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City cites Rainbow Materials

Wednesday, June 27, 2001 by

For environmental violations

Three agencies investigating concrete firm

Three separate agencies will meet Wednesday afternoon to compare notes on what each has done to address the dumping problem at Rainbow Materials, L.P. Del Valle plant.

The three agencies—the city’s watershed protection division, the Lower Colorado River Authority and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC)—have all taken steps since neighbors reported Rainbow Materials was dumping byproduct into the Colorado River. TNRCC spokesman Andy Saenz described the situation as 1,500 cubic feet of cement rolling down a hill into the Colorado River, destroying vegetation along the way. At 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, the resulting trail of debris covers an area as large as three football fields.

Environmental protection specialist Eric Kaufman spent a day on the site and notified the owner of various City Code violations he found. Before it was over, Kaufman also had called in the Land Development Code division to review the problem. Early water tests from the TNRCC, he said, have not indicated any damage resulting from the discharge.

Saenz described the response of Rainbow’s owners as cooperative. But no matter what the agencies may decide around the table tomorrow, it won’t impact Rainbow’s permit for a concrete batch plant in Spicewood. The permit, said Saenz, will be judged and either approved or disapproved based on its own merits.

Mike Blizzard, who represents Concerned Citizens of Spicewood, said the TNRCC’s policy to ignore compliance issues in the course of a permit application is not in the public’s best interest given Rainbow’s “seemingly willful destruction of the environment” at its Del Valle plant.

“I think it’s extremely unfortunate, and I think it says a lot about the TNRCC,” said Blizzard. “I think most people are aware the TNRCC has the reputation for favoring industry over the environment.”

The permit for a concrete batch plant in Spicewood is still months away, but at recent hearings Rainbow’s owners have pledged they would be a good neighbor, Blizzard said. “And we see how they’ve been treating neighbors in Del Valle,” added Blizzard, who said Rainbow’s actions there have created a concrete forest.

Blizzard said the organization intends to ask the ARTS Center Stage board not to use Rainbow as a subcontractor on the city’s new performing arts center. On June 14, the City Council postponed approval of Austin Energy’s$240,000 contract with Rainbow Material. (See In Fact Daily, June 15, 2001).

Planning Commission delays

Zoning for Dawson area

Property owners oppose changes

The Planning Commission last night delayed until its July 10th meeting dozens of zoning changes that are part of the Dawson Neighborhood Plan, frustrating some neighborhood activists who had hoped to see the plan adopted. Opponents are vowing to fight the zoning changes before the City Council and explore other legal remedies if they are approved.

The primary point of contention over the zoning changes was the proposed imposition of a conditional overlay for 26 tracts within the area covered by the plan, which is bounded by Oltorf St. on the north, Ben White Blvd. on the south, South Congress on the east and South 1st on the west. Several business owners, especially those along the west side of South Congress, argued that the conditional overlay would unfairly limit their expansion when compared to their competitors across the street.

“If you do a conditional overlay, you’re going to make it difficult to expand. You’re going to make it difficult to do things. It’s going to cost more money,” said Dell Shaw, owner of a body shop that would be affected by the overlay. If the overlay were approved, any business affected would have to file a site plan and receive approval from Planning Commission for any expansion greater than 20 percent. “A conditional overlay would mean I would have to jump through hoops in order to expand. I just don’t think it’s right. It shouldn’t be done.” One of the uses targeted by the proposed conditional overlay relates to automobile-related businesses.

Shaw and other business owners found some sympathy on the commission from Chair Betty Baker. “It’s making redevelopment more expensive on the west side,” Baker said of the proposed conditional overlay. When Commissioner Ben Heimsath pointed out that property owners could always come to the Planning Commission for approval, Baker reminded him of the sometimes-difficult nature of that process. “It’s not going to be automatic, it’s a conditional use,” Baker said. “We all know that nothing’s automatic when it comes to this commission except for adjournment.”

Heimsath seemed to be the most strongly in favor of approving the zoning changes, saying they were necessary for the neighborhood planning process to move forward. “The neighborhood plan is extremely effective when it looks ahead and proposes a vision of what should be happening,” Heimsath said. He noted that some businesses would find extra restrictions under the overlay, but that they would not be without recourse. “I think it is appropriate to say, ‘this is the sort of thing we want to discourage,’ even though it is not necessarily prohibited outright if a good case can be made.”

While the conditional overlay provision of the plan drew the most complaints, several neighborhood residents also objected to proposed changes in their base zoning district. Other residents voiced concerns about an increase in impervious cover that would be allowed on some lots under a proposal to boost in-fill development.

