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Split CAMPO Board votes to take
Money from suburbs for KoenigAngry reps of outlying areas express dismay A sharply divided CAMPO board yanked funding on four area road projects in favor of improvements to Koenig Lane last night, prompting some board members to question whether the transit coalition would feel long-term repercussions from its decision to favor Austin over outlying cities. The motion to rescind the April funding of four other projects came at the request of Austin City Council Member Will Wynn. Wynn explained that CAMPO members clearly were unaware that the Koenig Lane project was ready to move forward with construction. Instead, the board chose on April 9 to approve four local road projects—one in Travis County, one in Cedar Park and two in Leander—totaling $3.54 million. “There was some confusion as to whether or not the City of Austin and TxDOT had reached an agreement,” Wynn told his colleagues. “It was not clear that evening and the public safety issue here was not fully discussed, at least to my satisfaction.” Wynn said it was his understanding—and the understanding of a number of CAMPO colleagues—that the Koenig project had been given the green light in February, with the proviso that an April deadline be met to reach consensus on the project. Robert’s Rules of Order allowed Wynn to move for reconsideration of funding for the four projects as if nothing “has been done—as a result of the vote on the main motion, that is impossible to undo.” After some discussion of the motion, Chair Gonzalo Barrientos ruled the board could vote to rescind the motion, although he admitted it treated “good Central Texans in a bad way.” Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) went further, saying the decision could damage the board’s relationships with the small cities outside Austin. How could he approach cities like Georgetown for continuing support of CAMPO, Krusee asked his colleagues, and expect loyalty? “I do think this is a step backwards,” Krusee told his colleagues. To complicate matters, there was division over the Koenig project itself. Some neighbors, like Clare Barry of the Brentwood Neighborhood Association, have argued that TxDOT plans don’t go far enough to address neighborhood goals such as landscape medians and user-friendly sidewalks. However, some closest to the project, such as Eric Vormelker and Lisa Schneider of the newly formed Skyview Neighborhood Association, argued that the benefits outweigh the cost. CAMPO members also had to contend with their cities losing funding on their anticipated road projects. Mayor Larry Barnett of Leander was polite but impassioned when he stepped to the microphone, telling CAMPO he would turn dirt tomorrow on his projects if he could. He told the CAMPO board that his city council pledged $300,000 to an engineering contract last week on improvements to FM 2243, between Broade Street and US 183. That, he pointed out to CAMPO board members, could not be undone. Council Member Daryl Slusher was skeptical of Barnett’s statement, saying that it should have been apparent that CAMPO was ready to reconsider its decision at the time Leander voted on its contract. Along with improvements to FM 2243, CAMPO also approved a grant to help widen County Road 272 in April. Other money was set aside to assist with the construction of a center turn lane on Westbank Road near Westlake High School and to realign Park Street at US 183 in Cedar Park. Barnett asked why the City of Austin couldn’t fund its road projects out of the $92 million provided by excess Capital Metro funds “and stop trying to bully small cities out of money they have been awarded.” After the meeting, City Manager Jesus Garza said the city’s support of the CAMPO funding was based on a promise made to the city back in February. “A deal’s a deal,” Garza said. Barnett went on to ask how and when the process is concluded, if CAMPO could go back in and rescind the decisions it had made at past meetings. CAMPO board members, with some consultation with executive director Michael Aulick, determined that they were not impacted by Leander’s decision to award a contact. The decision would only be binding when TxDOT takes a final vote on all regional improvement plans later this summer. The final vote to rescind the motion was clearly divided between those who represented Austin and those from the outlying cities. There was a brief diversion on the dais before the final vote as some questioned whether Council Member Beverly Griffith, as an alternate, could vote on Council Member Danny Thomas’ behalf. She finally was allowed to vote. The final vote on the motion was 12-8, with those opposed to it being Griffith, Krusee, Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatwright, Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, Round Rock Council Member Tom Neilson, Hays County Commissioner Bill Burnett and TxDOT District Engineer Bill Garbade. State Rep. Terry Keel was absent. CAMPO voted to divert additional funds to increased costs on the Koenig project between Airport and Lamar, bringing it up to $3.6 million. Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis did express concern that funding be found to try to keep the project as close to neighborhood goals as possible. CAMPO responds to MoPac Neighbors, seeks more study Angry reps of outlying areas express outrage Mayor Kirk Watson circumvented a long fight at last night’s CAMPO meeting by proposing a resolution that would add a step of review before the official environmental study of proposed changes to MoPac. CAMPO presented a range of alternatives for MoPac last night—from no-build to reconstruction of entrance and exit ramps to a couple of HOV lane options—as the culmination of its feasibility study of mobility improvements for Loop 1 from Parmer Lane to State Highway 45 South. After Executive Director Michael Aulick’s presentation, however, Watson stepped up to offer his own resolution for consideration, an extension of the feasibility phase that he dubbed Phase 1-e. The proposal, Watson told his colleagues, was a direct response to the concerns of the umbrella group of MoPac neighborhood associations known as MONAC. Watson said it was important to have more information on the table before CAMPO moved forward so it would not be a process “that’s set in concrete before you have the opportunity to have public input.” His comments, and those of Rep. Ann Kitchen (D-Austin), drew applause from a crowd that included more than 100 members of local neighborhood groups. The extension of the feasibility phase, Watson said, would provide an opportunity for public involvement, additional alternatives and some environmental studies. Under Watson’s plan, MONAC would play a high-profile role in the proposal, which would include the creation of a systems analysis review of the alternatives. The review would be divided into three phases: a systems analysis technical team would provide outside analysis typically completed in Phase II; a systems analysis special committee made up of various representatives would