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Council approves conceptual

Friday, February 2, 2001 by

Plan for Predock City Hall

Griffith seeking an additional review, votes no

There was a moment of levity during lead architect Antoine Predock’s presentation of the City Hall design when he turned to Austin City Council and said, “I’ve never felt so exposed in my life. It is so terminally democratic here.”

That drew a laugh from the audience at yesterday’s City Council meeting. During an hour-long presentation, Predock presented his case, once more, for a City Hall design that has drawn both friendly praise and outright ridicule in recent weeks.

Council Members ultimately approved the overall design process, but not before the group grilled Predock on just how and when input would be incorporated into the evolving design of the proposed City Hall and Plaza. When it came down to a vote, only Council Member Beverly Griffith could not sign on, saying she did not have a high enough comfort level as to what was and was not locked in at this point in the process.

The motion stated that the Council supported a number of basics on the building, including a site placement facing Town Lake that some business leaders opposed. The motion also committed the Council to the basic massing of office space, a commitment to retail on the first floor and access to the parking garage off Lavaca and Guadalupe streets. It also committed the architect to bring the design plans back to Council for review when the schematics are completed in late March.

Assistant City Manager Toby Futrell assured Council Members repeatedly during the meeting that the city was tracking input on the project. Beyond the basic like or dislike of the design, criticism of the project has included proper shading of the building, traffic calming measures needed on Cesar Chavez and its use of windows.

Speakers at the presentation—including the Austin AIA chapter and the Downtown Austin Alliance—urged the city to move forward with the design process. In his letter, AIA President Chris Noack urged Council to “stay the course and let the process work to completion.” Beverly Silas of the Downtown Austin Alliance said the design had received positive feedback from DAA and said the group would watch “with great interest how feedback is incorporated into the overall design of City Hall.”

Comments from community leaders were tame compared to the e-mails that Council Griffith distributed prior to the Council meeting. Those e-mails compared the design of the City Hall to the Brady Bunch House and that it is reminiscent of a phase that one architect labeled, “The New Brutality.”

One of the biggest criticisms of the building—and a concern of Griffith’s—is that at 115,000 square-feet it is simply too small. Patrick Goetz, a member of the Urban Transportation Commission, said he had seen supermarkets bigger than this City Hall. But Futrell insisted that the combination of three city-owned buildings—the new City Hall, One Texas Center and the Town Lake Center—will meet city needs.

Mayor Kirk Watson expressed some frustration at points during the discussion, especially when the conversation digressed into topics he considered to be resolved, such as the amount of space within the building and that the building would front the water. He said more than once that such discussions could derail the design process and mean “it’s going to take another 30 years before we get this done.”

Predock and Austin architect Juan Cotera assured Council Members that input would be considered and integrated into the schematic design. The Council also accepted a friendly amendment from Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman to try to establish an office along the Cesar Chavez corridor where a model of the building can be viewed and comments can be made.

Condos to cough up cash

For parkland dedication fund

Four Seasons to pay reduced fee

Developers of the Four Seasons condominium project have found being a part of the New Downtown to be a bit more expensive than they had anticipated.

The Four Seasons project is the first – and only downtown residential project to date – to pay the price of the city’s parkland ordinance. It did so because it’s the only downtown residential property to go through the process of a subdivision plat. The fee only applies during the subdivision process, so other downtown condominium projects have not been affected by the ordinance. Under the ordinance, the Four Seasons could have been required to pay over $2.7 million for parkland.

Art Carpenter of Maritz, Wolff & Co. argued that the Four Seasons was facing a heavy burden while other downtown residential projects were given a free ride. At a price tag of $2.7 million, each of the 129 units in the project was being assessed $22,400. Carpenter said he believed in parks, but not at such a high price. Downtown leaders agreed.

“We are greatly disturbed by the charging of the parkland fee in a downtown residential situation,” said executive director Charlie Betts of the Downtown Austin Alliance. “Any fee of this nature is a disincentive to residential development in downtown Austin.”

City staff was willing to cut the price to just under $200,000- – or roughly 5 percent of the proposed fee — but at least two Council Members were not willing to give up the ordinance so cheaply. Council Member Beverly Griffith, who drafted the original parkland ordinance, argued in favor of the full tab, given the fact that the land was pricier. She said, “We are all very aware of the industrial strength shortfall the parkland maintenance budget has. The price of (condominium) units is $300,000 to over $3 mil. It’s appropriate” that the developers pay the full amount.

