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Neighbor asks developers for $250K

Thursday, August 9, 2001 by

Or she'll oppose MLK parking garage

Final vote on condos & garage set for today

The developer of a proposed condo and parking garage on West MLK has received a demand from an adjacent property owner for “reasonable approval rights” as well as $250,000—or she will oppose the development at today’s City Council meeting. Attorney Christopher Bell of Smith, Robertson, Elliott & Glen, wrote to David McNeil and Bill Gurasich on Tuesday about the concerns of his client, Jill Bickford. That letter states that “Bickford is inclined to oppose your development,” because of the developers’ failure to meet various demands and pay her $75,000, as requested in June.

Gurasich represents Austin Recovery, Inc, owner of the historic mansion at MLK and West Avenue. The recovery center has moved to another location and wants to use the mansion for offices. The property across MLK would be used as parking for the offices and neighboring apartments or condos.

In the June letter, Bell asked the developers to enter into an agreement that would include building an 8-foot wall or fence next to the proposed new driveway, as well as various restrictions on the use of the new driveway. The letter, which contains references to numerous restrictive covenants and a “joint development agreement” relating to the property owned by the developer and adjacent property owned by Bickford. Bell asked for money for Bickford “for her expenses in this matter and (to) compensate her for the loss of use and inconvenience that will result from construction.”

One City Council aide noted that only Bickford’s signature is needed to give surrounding neighbors a valid petition against the zoning change. Six of the seven members of the City Council must vote for a change in order to override the petition. Council Members Will Wynn and Daryl Slusher have voted against the change on two previous occasions.

In the letter provided by a development representative to Council offices Wednesday, Bell wrote: “In the event we do not receive a binding commitment from you (McNeil and Gurasich) to enter into an unconditional agreement . . . together with one-half of the payment ($125,000) by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, August 8, 2001, Ms. Bickford will actively oppose all aspects of your development . . . including petitioning against the proposed rezoning of the property to be considered by the Austin City Council at its meeting this Thursday.”

Mandatory restrictions unlikely

But Water budget to rise slightly

Average wastewater fee would increase only about $1

Last night Chris Lippe, director of the Water and Wastewater Department, briefed the Water and Wastewater Commission on the department’s proposed budget for the coming year. He also gave the Commission a report on how the utility is holding up under the strain of the summer’s record-breaking heat.

“We’re in the middle of a long, hot, dry summer again,” he said. “Our system is responding very well . . . it’s handling the high demands . . . we don’t anticipate declaring mandatory (restrictions).”

Lippe said the utility expects to make it through the summer without a problem despite the fact that the Ullrich Water Main won’t be operational this season as originally planned. “It’s a fairly major job,” he said, referring to the repair work underway to get the troubled water line up and running.

“The plan is to get those repairs done next winter . . . to have full use of that line next summer,” he said. Some of the repairs have been completed, but he said he expects up to two more months of negotiations with the contractors before the final repairs can begin.

The department’s proposed operating budget for next year is up $35.8 million over the current year’s budget. Operations and maintenance will eat up $107 million of that, while $103 million is allocated for debt service, Lippe said.

Broken down further, some of those increases translate to additional personnel costs and fuel expenses, he said. Personnel costs, including pay for performance and health insurance, will rise 7.6 percent, by $3.9 million, though the actual number of employees will rise by only two. Electrical costs are rising 23.4 percent, or $2.8 million, he said.

Lippe said the department’s goals include maintaining rate stability and ensuring financial competitiveness. “The utility takes very seriously any rate increases,” he said, noting that he strives to avoid or postpone rate hikes. “But this is the year for a rate increase,” he told the Commission.

The proposed budget calls for a rate hike of 5.8 percent system wide, Lippe said—seven percent for water rates and 4.5 percent for wastewater service. But despite the rate increases, most residential customers won’t notice much of a difference because of changes in the way the rates are structured.

“For the average water customer, who uses about 8,000 gallons, there is no impact from this rate change,” he said.

The “customer charge” will go up from $2.23 to $3.32, but the charge for usage of zero to 2,000 gallons will actually decrease from $1.25 to 70 cents. The current rate for 2,001 to 12,000 gallons is $2.00. The proposed rate calls for that same $2.00 charge to apply for 2,001 to 9,000 gallons, to accommodate the average customer, and above that higher rates apply.

