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Jerry Harris: Attorney at Law

Monday, April 30, 2001 by

Harris in charge of land regulation matters for Brown McCarroll

Jerry Harris has been a partner with Brown McCarroll since 1981. Born in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, he came to Austin in 1966 in pursuit of his J.D. Immediately after graduating from law school, he served as an Assistant City Attorney for Austin until 1974. He then served as Judge for County Court at Law No. 3 and Austin Municipal Courts before his five-year stint as City Attorney.

Harris heads up land-use approval matters for Brown McCarroll. He represents clients before the Austin City Council, Travis County Commissioners Court, and the various city boards and commissions. His expertise encompasses all phases of large real estate deals, including zoning and site development issues, tax abatement and economic development agreements, environmental matters, and construction and supplier contracts.

He enjoys his job for the range of personal interaction it offers. A solid handshake and congenial manner are his valued tools, as is his uncanny ability to remember names and faces. When asked about the best facet of his job, Harris says, “It’s the interaction with all the people involved in getting a real estate project purchased and entitled. The wide variety of owners, consultants, city staff, board and commission members, mayor and council, neighborhood groups and others. You meet a lot of different people, it’s not just sitting in your office.” He’s quick to point out that it’s a mixed blessing, though. Multitasking is one thing, but when each task involves other people, it’s quite a bit more challenging. “I least enjoy answering fifty phone calls a day. You want to respond quickly to people, but there are so many interruptions.”

Harris, whose son went to Austin High, believes that one of Austin’s primary tasks is to get its schools in top shape. “It’s a legitimate concern that the students are our future. We just need to make sure we’re improving the quality of the system.” He says that a key to that improvement is better parent participation. “Not all of it is just money. We need to try to make sure we’re attracting and compensating good teachers. No matter what the organization is, it’s the people involved that make the difference.”

He also sees housing as an important area for improvement. “Affordable housing cuts across a wide range of income levels. People are having a difficult time finding sufficient housing. Part of the responsibility of an expanding community is to do what we can to ensure people are living in the best place they can. It’s as fundamental as anything that you have a decent place to live.” Referring to a housing project that’s currently in its site-planning phase, Harris said, “Places like Montopolis fill up immediately, and that demonstrates that the need is there. Projects like that aren’t contributing to urban sprawl and don’t cut up environmentally-sensitive areas. They meet a great need and do not raise Hill Country development issues.”

Overall, Harris is very optimistic about the direction Austin is headed. “We’ve got a great city here. Even some of the antagonisms we see between some of the interest groups is to some extent healthy because it gets a lot of viewpoints out and leads to a pretty good focus on all issues. We end up with something good as a result of that. We’ve got a lot of good things going. Austin provides people a lot of good places to work, play, go to church, to do all the things that are important to a quality of life. With an expanding population we all have a responsibility to see that everybody participates. We need to keep a positive attitude towards providing those opportunities. It’s a social responsibility to do our best to accommodate each and every citizen that desires to come here. It’s an awesome responsibility, because it puts a lot of pressure on the community as a whole. But it brings a lot of great people here to participate in this community and make it an exciting place to live.”

He addresses the public reaction to Austin’s development by saying, “Change is frustrating to a lot of people, and there’s not much you can do about it but handle it in a responsible way. There are normal growing pains that people may be get a little overly frustrated about. People like to talk about the traffic like they do about the weather. There’s nothing much you can do in the short term so you need to make a mental adjustment. You need to understand that Austin is staying the same in some regards but is an ever-changing community, which is a natural thing. We need to provide people a place to live, so we need to undergo expansion items such as accommodating traffic. We need to do these things in an (even-handed manner). We need to be as sensitive as we can to the environment and neighborhoods, keeping in mind lots of compromises need to be made.”

Harris is 57 years old and lives with his wife Sharon in a house overlooking Campbell’s Hole on Barton Creek. His son, John, works for Austin Parks and Recreation. He enjoys Austin’s natural beauty and its water. Harris spends much of his free time sailing on Lake Travis. When he can get away for longer stretches of time, he enjoys island hopping by boat in the Caribbean.

Council approves zoning

For S. Congress apartments

Desired Development Zone needs density, majority says

The City Council last week approved a zoning change to allow construction of the “Villas at Exposé,” nicknamed after the “gentlemen’s club” across the street. But approval came with the strong recommendation that the applicants meet with neighborhood residents again before second and third reading of the zoning ordinance.

Sarah Crocker, representing applicant Michael Alelli, told the Council that the area surrounding the 3701-3811 block of S. Congress, particularly at the corner of Alpine and Congress, is “sort of vacant, very underutilized.” The site, which is currently zoned LI, has been home to a number of industrial uses, she said. Alelli plans to build the 405 apartment units recommended by the Planning Commission, with retail in front and a parking garage in the back. The Council agreed with the Planning Commission’s recommendation of MF-6-CO (highest density multi-family residence, conditional overlay) on the 5.14 acre Tract 1 and CS-MU-CO (commercial services, mixed use, conditional overlay) for Tract 2, at 1.2 acres.