Griffith read a letter from the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, which firmly supported the hefty fee. The organization pointed to a number of projects the fee could support, from erosion control on Waller Creek to the Town Lake hike-and-bike trail. Long-neglected Palm Park and Palm Pool were also noted. . “This is a good time to uphold the parkland dedication ordinance,” said Griffith, who held firm during discussions. “It’s been under siege (since) the night it was passed.”

Other Council Members fell more closely in line with the revised fee. Council Member Will Wynn pointed out that the $100 million project would already be bringing $500,000 to the city each year in taxes. Council Member Raul Alvarez agreed with the fee, saying the skewed land values downtown made calculating a fee unfair. Downtown, he said, was “its own peculiar animal.” Council Member Daryl Slusher said the full fee assessed on the Four Seasons was not equitable, given the large number of projects that had paid no fee at all.

Mayor Kirk Watson favored the motion, but had some concerns when Jesus Olivares, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, told him the fee was not limited to parkland purchases, but could also be spent on capital improvements. Watson insisted that was not the answer he had received previously from those in the park department.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman stood somewhere in the middle.She agreed that the full fee was too high, but proposing instead a substitute motion asking that the Four Seasons pick up the cost of retrofitting the city’s pool in neighboring Palm Park. Her substitute motion failed when the cost of the project could not be pinned down. Only Alvarez voted with Goodman.

Alvarez said he supported the move, but only because of the extreme need in which the neighborhood park finds itself. The original motion was approved 5-2, with Goodman and Griffith voting no. Goodman said the pricetag for the Four Seasons was not as equitable as it needed to be. The motion also included the promise to review the ordinance to see if it could be made more equitable among the various residential projects.

Mayor wants tighter controls

On citizens communications

Garza gets hefty raise

Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless, and Mayor Kirk Watson don’t always see things the same way. But they did agree yesterday that the man who stabbed three young people on 6th Street last week should not have been referred to merely as “homeless.” Troxell said the man was a “person with mental health problems” and argued that more mental health services are needed closer to those who need them. Watson agreed, adding, “When things like this happen, we need to take care . . . not to jump on political agendas.” The incident has been used to argue that Austin needs more police downtown, but the mayor said police were right across the street when it happened.

Troxell was late for his three-minute speech to the Council, but Watson recognized him when he came into the chambers and invited him to speak anyway. Several other peple who had requested time failed to appear yesterday. Watson said he wants a new policy on “citizens communications” because a number of “council regulars” have been signing up to speak and consistently failing to appear. Since only a limited number of citizens can be accommodated each week, he said, the Mayor wants to prevent repeat no-shows from signing up for a set period of time. He said he would be bringing forth his proposal within a few weeks.

City Manager Jesus Garza said “it felt great” when he found out the City Council agreed to give him a 10 percent pay raise, plus some new benefits. His base pay of $171,000 will go up by $17,100 to $188,100, and the city will now pay his Social Security, $8,200 in the coming year. Also, there will no longer be a cap on his accrued leave time. Up until now the amount of leave time he could accrue was capped at 320 hours (eight weeks).

Mayor Watson told Garza, “That vote represents the highest confidence in you.” Garza lauded his employees, saying, “The confidence the City Council expressed in me is confidence in the staff.”

The Council increased City Clerk Shirley Brown’s compensation package by $7,500 to give her an annual salary of $98,000, and also praised her work.

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

Ratliff to speak . . . Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff will be the speaker at RECA’s next general membership luncheon on March 2 . . . Charitable works . . . RECA presented Meals on Wheels with a $5,000 donation at Wednesday’s luncheon, proceeds from the group’s charity golf tournament . . . Airport advisors . . . The City Council voted 4-2-1 yesterday to adopt the controversial new ordinance regarding the airport advisory board for the second time. Because Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas voted no and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman abstained, the ordinance will come back for a third reading next week . . . Contributions Requested . . . Goodman appeared at a press conference Thursday with members of Austin’s Asian-American community to appeal for contributions to assist in the relief operations in India following the catastrophic earthquake there . . . More Music. . . The Hill Country Bar at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is adding a Thursday night live music performance to its schedule. The addition brings to four the venue’s weekly shows, each of which feature a singer/songwriter.

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