Heimsath at one point moved to approve the plan with the exception of two tracts where the base zoning district would be changed, but eventually withdrew that motion before a vote was taken. The commission voted 6-2 to delay consideration until its July 10th meeting, with Commissioners Jean Mather and Sterling Lands voting against the postponement. Commissioner Robin Cravey was absent.

The delay disappointed neighborhood activists who had been involved in the plan since its inception. “After all the years of working on this plan, we’re not wild about the postponement,” said Cynthia Medlin, who spoke in favor of the plan. “But if the Planning Commission has to have some time to work through the issues, then that’s their prerogative.”

There were indications that the zoning changes would not have had enough support to pass a vote in their current form. Commissioners Baker, Mather, Ray Vrudhula and Silver Garza all indicated that they had reservations.

Commission task force

Starting review process

Group agrees on letter to commission chairs

Plenty of work still lies ahead for the task force tracking the effectiveness of more than 60 Austin boards and commissions.

Monday night’s meeting was about 45 days into a 120-day timeline the City Council has given the Boards and Commissions Process Review Task Force to complete its assessment. The nine-member task force has been charged with a number of duties, including alignment of the city’s boards with their duties as charged by the Council. The task force will also address logistical issues common to all the boards.

The task force, made up of both city staff members and current commissioners, has divided itself into three subcommittees to address systems, policies and a survey. A spreadsheet has already been developed to review the specifics of 68 designated boards on issues such as membership, vacancies and number of meetings last year.

The task force agreed to send out a letter to the chair of each of the city’s boards outlining the two main purposes of the task force: reconciling the function of each board or commission with actual city ordinance, and considering some of the thornier logistical issues of group dynamics, such as how to handle conflicts of interest and chronic absenteeism. Joe Canales, chief of staff to the City Manager, said it was important to give commissioners some assurance that the task force was not intended to make wholesale changes.

Task force members agreed they would use the letter suggested by Canales to solicit feedback from various commissions on their understanding of each board’s perceived purpose. Leonard Lyons described the feedback as coming in response to a hypothetical four-page document. Three of the pages, Lyons said, would be the general policies and procedures common to all boards. The fourth page would outline the function and purpose of the specific board. Lyons said feedback would be solicited from various committees on that fourth page—which would ultimately be compared to the purpose stated by the Council.

One subcommittee is reviewing hundreds of documents and language from the city web site that articulate the purpose of each subcommittee. It is also charged with reviewing any overlap between the dozens of existing committees.

A second subcommittee, which has met with former Council Member Bill Spelman, will address policy issues. Spelman has recommended a five-year cycle of sunset review for commissions, with similar commissions grouped by year. Assistant City Attorney John Steiner, who has also worked at the State Ethics Commission, pointed out that the levels and layers of financial review for commissioners is also an issue for evaluation.

A separate task force or city department might consider the issue of what to do when conflicts of interest arise between a commissioner’s public and private roles. Steiner said it might be wise to drop such a major issue so that it doesn’t become a “tail wagging the dog” issue and demand too much time of the current review.

The task force has also been charged with sending out a survey for feedback from boards and commissions. Brown admitted the task force is still grappling with this point. Nothing in the mandate from the City Council outlines what information the task force is supposed to gather from the city’s boards and commissions.

The task force will meet again on July 16. Commissioners also agreed that the board should address standards for training board and commission members.

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

Hispanic Leadership Austin seeks applicants . . . The Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is hosting a recruitment mixer for HAL (Hispanic Leadership Austin) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Nuevo Leon, 1501 E. 6th St. for those who may be interested in applying for the program, which focuses on the social and political contributions of Hispanics and the economic benefits of diversity. You may find an application and learn more at http://www.hispanicaustin.com or by calling 476-7502. The deadline for applying is July 20 . . . Governor zaps energy bills . . . Thanks to http://www.quorumreport.com we know that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed four energy bills, several of which apparently would have had a positive environmental impact. Austin Rep. Dawna Dukes, who authored HB 2839, told the Quorum Report the Governor’s veto of her proposal was “short-sighted,” and showed his “lack of foresight to deal with the energy crisis.” Dukes’ bill, which was approved on consent, would have promoted energy-efficient housing through a variety of methods . . . Visitors among us . . . A dozen students from Mexico are in Austin this week to learn about the city's efforts to promote environmental conservation and family planning. Members of the Mexican Conservation Corps are in Austin. through Saturday as part of a project sponsored by the Partners of the Americas, a volunteer group with members in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean..

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