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Garcia would consider race

Wednesday, March 21, 2001 by

For Mayor if Watson resigns

Goodman would not run against Garcia

Former Mayor Pro Tem Gus Garcia says he is pondering a run for Mayor if Kirk Watson decides to step down before the end of his term. “I’m having a very good time,” in retirement, Garcia notes, adding that he has a small lobbying contract with the Texas League of Conservation Voters. Garcia said he agreed to take the job because he believes “The Latino contingent (of the Legislature) needs a little more information on environmental issues.” One of those issues is the grandfather loophole for petrochemical plants. Another is the restructuring of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, he said.

On Monday night Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman told the Save Barton Creek Association that she believed Garcia had decided to make the race and therefore she would not. Goodman said she had heard from a third party that Robert Chapa, Garcia’s longtime friend and political supporter, had stated that Garcia would, in fact, make the race if Watson steps down early.

Garcia said, “Chapa is one of the guys who want me to run. I’m not going to chastise him for his eager-beaverness.” Supporters of potential candidate Robin Rather have contacted him also, Garcia said, to find out what he is going to do.

Like other would-be candidates, Garcia stressed his desire for Watson to remain in office until the end of his term. He also said, “I can’t keep the pace that Watson has kept. He’s kept a very fast pace.” Garcia said his health is fine, including his blood pressure and heart

Planning Commission says

Red-tag of Kehle project OK

Commission suspicious of socalled driveway

Members of the Planning Commission voted Tuesday night to uphold a decision by city staff to halt construction of a driveway on property in west Travis County that falls under the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. Peter Kehle, president of Lake Austin West, L.P., had begun improvements on land adjacent to the Balcones Canyonland Preserve on February 28th, but was red-tagged by city staffers for failing to file a site plan for the project (see In Fact Daily, March 9,2001).

In addition to stopping work at the site on Kollmeyer Drive, the city has filed criminal charges against Kehle for starting development without an approved site plan and for failure to provide adequate sedimentation controls. Earlier today, we incorrectly reported that Kehle had been charged with destruction of Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat. Tuesday’s appeal to the Planning Commission did not deal directly with those criminal charges, but was instead a request to overturn the order to stop work on the project. That order had already been upheld by Mike Heitz, director of the city’s Watershed Protection Department.

Attorney Robert Kleeman of Hall & Kleeman made the case on Kehle’s behalf, saying that the work should be allowed to continue because it didn’t require a site plan. Kleeman told commissioners he felt his client was being singled out for selective enforcement of the site plan policy. “Our argument is simple,” Kleeman said. “We think the scope is appropriate and it is precedented in this community to have a driveway of this size to serve a large tract. My client feels that nobody else in the city who is building a driveway to a single-family residence is required to come down here and get a site plan to build it.”

But whether the 57-acre tract would remain a single-family residence powered much of the debate. Neighbors believe the land could eventually be opened up for development, and what starts out as a 24-foot wide driveway to a home could eventually become a roadway for access into a subdivision. Those suspicions were shared by commission members, including Vice Chair Ben Heimsath, who asked for some reassurances from Kleeman—who declined to provide them. “I’m not authorized to” give those assurances, Kleeman said, “and we’re not required to under the Land Development Code. We meet the four criteria set forth in the Land Development Code for a site plan exemption.”

Commissioners were not persuaded, and voted unanimously to uphold the work-stoppage order that had been issued by the city.

“I personally would be very suspicious of a 57-acre tract remaining single-family residential,” said Betty Baker, chair of the Planning Commission.

Mueller neighbors worry

About Legislature once more

Bills call for State airport in Central Texas

Jim Walker might be feeling a sense of déjà vu as he rallies the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition this session in the fight to keep the Mueller airport closed.

The neighborhood is gearing up for this session’s efforts against House Bill 2522 and Senate Bill 1617, which are thinly veiled efforts to open a State airport in Austin. Once more, their foe is State Rep. Ron Wilson (D-Houston), who is joined this time by Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) in his effort to reopen the runways at Mueller.

The Mueller neighborhoods hope to show up, en masse, at the committee hearings for the bills in both Houses. Neighborhood representatives hope to be joined in their efforts by the city’s lobbying team and pressure from Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin), who killed the bill last session on the Senate floor.

“If we do end up stalling it in committee, these bills will show up somewhere else,” neighborhood association president Jim Walker told his neighbors at a meeting last night. “It will show up somewhere else unless we show that we have enough opposition to this to kill it.”