Several neighborhood representatives asked the Council to either grant MF-4, which would result in lower density for the site, or to consider a moratorium for the area until a neighborhood plan is in place. The city has not begun the neighborhood planning process for the area, but neighbors are especially concerned about new growth bringing increased traffic. Janine Koch, who lives on Woodward, told the Council, “I do not support the proposed apartment complex.” She asked Council Members to park at the Diamond Shamrock across the street during rush hour and “try to imagine another 600-700 cars,” going through the intersection. “A traffic light on Alpine would help, but would not solve the problem,” she said.

Clarke Hammond, president of South River City Citizens(SRCC), complained, “They’re shoehorning 400 to 500 units that could have six to seven hundred people in them onto a very small piece of land. Woodward is going from a minor arterial to a major arterial as a relief valve . . . We are not NIMBYing this project. If they had come back and worked with us and gotten a smaller project, we would be up here holding hands,” in support of the project. “This is not our first rodeo as far as apartments go. The zoning would allow them to go up 60 ft and will cover about 80% of that lot.” Hammond takes credit for the Exposé nickname.

Crocker responded, “We’ve told them we will work with them on the site planning process. We will work with them on traffic calming devices on Alpine, and we will help fund the traffic light at Alpine and Congress,” adding that “construction at Ben White and I-35 and downtown has artificially affected the traffic situation. In order to make the retail successful, you’ve got to have the density,” in the apartments, Crocker explained. “If you lower the density, you have to broaden the appeal (of the retail) and then you generate more trips from outside the property.”

Neighbor Eileen Rivera suggested MF-4 zoning, with onsite detention of runoff. She said she was worried that the area would become “a horrendous hodgepodge,” with a recently approved 250-unit complex on Woodward and St Edward’s University planning to double its student population to 8,000. She concluded with a plea for a moratorium on zoning changes between St. Edwards and Ben White, and between Congress and I-35. Terry Irion, an attorney representing the applicant, said, “There are far more areas of agreement than disagreement,” between the property owner and his neighbors. He pointed out that, “The City Council ‘s consistent message is we need to discourage development in the Drinking Water Protection Zone.”

Council Member Will Wynn made a motion for MF-6, with the Planning Commission restrictions and Council Member Daryl Slusher supplied the second. Slusher observed that the site would be “a pretty decent place for apartments.” Given the level of growth in the city, he said, “I think we ought to go for some density on this tract, because under our policies this is the heart of the Desired Development Zone. And also, I’m hopeful that on second reading the applicants may be able to address Council Member Thomas’ idea about affordable housing.” Thomas had asked whether the applicant might be able to set aside a certain number of apartments for renters needing “affordable housing.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Beverly Griffith each tried to amend the motion to reduce impervious cover to 70 percent and lower density on the site. However, they got no support from the rest of the Council, which finally voted 5-2 in favor of the new zoning, with Goodman and Griffith voting no.

Wynn said he thought the Council had given “a pretty strong signal to the development team. We’re telling them to go bring back the most advantageous project possible. And that’s going to be a combination of addressing affordability, traffic, rainwater detention—all the issues. My attitude is to give all sides of this full opportunity to do that and not carve into it on the 1st reading. Let them go into the equation and figure this out.”

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

10 a.m. press conference with the Mayor . . . Local elected officials, including Mayor Kirk Watson, Sheriff Margo Frasier, District Attorney Ronnie Earle and others, will identify trends in child mortality in Travis County last year in an effort to prevent future deaths. The event will be at the Children’s Advocacy Center, 1110 E. 32nd Street . . . Power (point) less . . . When neighborhood leader Rene Barrera got up to give his presentation before the City Council Thursday, he suddenly realized there was no equipment to show slides to the Council. He turned to South River City Citizens’ President Clarke Hammond and said, “We have to get Power Point.” Then he turned to the Council and said, “I had the misfortune to bring the slides.” Mayor Kirk Watson quipped, “Did you plan to hold them up to the light?” . . . Expect a crowd . . . The Board of Directors of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will hear citizens’ comments on a number of controversial bills relating to water districts currently pending at the Legislature tonight at 7 p.m. at their offices at 1124-A Regal Row . . . Austin Library exhibit shows role in history . . . The Austin History Center will open a new exhibit Friday tracing the history of the library from its beginning in 1926 in a small upstairs room on Congress Avenue. The exhibit is entitled “Austin Public Library Jubilee: 75 Years of Building Community.” A reception for the opening will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday. Two small travelling exhibits will move from one branch to another, beginning with the Twin Oaks Branch, 2301 S. Congress and the Southeast Austin Community Branch at 5803 Nuckols Crossing Road . . . What’s up with Vignette? . . Last week Vignette CEO Greg Peters told a group of market analysts, “We intend to further reduce our discretionary spending, including some additional consolidations of facilities and some further reduction of staff,” according to Peters was explaining the company’s response to lowered earnings.

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