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Planning Commission okays

Tuesday, May 8, 2001 by

Temporary homeless shelter

La Zona owner says 4th and Nueces already burdened with Intel

Property owners in the neighborhood of La Zona Rosa and the Austin Music Hall claim they have been hit with a double whammy by the city’s plan to add a temporary homeless facility to the area while awaiting the completion of a permanent shelter on the other end of downtown.

Randolph Mueller, owner of the building leased by La Zona Rosa, complained to the Planning Commission last week that he should receive a full tax abatement on his property, given the negative impact of the temporary overnight shelter. He said the blow was especially harsh on the heels of the construction stoppage of the Intel building. The shelter, to be run by the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), would provide overnight accommodations for the homeless congregating downtown.

Mueller argued the area had suffered enough with the fallout from ARCH’s prior downtown facility, which closed when demolition of Austin City Hall began. The Planning Commission, however, unanimously approved the city’s requested conditional use permit for overnight camping on the property, with most commissioners apparently agreeing with Chair Betty Baker.

“If we make an effort to address this and provide some facility where they’re not on the streets, then I think we’ve done the property owners in the area a considerable service rather than a disservice,” Baker said.

Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley told commissioners that the city intends to use the property as a temporary shelter for the next two years. The city plans to put out bids next January on a homeless shelter to be built near the Salvation Army. Dunkerley said the city intends to construct a permanent facility by May 2003.

Mueller told commissioners that property owners in the vicinity of the Austin Music Hall “tolerated with great displeasure what we thought was temporary,” referring to the nearby construction. He added that property owners were never approached by the city to discuss the temporary shelter and were told to hire a lawyer if they intended to fight it. It’s not fair to private property owners to be faced with bedrolls on loading docks and homeless people panhandling on the street, he said.

This is an area where a murder recently occurred, Mueller said. Would any of the commissioners, he asked, be comfortable taking their children to Fourth and Nueces, given the reputation for crime the area is beginning to get?

Most of the commissioners who spoke took the tack of Commissioner Sterling Lands, who made the motion for the permit. Lands, a minister, told his fellow commissioners that the homeless problem was a problem all major cities face and that any city’s greatness “is a function of what we do to the least of us.” He applauded the temporary shelter as a clever way to make the best of a bad situation that would not be going away.

Commissioner Ray Vrudhula, who seconded Lands’ motion, added that the temporary shelter was intended to ease the problem rather than create one. Baker wanted to request that the two-year intention for a conditional permit be put in writing—making it more interim than permanent—but Assistant City Attorney Debra Thomas told the commission that it could not be enforced. The conditional permit would be carried on the property as long as it served the purpose of a homeless shelter, becoming void as soon as the property’s use changed.

Dunkerley pledged that the city would put its intention to use the conditional permit for two years—and no more than three years, if the shelter was delayed—into writing. She added that the new facility would have additional security and lighting, as well as clean alleys. The permit will require no improvements or additional parking.

“It’s our intent to really be the best neighbor we can be in this circumstance,” Dunkerley said. “We will have a better situation than we do have at the present time.” Dunkerley told In Fact Daily that she had met with neighbors of the proposed temporary shelter several times. However, she said she did not realize that the manager of La Zona Rosa had not informed the building owner about the meetings.

Lumbermen's reveals plans

For Sand Beach buildings

Design Commission to hold special meeting

The Austin Design Commission got a look at the initial plans by the Lumbermen’s Investment Corporation (LIC) for development at the Sand Beach Reserve site Monday evening. The company intends to use the land near the Seaholm Power Plant on West Cesar Chavez at Lamar for a multi-story office, retail and residential development. As part of the settlement with the city over development rights on the site, LIC is required to work with the city early in the design process. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 11, 2001)

Attorney Jay Hailey told commission members he was specifically interested in their thoughts on the massing of the buildings and their impact on the nearby park space and Lamar Boulevard. “It’s important that, at an early stage in this project, we get your feedback,” Hailey said. “This won’t be the last time we will be before you as we go through this process to show you how it’s evolving.” Madison Smith of Overland Partners and Bill Ball of the LBJ Holding Company joined Hailey in making the presentation.

