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Council approves Dawson changes,

Monday, July 23, 2001 by

Steps back from business overlay

Zoning approved on first reading only

The City Council has granted preliminary approval to zoning changes for dozens of lots in South Austin as part of the Dawson Neighborhood Plan. The Council decided to leave off the conditional-use overlay that business owners along South First and South Congress opposed, but directed staff to re-notify the neighborhood and solicit more public input about the overlay—which could be reinstated by the time the plan is up for a third and final reading.

Like the Planning Commission, which debated the issue of fairness before reaching a split vote on whether to recommend the rezoning (see In Fact Daily, July 12, 2001), council members were concerned about the financial impact of the conditional use overlay. That overlay would require a conditional-use permit for certain types of businesses to expand more than twenty percent. “Part of the character of the neighborhood, for me, is the businesses,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher. “Most of them are local, small businesses. They probably don’t have the kind of budget to where they could afford to hire someone to represent them trying to get a conditional-use permit before the City Council, so I want to make sure we’re not putting these businesses in a hardship position.”

The Council heard testimony from both sides about the possible impact of the conditional-use overlay during the public hearing. Dawson Neighborhood Association President Sara Andre asked the Council to approve the rezonings associated with the plan, including the overlay. “It does not prevent business owners from expanding,” Andre said. “It does, however, provide a tool that will help ensure that the future development in the commercial corridor is neighborhood-friendly. It also means that the businesses and residents will have to work together.” Dawson Neighborhood Association Vice-President Nico Ilai, who told the Council the overlay would improve communication between business owners and residents, joined her. “We’re not against commercial properties or their expansion,” Ilai said. “We do not want to push out existing ones, we only want to keep the businesses compatible with the neighborhood.”

Business owners and residents concerned about the neighborhood planning process voiced their opposition. Developer Bill Howell spoke against the overlay, saying it would force businesses to move elsewhere. “What you ought to do is to drive out I-35 and see how many businesses have moved out of the downtown area . . . because we are limiting their ability to expand where they are, which is why they bought the commercial property to begin with,” Howell said. “We’re forcing these businesses further and further out, creating the ‘urban sprawl’ syndrome.” Howell also encouraged the Council to consider the expense for business owners to obtain a conditional-use permit. “It’s a very expensive process, and it’s not the city fees we’re talking about,” Howell said. “We’re talking about a man who wants to expand his business having to pay somebody seven to eight thousand dollars to represent him before the Planning Commission and the Council.”

Neighborhood resident Kelley Smoot reiterated her complaints from the July 12th Planning Commission meeting that not all residents or businesses had been properly notified. She also expressed opposition to the urban-infill provision of the plan, which would allow an increase in impervious cover on some lots.

Council Member Will Wynn moved for approval of the rezoning, with exceptions for two tracts as recommended by staff, but also wanted the city to send new notices to business owners along South Congress and South First about the proposed conditional-use overlay. “My guess is, by the time this comes back for second reading, there will be better information to the business owners and they will probably have some individual feedback,” Wynn said. Slusher agreed with Wynn, but proposed passing the plan on first reading without the overlay. “It would create unnecessary heartache if we say, ‘the Council has passed this—now what do you think?’ I think we’ll have a better dialogue if we notify them that it’s part of the proposed neighborhood plan,” Slusher said. That measure passed 6-0 on first reading only, with Mayor Kirk Watson absent from the meeting.

Business owners along South First or South Congress may get a visit from Slusher in the next few weeks. He promised to personally hand out information about the plan and invited supporters of the measure to put together their own packet of information for him to distribute. The boundaries of the Dawson Plan are Oltorf on the North, Ben White Blvd on the South, South Congress on the East and South 1st Street on the West.

Reagan gives up Council

Appeal but not overall battle

Planning Commission to look at ordinance proposal

The city’s largest billboard company, Reagan National Advertising, last week decided to abandon one front of multi-pronged battle to keep smaller companies from taking over its billboard locations. Reagan withdrew its request for a City Council review of the Sign Review Board’s decision to allow other companies to put up signs in three locations where Reagan previously had billboards.

Jeff Howard of Minter Joseph & Thornhill said his client decided, “It was no longer in our interest to pursue it. We got a fair and thorough hearing at the Sign Review Board, even though we disagreed” with the outcome, he said. (See In Fact Daily July 10, 2001) The City Attorney’s office had recommended that the Council deny Reagan’s request.

The fact that Reagan gave up on the review does not mean that the company has decided to give up on all fronts, however. “Given changes staff is making on application forms for (billboard) permits,” Howard said, “our interests have been addressed.”

The Codes and Ordinances Committee of the Planning Commission has been considering changes to city regulation of billboards. The current ordinance allows billboard companies to replace signs on a one-for-one basis. So if a company removes a billboard in one location, it is allowed to put one up in another location, with the net result being no increase in billboards. In addition, the replacement sign is required to be smaller than the original one.

Of course, the rule does not apply if the property owner at the original location contracts with another company to erect a sign on his property. The purpose of the ordinance was to reduce the overall amount of billboard advertising without running afoul of state law, which protects billboard companies from outright elimination.

