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Governor vetoes clerk-perk bill

Monday, June 18, 2001 by

Governor Rick Perry last night vetoed 78 bills, including one which would have specifically prevented law clerks at the Texas Supreme Court, as well as other courts, from participating in cases brought to the court by prospective employers.

The Legislature took action this session to end what has been dubbed the clerk-perk scandal. SB 1210, authored by Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) and Rep. Jim Dunham (D-Waco) would have required that any lawyer or law clerk working for a state court for a specific and limited term file a written statement detailing any benefit received from a prospective employer. Law clerks typically take their clerking jobs for one year, and many Texas Supreme Court clerks have agreed to work for large law firms after their stint with the court ends.

“These clerks have received as much as $45,000 in pre-employment bonuses from law firms with cases before the court,” according to the court watch group Texans for Public Justice. The same group says Justice James Baker lobbied members of the legislative conference committee for “special treatment” of law clerks.

Such court employees would have been prohibited from participating in matters involving their future employers while at the court. In addition, the bill would have prevented those clerks from appearing before the court for one year after their clerkships ended. A change in the law might mean that fewer students with superior grades would seek clerkships, knowing that they would be working for only their court salaries for a year. It might also mean that law firms would decide to curtail signing bonuses for students choosing to take the clerking positions.

Aquifer Board wants increased

Setbacks from Brodie sinkholes

Water reaches Barton Springs in 1-2 days

The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors spent more than an hour discussing how to further protect sensitive environmental features in a proposed subdivision near Brodie Lane and Slaughter Lane before voting at a recent meeting. They voted unanimously to support the District’s staff recommendation to increase setbacks from a large sinkhole on the tract, and to give a green light for staff to present its findings to the Austin City Council.

The Brodie Springs tract is adjacent to Brodie Lane and just south of Slaughter Lane with two significant sinkholes in an area slated for development. Tracer dye testing in the area indicates water entering the Edwards Aquifer from these sinks can travel to Barton Springs within 24 to 48 hours, according to Craig Smith, president of the BSEACD Board.

Four significant recharge features are in or near the 91-acre tract, zoned single-family residential, at Brodie Lane and Squirrel Hollow.

The District has been working with the developer to gain more protection for the recharge features, but it doesn’t have much leverage since an original plat for the subdivision remains valid under the grandfather provisions of HB 1704. The developers have modified the plat to provide for increased environmental protection, but it’s still a far cry from current safeguards set forth in the Save Our Springs Ordinance, which calls for no more than 15 percent impervious cover.

Richard Vaughn, with Lopez-Phelps Vaughn & Associates, representing the developer, told the Board the current amount of impervious cover for the subdivision, including boundary streets, is 24 percent. “We are complying with the major intent of SOS as far as water quality goes,” he said. “What we have done is try to protect the Kentucky Sink area as much a possible,” he added.

Kentucky Sink is the largest of two sinkholes on the tract. “It’s a deep cave area. If you moved some rocks, I think you could get down in there,” said Director Don Turner.

Director Jim Camp asked Vaughn if the developers knew how sensitive the features were back in 1992 when they began working on the project. Vaughn said no, before dye testing was done no one had any idea how quickly water could move underground to Barton Springs, but with that new knowledge they have made significant changes to protect the aquifer. They have reduced the overall impervious cover from 50,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet, he said. In addition, they have worked with the Save Barton Creek Association and city staff, agreeing to increase setbacks in size and establish a conservation easement in setback areas.

Vaughn said the developer has made numerous modifications from the original plat to protect the aquifer, including elevating a water quality pond so water will not run off into Kentucky Sink. Instead, water will drain into a “vegetative buffer” for increased filtration, he said.

The sinks will be enclosed by wrought iron fences, for aesthetics and security, he noted. In addition, an Environmental Management Plan has been established to maintain the integrity of the critical environmental features, and future homeowners will have annual educational seminars on environmental protection.

Kristin Miller, a senior geologist and principal with Horizon ESI, who has also been working on the project for a number of years, pointed out if this proposal is not approved, the developer would go back to the original plat, which would be allowed under HB 1704. The current proposal provides adequate protection for the sensitive features, she said, especially “when you consider they could go back to (the original plat) which is far inferior.”

If they went back to the original plat, ten years of hard work in support of the environment would be lost, she said. “I think everyone here has really worked hard and done their homework,” she added. The current proposal is strongly supported by city staff and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she noted.

Council approves zoning

For 5th and Congress

Neighbor concerned about garage

A requested zoning change for 505 Congress Avenue was unanimously approved on first reading by the City Council last week. The zoning change will allow the developer, Hines Interests, to demolish the current structure on that site and build a tower of identical height to the one at 515 Congress, which houses the Bank of America.

Developers have said the new building will not feature the same “black box” design as the 515 Congress location. They also indicate that while the buildings will be structurally separate and will have different setbacks from Congress, they will feature connecting floor-plates to allow for more contiguous space. This element should attract larger commercial tenants.

“We feel that this is a positive for downtown Austin,” Carlton Riser, the developer’s spokesperson, told members of the City Council. “It allows us to increase the inventory of the office stock downtown without changing the land use along Congress Avenue. With the increased floor plates, it allows us to market the re-developed building to larger tenants and primary employers, which I think is important for the long-term vibrancy of the Central Business District.”

Brazos Lofts resident Chris Treat asked the Council to deny the zoning change, noting that the building’s parking garage would obstruct the view from the Brazos Lofts. “I’m very much in favor downtown development,” Treat said. “The problem I have with this project is their second garage would be an 11-story parking structure one-half block off of Sixth Street, and directly in front of my house.”

Riser affirmed that Hines Interests did have plans for a garage in that location. “She’s exactly right,” Riser said. “In order to effect this project we’ve got to be able to park cars. We can’t get any more spaces on site.” The new garage would cover half of a block between Brazos and San Jacinto on 5th street, but that lot was not part of the zoning change request. Instead, Riser indicated that the developer would seek a conditional use permit.

As part of the zoning change, Hines Interests agreed to provide a “pedestrian arcade” along Congress between 5th and 6th Streets. “I think right now most people would agree that the abrupt nature of the existing structure along Congress does not necessarily fit in with what people would like to see design-wise in downtown Austin.” Riser said.

It was the proposed improvements for pedestrians which helped win the endorsement of the Downtown Austin Alliance. Charlie Betts with the DAA voiced his support for the project. “That entire block, which is right at the center of our downtown, is pretty quiet and uninteresting when it comes to pedestrian traffic,” he said. “We think that this will really enhance the viability and interest for people who are walking. We are absolutely delighted to fully endorse this project.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman requested a staff clarification on city ordinances concerning building to the property line in the Central Business District before the item comes up for a second and third reading. The developer has not set a firm start date for the new construction.

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

Governor signs Hays County bills . . . Governor Rick Perry Saturday signed HB 3628 and 3629, giving additional authority to two water control and improvement districts approved by the county in January. The legislation takes effect immediately. Capital Pacific Holdings, Inc. is the developer of both districts. Rep. Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs) and Senator Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) carried the bills. The Dallas Morning News has done a thorough job of outlining problems with water and development districts in counties around Dallas. Senator Jane Nelson ( R-Flower Mound) is so concerned she has asked Attorney General John Cornyn to investigate. No word yet on when that might happen. Denton County Judge Scott Armey told the News that Perry or members of the Legislature should form a task force to review all special taxing districts. It has been accepted practice among developers in many areas, including Hays County, to set up development districts in order to gain approval for bonds to finance roads, water and sewer lines. To read the News stories online, use the following links:

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