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Council says nothing on

Friday, March 23, 2001 by

Subdivision proposals

Planning Commission version vs. staff version

The City Council last night adjourned without comment or discussion of dueling ideas for a new subdivision ordinance after listening to about an hour of citizens’ remarks. Austan Librach, Director of the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, presented both staff recommendations and recommendations from the Planning Commission. The most important difference between the two is that department staff would provide incentives for reducing residential street lengths and widths, improved pedestrian connections and elimination of dead-end streets, while the commission recommended that changes be mandatory.

Librach told In Fact Daily that his staff will be working on an ordinance for the incentive-based proposal, which the staff favors. He said he expects to bring that proposal back to the Council in 30-60 days. The mandatory proposal has already been written.

and Dave Sullivan, former Planning Commissioners, led proponents of a plan to make all new subdivisions comply with the shorter block lengths and other aids to street connectivity. Both served on a commission committee that made the recommendations that the Planning Commission then endorsed.

University of Texas planner Kent Butler told the Council that the proposal for mandatory grid patterns for subdivisions would increase impervious cover and add some costs to the apparent price of new homes. However, with better planning and smaller lot sizes, he said he had determined that the ordinance could make lots cheaper by $32 each.

Janice Cartwright of the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) asked the Council to allow, but not to mandate, changes to the ordinance. She said her organization had determined that the grid pattern would increase costs by $2,000-$3,000 per home. Pete Winstead, former president of RECA and chairman of the Texas Turnpike Authority, said both proponents and opponents are headed towards the same goal—they just disagree on how to get there.A third RECA spokesman, Dominic Chavez, said, “Do not lock the poorest Austinites out of affordable housing.”

Butler said that the staff proposal for incentive-based changes to the ordinance is “well meaning, (but) fundamentally wrong.” He agreed with Winstead that both sides are headed for the same goal. Developers have not voluntarily opted for the TND (traditional neighborhood development) which offers a number of the same elements as both proposals.

Mayor Kirk Watson called for a motion to adjourn the meeting immediately after the hearing. (See In Fact June 1, June 8, June 15, July 14 and Sept. 15, 1999).

On Sept. 14, 1999, the Planning Commission rejected the “optional alternative” approach to making new subdivisions more like the grid structure of Hyde Park and other traditionally designed neighborhoods.

Traffic around CSC could be less

Snarled by November, Librach says

But things will get worse first

Most clogged roadways around the CSC construction site could be cleared by November, Austan Librach told the Austin City Council during a morning briefing on Thursday. Librach still holds the title as director of the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, but he is also acting director of the Transportation Department.

That goal would be ahead of schedule for the city, which has charted, mapped and planned for roadway shutdowns through 2002. Road closures across downtown, according to Librach’s presentation, are both building related and utility related. These would last for another year to 18 months.

Major closures are expected around the CSC/City Hall complex and the Convention Center expansion. Maps provided by Librach also charted the construction of chilled water lines and the replacement of a 66-inch water line near the complex. Mayor Kirk Watson jumped into the presentation to say replacing infrastructure during construction made sense.

“This is, in fact, the oldest part of the city, and so you have a lot of utility infrastructure that is some of the oldest in the city,” Watson said. “So one of the things that is occurring is while the construction is going on, the City of Austin is taking advantage of that and going ahead and replacing old dilapidated infrastructure.”

That is a better option than going back in to tear up roadways a second time, Watson said. In a series of Powerpoint slides, Librach charted the one- and two-lane traffic closures over the next year at both the CSC/City Hall area and the Convention Center site.

Underground tunnels to connect the CSC buildings should be complete by this fall, Librach told the Council. Originally, the plan was to close down two of the three lanes around the construction, but the city went back and made it three lanes and kept them closed for safety reasons. Some lanes on Second Street, Guadalupe and Lavaca should be reopened by November, which is earlier than expected, he added.

Librach said that roadway improvements to Barton Springs Road should start in a few months. And Convention Center traffic diversions are far less severe and should be addressed by April 2002, depending on when the developer breaks ground on the Convention Center hotel.

“I think things are going to get worse before they get better, but they are going to get better,” Librach told the Council during his presentation.

Lanes around the Intel project, Librach said, will also be reopened. Longer range, the city can expect more delays along Cesar Chavez. Along with utility lines, there are also possible plans for Met Life to build on Cesar Chavez at Colorado. The city will also work through a Great Streets report, which should provide more direction on pedestrian-friendly streets and sidewalks downtown.

City moves forward on

Both water plant options

Both Green and Treatment Plant #4 have advantages

City staff intends to pursue engineering studies of both the Green Water Treatment Plant and the site proposed for Water Treatment Plant #4 on the Balcones Canyonland Preserve.

