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Planning Commission asks

Wednesday, March 28, 2001 by

Council not to split duties yet

Commissioners worried about overworked staff

Last night, a majority of the Planning Commission voted to ask the City Council to postpone consideration of a change that would take certain cases away from the Planning Commission and send them to a new group—the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP). Commissioners Jean Mather, Robin Cravey, Jim Robertson, Sterling Lands and Silver Garza voted in favor of asking the Council to postpone the item and meet with them to hear their concerns. The item is on this Thursday’s Council agenda.

Commissioners Ray Vrudhula and Lydia Ortiz voted against the motion. Commission Chair Betty Baker and Commissioner Ben Heimsath abstained.

Mather said, “I want to say that I think that this restructuring will be a serious mistake,” stressing the amount of staff time that would be needed to assist two commissions.

Cravey said that creation of a second commission “will not alleviate the problems.” The new commission will need to take a substantial amount of time to organize itself, he said. “So I see a period of time in which there will actually be a slowdown,” in the amount of development being processed. He said he was also concerned about “a lack of knowledge among (new) commissioners. I believe if we now have twice as many people it’s not going to solve that problem, but make it twice as big.”

Cravey warned, “It’s going to increase the cost of development and it’s going to cause neighborhoods to have to come down more often.”

Robertson pointed out, “We literally have cases where a commission could hear a case on one side of a street and the other would hear cases on the other side.”

Garza said, “The more layers that you add to the process, the more difficult it becomes. Adding to their (staff) workload is not the answer.” Lands suggested asking the City Council to form a task force with the commission to analyze how the change might best be implemented.

Betty Edgemond, a member of the Board of Adjustment and a frequent speaker at the Planning Commission, told the commission, “ I really have mixed feelings about splitting you all up. I think you’re one of the better Planning Commissions. We need more staff now for one Planning Commission . . . I would have to come down here two nights a week. That’s double notification.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, the author of the proposed change, presented the plan for the two-commission system to the Planning Commission last month. At that time, City Attorney Andy Martin described the proposed duties of the Zoning and Platting Commission:

• Review and make a recommendations on proposed zoning changes and recommend or act on certain other land use permits (e.g., variances, site plans, appeals, etc.) for land not within the boundaries of an adopted neighborhood plan.

• Approve or deny preliminary plans and final subdivision plats for land not within the boundaries of an adopted neighborhood plan.

• Any other duties established by ordinance that are not Planning Commission duties established by Charter.

Martin said that “within the boundaries of a City Council-approved neighborhood plan, anything and everything related to land use and development will continue to be acted upon by the current Planning Commission. Outside those boundaries however, the zoning and platting commission will consider zoning and platting issues, variances and site plans.” Goodman said, “The platting commission would do what you primarily do now—the nuts and bolts everyday work.” She said her proposed ordinance would include a sunset provision so the new commission might be done with its work in five years, if neighborhood plans are adopted citywide.

Marcia Conner offered

City Manager job in N.C.

She would be first woman city manager for Durham

The City Council of Durham, N.C. voted unanimously yesterday to name Austin Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner as the next city manager of Durham, N.C., a part of the research triangle that includes Raleigh.

“Durham City Council members were impressed with the energy and depth of experience that Ms. Conner offered,” said Durham Mayor Nicholas J. Tennyson. “She was certainly well grounded in areas of concern for the entire City of Durham, including smart growth and fiscal management, given her background in budgeting and planning. She appears to be the person to take us to the next level.”

According to the local newspaper, Conner would be the first woman to serve as the high-tech community’s city manager. She is 43 and has been an assistant city manager in Austin since 1994.

On Thursday, the Austin City Council is scheduled to approve changes to a number of departments’ names. With those changes, Conner’s duties would include oversight of the following: Public Works; Transportation, Planning and Design; Neighborhood Planning and Zoning; and Development Services and Watershed Protection. The reorganization of these departments has been ongoing for several months.

