Tuesday, April 24, 2001 by

Hyde Park Baptist will fight

New neighborhood district

Church wants to maintain looser rules of 1991 agreement

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD) won unanimous approval from the Historic Landmark Commission last night. And although the measure still has to go before the Planning Commission and have a public hearing before the full City Council, it’s possible none of those bodies will have the final say on the zoning overlay. Attorney Richard Suttle, representing the Hyde Park Baptist Church, told the Landmark Commission, “The church doesn’t want to be in the NCCD. Of course, the church will do whatever is necessary to try to get out of it.” While Suttle didn’t specifically mention a lawsuit during his comments, the Hyde Park Baptist Church has already filed suit against the City of Austin over the City Council’s refusal to grant the church a permit to build a parking garage (see In Fact Daily, April 5, 2001).

The proposed Neighborhood Conservation Combining District is a zoning overlay that would modify the existing Land Development Code. It’s designed to help preserve the character of the neighborhood and includes provisions to change the base district zoning on more than 60 individual lots within a 63-block area. The NCCD is divided into several different sub-districts, including the Hyde Park Baptist Church Civic District, which was created in 1991 and includes properties owned by the church at the time. The church opposes new development restrictions on its properties that would be imposed by the new NCCD.

“The (new) NCCD is more restrictive than what we have today,” said Suttle. “The church would prefer to be left out of it and within its own NCCD that it has now.” The main issue, according to Suttle, is that the new NCCD would supersede the church’s existing NCCD in areas not addressed by the existing document. “For instance, if there’s no mention of (building) height in the church’s NCCD today, the new NCCD would come over and lower the height.” That would also apply to guidelines on building setback and impervious cover. “We know it won’t be less restrictive and it won’t be the status quo,” Suttle said. “It will be more restrictive.” Also at issue is the classification of land acquired by HPBC since 1990 that does not fall within the church’s existing NCCD. Suttle says the church has been acquiring property along its “growth corridor” which it may consider developing in the future.

Members of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association came out to show their support for the proposed new NCCD, but left the talking to city staff and Karen McGraw, the Neighborhood Planning Team Leader. McGraw said the church has also filed an amendment to its civic NCCD, which will be heard the same night as the neighborhood NCCD. She said the church wants new properties to have 90 percent impervious cover and no setback from the street, she said. That would make the church properties look very different from surrounding residences, many of which are set back 25 feet from the street.

But Suttle indicated in his opening remarks that a challenge to the city’s procedure for notifying district residents was a strong possibility. The city has separate guidelines for neighborhood notification of a zoning overlay when it is requested by a neighborhood association than if requested by the city itself. While city staffers indicate a Law Department review found the city to be in compliance with the rules for a city-sponsored change, Suttle disagrees. “I will be looking for flaws in the process to try to represent my client.”

Although Suttle was out-numbered by Hyde Park residents in favor of the plan and came up on the losing end of the vote, he didn’t lose his sense of humor. Since he had to face the commissioners with his back to the rest of the room and the public-address system was not functioning, many people in the audience had difficulty hearing him. Hyde Park resident Dorothy Richter asked Suttle to turn towards the audience and “speak out of both sides of his mouth.” Suttle didn’t miss a beat. “Sure,” he quipped, “I’m paid to do that,” eliciting laughter from most of the 20 or so people in the crowd.

The proposed Hyde Park NCCD—with measures that would cover land owned by the Hyde Park Baptist Church—is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on May 15th. If the commission approves it, the NCCD could be scheduled for a public hearing and vote by the City Council sometime in June. At least 6 of the 7 Council Members would have to vote in favor of the NCCD for it to take effect.

SOSA files final agreement

In suit with EPA, Fish & Wildlife

Wildlife service promises biological opinion on salamander

Grant Godfrey, staff attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA), said Monday his organization has filed a final settlement agreement in federal court with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

SOSA sued the agencies for failing to protect Barton Springs, and the Barton Springs salamander, from pollution caused by construction. University of Texas biologist Mark Kirkpatrick, SOSA’s scientific advisor, also sued the two agencies. Development has caused water quality in Barton Springs to decline significantly over the past 25 years, according to a report done by the city’s Watershed Protection Department. (See In Fact Daily, June 7, 2000)

The two federal agencies did an “informal consultation” about the effect of a general construction permit, giving the endangered salamander no special protection. Under the resulting agreement, “all development that disturbs five acres or more is required to register (in) compliance with (EPA’s) general permit before initiating construction,” according to the lawsuit. However, developers have been allowed to begin construction and discharge pollution “within two days of the postmark of its notice to use” that general permit.

