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Green declares development

Wednesday, April 4, 2001 by

District legislation dead

Representative says he hopes for regional cooperation on new version

Rep. Rick Green said Tuesday that he considers his bill to create a Hays County development district on Gary Bradley’s property to be dead as a result of Austin City Council opposition. Bradley requested that he withdraw the legislation, the Dripping Springs Republican said. Green said he would not withdraw HB 3644, since that is not an appropriate legislative procedure. “You can’t really withdraw a bill, but you can say it’s dead. I’m not going to ask for a hearing.”

Bradley sent a letter to the Mayor and Council early Tuesday saying that he would not pursue the measure. On Monday, Mayor Kirk Watson sent Bradley a letter saying that he could not support the legislation, which is scheduled for Council consideration on Thursday. All seven Council Members have told In Fact Daily that they oppose the legislation in its current form.

, chief of staff to Watson, said Green called the mayor on Tuesday to discuss the legislation. A hearing on the measure is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday. Council Member Beverly Griffith, who asked for the hearing, has requested that it be cancelled in light of Bradley’s letter. Other Council Members and their aides said the hearing would no longer be necessary. However, the Council is likely to go on record as opposing the measure as currently written.

In his letter to the Council, Bradley said the legislation would have facilitated “ Lowe Enterprises Destination Resorts Hotels’ desire to make a gift to the people of Central Texas.” Bradley hopes Lowe will build a hotel and golf course on his property. At the time the settlement agreement between Bradley and the City of Austin was signed, Bradley and some Council members talked about creating a taxing entity that would benefit conservation and Hays County schools.

Bradley’s letter said that he sent a draft of the legislation to the city attorney, “and asked him to review the legislation and distribute it to the members of the City Council for their review and comments . . . No one ever called me with any concerns or suggestions.” Bradley said it was “unfortunate that the Austin American Statesman ran an article on the legislation before it was filed and before I had an opportunity to visit with each of the members of the Council . . . Given the history of this situation, if someone legitimately feels I have attempted to violate the settlement agreement in any way, I sincerely apologize.”

Bradley estimated the tax generated by the golf course and hotel “would generate over $1 million per year for land preservation and between $300,000 and $600,000 per year for the Hays County Independent School District Foundation.” He concludes by saying that he hopes to sit down with representatives from Hays County, HCISD, the Hill Country Conservancy and the city to “find a way to draft legislation which will accomplish the goal that I so ineptly attempted.”

Green said last night that he is “very excited about $1 million for conservation and one half million dollars for the schools. It’s a great opportunity for regional cooperation.” He said he would be happy to substitute whatever language all of the parties agreed to in place of the current language in HB 3644.

Planning Commission disapproves

Of Goodman's ZAP Commission

Baker, Heimsath disagree with majority

Planning Commission Chair Betty Baker wanted fellow commissioners to rescind a motion they approved last week requesting the City Council to postpone consideration of creating a new Zoning and Platting Commission. As a result of that action, the Council postponed indefinitely Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman’s plan to divide planning duties between the two commissions.

Baker did not get her wish. Commissioner Robin Cravey’s resolution recommending against creation of the ZAP Commission carried the day. Cravey said, “Something very important would be lost if those functions would be divided into two bodies. If they were divided, the body doing the long-term planning would not be able to see its implementation through.” The group doing mostly zoning “would lose access to the vision” of the long-range plan.

Commissioner Jean Mather said, “We all love and respect Council Member Goodman, and we all share her frustration with the length of time it takes to get things that we think are the right thing to do into action. I think the staff is overloaded . . . A lot of the postponements are because the staff is overburdened . . . I think having two commissions would make it worse—I’m afraid it would almost bring it to gridlock.”

Commissioner Ben Heimsath told fellow commission members he disagreed with the resolution. “I think that the criticism that we are not able to plan very well is appropriate, but I don’t think it’s just a staff problem.” He said the commission’s structure had been set up when Austin was only a fraction of the size it is now. He also said he found it “presumptuous” for commissioners to resist a change in the structure. “We are in service to the city because of our appointments by the City Council.”

The newest commissioner, Lydia Ortiz, said she thought the Council wanted a definitive comment from the commission, as opposed to last week’s request for a postponement. She too supported the motion. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula told Cravey he was uncomfortable with the wording of the resolution. Cravey changed a few words and adopted a friendly amendment from Commissioner Jim Robertson.

