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Southeast neighbors fight

Tuesday, April 17, 2001 by

SMART housing project

Townhomes would serve working poor

The City of Austin’s SMART Housing Officer, Stuart Hersh, is hoping to convince neighbors of a townhome project proposed for 4601 E. St. Elmo Road that their neighborhood will benefit from a proposed zoning change. So far neighbors who have written to the Planning Commission have all complained that the project—which will provide housing for families whose income is 50 to 60 percent of the median—is not welcome at all. Letters and emails have not addressed the requested zoning change from RR and LO (rural residential and local office) to SF-6 (single-family density suitable for townhomes).

For example, Dora M. Brown wrote, “This proposed 35-unit apartment development would only worsen the many problems we have in 78744 (zip code) resulting from too many rental units and not enough homeowners . . . the area does not need this sort of development for many reasons in addition to the lack of opportunity for people to own their homes. The services and infrastructure we have are already inadequate, and more residents will only make these problems worse. Our schools are overcrowded, already featuring many portable buildings. There is only one supermarket in the entire area . . . There are no banks. There is only one fire station to serve this large area.”

Brown and others also complained that the street leading into the proposed project is two-lane and lacks sidewalks. She and others also complained of juvenile crime in the zip code, as well as a lack of recreational opportunities.

Linda Milligan described the proposed site in an email as one “that has been previously declared to be environmentally sensitive and will most likely result in contamination of the area since runoff/trash will go into the creeks bordering the property on 2 sides. This is a beautiful natural habitat that should be preserved. While the developers are meeting city minimum standards on a realistic level they are planning inadequate parking, lighting, play area, trash receptacles . . .”

Hersh says the developer can build the 35 townhomes whether the zoning request is granted or not. Kingfisher Creek Ltd. also owns an adjacent tract that is already zoned SF-6. But instead of putting all the units on one tract, the developer of proposes to put more space between the units and save trees in the process, Hersh said.

According to Hersh, two neighborhood associations will request that the commission postpone tonight’s hearing. Since this will be the first neighborhood request, Hersh notes, the commission likely will grant it. Hersh says he will ask the Planning Commission to grant only a two-week postponement. The commission is not meeting next week, but the item will also have to be removed from this week’s City Council agenda. The Kensington Park Homeowners Association and Southeast Corner Alliance of Neighborhoods (SCAN) will be seeking longer postponements, he said.

In Fact Daily asked what might be achieved during that time. Hersh said, “We hope this two weeks will give us the opportunity to communicate in clearer terms so that those people who oppose it because they think the project will create unreasonable density will understand that opposing the zoning change is the path to getting higher density rather than supporting the zoning change.” Since the development meets city SMART Housing requirements, Hersh said, all fees for the zoning change and permits will be waived.

Urban Trans Commission says

Use existing right-of-way for HOV

Taking more land too costly

The Urban Transportation Commission will be sending a recommendation to members of the City Council that serve on the CAMPO Policy Advisory Committee. The UTC wants to make sure that any right-of-way for HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes along US 183, MoPac, or IH-35 comes from the existing right-of-way or existing capacity. Commissioner Michael Dahmus cited concerns about the cost of acquiring more right-of-way as the reason for the commission’s recommendation. “This particular project (improvements on MoPac and US 183) would displace so many homes and businesses the city would be hit with a huge double-whammy,” Dahmus said. “It’s a huge swath of some of the most expensive real estate in the city. Second, we lose all the taxes from that land. This is a very different story from SH 130, where land is cheap.”

TxDOT is looking at ways to improve traffic flow on US 183 from Lakeline Boulevard to IH-35 and on MoPac from Parmer Lane to SH 45 South. A reversible HOV lane system is one of the options included in a short list of concepts under review. TxDOT is also considering an HOV lane for IH-35 as a possible design feature of its major investment study for that freeway.

Dallas and Houston have already adopted similar systems for their most-crowded roadways. In a reversible HOV lane system, which is sometimes referred to as a “carpool lane,” one lane of a roadway would be reserved for vehicles carrying two or more people. The HOV lane is generally less congested than other lanes and provides an incentive for people to “ride-share.” During peak traffic times, the lane’s direction of travel can be reversed—creating additional capacity in the direction with the most congestion.

On April 9th, CAMPO held a public hearing on the concepts currently under consideration for improving MoPac and US 183. The public comment period stemming from that hearing is open through Thursday. The UTC’s recommendation will go to Mayor Kirk Watson along with Council Members Daryl Slusher, Will Wynn, and Danny Thomas. All serve on CAMPO’s Policy Advisory Committee. That group could consider endorsing a short-list of concepts for improving MoPac and US 183 at its next meeting on June 11th.

Members of the UTC also approved vacating right-of-way for the new Convention Center Hilton Hotel’s underground-parking complex. The right-of-way vacation applies both above ground and below ground along parts of Neches, 5th, and Red River. Approval of the measure was unanimous after Commissioner Scheleen Walker aired some of the complaints she had heard about the garage from members of downtown neighborhood groups.

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

Faster than a speeding bullet . . . South Congress merchants will gather at Guero’s Restaurant at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to hear about battery-powered buses that would be “cheaper, quicker, cleaner and quieter than light rail,” according to the Avenue Merchants’ Association President Dottye Dean. Anti-rail activist Max Nofziger and Wade Thomason, director of the Clean Air Force, will talk about the buses . . . Bennett tract postponement possible . . . Since property owners and neighbors of the tract at E. 11th and I-35 have yet to reach an agreement on the zoning of a number of lots, this case may once again be taken off this week's Council agenda . . . Talk about a late payment . . . Cox & Smith, the outside counsel retained by the city to assist in reaching a final agreement with the developers of Steiner Ranch, have been waiting since February for the city to pay a $46,000 bill. City Attorney Andy Martin noted in a memo to the Mayor, Council Members and City Manager Jesus Garza that “the total amount of legal fees . . . could be up to $80,000.” Martin apologized for failing to bring the matter to their attention sooner. Cox & Smith are currently reviewing the title commitments for the conservation easement, Martin said.

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