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Austin to take another look

Thursday, August 2, 2001 by

At Buda ETJ question today

Waivers for affordable project equal $16,000

The dispute between the City of Austin and Buda over control of extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) in Hays County may come to an end today as the Austin City Council once again considers release of land that nearly surrounds its smaller neighbor. Both sides must agree to a plan that would allow Buda to annex up to 5,464 acres once landowners agree to the change, according to former City Attorney Andy Martin. Martin, who is working for Austin on a contractual basis, said he expects the governing bodies of both cities to approve the plan.

Austin will release 234 acres of land east of I-35 immediately and another 348 acres when Buda’s water quality ordinance takes effect. Part of the disagreement between Austin and Buda is over that ordinance. Martin said Buda adopted the ordinance in February, but it was to take effect only after Austin released the ETJ. He said Buda would need to adopt the ordinance before Austin will release any ETJ west of the city, because that area is in the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

“Land out there will either be subject to Austin’s water quality ordinance or Buda’s water quality ordinance. It doesn’t leave Austin’s ETJ until it can be brought immediately into Buda’s ETJ and be subject to Buda’s water quality ordinance that they pass,” Martin said.

As a General Law city, Buda can only annex land with the consent of the landowner, he noted. Austin, being a Home Rule city, does not face that restriction.

Martin said he has been talking with Buda City Council Member Byron Warren. Warren, two other Buda City Council Members and Jim Camp, a member of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors, have worked as Buda’s annexation task force, he said.

According to backup documentation for the ordinance, “when Buda’s ETJ water quality ordinance is effective, Austin will release ETJ within ½ mile of Buda’s current city limits on the west.” The plan says there will be no release of ETJ if release would “destroy the contiguity with unreleased Austin ETJ.” All extra-territorial jurisdiction claimed by a city must be contiguous with the city or with other parts of the ETJ.

Planning Commission approves

Montopolis Neighborhood Plan

Fate of Jockey Club site still causing discord

The final item considered by the Planning Commission during its marathon session Tuesday night was the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan. Their major decisions in the final plan favored staff recommendations over neighborhood preferences.

The public hearing on the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan took place two weeks ago. In a brief review of the plan, Mario Flores of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department pointed out some of the differences between city staff and the neighborhood plan team. This followed a lengthy discussion of the airport overlay issue, also part of the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan.

The boundaries of the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan are the Colorado River on the north, U.S. Highway 183 on the east, Ben White Boulevard on the south and Grove Boulevard on the west. City staff recommended zoning changes for 77 tracts within the neighborhood boundary area, pushing commercial to the outside boundaries of the neighborhood. Under the plan, neighborhood retail zoning (GR) would replace general commercial services (CS), for dozens of parcels on the neighborhood map.

Proper zoning would promote increased commercial development and higher property values for homes, Stuart Hersh of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development told commissioners. That, in turn, would lead to more opportunities for the residential development within Montopolis, Hersh said.

“The staff alternate recommendation provides great opportunity for commercial redevelopment,” Hersh said. “If you don't support it, you are unlikely to get any development, and increased development means increased housing opportunities. Those should be diminished.”

Commissioner Jean Mather said she was appalled by the competing neighborhood plans. “I think the neighborhood plan is what we would go by,” Mather told her colleagues. “I can’t see why we wouldn’t approve the neighborhood’s plan.”

Most of the discussion centered on opposing recommendations for two zoning changes. Montopolis neighbors would prefer to keep the newly created airport overlay zone open to residential development. City staff recommendations would push commercial zoning more deeply into the core of the neighborhood. Commissioner Sterling Lands, in particular, was concerned that the maps provided by staff did not give enough detail, in particular on electric transmission lines that would bar development and the gas pipeline under the area.

Majority agrees to Heimsath compromise

Commissioner Ben Heimsath proposed the compromise that was finally approved by Planning Commission. The group agreed to bow to the neighborhood’s preference for residential development west of the transmission line. East of the transmission line, the group chose to support the predominantly commercial staff recommendation. One lot along the line, the home of a kennel and a couple of duplexes, was exempted from the zoning. The lot, which was already zoned single family, was noted as commercial on one side of Ponca Road and residential on the other.