review those results; and the CAMPO Policy Advisory Committee would make final recommendations on the committee’s decision. “Instead of TxDOT, it would be this group that would own the process,” Watson said. He added that the step would be a completely new process for TxDOT projects. Watson’s proposal, Kitchen told her colleagues, was the right step to take. An environmental study would be premature, Kitchen said, without understanding the options and incorporating neighborhood input. The only sticking point during discussion among board members was the question of who would pay for it. Watson said the City of Austin would fund the anticipated $50,000 to $80,000 needed for the study if CAMPO could not cover the cost. Chair Gonzalo Barrientos expressed his support for funding the additional phase, joking that CAMPO would find the money, “even if we have to ask Willie to give a concert.” Some board members also questioned whether the process would significantly delay the project, but Watson and TxDOT Project Manager Sharon Barta pointed out that much of the data in the interim phases could be used in the environmental study. Barta added that getting past conflict in the process, in fact, could speed up the process for the MoPac project. “If we can develop a greater consensus earlier in the process, it saves us a lot of time in the later process,” Barta said. “More people are comfortable with our recommendation.” Some friendly amendments to Watson’s resolution replaced outlying representatives (on the special committee) with MONAC members. State Rep. Glen Maxey also offered an amendment giving his seat on the committee to Kitchen, since the project bisects her community. Barrientos said CAMPO by-laws allow him to make appointments to committees. Those appointments could happen in the next couple of weeks. The CAMPO board approved Watson’s resolution unanimously. Watson’s resolution also proposed priorities for the Loop 1 project, including an open decision-making process, a limited increase in corridor traffic and the minimization of the negative impacts on adjacent homes and businesses. A preliminary projection identified 147 homes and 18 businesses that would be displaced along the corridor . Environmental Board hears Griffith concrete proposal Board forms subcommittee to study idea Council Member Beverly Griffith has proposed that landowners who add impervious cover to their property be charged a mitigation fee. “After a home is built, if the homeowner has a plan requiring additional impervious cover on the lot, a mitigation fee could be charged,” she stated in a memo to members of the Environmental Board, city staff, the Mayor and City Council. Money collected from the fee could be used only for purchasing land dedicated for parks or preserves, she told the board last week In her proposal, Griffith suggests what she considers a “more than fair,” one-to-one fee assessment based on county tax appraisals. “For each square foot of impervious cover added, that number multiplied by the dollar value of one square foot of land as shown on the latest tax appraisal statement shall be charged as a mitigation fee,” she stated. “We’ve been talking about this for 15 years,” she said, but it’s been difficult to find a fair and practical way to impose a fee. “People are always going to add something, it always happens . . . a circular drive . . . a pool, a deck,” she said. It’s important to have a system that’s based on “individual responsibility,” she said, but the question is, how to make it fair? “We want it to be fair—more than fair,” she said. “Fairness is absolutely essential.” Board Member Karin Ascot pointed out that property owners in the central city would be paying much more relative to their lot size than those in the suburbs because of higher tax appraisals in the central area. “The taxes in the central city are really painful these days,” she said, noting that many older neighborhoods, with middle-class residents, can’t afford to pay higher fees. “That is a challenge,” Griffith said. Ascot mentioned Circle C to illustrate the disparity of proposed fee assessments between central city and suburban dwellers. Circle C residents, who probably have more money, would pay less in mitigation fees even though they live on larger lots in a much more environmentally sensitive area. “For the record, I’d like to have the mitigation fee, but I don’t think it’s quite equitable yet,” she said. Chair Lee Leffingwell asked Pat Murphy of the Watershed Protection Development Review Department about fee assessment in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ). Murphy said the city had no authority to impose such fees on property owners in the ETJ. “The ETJ is problematic,” he said, “people can add impervious cover whenever then want.” But initiating a mitigation fee within the city limits was a good place to start, he said. Griffith said that having an up-front agreement for impervious cover mitigation fees could work when a new subdivision is being planned. “That’s an opportunity,” she said. The Board agreed to consider the proposal and set up a subcommittee to study the issue. Board Member Phil Moncada will serve as chair and Board Members Debra Williams, Ascot and Leffingwell will comprise the rest of the group. Friday’s Hot Sheet from the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) reported on Griffith’s comments to the board as well as concerns expressed by the staff and board members. RECA promised to monitor progress of the proposal. ©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved. It's for Mom . . . Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson won the Board of Adjustment’ s approval for his mother’s swimming pool last night. Several weeks ago, Henderson asked that he be allowed to increase the impervious cover on a residence he owns at 1206 Cotton St. in East Austin. At the time, Henderson was asking to increase the amount of impervious cover from the standard 45 percent to 53.2 percent, for a gym and swimming pool. Gigi Edwards, who represented Henderson, explained that his mother needed both for physical rehabilitation. However, Monday night, Edwards said Henderson had given up the gym and would only need 46.7 percent impervious cover. Two neighbors expressed concerns that Henderson might use the residence as a rental property and renters might have noisy parties. Henderson told his neighbors and the board, “All my partying days are done . . . I’m building this home for my homestead.” He said he might have parties for children in the family but would not be having other kinds of parties. The five members present voted unanimously to grant the variance . . . Kidney Cars program . . . If you want to get rid of your old car and qualify for a tax deduction at the same time, the National Kidney Foundation of South and Central Texas is accepting donations of used vehicles. The program also accepts motorcycles, boats and trailers. Funds are used to help Central Texans suffering from kidney disease. For more information, call 326-9695 or 1-800-488-CARS.
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