Commissioner Robin Cravey, chair of the committee, said the group would be recommending to the full Planning Commission that billboard companies be required to remove either two or three other signs to erect a new billboard. For example, he said if a billboard on a designated scenic roadway were removed, the company would only have to take down one other sign in order to put up a sign at another location. He said if a company had removed a billboard on a steel monopole, the two for one option would apply. Otherwise, the company would be required to take down three signs for every new one it erects.The proposal would only apply to off-premises advertising.

Groups that want to see all billboards removed from roadways have supported this type of ordinance. Reagan has also supported these changes, but other billboard companies have opposed them because they generally get their business by moving into locations where Reagan already has a sign and offering the landowner more money. Cravey said the committee has asked city staff to put the changes into ordinance form and bring the proposal to the committee’s July 30 meeting..

Watershed Dept. begins

Headwater protection plan

Greenbelts can also enhance property values

A city scientist has presented to the Environmental Board some far-reaching and innovative ways to further protect the city’s water quality, solve ongoing problems with urban and suburban watersheds and meet primary goals of the Watershed Protection Development Review Department (WPDR).

Mike Lyday, a senior environmental scientist with the department, walked the Board through a PowerPoint presentation on headwater protection, a subject that has been on the minds of environmentalists for years, but until now, no proposal for policy has come forward.

Headwater protection is “a very important subject,” Lyday said, comparing the numerous ancillary streams and tiny tributaries of the headwaters of a creek or river to the body’s capillary system. He termed them, “capillaries of the aquatic ecosystem.”

“I’m telling you tonight that we could do a better job of managing these resources,” he said.

Joyce Conner, who recently resigned from the Board, opened up last week’s meeting by addressing the Board, as a citizen, on the subject of headwater protection. She prefaced Lyday’s presentation by telling the Board, “we really need to be consistent with our waterways.”

“One of the ways we can protect ourselves is to have better headwater protection,” she said.

Lyday said he has spent a large part of his career concerning himself with the subject of headwaters. “I’ve been looking at this for about 12 years,” he said. About 30 years ago, the first piece of federal legislation—the Clean Water Act—was passed for water protection. Now, he’s proposing a plan that would take the cause of clean water a few steps further on a local level, a move that could help achieve Conner’s stated ambition of helping Austin become a leader in headwater protection.

“There’s something to be said of that old saying, ‘If water runs a mile, it cleans itself,’” Lyday said. “We’re not using these natural filtration systems near our headwaters,” he added, noting that tributaries through developed land fail to adequately process runoff, causing more pollution in rivers and streams. “We’re losing these streams incrementally,” he said.

If land around the small, finger-like tributaries is left in a natural state, it acts “like a sponge to filter out pollution,” he noted. Roots in the soil remove toxins as the water is filtered through the ground, he said, and leaves trap sedimentation. “The root system on these banks stabilize the bank,” he added.

If the city develops a program to protect headwaters, Lyday said it could mean the elimination of “those ugly concrete boxes we use as sedimentation filters.” A more natural system would suffice, he said.

The benefits of a headwater protection program are more than environmental, Lyday said. Greenbelts set aside for headwater protection near subdivisions increase property values overall, which would make such policy attractive to developers, he noted.

Joe Pantalion, assistant director of the WPDR, said this was the first presentation of a brand new proposal. “This is kind of a starting point,” he said, pointing out the preliminary nature of the plan.

Lyday said existing Critical Water Quality Zones would remain in place but a new designation of Headwater Protection Zone would be created. “This is a complicated proposal,” he added.

Chair Lee Leffingwell responded by saying, “It looks like you’re off to a good start.”

Lyday voiced enthusiasm for the plan and his presentation ended with a round of applause from an unusually large audience for an Environmental Board meeting.

Board Member Matt Watson said he thought it was great to take a more comprehensive, systemic approach to solving watershed problems. “Great presentation, this is exciting stuff,” he said. “One of the other exciting things about this is, it’s development friendly,” he added.

Board Member Ramon Alvarez noted that the proposal was very innovative. Vice-chair Tim Jones said, “I’m glad you’re feeling empowered enough to bring it forward.”

The Board voted 7-0, with Board Member Connie Seibert absent, to recommend sending the proposal to a citizens advisory group for consideration.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

City Council appointments . . . The City Council has reappointed Karin Ascot and Ramon Alvarez to the Environmental Board and Sterling Lands to the Planning Commission. Michael Osborne and Gordon Alexander were reappointed to the Resource Management Commission. Gilbert Ferrales and Randy Walden were reappointed to the Electrical Board and Patrick Rodriguez was reappointed to the Telecommunications Commission. New Council appointments included Cynthia Burleson to the Human Rights Commission and Kevin Johnson to the Construction Advisory Commission. . . Double duty . . . Members of the Planning Commission who volunteered to sort out conflicts between the proposed new Airport Overlay and the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan are scheduled to meet at 11:45 a.m. today at the ACVB Conference Room, 201 E. 2nd Street. The matter is scheduled to appear for a commission vote on Tuesday.

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