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SBCA to oppose zoning

Tuesday, June 19, 2001 by

Change for Brodie Springs

Setbacks from sinkholes insufficent, group says

The Save Barton Creek Association voted last night to urge the City Council to deny a zoning change on the Brodie Springs Tract because the developer has not agreed to setbacks from recharge features the group believes are critical to protectingon of Barton Springs. Julie Jenkins, who has met with developer Larry Nieman, said she felt little was achieved during the discussions.

The Brodie Springs tract is adjacent to Brodie Lane and just south of Slaughter Lane, and contains two significant sinkholes in an area slated for development. Tracer dye testing in the area indicates that water entering the Edwards Aquifer from sinks on the tract can travel to Barton Springs within 24 to 48 hours, according to data gathered by geologists at the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District. (See In Fact Daily, Monday, June 18,2001)

Four significant recharge features are in or near the 91-acre tract, which is mostly zoned single-family residential. Nieman is seeking a change to zoning on small sections of the tract. His representatives have told both SBCA members and members of the aquifer board that the developer could go back to the original plat—which they say allows for 50,000 square feet of impervious cover, rather than the 30,000 square feet proposed in the new plan—if not allowed to proceed, since the tract is grandfathered under HB 1704.

US Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor Bill Seawell told In Fact Daily on Monday that his agency is still considering Nieman’s proposal and has not yet made a decision on whether it is sufficient to protect habitat of the endangered Barton Springs salamander. One of Nieman’s representatives, Kristin Miller, told the aquifer board recently that the developer had already gained the support of FWS.

The SBCA decided that only setting aside the entire drainage area around the Kentucky Sink—the largest recharge feature in the area—would be sufficient to protect Barton Springs.

Reagan battles competitors'

Billboards at Sign Review Board

Big company wins standing to protest others' signs

When David beat Goliath, there was no rematch. But when a coalition of small companies beat Reagan National Advertising at the City Council and in court, Reagan decided to try another venue. The arena for the new battle was the city’s Sign Review Board, which held a special meeting Monday night to hear Reagan’s challenge to four billboard permits the city granted to its competitors. The first order of business was an executive session with Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry.

Representing Reagan were Jeff Howard of Minter Joseph & Thornhill, and litigator Eric Taub. John Foster of Minton Burton Foster & Collins and Thomas Davies represented the challengers. Reagan has requested repair permits on four signs and is disputing replacement sign permits granted to Acme Sign Co. and Capitol Outdoors for signs in the same locations. Howard requested a postponement of the repair cases, noting that he has requested a meeting with Mike Heitz, director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, to see if the issue can be settled without intervention from the board. Foster and Davis both said they would not contest that postponement, so long as they could proceed on their own cases. The postponement was approved on a motion by Board Member Frank Fuentes.

The challenge of a sign permit is new ground for the Sign Review Board, which generally hears requests for variances from the city’s height and size regulations. So, the first question the board had to decide was whether Reagan has standing to challenge other companies’ permits. Howard began the argument by saying, “If Reagan does not have standing, I don’t know who does.” He then told the board that they must allow his client to intervene because it fits the city’s definition of a “person aggrieved” by a decision of a building official. The city official should not have granted the permit in one case, he said, because Reagan had a contract with a non-compete clause in it, preventing the landowner from allowing another company to erect a billboard on the property for five years after Reagan’s sign comes down. Under the city ordinance, however, that would mean the owner could never erect another sign.

Foster said only “an interested party” can prosecute an appeal of a sign permit. Because Reagan does not own land or live within 500 feet of any of the signs, he said, Reagan has no standing. Davis said allowing Reagan to challenge his client’s signs would be like allowing McDonald’s to challenge Wendy’s every time the competing restaurant applied for a building permit. Following that argument, the board wanted to consult with its attorney once again.

After the consultation, the board decided to use the “person aggrieved” standard, which is less difficult to prove. Ultimately, Reagan prevailed in each of the four cases, three of which concern billboards on Ben White and the final one concerning a large sign on I-35. Fuentes argued in favor of Reagan on each case, with the board voting 5-2 on each. Board Member Betty Edgemond voted against Reagan in each case and Fuentes voted for Reagan every time. The rest of the members— Chair Herman Thun, Barbara Aybar, Cathy French, Bruce Shelton and Laurie Virkstis—were not consistently on one side or the other.

Finally, Fuentes made a motion to postpone hearing the cases on their merits until August. Davis protested that he would rather have the board simply rule against his clients so he could take the appeal to the City Council in July. He said the permits have been suspended since April 24 and it would be unreasonable to make them wait until August for a decision. The board then agreed to hold another special meeting on the matter in early July. (For more billboard history, see In Fact, March 2, 1999 and In Fact Daily, April 19 and May 11, 2001).