The second zoning change could have leveled the city’s efforts to buy one tract for affordable housing. Owners of the 10-acre tract, known as the Austin Jockey Club site, want to build a horse track. The city, however, would like to purchase the tract for affordable housing in the area. The City Council directed the Neighborhood Housing department to study the feasibility of purchasing the proposed site along East Riverside Drive near Frontier Valley Drive last December.

Most of the land under the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan is simply designated as residential, neither single-family nor multi-family. Neighbors wanted the plan to exclude multi-family housing as an option for the Austin Jockey Club tract, known as Tract 47. Neighbors like Susana Almanza of PODER (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources) claimed the area already has too many apartments, although the area bounded by the neighborhood plan has fewer than 200 multi-family units. By comparison, the area has 1,741 single-family homes. Another 1,000 multi-family units, primarily under the city’s Smart Housing program, are scheduled to be completed in the coming months.

Wellington Interests, however, no long intends to build a 340-unit complex on the northeast corner of East Riverside Drive at East Montopolis Drive. The project has been de-certified as a Smart Housing development, according to a memo Hersh sent to city leaders earlier this month.

Affordable housing must include the opportunity for multi-family housing, Hersh said. In his final act as a city official before his retirement on August 1, Hersh warned that the city could pursue no viable federal funding options for affordable housing if multi-family were excluded from the potential mix on the property site. “Fine with us,” replied a trio of Montopolis residents in the audience.

While Mather supported the neighbors’ desire to avoid new multi-family housing, the full commission did eventually adopt the plan. All of the commissioners voted for it with the exception of Commissioner Sterling Lands, who abstained from the motion. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula departed early and did not hear the case.

Other differences between the neighborhood’s recommended plan and the staff-backed plan adopted by the Planning Commission included the zoning of the current landfill site. Members of the neighborhood planning team wanted the property on Grove Boulevard to be zoned for single-family neighborhood use. City staff recommended GR, community commercial zoning on the property. A recommended conditional overlay on the property would restrict automotive uses.

The original Montopolis Neighborhood Plan also included the designation of P, or Public, zoning. Because that designation had not been thoroughly reviewed and approved, it was cut from the plan, Flores told the Planning Commission. The plan now moves to the City Council for approval.

Despite complaints, commission

Recommends expanded overlay

Homeowners, developers protest airport zone expansion

The expanded airport overlay buffer won approval from the Planning Commission Tuesday night in a contentious hearing that lasted until 11:30 pm. Partly in response to complaints from angry homeowners and developers, the commission included a recommendation that the City Council seek funding to help existing home-owners and schools in the expanded zone pay for building modifications for noise mitigation.

The airport overlay zone will limit new residential construction in areas surrounding Austin Bergstrom International Airport. The goal is to prevent homes from being built underneath the likely flight paths for airplanes, which create significant noise during takeoff and landing (see In Fact Daily, July 18, 2001). While some of the current neighbors of the airport argued against the new overlay, they didn't dispute the noise problem. Instead, they called for the city to take measures to reduce it.

Some of the harshest criticism of the overlay came from officials with SR Development. That company is responsible for the Stoney Ridge subdivision near the airport. Bill Gurasich with SR Development told commissioners the new, expanded overlay could be avoided with better flight path management. “The flight vectors that were established when this airport was approved have been violated. They've been violated from day one,” Gurasich claimed. “That's the responsibility of the city as the operator of the airport. The expansive noise contours now in review are based almost entirely upon the aviation department's failure to maintain and to hold departing airlines to the stated vectors.”

