Tuesday, August 21, 2001 by

Commissioners to decide

On bond proposals today

Staff suggsts cutting match for SH 130 to $21 million

When Travis County Commissioners meet this morning they’ll be looking at a pared down list of road bond projects, as well as some suggested reductions in funds for parks and replacement of narrow bridges. The county’s Transportation and Natural Resources staff produced the revised list, which features only $21 million for SH 130 right-of-way, as compared to the $66 million proposed by the citizens bond advisory committee.

If commissioners decide to accept the staff proposal without alteration, the total going before voters on Nov. 6 will be $147 million. That is still considerably more than the $80 million commissioners asked the committee to consider, but about $100 million less than the committee requested.

City officials may be pleased to note that the extension of Slaughter Lane East has been eliminated from the staff's list. That would save nearly $16 million and erase worries about the road going through a proposed city park and soccer fields. Frate Barker Road, which is listed at $13 million, remains on the list of recommended projects. Some area residents want the road expanded, but environmentalists firmly oppose the proposal, since the road crosses the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. On Friday, Craig Smith, president of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, pleaded with commissioners not to expand Frate Barker, warning that the impact on Hays County residents and the aquifer would be disastrous.

Elimination of added capacity for segments of Cameron Road, Howard Lane and Wells Branch Parkway would save more than $9.9 million, according to county staff estimates. Other roads that fell off the list for expansion include River Hills Road, Gregg Manor Road, Thurman Bend, RO Drive and Gregg Lane.

The total amount proposed by the committee for parks was around $38 million. The staff proposal trims that to just under $23 million, with the biggest chunks coming from the Southwest Metro Park and Pace Bend Park. The proposal for Southwest Metro reduces the amount from $11.3 million to $4.18 million for land acquisition and design only. The $6 million proposed for Pace Bend would be completely eliminated. Also, the staff proposes savings of about $1.5 million by not renovating two county bridges in Precinct 1. The total proposal is nearly $147.4 million including administrative costs.When commissioners asked the committee to make suggestions, county fathers said any amount above $80 million would result in a tax increase. The committee, with strong support from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Council of Austin, among others, recommended about $250 million in bonds.

Environmental Board wants

Coordination for watersheds

Members worried about Smart Growth infill initiatives

After a presentation and discussion that lasted 80 minutes, the Environmental Board voted last week to recommend improving coordination between neighborhood Smart Growth infill initiatives and goals of the Watershed Protection Master Plan.

The Board voted 5-1-1 on a motion made by vice chair Tim Jones. Board Member Phil Moncada voted against the recommendation and Board Member Debra Williams abstained. Board Member Connie Seibert was absent.

George Adams, a principal planner with the city, said this motion would be useful to staff in that it could help foster better coordination. “I think this is a real opportunity to get some synergy between Watershed Protection and Neighborhood Planning.”

Adams briefed the Board on recent amendments to the Land Development Code relating to Smart Growth infill. “We’ve got a number of conflicting policies running headlong into each other,” he said. “The whole neighborhood planning process has been very complex and very controversial.”

Joe Pantalion, an assistant director with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, said this recommendation would be “another call for implementing the (Watershed Protection) Master Plan in a timely fashion.” He said he saw “tremendous opportunities” to integrate watershed protection issues with neighborhood planning.

The Master Plan calls for spending $800 million over 40 years on Austin’s 14 urban watersheds. The primary goals of the plan are to address water quality, flood control and erosion.

Chair Lee Leffingwell said the city has a lot of work to do on making improvements in the city’s urban watersheds. “We’re way behind and trying to catch up,” he noted.

Jones actually wanted to take the motion further, saying that critical watershed protection issues really ought to be considered along with zoning decisions. “It needs to happen at the zoning level,” he said. “Zoning decisions should incorporate environmental effects.”

Leffingwell said zoning was not in the purview of this recommendation, as it pertained specifically to neighborhood planning and Smart Growth infill. The goals of infill are good, he said, in that they enhance affordability and efficient land use. However, he noted, the result is “greatly increased density, which has its good points and bad points . . . the end result is vastly increased impervious cover in urban watersheds.”

Jones expressed concern about some of the provisions designed to encourage infill, specifically amendments allowing lots to be subdivided to accommodate more buildings, and therefore more impervious cover. He offered an example of how under new amendments, a 6,000 square-foot lot, which allows 45 percent impervious cover, can be subdivided into two 3,000 square-foot lots that will legally be allowed to have 65 percent impervious cover. This would have a huge impact, he said, asking: “What’s the downstream effect of this?”

“We’re more than doubling the impervious cover . . . which is really a serious step,” he said. “Where’s the protection? I don’t think it’s being considered.”

“Before the neighborhood plan can be adopted, we have to know what’s going to be the mitigation with this increased density,” Jones said. “This is general language,” he said of his motion. “This is to get the two entities reading off the same page.”

