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Bradley legislation riles

Thursday, March 29, 2001 by

Environmental groups

Filing of bill without city consent may violate settlement agreement

Developer Gary Bradley’s decision to proceed with filing legislation for a development district in Hays County before the Austin City Council approves the measure has provoked strong reactions. Last night, the Austin Neighborhoods Council passed a resolution urging the City Council to reject Bradley’s proposal, take court action, and “vigorously oppose this plan at the State Legislature . . .” ANC joined a growing list of community organizations opposing the legislation, including the Save Our Springs Alliance, the Save Barton Creek Association, the Hays County Water Planning Partnership, and the Austin Sierra Club.

House Bill 3644, filed Tuesday by Rep. Rick Green (R-Hays County) would allow Bradley to levy a two-cent sales tax, issue bonds, and exercise eminent domain, even within the boundaries of the City of Austin. Bradley sent copies of the legislation to members of the City Council Monday and Tuesday. The measure was filed Tuesday. (The legislation that was filed may not be identical to what was sent to the Council, but it is difficult to determine, since the two are numbered differently.)

Council Member Will Wynn responded in a letter to Bradley on Tuesday. “In reviewing the settlement (agreement) last night I came across the “Special Districts” paragraph . . .I read it to say that you will not seek a taxing district (among others) without the prior written consent of the City of Austin. If that’s the case, have you requested that consent? If so, we will move on it. However, I suspect it will take us some time to formally respond.”

Bradley, apparently responding to Wynn’s letter, wrote to City Attorney Andy Martin, “I sent you the initial drafts of the proposed legislation about a month ago for your review. Since that time, several other stakeholders, such as elected officials from Hays County have given me additional input and suggested changes to the legislation. Hopefully, all of their suggestions have been incorporated into the legislation. Therefore, I now believe it would be appropriate for the Austin City Council to take a formal position regarding the proposed legislation.”

In the letter, Bradley says he will appear before the Council to answer any questions. “I fully intend to honor the Settlement Agreement. If the Council votes against the proposed legislation, I will withdraw it immediately.” The letter was faxed to City Council offices on Wednesday, but is dated March 27. Bradley’s letter also requests that the Council consider the legislation next Thursday.

Last March, the Council approved an agreement with Bradley and related entities, settling litigation and outlining land use and zoning restrictions for the Spillar Ranch, Pfluger tract and other tracts that make up the more than 3,000 acres covered by the agreement. In the agreement Bradley promised never to seek formation of a development district without the prior written consent of the City. The legislation covers the Spillar Ranch section of Bradley’s land, where he plans to build a hotel and golf course.

Council Member Beverly Griffith said, “On the face of it, the agreement’s been violated. What I am asking for is a side by side comparison of what the Water Quality Protection Zone act would do and what this one would do. I’m wondering if, functionally, there’s a lot of difference—which would be city services without any regulation.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher agreed that filing the bill prior to City Council approval was a violation of the settlement agreement. He also pointed out that the bill does not give any money to Hays County and provides only 10% of the district’s tax revenues “for the purpose of promoting education in the county.” Slusher said that when the agreement was signed, Bradley was proposing to dedicate a certain percentage of the tax to the county and another portion to the school district. Neither entity is specifically named in the bill to receive funds.

Slusher said that at the time the agreement was signed Bradley had talked about charging a one-half cent sales tax through a district that would not require legislative authorization. Such a development district could be created if Hays County and the city both agreed, he said.

Council Member Raul Alvarez said he had not had a chance to analyze the bill, which he received Tuesday. He said, “I’m not ready to take action on it next week. I want more time to look at it, and really evaluate it.” Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said she had not had time to analyze the bill either. Kristen Vassallo, chief of staff for Mayor Kirk Watson, said that they also have not yet finished reviewing the measure.

