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Downtown Commission

Thursday, May 10, 2001 by

Discusses numerous issues

Votes to endorse changes for Congress Avenue Bridge

The Downtown Commission breezed through a cluttered agenda Wednesday night covering topics ranging from the nearly completed Lamar Boulevard pedestrian and bicycle bridge to Austin’s newest high-rise office tower, planned for construction at Fourth Street and Congress Avenue.

Members of a city task force showed the Commission preliminary ideas on how to solve nagging problems with two of the downtown bridges. Greg Kiloh, who works on urban redesign for the city, said he was seeking the commission’s endorsement to proceed with the projects. He presented design concepts showing how the Lamar pedestrian/bicycle bridge may span across West Cesar Chavez Street and tie in with Lamar Boulevard north of the busy street.

Kiloh said he had been working with the ROMA Design Group to figure out a way to link the bridge and solve the problem of “how to get beyond Third and Lamar.” The proposed flyover would make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to reach the YMCA, the Seaholm Power Plant building—likely future home of a museum—and the proposed Lumbermen’s mixed-use facility at the Sand Beach Reserve, slated to include retail, restaurant, residential and office space adjacent to Seaholm.

Teresa Calkins, with the Department of Public Works, showed the Commission a proposed design of an enhanced Congress Avenue bridge that would separate pedestrians from vehicle traffic. She said expanded sidewalks and improved rails would make it safer, more functional and more aesthetically pleasing.

She presented the Commission with various options, one of which calls for reducing the lanes of vehicle traffic from six to five, with one lane being reversible to allow greater traffic flow into or away from downtown depending on the time of day.

“Because of the public safety issues and aesthetic issues we feel it’s worth looking into,” she said. Bat Conservation International supports enhancing these proposals, she said, considering the bridge is home to a massive colony of Mexican Freetail Bats. There was even talk of having enough room on the pedestrian walkway for bat-viewing platforms, she added.

Commissioner Chris Riley asked how the bridge enhancement would promote alternate forms of transportation, since the program paying for the project is designed with that intention. He pointed out these are TEA-21 (Transportation Efficiency Act of the 21st Century) Enhancement Program projects, with 80 percent of the funding coming from federal and state coffers.

Calkins said there were provisions in the proposals for bicycle traffic. Riley, a bicycle commuter, said he was pleased to hear that, believing it to be a more appropriate use of the funding than bat-observation platforms. However, he still had questions about how the bridge would accommodate bicycles.

Commissioner Bill Keenan said he thought making the bridge safer was a good idea. “It’s amazing someone hasn’t been killed on that bridge yet,” he said.

Commissioner Bruce Willenzik questioned the wisdom of removing a lane of vehicle traffic, especially if a light rail system should one day use the bridge. Calkins said only one of the proposals calls for reducing the number of lanes and all of the ideas are preliminary.

With Chair Robert Knight and Commissioners Willenzik and Riley abstaining, the Commission voted to endorse the projects.

Tim Hendricks, senior vice-president with Cousins Stone, briefed the Commission on the high-rise office complex his company intends to build and manage at Fourth Street and Congress Avenue. (This is the building Austin American-Statesman humor columnist John Kelso described as looking like a giant nose hair clipper.)

The pointed feature at the top could be sharp enough to cut hair, since it’s made of glass. “The crown of this building will translate into art-glass,” Hendricks said, tying in with the art-glass motif at the base of the structure near the entrance. He said a plaza will wrap around Fourth Street to bring the sidewalk into the entrance, which will be set back. “The idea is to create as friendly an area as possible on the ground floor,” he said. Plans call for at least 10,000 square feet of restaurant and retail on the ground floor.

La Vista on Lavaca, a mixed-use, downtown project close to groundbreaking, is slightly uptown at 17th and Lavaca. Mark Brown, project manager, gave the Commission a brief presentation clarifying some technical details from previous presentations. After going to the Board of Adjustment, some “civil engineers informed us we’d missed a few things,” Brown said.

