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Council to consider options

Thursday, March 22, 2001 by

For Bennett Tract today

Moratorium on building

The Planning Commission Tuesday night approved the same heights, use restrictions and most other criteria for the Bennett Tract as those hashed out by the commission’s four-member committee last week. (See In Fact Daily, March 19, 2001) The City Council is scheduled to consider that recommendation at today’s meeting.

The tract’s boundaries are I-35 on the west, San Marcos St. on the east, 11th St. on the north and the alley between 8th St. and 7th St. on the south. The tract does not include the Historic French Legation, at San Marcos and 8th St. The tract was the subject of a Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD) in 1990. The developers who promised to develop the tracts at that time failed to do so, however, and now a new developer, Matt Mathias of Riata Development, has proposed to develop the area. Last March, the Council enacted a moratorium on filing of site plans for the area. (See In Fact Daily, March 24, 2000) That moratorium was to end on June 16, but has been extended several times. It is now due to expire in early April.

When the case came up for consideration Tuesday, Commission Chair Betty Baker explained to interested parties that the committee had met and listened to suggestions from various community organizations and property owners. The committee met three times last week for a total of eight hours or more. “There was an awfully lot of work—an awfully lot of compromise. (But) I would be foolish to say everyone was happy,” she said.

Commissioner Jim Robertson, who is both an attorney and an architect, explained the committee’s proposal. “We were trying to avoid the barrier effect,” he said, and set out the details for the two tracts along I-35 that are meant to become the most intensely developed. The committee recommendation was that the height limit on both tracts should be 200 feet, with limits on the width of buildings and the minimum allowable distances of separation between them.

Mark Rogers of Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp. thanked the committee for its hard work. “You can see they really did try to come up with something equitable,” he said. However, he asked that only the tract at the corner of 11th and I-35 be allowed a 200-foot height. Buildings on Tract 2, just south of the intersection, should be limited to 120 feet, as city staff had previously recommended, he said.

The Commission and city staff have agreed that a number of uses, many relating to automobiles, should not be allowed in the area. Mathias is hopeful that he can attract a full-service hotel to the corner tract at I-35 and 11th Street. Tuesday night, Mathias asked the Commission not to prohibit the hotel from housing an automobile rental desk. Commissioners agreed to that change.

The Commission also recommended that a minimum of 10 percent of housing units in the NCCD be “reasonably priced,” meaning families earning 80 percent of the median family income could afford the units and would spend no more than 30 percent of the family income on housing. Mathias requested that he be allowed to build the affordable units in another part of the Austin Redevelopment Authority master plan area. The commission did not agree to change that part of the recommendation.

Father Bill Elliott, pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on E. 9th Street, told the commission that it is very important to preserve “the historical neighborhood and edge community.” He asked the commission not to allow commercial development on the ground floor of buildings on E. 8th Street (Tracts 5 and 6), saying businesses there would bring too much traffic to the area.

Dick Dunbar, representing property owners in the Robertson Hill area, asked the commission not to require the owners of those 8th Street tracts to build only residential units there. He also requested that the commission not require developers to come back to the commission for approval of their site plans.

Principal Planner Greg Guernsey and others were still working on backup material for the tract at the close of business yesterday.

Commissioner Robin Cravey said he might have a conflict of interest through his legal practice and did not participate. Commissioner Sterling Lands was absent

Hydrilla on Lake Austin

Now chronic, scientist says

Lake lowering offers little help

It’s too early to tell if the bi-annual lowering of Lake Austin has made a dent in the lake’s chronic hydrilla problem, a city scientist told the Environmental Board last night.

The Watershed Protection Department has stopped short of using herbicides to address the now chronic hydrilla problem that has made Lake Austin’s surface a mat of plants. Mary Gilroy told the Environmental Board that many homeowners had used the lake lowering in January and February to create barriers on the bottom of the lake to discourage the growth of the plants. The city wanted to use sterile carp to eradicate, or at least control, the hydrilla, but the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) refused to issue the required permit for the fish. In explaining the decision, State officials expressed concern about possible destruction of habitat for bass and other game fish.

“In early February, right before the lake came up, we mapped in a large number of barriers,” Gilroy told the commission. “We’ll go back to the same geographic-located areas in April and begin an evaluation to see plate areas with no controls versus those with some kind of controls.”

That evaluation is likely to take place again in the summer and early next year. Gilroy told the commissioners she had no real hope that the lake lowering would offer a long-term answer to hydrilla. In most studies, lake lowering has only been temporarily effective.

In her presentation, Gilroy outlined some of the measures various city departments had taken to raise awareness of the hydrilla containment efforts: Brochures outlining the mechanical options to address hydrilla were mailed to more than 1,000 homes. A local nursery offered to provide bottom barrier material to homeowners at cost—a popular option, Gilroy said. And officials from a number of city departments had taken phone calls from interested residents offering their own advice on how to address the problem.

The city’s legal department also has been exploring the legal issues surrounding a pilot herbicide project, Gilroy said. Can the city limit herbicide applications if the Environmental Protection Agency has approved their use? And what liability does the city have if it permits or encourages citizens to use the herbicide?