Urban Trans commissioners

Luke warm on Seaholm plan

But commissioners reject Eden alternative

Members of the Urban Transportation Commission split over a recommendation on the Seaholm Master Plan, which is close to the end of its trek before the requisite boards and commissions. The UTC declined a request by Commissioner Tommy Eaton to specifically oppose the plan and instead offered a measure of support for the idea of a master plan, while listing specific areas of concern.

Commissioners spent most of their time discussing possible connections to the new Pfluger Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge (see In Fact Daily, June 26, 2001) and the alignment of the proposed Lance Armstrong Bikeway (see In Fact Daily, August 9, 2001). Eaton felt that any indication of support for the plan in its current form, which includes different options about the further development of those two features, could be used in the future to justify alternatives that he opposed. “Anything that suggests we support what’s been drawn here is a bad move,” he said.

Commissioner Michael Dahmus shared Eaton’s concerns about the status of the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure proposed in the plan. “It seems like a lot of trouble was taken to lay out a bunch of roads, and it doesn’t seem like any care was taken to lay out bicycle and pedestrian routes.” Dahmus said. “No attention was paid; we still have no connection (for cyclists or pedestrians) on that map.”

Commissioner Scheleen Walker suggested including language endorsing one option to connect the Pfluger Bridge to the bike trail on Town Lake. “We could endorse the plan with the indication that we support the northeast arm (of the bridge) as the priority,” she said. But Eaton was concerned about the long-term ramifications. “We don’t know what it’s going to cost,” he countered.

There was some discussion about postponing action on a recommendation on the plan, but Greg Kiloh of the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department reminded members that it has been working its way through the various boards and commissions for several months. They eventually approved a compromise resolution crafted by Commissioner Carl Tepper endorsing the concept of a master plan. The resolution also calls on the City Council to pay special attention to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians at the intersection of 5th and Lamar.Eaton voted against the resolution while Commissioner Michelle Brinkman abstained. The Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the Seaholm District Master Plan at its meeting tonight.

Environmental group takes

Stand against LIC height

Griffith urges opposition to CURE proposal

Responding to pleas from Council Member Beverly Griffith to support Mary Arnold, Roberta Crenshaw and association treasurer Shudde Fath, the board of the Save Barton Creek Association Monday voted to oppose CURE zoning for the Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. (LIC) property near Town Lake. The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on its recommendation to the City Council tonight.

The zoning on the property will currently allow LIC to build to a height of 120 feet, but the CURE overlay, which is frequently given to taller downtown buildings, would allow LIC to build to 180 feet. Fath, Arnold and Crenshaw have fought the zoning for months. Those months, of course, follow years of struggle over the Sand Beach Reserve parkland.

Griffith presented the group with a 10-point summary of reasons for denying the CURE zoning. Those points were similar to ones discussed at the Parks and Recreation Board meeting last week when that board voted to oppose the zoning.

Fath told the group, “All the downtown people are trying to create a war where there isn’t one.” In her opinion, the area is not a part of downtown.

If the City Council fails to grant the CURE zoning, the city will lose about one million dollars for parking and landscaping under a legal settlement with LIC. Griffith told the group, “It’s not hard to figure out that the offer of parking for Seaholm (power plant) is phony.” She said the offer would never become reality because the tenants and visitors to LIC’s buildings would be using the parking and little would be left for Seaholm.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman told the Planning Commission that she had served on the Town Lake Task Force and the Town Lake Advisory Board. Goodman said a project the size that LIC is planning would not be appropriate adjacent to parkland and requested that commissioners seek advice from the parks board (see In Fact Daily, August 1, 2001). Griffith said last night that Goodman deserves a great deal of credit for persuading the Planning Commission to send the matter to the other advisory group before taking a vote on it.

The project already has basic approvals from the city, since it—and the adjoining Sand Beach Reserve parkland—were the subject of 17 years of litigation and controversy. The litigation was finally settled in January when the City Council reached a settlement agreement with LIC. The Planning Commission has already closed its public hearing on the CURE zoning question.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Running for mayor . . . Jennifer Gale, one of two cross-dressers who ran against Mayor Kirk Watson, will be announcing her candidacy at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall . . . Villas at Exposé discussion. . . The South Congress property known by neighbors as the Villas at Exposé is scheduled for City Council consideration for second and third reading this Thursday. The Council approved MF-6 zoning, with a 60-foot height on first reading and encouraged developers to reach a compromise with neighbors on various items. South River City Citizens has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday night to discuss whether they should take the developer’s latest offer, still an unknown, or oppose the project at Council . . . Stranger things have happened . . . The UTC voted to ask the city manager to study ways to improve pedestrian and bicycle access for I-35. The original language for the resolution proposed by Commissioner Tommy Eaton called for an outside consultant, but it was modified to include the possibility of work being done by city staff. Although Marc Levin of the Young Conservatives of Texas circulated an email blasting the proposal as “nutty,” no one from the group voiced concerns to the UTC in person during the meeting.

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