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Hyde Park neighbors

Friday, August 24, 2001 by

Win first round 5-2

But 6 votes are needed for final approval of zoning

Members of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Planning Team and the Hyde Park Baptist Church both expressed satisfaction after a first round City Council vote on the area’s zoning yesterday. Neighbors were happy because the City Council approved zoning that would give teeth to their neighborhood plan if approved on third reading. Church members were satisfied because they managed to convince two members of the Council— Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Danny Thomas—to vote against the zoning changes. Since the church has a valid petition objecting to the proposed zoning changes, it will take six of seven Council members to approve the changes on third reading.

The church and its neighbors have been struggling to balance the growth of the church against homeowners’ desire to maintain the historic and residential character of the area since at least the mid-1980s. The Council approved the church’s Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD) in 1990 for property the church owned at that time. If the current proposal is finally approved, the church’s NCCD will be subsumed into the neighborhood NCCD.

Members of the church and the neighborhood reached an agreement in 1990, but certain portions of that agreement are unclear and the two sides disagree on the meaning of the agreement. Members of the neighborhood and Hyde Park Baptist have met on countless occasions to try to reach a solution, including three times in the past few weeks. Council Member Thomas attended the first meeting and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman attended all three.

Richard Suttle, an attorney for Hyde Park Baptist, told the Council yesterday his client could be satisfied with one of three actions: remove the church from the neighborhood’s NCCD; let the church be its own subdistrict within the NCCD, using the rules agreed to in 1990; or leave the church in the neighborhood NCCD, but eliminate certain rules including those relating to parking and curb cuts for church property, and change the configuration of the Speedway district so it does not encroach on the church’s property. Church member Dick Naylor, who has participated in negotiations with the neighborhood, asked that the church simply be removed from the Hyde Park NCCD.

Neighborhood Planning Team Leader Karen McGraw told the Council, “We were happy in 1998 when the city provided us with neighborhood planning assistance. You have taken steps to protect not only a fine neighborhood,” but also a historic district. “This plan has had much participation by hundreds of neighbors . . . Please consider the comprehensive nature of this plan before you make changes to it. We are asking that you adopt the Hyde Park neighborhood NCCD only on first reading.”

The full plan was not available until Monday. Over the last 10 days, neighbors worked with new owner Michael McGinnis, to arrive at a compromise for future use of the US Post Office property on Speedway. The previous owner had filed a valid petition, and McGinnis withdrew that Thursday. McGraw suggested that the neighborhood come back to the Council on Oct. 4, since there is only one meeting in September, after the plan has been fine-tuned.

Neighborhood advocate Susan Moffat thanked the city’s planning staff, saying, “They were really great.” Neighbors have spent more than two years working on the new NCCD, she said. “We are not asking the church to stop growing and we are not asking them to do anything they have not already agreed to do . . . To exempt the area’s largest property owner—cutting out 10 acres in the heart of our neighborhood—would completely undermine the neighborhood planning process, undoing years of work by the neighborhood volunteers and neighborhood planning staff . . . To be effective, our NCCD must apply uniformly across the neighborhood.”

Suttle, of Armbrust, Brown & Davis, told the Council, “You have to look to see whether you have a compelling governmental interest” in putting the overlay on the church. That legal language may prove to be the standard the city must meet to defend itself in a suit by the church. “Do you want to send a message that an inner city church, once it gets to a certain size, has to move?” he asked.

Council Member Will Wynn made the motion to approve the zoning and NCCD on first reading. He said it was quite remarkable that there were only four property owners—two of them churches—who wanted to be removed from the NCCD. He noted that other neighborhood rezoning associated with such plans had drawn many more dissidents.

Thomas tried to add an amendment to exempt the church from the NCCD, but his amendment failed 5-2, with only Watson’s support. Goodman said she would vote for the plan on first reading, even though “I know there were some provisions I don’t agree with. What I hope is that neither side sees this as a reason not to negotiate.” She said she felt the two sides had been moving closer together during the meetings and urged that negotiations continue.

Neighborhood program needs

Overhaul, Council warns staff

Citizen abuse of city planners must stop, Slusher says

Funds for neighborhood planning may be in jeopardy if efforts to overhaul the program don’t yield more positive results, some council members said yesterday.

Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon and department head Alice Glasco presented an overview of the newly formed Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department’s (NPZD) $4.2 million budget. Council members expressed support for proposed changes, but also expressed disappointment in the planning process to date. Council Member Daryl Slusher said he was not happy to know that city staff had taken abuse at neighborhood planning meetings and did not consider such behavior appropriate.

“I’m of the logic that I’m not going to be in favor of this if that continues to be the case,” Slusher said. “I’ll be following this very closely as it goes forward.”

Passage of neighborhood plans has slowed to the point where only four plans have been approved this year. The department’s goal, Glasco said, is to compress the adoption period from 18 months down to 9 months during the coming year. That would put the department back on track to complete all of the city’s neighborhood plans in a five- to six-year time frame. The department’s goals are to complete eight neighborhoods plans in 2001-2002 by combining planning areas: North Burnet; Govalle and Johnston Terrace; MLK and MLK/183; and Franklin Park, McKinney and Southeast near the new airport.

The NPZD also intends to align neighborhood planning with the city’s CIP program, cash-funded projects, business plans and long-term forecast. A plan of city services would be approved by the City Council with each neighborhood plan, along with zoning changes. To jump start the process, community leaders will attend the Neighborhood Academy to prepare for the planning process and city staff will assemble more focused information to present in workshop sessions.