The average customer’s bill would actually drop by one cent, from $16.73 to $16.72, according to Lippe’s presentation. Rates for the average wastewater customer, who uses 6,000 gallons, would rise with the proposed budget from a current $24.80 to $25.84.

Compared to other Texas cities, Austin’s average monthly combined water and wastewater bills fall somewhere in the middle. Austin’s current average bill comes to $41.53 and the proposed rate hike would bump that up to $42.56, compared to $23.08 in El Paso, $27.68 in San Antonio and $33.23 in Dallas. Rates in Houston surpass Austin, at $47.39, and San Marcos beats them all at $67.52.

Planning Commission refuses

Zoning change in Airport zone

Change to Land Development Code would alert staff

The Planning Commission this week denied developer Bill Gurasich’s request to rezone his southeast Austin property from SF-2 to SF-3 because the change would put more families within the airport noise overlay zone. As Commission Chair Betty Baker explained to Commissioner Ray Vrudhula, current zoning allows only single-family homes, while the change would mean duplexes—and even more people living within earshot of airport noise. Gurasich was seeking to reconfigure 115 to 118 single-family lots to 83 duplex lots at the end of Moore’s Crossing Blvd, south of Elroy Road.

Gurasich complained bitterly—as he did last week when the Commission recommended approval of the new expanded overlay—that developers in the area were not warned by city staff of the impending change and should not be penalized for it. He said, “City staff knew a year ago that they were going to be coming forth with this.” He said he and other developers would not have expended “tens of thousands of dollars” had they known of the impending change. “City staff should have told us that we were in an endangered zone,” he concluded.

Baker told him, “I will admit that you did not know if you will admit that we did not know.” Gurasich did so, adding that the City Council also did not know about the change.

Then Assistant City Attorney David Petersen, who represents the airport, stepped up with his point of view. Airport officials do not know—and are not notified about what nearby developers are doing, he noted. In the past, the airport overlay has been enacted separately from the Land Development Code. “One of the reasons the ordinance was presented to you as part of the Land Development Code was to address this issue,” he said.

“The professionals in the zoning and land use areas were perhaps less aware of (the airport overlay) than may have been ideal. Some individual staff person was not aware of these ordinances that were not part of the (Land Development) code.” He said the change in the ordinance would hopefully remedy “a situation where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing . . . the airport was not aware of what Mr Gurasich was doing because he didn’t notify us.”

The commission voted 8-0-1, with Commissioner Silver Garza abstaining, to recommend that the City Council deny the zoning change.

Two Commissions give

Advice on Seaholm Plan

Environmental Board and Design Commission concerned about bikeways

The Design Commission signed off on its letter of support for the Seaholm Master Plan last night, but commissioners urged the city to give further consideration to the Pfluger Bridge extension and the future of the Green Water Plant site.

In its letter, the Design Commission asks the city to resolve bridge extension alignment issues concurrently with the proposed realignment of Sandra Muraida Way. Jeb Boyt of the non-profit Austin Metro Trails and Greenways (AMTG) was also on hand, encouraging the commission to favor a northeast arm to the bridge over the northwest arm currently being suggested by ROMA.

The Pfluger Bridge has been completed up to the bike trail on Town Lake, with extension arms possible to either the northeast or northwest. Austin Metro Trails and Greenways, Boyt said, supported a northeast arm over Cesar Chavez that would provide good views of Town Lake and Auditorium Shores and would connect to the proposed Lance Armstrong Bikeway. The bikeway could take a number of alternative routes through the Seaholm development. Either extension of the arm is expected to cost the city about $1.5 million.

AMTG prefers a route that enters Seaholm on Third Street and continues over West Avenue and under Bowie Avenue. The trail could then hit the crescent-shaped parking rim proposed for the Seaholm plant and either connect to the bridge on the south or to Lamar Boulevard on the north. Once completed, the Lance Armstrong Bikeway would then pass Austin High School on the west and end up on Lake Austin Boulevard near the VFW Hall, Boyt told commissioners.

“They need to make this an integral component of the plan or it’s just going to be a big mess,” agreed Commissioner Phillip Reed, who helped draft the letter. Commissioner Janet Seibert urged her colleagues to make a “strong statement to complete the bridge concurrently with the plan.”

