does not match the Neighborhood Plan. Moffat said neighbors are appealing “because (the site plan) violates the Hyde Park NCCD and the city’s Land Development Code.” In general terms, neighbors object to the size and scale of the building. HPNA is the only group that has currently filed as an intervenor in the lawsuit. The Alliance to Save Hyde Park is watching the situation, but has not intervened, Moffat said. Rachel Rawlins of George & Donaldson and Brad Rockwell of Scanlan Buckle & Young are representing HPNA.

If the church loses the appeal on Thursday, Suttle said the congregation does intend to go forward with the lawsuit

Some neighbors want road

Closed through Zilker Park

Parks Board supports changes for road

How pedestrians and motorists can co-exist on the segment of Barton Springs Road through Zilker Park has been debated at two city commissions and one neighborhood association recently.

Barton Springs Road, by its very nature, pits pedestrians and cyclists against motorists. The road cuts the city’s most popular park in half with no clear mandate for pedestrian crossings. Traffic, especially during events such as summer soccer tournaments and the winter Trail of Lights, has a difficult time crossing the bisected park. At the same time, it serves as one of the few expedient east-west arterials through the city’s core, with at least 25,000 vehicles using the roadway each day.

The Zilker Neighborhood Association’s solution is fairly simple. The neighborhood association wants to see Barton Springs Road through Zilker Park closed to motorized vehicle traffic and designated as a “park” road, neighborhood vice president Lorraine Atherton told the Urban Transportation Commission (UTC) in a letter last week. She told the UTC she supported a resolution approved by the Parks and Recreation Board, one that was reviewed but not supported by the UTC last Tuesday night.

“I would like to emphasize that we have people in the neighborhood who would like to see Barton Springs Road closed to car traffic through Zilker Park, and a whole lot of people who would like to be able to walk across the street,” Atherton told the commissioners on Tuesday night. “We don't feel all that strongly about any particular solution, but we would really like to see the parks people and the public works people get together and manage traffic.”

The Parks Board does have a set of solutions it wants to study for Barton Springs Road, especially in light of a recent pedestrian death. In December, the board asked the public works department to review the feasibility of a number of traffic calming measures on Barton Springs Road. They include:

• Limiting motorized vehicle traffic on this segment of Barton Springs Road to one lane in each direction, with shoulders at bus stops and the remaining road space for bicycle lanes and a median. • Reducing the speed limit on this segment of Barton Springs Road to 20 miles per hour and adding traffic calming devices as necessary to keep traffic to a safer speed. • Identifying four pedestrian crossing points on this segment of Barton Springs Road, with appropriate markings and curb cuts. • Reclassifying this segment of Barton Springs Road as a park road, rather than an arterial. • The changes would apply only to Barton Springs Road between Robert E. Lee and Mopac. The Zilker Neighborhood Association recently completed a traffic calming study of its neighborhood, but Barton Springs Road was not included because it is classified as an arterial.

UTC Commissioner Tommy Eden presented the resolution to the UTC. Commissioners expressed empathy about the problems faced on the roadway, but some questioned how realistic some of those measures would be. As Commissioner Michelle Brinkman pointed out, Barton Springs Road is so heavily used that closing it to traffic—or even closing one of the two lanes in each direction to serve as a hike-and-bike trail—would likely be impractical. Brinkman also questioned the speed limit proposal. State law requires speed limits be posted on the 85 percent rule: the speed limit must reflect what 85 percent of the motorists using the roadway are driving. The average speed on a roadway is presumed to be the safe speed on a roadway, Brinkman said. Any slower speed limit would be counterintuitive and subject to legal challenge, she added.

Atherton countered that the Austin Police Department is failing to enforce the current speed limit on the roadway. She claimed that the neighborhood association had a letter from Chief Stan Knee saying that police officers would not stop anyone on Barton Springs Road driving less than 40 miles per hour.( It is standard police policy not to ticket motorists who are driving less than nine miles over the speed limit, except in school zones.)

That section of Barton Springs Road already has flashing lights to drop the speed limit from 35 to 20 miles per hour during events and on weekends, department engineer Richard Kroger pointed out to commissioners. He also added that the city had no classification of “park road” in its classification of roadway types. The city has collectors, arterials or freeways in either major or minor categories, according to its classification scheme.

Kroger, staff liaison to the UTC, also pointed out that pedestrian crosswalks had already been studied for Zilker Park, but that the road did not reach the threshold to warrant the crossings. To warrant a pedestrian crossing, a stretch of road must have 100 pedestrian-crossings an hour for four hours, or 190 pedestrian crossings in an hour.

Austinite Steve Rogers was on hand to argue in favor of the study, saying that the city might as well divide Zilker into two parks if a good pedestrian crossing can’t be implemented. Once someone has parked on one side of the park, he told commissioners, it’s almost impossible to get across the road.

Studying the project would do no harm, Rogers said. Commissioner Patrick Goetz, however, went a step further and proposed a substitute motion the commission eventually supported. He asked the city to place two raised flashing pedestrian pavement crossings—like those in front of the Austin Energy building on Barton Springs—in the park. The crossings cost $52,000 each. Goetz proposed that the crossings be placed at the main entrance to the park and at the entrance to the botanical gardens.

“I would rather pass something that is going to have an effect than to sit here and rubber stamp something that isn’t going to do something,” Goetz said. “This needs to be safer.”

Goetz’s substitute resolution passed on a 3-2-1 vote, with Eden and vice chair Dana Lockler voting no and Scheleen Walker abstaining. Chair Jay Wyatt was absent from the meeting.

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

Moving on . . . Mario Espinosa has left his position as Vice President of Governmental Relations for Austin Energy and will begin his new job at the Lower Colorado River Authority March 5. Espinosa will be joining the agency’s Governmental Affairs and Community Relations Department as manager of public affairs . . . ROAD and RECA singing in harmony . . . The board of directors of the Real Estate Council of Austin has approved a lengthy resolution urging Capital Metro to put more money into highway projects. RECA says Cap Metro should find “not less than $200 million” for roads. Following that announcement, we received a press release from ROAD (Reclaim Our Allocated Dollars) applauding the resolution . . . Speaking of transportation . . . The Texas Travel Industry Association is bringing 1,000 of their members to Austin today for their annual Unity Dinner at the Austin Convention Center. The group will also be talking about the future of Texas transportation . . . Mardi Gras party . . . Supporters of County Court at Law Judge Gisela Triana are invited to Miguel’s La Bodega for a fundraiser Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

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