The Herald Sun reported that Conner said that if she’s hired she could start in 30 to 60 days. Her Austin job pays $120,000. The man she would be replacing was earning $150,000 when he quit to take another job in December. Conner hails from Columbia, S.C., where her mother still lives. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Planning Commission refuses to

OK office zoning for historic house

Argument over West Austin neighborhood land use

The Atlanta Street Development Corp. failed last night in its attempt to get a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission for a zoning change it needs to move the historic Gustave Johnson house to an adjacent lot and turn the small cottage into office space.

The 600-square foot house at 510 Atlanta St., built in 1904, was the home of stone mason Gustave Johnson, of the prominent Johnson family. Johnson was among those who built the state Capitol. The West Austin Neighborhood Group (WANG) supported the recommended designation of H, or Historic. The Historic Landmark Commission recommended historic zoning after the owner had filed a demolition permit.

WANG was more than happy with the historic designation. But its members opposed the additional LO-MU, or the Limited Office-Mixed Use-Historic district zoning. If the City Council approves the LO-MU-H zoning on first reading, the house would have to be relocated before second and third readings. City historic preservation officer Barbara Stocklin said the condition would be added as a protection for the city.

Architect Tommy Lee of Fazio and Lee Architects admitted to the Planning Commission that the owners considered a conversion to residential space—suggested by a couple of commissioners—to be impractical. He said moving the house would provide a buffer between office space and a number of single-family houses proposed on the six lots once owned by Gustave Johnson. Lee proposed adding 1,900 square feet of space to create a 2,500-square-foot building.

“We could end up with something that could be very compatible with the neighborhood,” Lee said.

Developer Richard Miscoe argued that he had worked hard to find some way to preserve a house that was historic, but had serious termite infestation and no running water or electrical wiring. Miscoe told Planning Commissioners he had met with the Historic Landmark Commission five times over the last eight months and twice with WANG. Miscoe said the LO-MU-H zoning was the best plan for the house “in the spirit of compromise.”

Blake Tollett of WANG told commissioners the zoning change violated the spirit of the neighborhood plan approved in 1986, creating spot or piecemeal zoning. Chair Betty Baker strongly objected, pointing out GR, LR and MF-3 zoning exist on tracts to the north of the project. “Atlanta is not what I would call a residential street,” said Baker, telling Tollett she was disappointed WANG had decided to take such a position, given the character of the street.

However, the Planning Commission ultimately agreed with WANG. The Planning Commission voted to deny the zoning change on a motion made by Commissioner Ben Heimsath. Commissioners Jean Mather, Sylvia Ortiz, Robin Cravey and Silver Garza supported him. On the other side of the issue were Baker, Ray Vrudhula, Jim Robertson and Sterling Lands.

Baker said she hoped the developer and neighborhood association could get together to work out some type of compromise on the property. “I think everybody is going to lose something on this,” Baker said.

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

Intel to meet with City Council, neighbors . . . Intel will hold its second meeting with neighbors of its partially-built office building downtown. The meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at 608 W. 5th, in the old Isuzu building . . . Del Llano to address ACLU . . . Ann del Llano, a member of the Police Oversight Focus Group, will discuss the City Council vote on police oversight with members of the American Civil Liberties Union at noon Friday at the Furr’s Cafeteria Longhorn Room at Northcross Mall . . . Train group still working to repair train . . . The Historic Landmark Commission has agreed to amend a grant to the Austin Steam Train Association, which is trying to repair a crack in the steam engine on the Hill County excursion train. The original grant of $28,000 was amended to a somewhat smaller amount as some of items covered by the grant were changed. The City of Austin has already given $250,000 and the City of Cedar Park $100,000 to repair the popular train . . . Fulton saying good-bye . . . Tim Fulton, executive director of the Austin Park’s Foundation, has taken a job with Buffalo-Olmsted Parks Conservancy in Buffalo, N.Y., to be nearer his fiancé, Laura Quebral.

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