AMTG’s route for the Pfluger Bridge extension is one of a dozen or so being considered by city officials, Boyt said. Those choices are quickly being narrowed to two or three preferred routes. AMTG is also urging the city to prioritize those parts of the Seaholm project that could be reasonably funded in the upcoming fiscal year: improvements to the Shoal Creek trail; creation of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway; extension of West Avenue; and the northeast extension of the Pfluger Bridge over Cesar Chavez Avenue.

The Design Commission’s other concern was the future of the Green Water Treatment Plant, which Austin Energy has claimed would be too expensive to relocate. “The potential cost of relocation (presented as $17 million) should be compared to the potential benefit the property could provide to the city were it developed as a public amenity adjacent to Seaholm,” commissioners wrote in their letter to Jana McCann in the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department.

Commissioners said they did not think the city had given sufficient consideration to options for the plant, which they outlined as the relocation of the facility entirely; the consolidation of the facility to a smaller site along Third Street; or the possibility of replacing the existing equipment with technology that would require less space and be installed on or above new buildings or parking structures within the Seaholm development.

The concern of the Design Commission was that due diligence would be completed on options for the property, although Chair Juan Cotera admitted that might difficult to do. “It’s a big piece of property,” Cotera said. “It’s outrageous to use it the way it’s being used, but it looks like we’re stuck with it.”

Overall, the commission did express its support for the master plan. Greg Kiloh of the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department, who was on hand to answer the commission’s questions, said a preliminary report on the plan was likely to go before the Council in late August, with approval set for late September.

Environmental Board Seaholm recommendations

Last week the Environmental Board voted unanimously to approve a recommendation crafted by a subcommittee on the Seaholm District Master Plan. The following represent highlights of concerns the board wants to express to the City Council.

• An extension of the Pfluger Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge, connecting with both Lamar Boulevard north of Town Lake and the planned Lance Armstrong Bikeway north of Cesar Chavez Boulevard, should be included in the Plan. • Parking areas on city land in the district should not exceed the approximate 137 surface spaces now depicted in the current plan. Additional parking, augmented with shuttle buses, can be made available south of Town Lake. • The land purchase option in partnership with Lumberman’s International Corporation should proceed pending development of the Plan. The .609-acre tract ceded to the city should be dedicated as parkland. • The area presently designated as the “Events Green” should be expanded if possible and should never be converted to additional parking. • The Green Water Treatment Plant should be maintained as is until decommissioned, then turned into parkland, according to the Town Lake Comprehensive Plan. The Board strongly recommends against privatization of this land. • The “Grand Entrance” segment of Sandra Muraida Way, should be eliminated. Research into a traffic signal at Lamar and Sandra Muraida Way should be considered and all of Cesar Chavez Boulevard should be a two-way street. • The proposed extensions of West Avenue and West Third Street should be for pedestrian and bicycle use only.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Applicant is Aulick . . . CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick found himself making a presentation to the Planning Commission Tuesday night, but it wasn’t about transportation. Aulick was requesting a zoning change for property he owns on Old San Antonio Road. The would-be buyers of the lot want to use it for a wedding chapel, and wanted GR zoning to accommodate that use. Planning Commissioners sent the request instead to the Historic Landmark Commission to review the home for historic designation (the house is more than 100 years old). They also expressed concern that allowing commercial zoning along Old San Antonio Road would promote more development in the predominantly rural area . . . Police, Fire, budgets tonight . . . The City Council will hold a special called meeting at 6 p.m. tonight for a public hearing on Police, Fire, EMS, and Municipal Court budgets. As usual, the meeting will be at the LCRA, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd . . . Hyde Park opponents meet once more . . . Representatives of the Hyde Park neighborhood and the Hyde Park Baptist Church discussed their opposite points of view for another two hours again yesterday. One non-combatant privately observed that the two sides might make peace about the same time as the Israelis and the Palestineans . . . Planning Commission and ZAP. . . There should be more appointments today to the new Planning Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission. Council Member Beverly Griffith expects to name current Planning Commissioner Jean Mather to the ZAP and Maggie Armstrong, a former Planning Commissioner, to the new Planning Commission.

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