Baker said Cravey’s belief that planning should be unified under one body was satisfied by the fact that all planning and zoning matters end up before the City Council. She said that the recent reorganization of departments was done to facilitate the two-commission structure. “We sort of missed the fact that we are an advisory commission,” she concluded. With Commissioner Sterling Lands absent, the commission voted 6-2 to adopt Cravey’s recommendation, which also includes language about welcoming a dialogue with the Council in this endeavor. Baker and Heimsath opposed the motion.

Wilson not moved by

Mueller neighbors

Former aviation director outlines problems at hearing

Those who thought Rep. Ron Wilson (D-Houston) may have softened his stance this session on the redeployment of Mueller Airport would have been sorely disappointed yesterday.

Wilson was just as committed to the conversion of Mueller back to an airport as he was two years ago, citing the need for a general aviation field in Central Texas before the House Committee on Transportation. If yesterday’s hearing was a straw vote on HB 2522, the audience of 40 speakers was divided evenly between pilots who want a general aviation airport in Austin and residents who would support a general aviation airport in Austin but want Wilson to take Mueller off the table.

“The bill doesn’t preclude us from going somewhere else other than Mueller. I would go to Mueller,” Wilson told the committee. “I think the question for us is: Should we carve out the possibility of that particular site? I don’t think so, just to make them feel comfortable, to give them a warm fuzzy feeling.”

Wilson had Mayor Kirk Watson and Austin neighborhood representatives waiting for almost two hours outside the hearing room yesterday before he appeared to present his bill. Jim Walker of the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition presented a display of the Mueller master plan to the committee, but afterwards Wilson said he was unmoved by the Austin presentation. The City of Austin had two years to do something with the Mueller land, he said, and nothing has happened. Wilson said he didn’t believe anything will ever happen, and that he expected HB 2522 to pass out of committee in some form.

During his closing statement to the committee, Wilson said the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition ought to be pitching site selection to TxDOT and the Airport Pooling Board rather than the committee that would consider the bill. That committee supports a general aviation airport in Central Texas, but does not exclude locations away from Mueller. Still, Wilson expressed his preference for Mueller, especially because of the low cost of conversion and the convenience of its location.

“I think if we wanted to turn this into a salamander farm we’d have different testimony,” Wilson said in a closing jab at Austin residents.

Wilson, who was joined by Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, (R-Burleson), estimated the cost of converting Mueller back to aviation use at $18 million, most of which would be met by Federal Aviation Administration grants. Those supporting the bill argued that Bergstrom had shut out general aviation aircraft. James Knox, who represented volunteer pilot groups in the Austin area, told the committee that private missions to deliver blood and tissue are being compromised by the lack of a centrally located aviation site.

The former manager of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Norm Scroggins, told the committee that Bergstrom and Mueller could co-exist with little air pattern interference, a claim that was disputed by former Austin aviation director Charles Griffith in subsequent testimony. Griffith, who presented a letter from the FAA’s top safety official in support of his claims, argued that the FAA’s grants and approval for Bergstrom had hinged entirely upon the fact that Mueller could and should close. Opening Mueller would only decrease the amount of available airspace for Bergstrom, Griffith said.

“These two airports are relatively close together and there is a conflict in the airspace needed for operation of the airports,” said Griffith. “The FAA is supportive of the need for a general aviation airport, but we need to pursue and build it at a location where there were no environmental or airspace constraints.”

Griffith said he doubted the state would secure grants given the FAA’s position on Bergstrom and Mueller. He added that Bergstrom was adding 54 hangars and 83 tie-ins for aircraft to be ready this fall, although he admitted that the amount of hangar space was unlikely to keep up with Central Texas demands.

Walker outlined the Mueller master plan, stressing he did not oppose the general aviation community, but would ask that Mueller be taken off the table as a potential new airport location. Joe Gieselman, in charge of transportation projects for Travis County, also presented a letter from the commissioners’ court—signed on Tuesday morning—asking the state to locate the airport site outside Travis County.

Members of the Transportation Committee asked questions, but made no comment on the bill and took no vote. HB 2522 does have a companion bill— SB 1617—by Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria).

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

Promoted . . . Assistant City Attorney David Smith has been named chief of the City Attorney’s office Litigation Section. He has replaced Connie Odé, who moved to New Mexico . . . Library branch to reopen . . . The Pleasant Hill Branch of the Austin Public Library will reopen Saturday. It has been closed since last June. Hand-to-Mouth Puppet Theatre will present a show, Stratega Nona, at 11 a.m. for children of all ages. Renovations include parking spaces, an adjoining park and an outdoor reading area.

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