The city must also comply with the statewide aquatic vegetative management plan, implemented in February. Under the plan, any treatment of aquatic vegetation must be submitted in a proposal to the jurisdictional agency, as well as to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Gilroy said the city had touched base with the new statewide citizens group, Protect Lakes Across Texas, that formed to counter the arguments of local bass fishermen who oppose the use of grass carp.

Four Seasons Condos

Designed with 'Austin' feel

Project developer seeking Smart Growth points

Developers of the new residential complex adjacent to the Four Seasons Hotel are seeking a positive point assessment on the city’s Smart Growth matrix from the Design Commission. Addressing the commission on Monday night, Art Carpenter with Maritz-Wolff stressed, “We are in the Smart Growth process.”

Under a plan originally approved in 1984, the company is building the tower to mirror the office complex directly to the west of the Four Seasons at the intersection of San Jacinto and Cesar Chavez.

Carpenter said designers had gone to great lengths to give the building an “Austin” feel—even touring a limestone quarry to study the different types of stone that could be used in construction, telling the design team, “(We) don’t want it to be a seamless LA box.”

Commission members expressed their desire to consider the building’s long-term impact on traffic in the area—both automotive and pedestrian. “Anything you can do to keep it pedestrian-friendly would be greatly appreciated,” said Commissioner Girard Kinney. The site development permit for the project could be issued as early as this week, with the building permit to follow.

The company isn't having any problems pre-leasing space in the ultra-high-end residential development, according to Carpenter. “It's going particularly well in light of the economy,” he said. Commission members will make their recommendations on Smart Growth points at their next meeting in April.

Environmental Board

Backs review of WMI efforts

Satisfy neighbors requests for monitoring, Board says

.The Environmental Board is following the lead of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission (SWAC) regarding the use of the Austin Community Landfill—and offering a few suggestions of its own. The SWAC previously approved a resolution asking the city to suspend the hauling of trash until Waste Management, Inc. takes further steps to monitor nearby wells for any possible groundwater contamination from the landfill (see In Fact Daily, Feb. 22, 2001).

The Environmental Board voted to support that resolution, which also includes a request to solicit the involvement of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission to evaluate data taken by monitoring equipment near the landfill. The board’s resolution also encourages the City Council not to extend any contracts with WMI until a monitoring plan is put into place to the satisfaction of neighbors. The city will have an opportunity in August to review existing contracts with the company.

Saving the Bats

Most of the bats have not returned to the Congress Avenue Bridge, but they are making an appearance on today’s City Council agenda. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez are sponsoring a resolution in support of legislation filed by State Rep. Edmund Kuempel of Seguin that would provide more protection for bats in Texas. It’s scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on State Recreational Resources today. Kuempel says the measure will make it illegal under Texas law to hunt bats, or buy or sell any part of a bat—whether dead or alive. He’s optimistic about the measure’s chances to progress through the House, saying, “Since this is coming out my committee and I chair the committee, I think the chances are pretty dad-gum good.”

Avery retiring

Environmental Board member Buzz Avery will be honored by the City Council this evening for his 10 years plus of service. Avery is moving to Bastrop and will no longer be eligible to serve. At last night’s Environmental Board meeting, current chair Lee Leffingwell thanked Avery, saying he “really made a noteworthy contribution to the board and the citizens of Austin.” Avery had his own round of thanks for fellow commissioners, former Mayor Bruce Todd and former Mayor Lee Cook, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, and city staffers, including Pat Murphy, Austan Librach and Roderick Burns. He did voice one regret—that possible development on the land owned by Stratus Properties was still an issue. “I attended that first meeting with the Jim Bob Moffett crowd ten years ago . . . that’s when it all began for me. Now Stratus is back before us. It shows that sometimes, even if you stay the distance, the problem doesn’t necessarily go away.”

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

Twins born . . . Irene Neumann, Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell’ s assistant, had twin girls Monday afternoon. Neumann plans to take a three-month maternity leave, according to a spokesperson in the City Manager’s office. Neumann was resting at North Austin Medical Center last night. She and her husband are considering names for the girls. While she is out, Sheree Bailey and Jessica Kingpetcharat will be helping Futrell . . . Bradleyville rumors . . . The draft of a bill not yet introduced at the Legislature was raising eyebrows around City Hall yesterday. One source said the bill would allow Bradley to create “a pseudo-municipality” on the Spillar Tract in Hays County . . . Give me space . . . The Council will be considering approval of a contract with the LCRA today to allow the Council to meet at the Hancock Building for 37 months. Costs are estimated at $875 or less per meeting . . . Subdivision ordinance. . . Former Planning Commissioner Dave Sullivan is trying to ensure that supporters of the proposed new ordinance come to the City Council meeting today. The proposal is billed as one that would reduce sprawl by shortening block lengths and allowing more pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Developers who are still paying attention to this issue can be expected to oppose the measure. Consideration of the ordinance has been postponed for many months.

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