And the fate of these bills, Walker told his neighbors, will be probably be decided sooner rather than later, given the impending pressure of redistricting. The Mueller strategy will be to present a vocal united front at committee hearings, but depend on a handful of experts to speak for the group. They also believe they can count on the support of private pilots.

Walker told his small group that he would have felt more confident about the fate of the bills if the city had taken them less seriously. That the city was considering the bills more than a jab or a joke by Wilson made him a bit nervous.

Neighbors were concerned about the noise of the proposed airport, as well as the safety issue of private planes so close to homes. Walker reminded them that general aviation was not the enemy of Mueller and that attacking it would do no good.

Other speakers at the neighborhood meeting questioned why the State would want to spend the sum necessary to condemn the Mueller land under eminent domain. Such a decision would cost the State tens of millions of dollars—which Walker said might be the best argument against the purchase, given budget shortfalls.

Last session, the State intended to take 100 acres along 51st Street, Walker said. He added that if Legislators intended to take land this time, the city could force them to take the entire 700-acre Mueller tract. The city currently plans to redevelop Mueller, and Walker said it would be likely that even if the bills failed and construction started, new bills would be filed two years from now.

“Trust me, the State office complex will come up again two years from now,” Walker told the group. “We’ll have the bulldozers out there laying pipe in 2003 and someone will dig out the plans to buy 282 acres. The State’s not going to go away this session or next.”

The best the neighborhood can hope for, Walker said, is to hire a savvy master developer who can get the most out of any possible lease that might occur with the State.

6th and Congress developers

Planning ahead for changes

Requesting variances in setback, FAR

Developers of a new office building near 6th and Congress asked the Design Commission to look favorably on two variance requests this week. They’re seeking a change in the allowable FAR (floor-to-area ratio) from 8:1 to 12:1, and also want to change the setback requirement on the project from 60 feet to 40 feet. They plan to build a new building at 505 Congress to the same height as the building that houses the Bank of America next door at 515 Congress. The same company now owns both lots, and wants to eventually connect the two structures.

Carlton Riser with Hines Interests, the developer, says the current building at 505 Congress was built in 1974 and is now “functionally obsolete.” His company would like to improve upon the lot at what he calls a “bull's eye location” at the intersection of two of downtown’s most important streets.

While the new building at 505 Congress would be the same height as the one next door, Riser said it would not have its “black box” look. Members of the Design Commission are expected to come back with a recommendation on the requested variances during their first meeting in April. Last week, the Downtown Commission voted to recommend approval of the variances.

Riser had told that commission the bank was most interested in keeping the current drive-through windows. He said the new building’s 10-story garage would be “extremely expensive because of the land value.” For that reason, he said, the company had decided to build above the bank’s drive-through. “The last thing we want to do is build a concrete monolithic structure,” he said.

A member of the commission asked about building the garage so that it could be converted to other uses in the future if Austinites manage to give up their dependence on automobiles. Architect Larry Speck said his firm is “doing one now that is convertible.” But the garage at 6th and Congress is considerably bigger. Speck said this garage would be open to the public on the weekends, adding, “right now we desperately need parking for 6th Street.” He said in addition to the offices there would be four to five residential units per floor for either four or five floors.

Riser said that even though the developer is not ready to build, “we want to get in a position to sit down with our big tenants. If we couldn’t pull the trigger, let’s not get people excited.” Originally the project was planned for 2005, based on existing long-term leases.

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

Redistricting contract awarded . . . Travis County Commissioners voted yesterday to select political consultants Emory & Young and the law firm of Guajardo Dodi & Guajardo to assist the county with redistricting. The county is responsible for drawing the lines of individual voting precincts as well as districts for commissioners, constables and justices of the peace . . . LCRA Board meeting . . . The Board of Directors of the Lower Colorado River Authority will meet today at 9 a.m. in Marble Falls. One item they will consider is the purchase of about 1,600 acres of mostly marshlands and dunes in Matagorda County. LCRA spokesman Bill McCann said the agency staff hopes to turn the property into an environmental education center, like the ones the LCRA has at McKinney Roughs in Bastrop County and Canyon of the Eagles in Burnet County. The price of the land is $2,660,000. McCann said if the purchase is approved, staff expects to contract with a private company to build and maintain a lodge on the property. He said the area is prime fishing and birding territory.

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