Craig Smith, vice president of the Save Barton Creek Association, authored two resolutions, which were approved by the organization’s board Monday night. Smith said one of the motions dealt with the fact that Bradley had not sought the city’s permission for the legislation, in violation of the agreement. The second motion urges the City Council not to consent to such a district because it would encourage development in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. Smith is also president of the board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. He said the district has not yet taken a position on the matter. The next meeting of the board is scheduled for April 12.

Smith said he believes that it is generally not a good idea for taxpayers to subsidize development. In addition, he said many people are upset about the idea of Bradley acquiring eminent domain power. “It’s not the first time that he has sought governmental power—and he got it before—until the (Water Quality Protection Zone) act was declared unconstitutional. So in the words of our great President Ronald Reagan, ‘There he goes again.’”

Erin Foster, chair of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership, noted, “It’s the power of eminent domain—even outside the district—that really scares me.” She said Bradley wants to condemn land to build an extension of Highway 45. “Why does Gary always need something special?”

Mueller RFQ nearly ready

City hopes for site visit in May or June

Redevelopment of the 709-acre Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site is another step closer to realization as the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Implementation Commission finishes its work on a request for qualifications for a master developer. The Request for Proposal should go out to developers on April 9.

“What we’re hoping to get out of this is a good document that draws a good pool of applicants,” said Jim Walker, chair of the implementation commission. “I think the RFQ, as it’s written, is good.” The RFQ document, which outlines the requirements for Mueller’s key developer, will help the city choose the right master developer for the long-awaited project. The city’s timeline is to pick a pool of developers for a site visit by May or June. Those developers will be asked to submit a request for business proposal.

That proposal would outline issues such as the ratio of selling to leasing, incentives for affordable housing and the split on the cost of infrastructure development. The total cost of preparing the site for development is estimated at between $79 million and $98 million, which will include road and utility infrastructure and demolition of existing airport structures. “Who will pay for the infrastructure will be negotiated in the request for proposal stage,” Walker said. “Obviously, from the developer’s standpoint it’s going to be based upon how they can maximize their profit while they minimize their risk. I think we go into this knowing we must negotiate how we can achieve this master plan while allowing the developer to achieve his goals, too.”

By October or November, the Austin City Council should be ready to formally select a master developer.

Design Group is a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use community with commercial and residential components. The target mix is five million square feet of office space and 300,000 square feet of retail space, as well as 4,000 apartments, condominiums and homes. The master developer would lead other developers in the revitalization of the former airport site.

The Mueller master plan, which is expected to unfold across 20 years, includes three master-planned neighborhoods, as well as community facilities and a mixed-use town center. More than 160 acres would be devoted to green space. Plans also include sites for an elementary school and municipal buildings.

The city commission also has put a strong emphasis on affordable housing, with the intention of mixing housing for all income levels across the site. The commission is still discussing the specific qualifications the master developer must meet, but would like to find someone who has both experience working with large-scale publicly-owned real estate and the financial resources to make a long-term commitment to the city.

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

ZAP moving ahead . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said Wednesday that she intends to proceed with her proposal to create a Zoning and Platting Commission at today’s City Council meeting. A majority of the Planning Commission asked Tuesday that the Council postpone consideration of the matter until the two bodies could meet. Goodman pointed out that the commission could have spent more time on the matter if they had not been overburdened with zoning and subdivision cases . . . Drinking Water requests . . . The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority is holding a press conference at 5 p.m. in San Marcos to get the word to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission that the GBRA should be allowed to serve users outside its district. In its media advisory the GBRA warns that “drinking water supplies could be in serious jeopardy” for several areas, including Kyle and Buda . . . Roads closed . . . The KVET Bar-B-Q festival will close Trinity Street from 12th to 15th Streets from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday. Numerous area streets will be closed for the Junior Dillo Kids Run, beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday at Auditorium Shores. On Sunday, the Capitol 10,000 will close Riverside from Lamar to Bouldin from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Congress Avenue Bridge will also be closed Sunday morning.

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