The current capacity of the city’s system is 250 million gallons per day. Preliminary design is underway to expand capacity to 310 million gallons per day by 2005. To make that goal, the city must begin preliminary design on one of the two by October, Jane Burazer of the Water and Wastewater Department told the Council. Long-term needs will be considered along with new federal regulatory requirements for water supplies.

If the city chooses to expand at the Green plant, it would mean a lower initial cost. This option is known as the membrane treatment, which means less space, but higher operating and maintenance costs. The capacity of the Green plant would be limited, however, because of distribution restrictions. Thus, even with an initial expansion of 50 million gallons per day at Green, increased capacity at another site would be necessary, Frazier told the Council.

Water Treatment Plant #4, at RR 620 and FM 2222, would use a traditional treatment process for wastewater processing at a facility that could treat up to 300 million gallons per day. The site would draw higher quality raw water from Lake Travis, but would be located on environmentally sensitive land. To mitigate somewhat the plant’s impact, the utility has already donated 139 of its 240 acres to the Balcones Canyonland Preserve. Given a 30-year life span for the plant, this would be the least costly long-term option.

The city’s proposal is to begin preliminary design on both sites. The information should provide the cost analysis on current assumptions. Slusher asked, and Frazier confirmed, that the placement of Water Treatment Plant #4 would not increase sprawl. The plant would serve a broad area, not simply the area surrounding the plant site.

Bennett Tract action

Postponed again

Moratorium extended 'til May 6

Faced with a brand new five-page description of Planning Commission recommendations for the Bennett Tract, the City Council decided Thursday to postpone the case until April 19. The Council also extended the moratorium on filing of site plans in the area bounded by I-35 on the west, San Marcos on the east, 11th Street on the north and the alley between 7th and 8th street on the south. The vote on postponing the case was unanimous, but Council Member Danny Thomas voted against extending the moratorium to May 6. Thomas’ aide, Linda Dailey, said her boss thought the extension was too long.

Most African-American members of the neighborhood support opening the area to more intense development, while most Hispanic members of the neighborhood fear increased development will destroy the residential character of the area. Rev. Marvin Griffin of the Ebenezer Baptist Church and Father Bill Elliott of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church have worked toward opposite goals for the neighborhood. They and other members of the neighborhood have for the last nine months tried to reach an agreement through mediation. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman suggested yesterday that Council Members Raul Alvarez and Thomas meet with area residents to hear their concerns. Both agreed to do so.

Council Salvation Army shelter

Vote unites Griffith, Wynn

Money approved on 5-2 vote

Thursday’s City Council vote to purchase land next to the Salvation Army for a new homeless shelter resulted in an unusual alignment. Both Council Member Will Wynn and Council Member Beverly Griffith voted against the land deal, citing concerns about its eventual cost. While Griffith and Wynn are seated on the same end of the dais, they’re frequently on opposite sides of the more prominent issues facing the council. Griffith has found herself on the short end of several 6-1 or 5-2 votes in recent months, while Wynn has generally been in the majority bloc lead by Mayor Kirk Watson.

Under the deal approved Thursday, the city will buy land in the 500 block of E. 7th St. next to the current Salvation Army shelter to construct its own shelter, which could open in the summer of 2003. The price for the land is $1.4 million, while the end cost of the shelter will be in the neighborhood of $7.8 million. That figure is quite a bit higher than originally expected because of several changes that had to be made in the design of the facility after the city was unable to reach a deal with the Salvation Army on its operation.

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

Be here! . . . Development consultant Sergio Lozano may be unpleasantly surprised to learn that he unanimously lost a zoning case at the City Council yesterday. When the request to rezone property from single-family residential to limited office was called, Lozano was not present. A member of the city staff said Lozano had requested a postponement. Mayor Kirk Watson seemed inclined to argue in Lozano’s favor, but a member of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood opposing the change said she could not return next week. Watson allowed her to speak. Since the case had already been postponed several times, and since there was a valid petition against the change, Watson noted that it was unlikely that the request would be granted and called for a vote. All seven Council members voted to deny the request . . . Sunday in the park . . . Republic Square Park(on West 5th Street between Guadalupe and San Antonio) will host a special performance by a 10-piece orchestra, dancers and visual artists Sunday at 2 p.m. Southern Union Gas, the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin Parks Foundation are sponsoring the free event . . . Emergency Preparedness . . . The city’s Office of Emergency Management is hosting a workshop for community and business leaders to learn about ways to reduce the impact of disasters, today at the McKinney Roughs Environmental Learning Center.

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