Under the agreement, FWS will have to produce a biological opinion on the effects of construction and development on the salamander by the end of August, Godfrey said. “We believe the science clearly shows that these discharges authorized by EPA place the salamander’s existence in jeopardy,” he said. He said SOSA expects EPA to begin requiring developers “to take additional measures to protect water quality in the Barton Springs Recharge and Contributing Zones,” as a result of the scientific opinion. The federal agencies have also agreed to pay SOSA’s attorneys’ fees, but have not reached a specific number, Godfrey remarked.

“What we’re mainly getting is the process, but at the end of the process, we think we will show that they have to implement greater restrictions,” Godfrey said. “The federal agencies, after the salamander was listed, didn’t do anything proactive to protect it. For now, they’re starting to comply with the law and we’re really happy about that.”

Historic preservation may get

Boost from new department

McCann promises commission earlier involvement

Jana McCann, the city’s Urban Design Officer, told the Historic Landmark Commission last night she is very enthusiastic about organizational changes that have moved historic preservation from the Development Review and Inspection Department to the new Transportation, Planning, and Design Department (TPAD).

In her new role as Division Manager for Urban Design and Historic Preservation, McCann pledged to get the Historic Landmark Commission involved in projects at an earlier stage than has previously occurred. She said the city’s Smart Growth initiative has not looked at the possible historic aspects of new developments until the projects were well on their way to becoming a reality. She said that under her leadership, “Historic preservation will come up at the beginning—not come up later. We see projects before they’re even really born.”

McCann said the move into the new department is a good omen. “As a part of long-range land-use planning, there is a desire to include consideration of our historic and cultural resources as a critical element in a more pro-active planning process.” She said her department, like others, has been told to cut its budget by eight percent next year because of funding shortages.

“It’s going to be hard to get the budget for more historic surveys. That’s going to remain a challenge for us,” she said. “We will have to cut staff to pay consultants or turn to grant writing.” McCann said she had already received a negative response to a request for $100,000 for next year’s budget for historic resources surveys. “I cannot make a lot of promises right now because of the hiring freeze. And I think all of our currently vacant positions will be taken away in the next couple of months,” she concluded.

Commissioner Patti Hall responded, “You touched on our primary concern—cultural surveys. What happened in Rainey Street could have been avoided if we’d done our homework.” Hall asked if the commission should write a letter asking that funding for the surveys be restored. McCann indicated it might be better to find grant money.

Commissioner Laurie Limbacher said “This (departmental reorganization) makes perfect sense—and the most difficult projects have been when a project has a full head of steam,” before the commission knew about the problem. “This has a potential of being a really significant improvement. It is going to require us to develop new procedures. I think we need to develop new roles. This is urgent for us. We’ve been asked to tacitly sign off on something before its completely done. I’m really enthusiastic about this change.”

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

They want to party . . . Travis County Democrats are inviting fellow Democrats to enjoy “music, food and fun” at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Bergman, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Even City Council Members may get to attend if they keep up the pace of the last few weeks with early adjournment of their meeting . . . Neighborhood planner going home . . . Neighborhood Planner Cecilia Williams has gotten a job in the Planning Department in San Diego. Williams said she and her husband are from southern California and are looking forward to going home . . . House move approved . . . The Historic Landmark Commission gave its blessing last night to the relocation of a 1920s era house designed by Austin architect Roy Thomas. The home, which sits at 2812 Hemphill Park, will be moved to 15th Street, said Mike McHone, who represents owner S.A. Garza. Garza’s family has owned the property for many years. The house is being moved to allow construction of an apartment complex for university students, McHone said. The vote was 7-1, with Commissioner Lisa Laky voting no. Commissioners Liz Goins, Jane Manaster and Chair Lauretta Dowd were absent.

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