Triangle developer, State,

Neighbors, declare victory

Terkel revels in unusual unanimity

State Land Commissioner David Dewhurst presided over a meeting of the Special Board of Review Monday night during which members gave final approval for plans by Cencor Realty and Post Properties to develop the Triangle, a 22-acre parcel of land between Lamar Boulevard, West Guadalupe and 45th Street.

“We’ve bent over backwards to fit like a hand in a glove with the neighborhoods and come out with a plan that makes money for the developer, but at the same time puts millions and millions of dollars into the treasury of MHMR ( Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation),” Dewhurst said. “We worked at the Land Office to come up with a ‘win-win’ for the city, the county, MHMR and the various neighborhood groups.”

Cencor’s initial plans for development on the land drew stiff neighborhood opposition in 1997 and 1998, and the City Council originally denied a requested zoning change for the lot. But in July of 1998, the Special Board of Review was convened and a new neighborhood input process was initiated that eventually satisfied most of the project’s critics. The Board of Review is comprised of representatives of the City of Austin, Texas General Land Office, Travis County, Texas School Land Board and TexasMHMR. Texas MHMR owns the land, which is being leased to Cencor. The General Land Office manages state-owned lands.

“Since the last time this board has convened, all of us have worked together on equal ground,” neighborhood representative Jennifer Vickers told board members. “The process required both extraordinary contributions and difficult compromises. We believe the project you see today is better than the original plan because of that.”

“I agree that the process worked,” said Mayor Kirk Watson, the city’s representative on the panel. “Part of the reason it ended up working is because it focused on urban design. This is a good example of what we’re now trying to do over on MoPac. We’ve got a new process working there, and I hope this is a good example that people can look at. And they shouldn’t be frightened about thinking outside the box.”

A revised set of plans for the Triangle received approval from the Special Board of Review in the fall of 1998 and approval from the City Council in August of 2000 (See In Fact Daily, August 18, 2001). The city is contributing nearly $6 million to the project to cover the cost of parkland and infrastructure.

The most recent plans approved Monday call for a park at the northern end of the lot, a Randall’s grocery store, and a mixture of office, residential and retail uses. The newest proposal is denser than the original design, allowing for more residential space, more office space and more open space. The total amount of building space is now 1,014,000 square feet, as compared to 735,000 square feet in the original plan. This is being accomplished by increasing the height of one residential building.

“It’s extremely gratifying to be at a point where you receive the support of the neighborhood and all the impacted parties who have approved a million square feet of new development in their community,” said Tom Terkel of Cencor Realty. “That’s an unusual thing, especially in Austin, Texas.”

While Cencor holds a 50-year lease on the property, it will remain in the hands of Texas MHMR. That agency will benefit financially from the lease. “This money is going to help throughout the state. Three and one-half million Texans receive or are eligible for services from our department, and they are the least able to advocate for themselves,” said Texas Department of MHMR Chairman Andrew Hardin. “As a state agency, we don’t always have all the money that we need.”

Cencor Realty plans to break ground on the project by the beginning of 2002 with the first shops and apartments opening in February of 2003. When finished, it will have 800,000 sq. ft of living space with 859 living units, 6.31 acres of open space, and 64,000 square feet of office space.

Watson, a Democrat, and Dewhurst, a Republican, were all smiles during Monday’s discussions. That friendly working relationship may pay off if Dewhurst eventually wins the office of Lieutenant Governor (he’s facing several Republican challengers for the GOP nomination and John Sharp has announced on the Democratic side) and Watson eventually moves up to a higher elected office (Watson has not publicly expressed an interest in state-wide politics, but is mentioned by many political observers as a possible Democratic candidate in 2002, possibly for Land Commissioner).

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

Today is Juneteenth . . . The Greater East Austin Youth Association and the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department have scheduled a parade, beginning at 9:30 a.m. with a race to follow in honor of the day that Texas slaves were finally freed. The route will be along MLK to Chicon, to Rosewood Avenue, ending in Rosewood Park. Motorists not celebrating should avoid the area. Mayor Kirk Watson will speak about Juneteenth, which occurred in 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation . . . Austin Women’s Political Caucus fun . . .The local caucus will be honoring the Travis County legislative delegation—and hoping to raise some money at a special Esther’s Follies at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Mayor Watson will serve as special guest emcee. To reserve seats, call Bobbie at 707.0988 . . . Hyde Park Neighborhood plans return to Planning Commission . . . Planning Commissioners—who appear to be split 4-4 with Hyde Park resident Ben Heimsath abstaining—will discuss rescinding their previous vote to approve the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan tonight. Four members asked the City Council to send the case back to them because of differing interpretations over the expansion rights of the Hyde Park Baptist Church.

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