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City cites developer for

Friday, March 9, 2001 by

Alleged habitat destruction

Balcones Canyonland Preserve bulldozed

For the second time in two years, the City of Austin has filed criminal charges against a developer for ripping out natural habitat without proper authority, this time on city land. Charges were filed against Peter Kehle, president of Lake Austin West, L.P., for soil erosion and permit violations.

The Watershed Protection Department filed three class C misdemeanor criminal charges against the developer for allegedly bulldozing a 700-foot long, 25-foot wide swath of Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat in Balcones Canyonland Preserve (BCP). According to the Municipal Court Clerk's office, charges were filed Wednesday for soil erosion violations.

“We have filed action in Municipal Court,” said Raul Calderon, who specializes in Parks and Recreation Department issues with the city's legal department. “They had engaged in construction by grading and clearing without having gotten the proper permit,” he said.

Don Koehler, manager of BCP, said Kehle was red tagged last week for destroying Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat and the city chose to “go after mitigation . . . It was decided they would go after (him) and go to court." Marisol Claudio-Ehalt, head of the Environmental Inspection Department, said the city issued a stop work order to Kehle last week.

Kehle, who owns nearly 60 acres adjacent to BCP, allegedly cut off the lock on a city-installed gate on Kollmeyer Drive and went in with trucks and a bulldozer to clear land along an easement to access his property. The easement running through BCP land gives Kehle legal access to the property, but clearing and grading BCP land without permission went beyond his rights, according to city officials.

“It's kind of mystifying to me because he always had his own lock,” Koehler said. “He was obviously trying to make a point,” he added.

The gate on Kollmeyer Drive is about a quarter mile down the road from RM 620 on the western edges of Austin. Koehler said the gate was put in by the city to prevent access to the preserve. From the gate, the dirt road goes down through BCP land to Lake Austin.

“He had the legal right but didn’t give proper notice,” Koehler said, noting Kehle would have needed to apply for a permit 60 days in advance for any kind of development on the land. Kehle actually cut two swaths along easements in the area, he said. The 700-foot long swath was across the Double J&T Ranch section of BCP, he said, and a 60-foot wide, half-mile path was cleared on adjacent Medway Ranch.

Kehle owns almost 60 acres of the Medway Ranch tract, according to nearby resident Tom Evans. Evans said Kehle withdrew his subdivision application from the city on Feb. 26, to prevent city inspectors from coming out to his land, and on Feb. 28, he cut the lock on the gate and entered the property with “a number of trucks, a bulldozer and a shredder.”

In February of 1999 Kehle was charged with 15 criminal misdemeanor counts relating to erosion, permit violations and disturbing land near Lake Austin. Later that year, Kehle's company at the time, THLM Inc., agreed to pay $4,500 in fines for erosion, water quality and permit violations.

Kehle did not return calls from In Fact Daily on Thursday.

Bill Seawell, assistant field supervisor for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said perhaps Kehle didn’t give proper notice, "but you can't say they don't have a right to that property."

Council votes against plan

For Hyde Park Church garage

Watson, Thomas dissent

On a vote of 5-2, the City Council yesterday voted to deny the Hyde Park Baptist Church the chance to build a multi-story parking garage at Avenue D and 39th Street. Only Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Danny Thomas voted against the site plan appeal by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA).

The Council heard hours of argument last week over the meaning of a 1990 ordinance concerning the church’s ability to build in the neighborhood. That hearing followed hours of contentious testimony from Eastside citizens over the question of renaming Rosewood Avenue after activist Dorothy Turner.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said she wanted the lawyers for both sides to answer some questions before making a decision. Goodman posed the following question: “If there was no agreement on the garage, was there discussion, assumption or expectation as to how this would be dealt with?”

Susan Moffat of the HPNA and Rachael Rawlins, attorney for the association, answered that sworn affidavits from the neighborhood team “show that HPNA representatives never agreed to waive building or impervious cover limits, and that no further decision-making took place after the final recorded meeting where the motion for a ‘mirror image’ parking garage failed. Ben Heimsath, speaking on record at the July 18, 2001, Planning Commission meeting, corroborated these statements, saying negotiators believed garage development details would be ‘for a later group to have to resolve.’”

Richard Suttle, attorney for the church, wrote, “The Church’s position is that the (Neighborhood Conservation ordinance) clearly sets out the ‘building envelope’ for a garage like the one city staff has approved and released. It is not a mirror image of the existing garage.” Suttle said the garage does comply with the compatibility standards set forth in the ordinance.

During Council conversations about the garage, Council Member Will Wynn said it was unclear from the record what exactly the church and the neighborhood had agreed would be built. Wynn said he had spent much of the afternoon trying to work out a compromise that both sides could agree to. However, he said if the church negotiators believed that they had an agreement for what they now wish to build, it was their job in 1990 to make sure that the record would reflect the details of that agreement.

Following the vote, Rawlins said the neighborhood and the church tried to reach an agreement earlier in the day but could not. She said HPNA is still willing to negotiate with the church if that is what the church chooses to do.