Developers tried to convince Planning Commission members that the new airport overlay would decrease property values, couching their argument as a property-rights issue. “Your city's airport is recommending a taking without compensation,” said Tim Chambers, who is also with SR. Development. “Their actions are morally out of line.” Existing homes with the overlay would be classified as non-conforming and would be allowed to remain as long as they are not abandoned. Representatives of SR development told the commission that the non-conforming designation was intrinsically harmful to a home's value. “If the existing homes are non-conforming, the homeowners will look to the builder and ultimately the developer for redress,” Chambers said. “We would be forced to defend ourselves by taking appropriate action.” Chambers indicated that action could include a legal challenge if the overlay is approved by the City Council. According to city staff, there are about 1600 homes within the overlay. Nearly 400 of those are in the Stoney Ridge subdivision.

Commissioner Sterling Lands had several questions for staff about the need for the overlay, and eventually expressed his strong opposition. “I don't agree that we can conclude that this half-mile buffer zone is required at this time, nor will it ever be required…unless we are talking about a plan for expansion that has not yet surfaced and the damage to the community would be so devastating that we're trying to mitigate it at this point,” Lands said. “I don't believe that this half-mile buffer is real.”

Lands was not able to convince other commissioners. “We're not talking about a major expansion to justify the buffer,” Commissioner Robin Cravey said. “We're already hearing today from people who are saying ‘we're affected by noise.’ I think it is foreseeable that the buffer will be needed.” City staff also presented information showing that the number of flights at the airport had increased more quickly than the original estimates made several years ago.

The commission voted in favor of the expanded overlay 6-1, with Lands opposed. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula had left the meeting by the time the vote was taken, and Commissioner Silver Garza abstained from the discussion and the vote because of a financial stake in property in the area.

The commission did make several amendments to the overlay ordinance. Within certain portions of the overlay, existing residential and school uses would be permitted if they were located in a subdivision with an approved final plat or within a Municipal Utility District. As part of that condition, commissioners also agreed that the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan should receive the same standing as a subdivision or MUD. They also encouraged the City Council to find money to help existing schools and homeowners pay for noise abatement measures, including specialized windows and upgraded insulation. Those additions to a home could cost in excess of $1,000. That recommendation applies only to homes within a certain portion of the overlay, as some of the homes within the overlay are eligible for federal funding. The overlay still has to go before City Council for final approval.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sick Council Member . . . Council Member Danny Thomas was reportedly in the hospital yesterday being treated for an illness. His executive assistant, Linda Dailey, said she expected he would be released today, but would not be able to attend today’s Council meeting . . . Decisions may be delayed . . . The developer of the Vintage complex on Town Lake has requested a postponement on final consideration of his zoning request. At the urging of neighbors, the City Council granted a lower intensity of zoning than had been requested. There may also be a postponement in the case involving a sensitive tract of land on Brodie Lane. Environmentalists have been asking for more stringent water quality controls than the developer has proposed . . . Hyde Park mediation continues. . . Representatives of the Hyde Park Baptist Church and proponents of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan met again Wednesday to try to work out their differences. Mediators said they were hopeful that a compromise could eventually be reached. The group will meet again next Wednesday . . . Fundraiser for Judge Evans . . . Justice of the Peace Pct. 5 Herb Evans will kick off his reelection campaign today with a fundraiser to be held from 5:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at Momo’s, 618 W. 6th Street, above Katz’s. . . Battle of the Budget . . . City Manager Jesus Garza will provide an overview of the city's proposed budget for the 2001-2002 fiscal year at today's council meeting. The proposed tax rate is 45.97 cents per $100 of property valuation . . . Not really prime time viewing . . . As the Planning Commission drew into its fifth hour late Tuesday night, Commissioner Ben Heimsath quipped to the audience that the meeting must look like an episode of “Survivor.” No, chair Betty Baker countered with tongue firmly in cheek, more like an episode of“The Weakest Link” . . . Is the county getting a fair deal ? . . Commissioner Karen Sonleitner has asked the county’s Health and Human Services staff to take a second look at the funding split between city and county on community block grants. Sonleitner said she finds it hard to believe that the current split—which sends 19 percent to the county—is a true reflection of the balance between city and county services. The same split, Sonleitner said, has been in place since the 1980s. County services have expanded significantly since that time, Sonleitner said, citing the county’s newer health care clinics in Jonestown and Pflugerville.

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