The preliminary design shows several towers on the site. Some will be residential, with others a mixture of office or retail and residential. Under the deal worked out with the city, the average height of the buildings will be 120 feet. The tallest building will rise 180 feet. The project design calls for buildings to decrease in height in a “step down” fashion, with those buildings closest to the public access in the height range of 30 to 40 feet.

The design team plans to make more trips before the Design Commission. The commission will provide some written feedback on the plans for the site at a special mid-month meeting on May 21st. LIC is also preparing to go before the Planning Commission in the next few weeks seeking approval to replace an existing site plan for a 15-story office building and a parking garage. That plan dates back to the 1980’s.

Environmentalists still watching

Hays County district legislation

Larger issues may overwhelm local interest measures

Two bills to set up water districts in Hays County were finally approved by the Texas House on Saturday, and their counterparts are now set for Senate approval on the Senate’s local calendar for Thursday. The bills in question are HB 3628 and 3629 by Rep. Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs) and SB 1619 and 1620 by Senator Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria). These bills relate to land over the Edwards Aquifer, but not over the recharge zone, which is the most environmentally sensitive. The bills raise the question, “Where will you get your water?” The developers have not answered, but Hays County residents who fear rapid development suspect that those who plan to develop also plan to get water from the Lower Colorado River Authority. (See In Fact Daily, May 1, 2001)

The more controversial HB 3641 and its companion, SB 1771, are moving more slowly. This bill relates to 2700 acres that Cypress Realty plans to use for a 2700-home subdivision outside Dripping Springs. The house bill, by Green, is still pending in Calendars and the Senate bill, by Armbrister, is pending in the House Committee on Natural Resources. Lobbyist Mike Kelly told the Save Barton Creek Association last night, “We’re now going into a (time of) complicated House and Senate rules.” For example, if a bill is not on the House calendar by Saturday, it may not be able to pass. That calendar is scheduled to be printed by 10 p.m. today, so the deadline could actually be sooner.

Kelly said opposition from the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board of directors, as well as from the Mayor of Sunset Valley, may have tipped the scales against passage of the measure. He said members are currently worrying over bigger problems—such as redistricting—and do not want to see controversial measures clogging the calendars or distracting them from major issues.

Armbrister’s SB 1812, the bill creating a taxing district for the benefit of the Hays County educational foundation, was placed on the Senate intent calendar Monday. The Intergovernmental Affairs Committee approved it last week. This is the bill for the benefit of property owned by Gary Bradley which started out with many controversial provisions, including condemnation authority. The new measure appears to be identical to one authored by Mayor Kirk Watson but not yet approved by the entire City Council.

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

Airport exhibits stunning wildlife photos . . . John Ingram’s Wildlife of Central Texas captures local birds in their native habitat for visitors to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The photos show numerous native species in their habitats, including Hornsby Bend, north of the airport on FM 973. Also showing now is the Green Austin Series, featuring large oil paintings by Jimmy Jalapeeno. The oddly named artist depicts wilderness areas of Austin, including Barton Creek, Emma Long Metro Park, Walnut Creek Metro Park, Wild Basin Preserve, Blunn Creek and McKinney Falls State Park. The photographs will be on display through July 2001 and the oil paintings are part of the Austin-Bergstrom permanent collection . . . Golden-Cheeked Warbler spotted . . . Environmental Board Member Tim Jones showed a video tape last night to the Save Barton Creek Association of an endangered warbler nesting on the Champion sisters’ property at Loop 360 and RM 620. The tree in which the warbler had built its nest was marked with a red ribbon, indicating that the tree had been selected for removal. Jones said, “This is how they lose their habitat.” . . . White Linen Night this Saturday . . . The annual fundraiser for the Austin Theater Alliance is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the State Theater. Tents will be erected on Congress Avenue between 7th to 9th Streets to house outdoor festivities, including dinner from some of Austin’s finest restaurants, as well as a cigar tent. The goal of White Linen Night is to raise $1 million to help keep ticket prices low at Austin theaters. Singer Shawn Mullins will perform two shows at the State Theater, at 7:30 p.m. and at 8:45 p.m.

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