The neighborhood plans will address land use, transportation and urban design issues. City staff will launch the process with more information about what infrastructure is on hand and what infrastructure is anticipated under the various department master plans.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said that neighborhood planning meetings had turned into neighborhood venting meetings. Neighborhoods leaders may spend four hours trying to pound a desired answer out of city staff. Goodman said she preferred to skip neighborhoods that had no real interest in the process of neighborhood planning.

“We should really use our resources in areas and in neighborhoods where the choices are looked at and where people want to make sure that the sometimes eclectic nature and specialness of their neighborhood is preserved in the future,” said Goodman, adding that she would prefer a situation where employees only deal with a community ready to plan rather than walking into a proverbial lion’s den.

Goodman said it was her hope the department’s new organization would give city staff a way to tailor the use of the city’s tools for a much larger area and a much quicker time frame with less stress on employees. When questioned by Slusher about department turnover, Glasco had to admit the longevity of employees in the neighborhood planning area was about two years, but said she did not see it as more or less than other department employees. Fewer and more focused meetings —“so that the employee can see that there is an end to the process”—could lead to less burn out, Glasco said.

Memorandums of understanding will be eliminated from the neighborhood planning process, Glasco told the Council. Instead, the department will give out more user-friendly information intended to clarify department purpose and vision for neighborhood planning. The department also intends to develop benchmarks with the Austin Neighborhoods Council and the Real Estate Council of Austin to measure the success of the proposed integrated planning process, Glasco said.

The NPZD also is in the process of hiring a mediator to handle neighborhood issues or conflicts. The position was approved in the last budget, Glasco said.

Code compliance is now under NPZD jurisdiction. One goal in that area is to decrease response time for voluntary compliance on code complaints from 180 to 120 days for substandard housing and from 275 to 200 days for land use issues.

The proposed operating budget for the coming year is $4.2 million. Of that total, $1.3 million will be devoted to livable neighborhoods, which includes the neighborhood planning process and service delivery plan development; another $1 million will handle code compliance issues; $1 million will go toward support services; $600,000 will go toward zoning case management; $200,000 will go to neighborhood outreach and education; and $100,000 will cover miscellaneous remaining department expenses.

Council agrees to changes

To South Austin road plan

Streets never slated for expansion

Two provisions of the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan (AMATP) that have caused political headaches for members of the City Council have now been revised. When the Council adopted the plan, in contained language listing portions of South First Street and South Lamar as having the potential for expansion. (See In Fact Daily, June 8, 2001.) That outraged homeowners and business owners along the two South Austin streets—even though no expansion was contemplated by the Council.

The original goal, as Council Member Daryl Slusher reminded audience members Thursday evening, was to make the two stretches of roadway eligible for federal funding for sidewalks and other safety improvements. “We were told by the staff that in order to be eligible for enhancement funds, that we needed to be in harmony with the CAMPO plan,” Slusher said. “But I’ve discovered since then, that’s a lot to ask the average person to understand. We actually have people out there who believe their business is about to be plowed under by the expansion of South Lamar.” Slusher put the two changes to the transportation plan on the agenda and moved for their approval. He also suggested a time limit to the public hearing of 20 minutes per side. “And I don’t think there’s but one side,” Slusher told the audience.

South Lamar residents and neighborhood activists lined up to voice their support for the change in the 20 minutes allotted. At the end of that time, the Council voted to change the designations on the two roads. The CAMPO 25-year plan, which had prompted the Council to designate the roads for expansion in the first place, is due to be revised at the end of 2002.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Villas at South Congress and Alpine . . . Council Member Will Wynn commended neighborhood leader Clark Hammond and development consultants Sarah Crocker and Terry Irion Thursday, as he made a motion to approve a mixed-use apartment complex at 3701 S. Congress. The group worked together to convince developer Jay Symcox and the South River City Citizens to support the project, which will feature 375 apartment units, a rainwater irrigation system and shielded and hooded outdoor lighting. Hammond told In Fact Daily he had promised to stop using the nickname he coined for the project, the Villas at Exposé. We look forward to the new name . . . No subdivision ordinance this week . . . The City Council postponed for one week adoption of a new land use ordinance that promises more connectivity between different streets in new subdivisions and shorter block lengths. Five council members rejected the staff’s proposal, which would have made the ordinance entirely voluntary, with only Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Danny Thomas voting for that version . . . Election called . . . The City Council called a mayoral election for Nov. 6. Candidates may file between Sept. 6 and Oct. 9. Early voting will begin on Oct. 22 . . . Back to the Planning Commission . . . A proposed zoning rollback on property in the 600 block of Tillery Street will go back to committee for further consideration. Neighbors have requested a change on the LI (limited industrial) zoning for the lot to stem the flow of 18-wheelers through the area near an elementary school. The Planning Commission sent the proposal on to the City Council in June without a recommendation. Now, the Council is sending it back to the Planning Commission’s Housing and Redevelopment committee . . . Affordable housing loan approved . . . The City Council, acting as the board of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, approved a $200,000 loan yesterday to Devonshire Partners for construction of 45 new homes in Central Austin. The company has agreed to sell 27 of the homes to families with incomes at or below 80 percent of the median family income. The remainder will be available to the general public for $90,000 to $110,000. The subdivision, which is planned to meet Smart Housing requirements, is adjacent to the Morris Williams Golf Course.

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