Suttle said “We offered to shrink the size and increase setbacks, add landscaping and change access, but they weren’t interested. I think we’re going to evaluate all of our options, including pursuing our lawsuit.”

Rawlins said the church had only offered to decrease the height of the garage by six feet. She said the other concessions offered by the church were insufficient.

Council approves 3-year police

Contract after lengthy hearing

Alvarez votes no, while Griffith abstains

After hearing from a crowd of unhappy citizens, the City Council voted 5-1-1 to ratify a contract accepted Wednesday night by members of the Austin Police Association. Council Member Raul Alvarez voted against the three-year contract, while Council Member Beverly Griffith abstained. Most of the 118 people who signed up to speak on the matter urged the Council to reject the pact because of differences between the contract and recommendations from the Police Oversight Focus Group (POFG).

The basic message from the crowd, including a number of members of the POFG, was that the civilian oversight function set forth in the contract was insufficient. Several speakers said the system, which includes a lawyer acting as monitor and a board of citizens who will review complaints is a step backward.

The City Manager will hire the monitor and an assistant monitor. They will review any complaint that is not resolved by the Internal Affairs division to the satisfaction of the complainant, is serious enough to involve civil rights violations or shows a pattern of abuse.

Mayor Kirk Watson began the discussion, saying, “ This is one of those decisions that’s hard to make. Public safety needs to be a top priority of the community.” He said citizens need not only to be safe, but also to feel safe. “I had great hopes for this process as we went into meet and confer and I think real good progress was made.” He pointed to the contract’s incentives for education, increased salaries to keep good officers on the job and incentives for officers to learn other languages as major .

“The oversight process is unprecedented . . . We’ve never had an oversight system, a monitor, or a civilian review process,” Watson said. “I think this is a major step. I think this is particularly a major step where there is buy-in (by the police). That helps get us to better oversight than by adopting something that is fought. My biggest concern remains with the oversight part.”

One of the concerns expressed by those testifying was that City Manager Jesus Garza would appoint both the monitor and the citizen board, not the City Council. Watson said he had discussed the matter with Garza and the manager had agreed to make appointments from a pool of candidates submitted by the Council.

Council Member Beverly Griffith made a motion to reject the civilian monitor as set up in the contract and substitute the proposal from the POFG. “I certainly agree that this is a really critical, pivotal time in our history. We are building a foundation of oversight,” she said. “We’re creating a new institution that will last for decades and citizens have wanted it for decades. Some of our citizens have said let’s build it right from the beginning.” The focus group recommended a citizen board appointed by and reporting to the City Council.

City Attorney Andy Martin said Griffith’s motion would lead to a violation of the City Charter. The charter specifies the few employees the City Council hires directly. The rest are hired by and answer to the City Manager. Council Member Danny Thomas then made a substitute motion to ratify the contract as approved by the APA.

“I appreciate the POFG for their hard work and I appreciate their concerns,” he said, adding that he has his own concerns with civilian oversight. But the former officer reminded the audience, “We need to look at where we came from. I was on the inside for 21 years. I had some struggles.”

Thomas said, “We do have our share of bad officers. This is a tool we need to take and as each year goes we need to enhance it and make it better . . . There are problems. But if we don’t come together and work these out, they’ll never get solved. The police department is what we make of the police department. To take care of the bad officers, we have to start somewhere. Overall, I’m not satisfied, but at least we have something we can start from.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman tried to amend the motion to call for an August charter election, so that future City Councils could appoint either the monitor or the panel. Martin warned that such an action was not part of Thursday’s agenda and could be seen as a violation of the Open Meetings Act. However, he offered to assist Goodman in crafting language to put the item on the March 22 agenda.

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

Faux Pas . . . Sam Allison of the Downtown Austin Alliance spoke to the City Council Thursday in support of the new anti-panhandling ordinance, but managed to raise the ire of Mayor Kirk Watson. Allison came to say the DAA sees aggressive solicitation as a problem, adding that he personally tells family and friends that giving money to a homeless solicitor is the same as giving money to a drug dealer. The mayor told Allison he was personally offended by his remarks. “The idea that someone who, for whatever reason has had a disturbing event in their life—from alcohol or drug addiction or battered by a spouse or as a result of mental illness—finds himself without a home and, in a non-threatening way exercises his right to solicit a small amount of money from someone on the street—that does not mean that you are doing no more than giving money to a drug dealer.” Lucy Buck, a spokesperson for the alliance, later said the DAA officially favors the ordinance. However, the rest of Allison’s remarks were his personal opinion, not the position of the DAA . . . NASA at the library . . . David High, NASA’s ambassador for the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)-Shoemaker Mission will make presentations at three branch libraries on Saturday. High will present an animated film and talk about the Eros Asteroid at the branch library at 5500 Manchaca Road at 11 a.m., at Cepeda Branch, 651 North Pleasant Valley Road at 1 p.m., and at Oak Springs Branch, 3101 Oak Springs Dr. at 3 p.m.

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