The Commission voted to give the project a green light. With the process fully on track, Brown told In Fact Daily he thinks groundbreaking could be early this summer.

William Ball, representing Lumbermen’s Investment Corporation, gave the Commission an update on the proposed mixed-use facility next to the Seaholm Power plant, on the site where the Cedar Door bar currently sits.

Architect Juan Cotera, a member of the design team creating the new City Hall, and Nathan Schneider, the project manager for the city, briefed the Commission on the updated version unveiled last week.

Council to hear arguments

On Brodie Springs zoning

Subdivision would be built under old water quality rules

The City Council is scheduled today to consider a request from developer Larry Niemann to rezone small portions of several tracts in the Brodie Springs subdivision from IRR (interim rural residential) to SF-2 (single family residential). The Save Barton Creek Association has expressed concern about the impact of the planned development upon a number of sinkholes—critical environmental features—which carry water from the site to Barton Springs.

Council Member Beverly Griffith asked whether the Environmental Board had reviewed the rezoning. The answer was that Environmental Board review was not required for the rezoning. However, the Planning Commission did review the request and recommended approval.

The preliminary plan for the subdivision was submitted to the city in 1992 and approved under the Composite Ordinance. The property is not covered by the Save Our Springs Ordinance. Impervious cover is listed at 26 percent, as opposed to 15 percent allowed by the later ordinance. The tract was annexed into the city in 1999. According to backup material provided to the Council, “the landowner suggested annexation to city staff. Annexation avoids the county’s requirement that every single tree in the street right of way be cut down. Saving trees outweighed city taxes.”

The original subdivision had 117 single-family residential lots. The new one has 116 lots and a greenbelt area. A written description of the two plats indicates a number of advantages to the proposed Brodie Springs II, compared to the one previously approved. The documents indicate that trenching for stormwater would be 80 percent less than would have been done under the original plan, so tree roots, plants and Edwards limestone would be less disturbed.

The original plan had fewer cul-de-sacs, which is of interest to supporters of traditional neighborhood design and the proposed new subdivision ordinance. Rick Vaughn of Lopez-Phelps Vaughn is representing Niemann.

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

You might have time to drink some coffee . . . The City Council meeting will begin at 10 a.m. today, and for the rest of the ozone season. Starting later helps reduce traffic during the worst part of the rush hour, thus reducing the amount of ozone produced, say city officials . . . One vote away from becoming law . . . Janice Cartwright of the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) was elated—but not celebrating—Wednesday as SB 79, setting uniform election dates throughout the State, was approved on second reading by the House of Representatives. RECA backed the bill, as did other organizations, including the League of Women Voters. If the bill is finally approved, elections would be limited to September, November, February and May. However, the legislation would allow an election this August, since the new law would not take effect until September . . . Hays water district bills advance . . . Legislation creating Hays County Water Control and Improvement Districts No. 1 and 2 is moving toward passage, possibly today, despite some local opposition. HB 3628 and 3629 by Rep. Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs) are scheduled for hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee after 2 p.m. The companion bills, SB 1619 and 1620 have arrived from the Senate and are on the House Local and Uncontested Calendar. The more controversial measure, HB 3641, also by Green, appears to be terminally ill. Its companion, SB 1771, by Armbrister, was heard in the House Natural Resources Committee yesterday and left pending. House members were in a bad mood last night, though, expressing their displeasure about a Senate rule that will prevent many of their bills from becoming law. The board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and a number of environmental groups are opposing the bill, which would benefit Cypress Realty. The board has scheduled another meeting for tonight, with all of the water district legislation on the agenda. SB 1812, by Armbrister, which would create a taxing district on Gary Bradley's property with all revenues dedicated to the Hays County Education Foundation, is not on the Senate intent calendar for today, even though it was on that calendar yesterday.

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