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Hyde Park Baptists sue to stop

Friday, February 23, 2001 by

Council action on garage

TRO hearing set for this afternoon

The Hyde Park Baptist Church has filed suit to prevent the City Council from hearing an appeal on a site plan for the church’s garage expansion. Travis County District Judge Darlene Byrne has set a hearing on the church’s request for a temporary restraining order for 4 p.m.today.

The City Council had scheduled a hearing on the matter for next Thursday. Members of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and Alliance to Save Hyde Park requested the hearing because they believe the new garage does not comply with their neighborhood plan. In its petition, Hyde Park Baptist claims that any right of appeal existing in 1990 has long since expired.

The church filed an application for a permit to build the multi-level garage last May. City staff approved the permit in December. Richard Suttle, attorney for the church, said under current law there is no right to appeal the issuance of the permit. “I’m saying that city ordinances don’t provide for an appeal to City Council of an administrative site plan. I will argue if there was an appeal back in 1990, it doesn’t apply now because Chapter 245 (state law) says the rules in effect when you file your permit are the rules that are applicable.”

At the courthouse on Thursday, Susan Moffat of the Alliance to Save Hyde Park said, “I am shocked and I do not think it is the Christian way to try to take citizens to court to challenge their due process rights. I would like to see this case decided on its merits in the appropriate venue, which is the City Council.” Moffat said her organization and the neighborhood association planned to intervene in the suit.

Neighborhood plan poses obstacle

To affordable housing project

Montopolis planners envision commercial development instead

The builder of a proposed affordable housing complex in Montopolis can expect to have a negative recommendation from the staff of the Development Review and Inspection Department (DRID) next week when his zoning request comes before the Planning Commission. That’s because the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan—which is awaiting consideration by the Planning Commission and the City Council—calls for commercial development on the property proposed for multi-family housing.

Last week, Senior Planner Don Perryman was set to tell the Planning Commission that he would recommend a zoning change from LO to LO-MU, which would allow about 300 apartment units to be built at 2201 Montopolis Drive. However, the commission decided to postpone hearing the case until next Tuesday.

The commission also postponed a hearing on the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan until March 27. Initially, Chair Betty Baker said she was reluctant to reschedule the hearing on the plan because she had heard that a Council Member had requested an indefinite postponement on it. However, Robert Heil, a neighborhood planner, said he did not believe the request was for an indefinite postponement. He said the plan should be ready for commission consideration at the end of March.

Perryman told In Fact Daily this week that a new policy would require him to make a negative recommendation on any zoning change that does not comply with “a balloted neighborhood plan that is waiting for approval by the City Council. We will not recommend it for three months,” he said. In other words, any plan that has received neighborhood approval will be given precedence over the wishes of landowners requesting zoning changes for a three-months period.

Contacted later, Council Member Raul Alvarez said he had requested a postponement of consideration of the neighborhood plan because, “I wanted to look at concerns raised by the residents.” Some of those concerns, he said, had to do with the process for writing the neighborhood plan. He said some Montopolis residents were asking why the plan was moving so quickly. Others wanted to know the meaning of mixed-use. He said he thought the city needed to get additional feedback before it goes to the Planning Commission. Alvarez said, “Just the fact that it’s slowed down has calmed people down.” He said he and his staff had requested a lot of information.

Estella Fabian, a Montopolis resident who works at the Dolores Catholic Church complained, “I didn’t think enough of the neighborhood was informed (about the plan). I had made numerous offers,” to have meetings at the church to inform residents, she said. Fabian said the city received only 139 responses from 2, 449 ballots sent out. Of those, Fabian said, 90 percent favored the plan, so many neighborhood residents thought the plan could not be changed.

Carol Barrett, in charge of neighborhood planning for the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, said the number of responses on a final survey would not determine the neighborhood plan. “I venture to say that’s a much stronger participation on any neighborhood issue than any other organization can claim for Montopolis.”

Jerry Harris of Brown McCarroll & Oaks Hartline, representing Wellington Interests, told the Planning Commission his client had “won the lottery,” and planned to build an affordable housing project with state bond money. He said a delay beyond next week could mean the loss of $15 million. “We have to be all the way done on May 8,” he said. Harris told In Fact Daily that 100 per cent of the living units would be set aside for people earning 50 per cent or less of the median family income.

Even though he has been told that staff will make a negative recommendation, Harris said “I think we’re going to plow ahead—because if we don’t, we’ll lose the bonds and the tax credits.” He said his client is scheduled to go before the bond board on April 18. “The options are to forge ahead or drop the thing right now.” In addition to the $15 million in bond financing, he said the project would receive $8 million in tax credit financing. If his client is not ready to proceed by May 8 he said the funding would go to a project in DeSoto.

Harris said it is his understanding that the neighborhood plan calls for the property to be developed commercially. He said some people are hoping that a Home Depot or similar store will want to move to that location.

Barrett said the neighborhood is wary of allowing too many apartment complexes in the area. “The (neighborhood planning) team has talked about wanting to preserve large tracts of land for commercial development. The team thinks a Home Depot would be a great addition to the neighborhood. I don’t think that kind of thinking is out of line. I know when the city was looking at some kind of rail . . . there was a potential for a light rail stop. When the neighborhood thinks about the future, they’re not limiting themselves to what does the market wants to do with this property today or tomorrow. They’re being asked to say what would the neighborhood like to see on this property over the next five to 10 years. I think they’re using a longer time frame.”

Consideration of the plan also was postponed to give the city’s Office of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development a chance to evaluate a 100-acre site owned by a group wanting to put a race track in Montopolis. Stuart Hersh, manager of the SMART Housing Program, said the City Council requested that his department evaluate that property and come back with a report by March 22. “So we asked the planning not to take up the neighborhood plan until then,” he said. Asked about the implications of the city’s not assisting a project that would receive state funding to build affordable housing, Hersh said, “They didn’t go through the kind of process we would have expected them to go through as a SMART Housing project.” He said the decision not to support the requested zoning change, however, was made because the zoning would not be consistent with the neighborhood plan.

Former Planning Commissioner Susana Almanza told In Fact Daily that she believes the ballot which residents received should have shown the Montopolis Drive site as commercial-mixed use, instead of just commercial. Almanza says many residents of the area would really prefer housing at that location, especially affordable housing. Almanza, director of PODER (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and Her Resources), said “We think it would be a big loss to all of Austin to lose those apartments and we feel like there should be an exemption for them.” Almanza pointed to the LifeWorks project on Grove, which was granted a zoning change in early December. “If it’s something that’s good for Austin, it’s not something we should take a chance of losing.”

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

Opposition to cops’ contract . . .The American Civil Liberties Union has started a campaign to defeat the proposed contract between the City of Austin and the Austin Police Association. A caller from the ACLU said, “We want you to know Austin police oversight proposals have been gutted in closed meetings between the city and police officers’ labor union.” The caller was urging citizens to contact City Council members and testify against the proposal when it comes before the Council . . . Cap Metro Workshop . . . Capital Metro is inviting Austinites to contribute to the agency’s next five-year plan. The workshop is Saturday from 9a.m. to 3p.m., with registration at 8:45 a.m.at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center. Call Gloria Vasquez at 389-7435 to RSVP . . . One less job . . . Jim Walker has told the Solid Waste Advisory Commission that he will be resigning soon. He is also a member of the city’s Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission. Walker said he can only serve on one commission under city rules. Walker has more than enough to do. He is also president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council and a leader in the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition.

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