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Tillery Street rollback advances

Friday, June 29, 2001 by

Without commission approval

Commission deadlocks on change for warehouse

All eight members of the Planning Commission present for Tuesday’s meeting seemed to agree that the 18-wheelers have got to go, but they could not reach consensus on how to zone the property at 618 Tillery St. Members of the neighborhood have requested that the East Austin warehouse be down zoned from LI (Limited Industrial) to single-family. However, city planner Susan Villarreal recommended CS-MU-CO (Commercial Services-Mixed Use-Conditional Overlay). The overlay would prohibit trucks from using the East 5th Street entrance, exiting south or entering from northbound Tillery.

Commissioner Jim Robertson said, “The proposal does improve a bad situation, but if we were zoning this today fresh, and you said this was going to be CS, we’d say think about it.” He pointed out that with an elementary school and single-family residences next-door, “from an abstract land use (it) doesn’t make sense.”

Villarreal said even though there are homes on Tillery, the majority of the lots are still zoned LI. “The LI zoning has been there since the 1940’s when it was annexed into the city,” she said. Also, Capital Metro’s bus terminal is next door and there are a number of similarly situated LI parcels in the area. “That’s why the staff is reluctant to recommend anything more restrictive than CS-MU,” she concluded.

Josephine Zamarripa, who lives at 607 Tillery, asked the commission to recommend that the zoning be changed to SF-3. She said, “I am against LI. It’s dangerous, it’s noisy, it’s pollution, it’s traffic.” Connie Gonzalez, who lives at 605 Tillery, said, “We just want a normal neighborhood where you can open the front door and see homes and kids, not trucks.” She said she feared for the safety of her own and other children because of the 18-wheelers.

Susana Almanza of PODER (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources) called the warehouse in the midst of residences, “a downright injustice.” Neither owner Tom Calhoon, nor anyone else representing him, appeared at the commission meeting. However, Calhoon has previously voiced opposition to down zoning his property.

Commissioner Lydia Ortiz made a motion to zone the property LR-MU (Neighborhood Commercial, Mixed Use) and to impose the same conditions as the staff’s proposed overlay. Commissioner Ben Heimsath concluded, “I don’t think any zoning is going to solve this policy question. I hope we don’t make a bad situation permanent.”

Commissioner Jean Mather said, “I really do think the City Council has got to purchase the property and do something on it.” She said rezoning the parcel would be sending a message.

Commissioner Sterling Lands disagreed and made a substitute motion to zone the warehouse SF-3. He said, “I don’t think the City Council will get the intensity of our intentions if we keep doing what we’ve always done. I think we’re not raising the flag high enough if we buy into the virus of gradualism. We want to send a message that these families and children need to be protected.”

Commissioner Silver Garza opined that it would not be a good idea to zone the property SF-3 if the city were going to buy it. He said, “The city needs to start on an even keel.” Lands’ motion failed 3-5, with Mather and Commissioner Ray Vrudhula joining in favor. Ortiz’ motion failed on a 4-4 split, with Commission Chair Betty Baker joining Mather, Lands and Vrudhula in voting no. Commissioner Robin Cravey was absent. A copy of minutes of the discussion will be sent to the City Council with no commission recommendation.

County discourages police

But 'copter needs home,

Police looking at Mueller and Bergstrom

The City Council recently approved money for the Police Department to buy a helicopter, but they now have to find new options on where to park it. The department wrote a letter to Travis County officials proposing that the helicopter be temporarily housed at the hangar currently used by the two STARflight helicopters, but Travis County Commissioners expressed serious reservations about that at their meeting on Tuesday.

The two STARflight helicopters are kept at a hangar on Old Manor Road in East Austin when they are not in use at Brackenridge Hospital. If the new police helicopter, which department officials have said will be used primarily for traffic enforcement, were to be kept there it could result in some cost savings for both the city and the county in the areas of maintenance and fuel. The APD proposed reimbursing the county for one additional helicopter mechanic, administrative and overhead costs, and regular maintenance. The department also requested space for a portable building for office space for 10 people to run a 16-hour-per-day operation.

The hours of operation for the helicopter proved to be the biggest concern to commissioners. “I had some really serious issues with the hours,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said. “They’ve got this Monday through Thursday cutting off at two in the morning, on Friday nights till four in the morning, Saturdays till three in the morning,” Sonleitner said. “There’s an incredible amount of noise associated with a helicopter taking off or landing. You don’t just get to shut it down the minute you’re on the ground.” She noted that the STARFlight helicopters made most of their flights from Brackenridge Hospital, but since the APD proposal called for the traffic helicopter to be based at the hangar it would generate significantly more trips—which could draw opposition from the neighborhood. “They’re going to think it’s us,” Sonleitner said, “and it’s not us. I’m real concerned about the large number of night flights.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis, who represents the area, also voiced his opposition to portions of the proposal from the APD. “For several years the community worked to shut down Robert Mueller Airport because of aviation noise,” Davis said. “To add more noise is something that I think the citizens have opposed for quite some time. The folks over in Precinct 1 are tired of noise.” Other commissioners also had questions about liability issues and the actual time frame for this “temporary” arrangement.

Commissioners did not vote on the issue, but did give direction to county staff to investigate the possibility of offering maintenance services to the city—while suggesting that the APD find another location to house the helicopter. Yesterday Austin Police Association President Sgt. Mike Sheffield said police were looking at a hangar and other buildings on the north side of the former Robert Mueller Airport. He also said police would be checking on the availability of space at Austin-Bergstrom Municipal Airport.

Landmark Commission OKs

Historic tag for cemetery

Not everyone feels honored by designation

The Historic Landmark Commission Monday evening voted to recommend an historic overlay for the Oakwood Cemetery in east Austin, which holds the graves of several prominent figures in Texas history—including former Governor James Hogg, Alamo survivor Susana Dickinson and former Prairie View A & M University President L.C. Anderson. The commission also voted to recommend historic zoning for the cemetery annex.

Although the commission voted unanimously to recommend the historic zoning, the move did have some opposition from a neighborhood group. Floyd A. Davis, representing the Davis-Thompson American Millennium Neighborhood Association, spoke against the historic zoning. Davis said the cemetery was a reminder of a time when, in his words, “we had a prevalence of racism and a prevalence of discrimination.” Davis attempted to convince the commission that an historic zoning designation would honor some of the people buried in the cemetery, but not others. “In life, we are differentiated—unfortunately,” Davis said, “but the equalizer in death should not be disturbed. It’s the only time when we are equal.”

Davis also argued that the notification process for the proposed zoning change was flawed. Although the cemetery is city-owned, Davis said the individual plots are in the hands of private citizens who don’t necessarily live within the 300-foot notification zone. He suggested a public referendum on the zoning.

Commission Chair Lauretta Dowd wasn’t convinced. “I think that it would honor everyone that is in that cemetery equally,” she said of the historic zoning. “It’s not necessarily because of the people that are there, but because of the full representation of all the former citizens that are there and the age of the cemetery itself.” Dowd also pointed out that having the historic zoning would give the commission a voice in making sure the site was properly maintained. “I think that because of its location it is in danger, and I think it’s important to preserve it,” Dowd said.

The issue moves on to the Planning Commission next and eventually to the City Council, both of which will provide opportunities for further public comment.


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

Betty Baker invited to Harvard . . . Planning Commission Chair Betty Baker has been asked to serve on a panel at the Harvard Graduate School of Design this fall. The panelists will be reflecting on and debating about the state of America’s principal cities. The meeting will be held in collaboration with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. . . Vacation time . . . In Fact Daily will take next week off. Have a safe and fun-filled Independence Day. We’ll be back July 9.

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