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New subdivision ordinance leads to

Friday, August 31, 2001 by

Harsh words among Council Members

Wynn wants to know what Goodman and Griffith will do

Members of the development community and citizens interested in better urban planning have tried for more than two years to come to some agreement over changes to the basic structure of new subdivisions. There has been movement, but developer and real estate representatives still say that connecting more streets and making shorter blocks will cause the price of housing to increase.

Thursday, the City Council was set to consider a revised, toned-down subdivision ordinance that would still mandate the additional connective streets, but would not prohibit the cul-de-sacs that developers—and lots of homeowners—love. Surprisingly, what started as a long, thoughtful discussion between Council Member Will Wynn and Austan Librach, director of Transportation, Planning & Sustainability, turned into an argument between Wynn and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman.

Wynn said he agreed with the goal of connecting subdivisions, noting, “otherwise you have one way in and one way out. When you have a number of tracts of land developed in sequence and not connected, you have tremendous pressure” on the arterial that connects the subdivisions to larger roads and downtown. The subdivisions will then exert “tremendous pressure to increase the size of the arterial,” he said.

The problem is that the subdivision residents will resist being connected to other new subdivisions because of fears of increased traffic in their neighborhoods. The ordinance before the Council, Wynn said, clearly mandates such connections.

“Now, my experience is that every one of those mandated or proposed connections to existing streets will be hotly contested by the homeowners on those existing streets. The easy example was where we had 1200 individually signed letters,” against connecting one suburban subdivision to another. “This dwarfs any existing issue,” he said, in terms of citizen concern, “because there was going to be a single connection.”

He predicted that the Council would see “tremendous opposition” in the vast majority of cases. Wynn said he could take the heat, but what would be the point if two Council Members, Goodman and Council Member Beverly Griffith, stuck to their stated policy of never voting against a valid petition?

In most cases, he said, the developer would need a zoning change. “And so there’s going to be a valid petition signed because just a handful of homeowners enjoy the luxury of a big vacant field behind them where their kids play. And we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think so . . . So I’m struggling with us mandating something that ain’t gonna happen in most cases. He said he opposed “carving into this ordinance” to eliminate the mandate to connect existing subdivisions to new subdivisions. “That just defeats the whole purpose and the real rationale of why thinking people brought forth this ordinance to begin with. So I need to ask a couple of Council Members . . . if they planned to stick to their previous policy.” He concluded, “ I guess that’s a question for Council Member Griffith.”

But Mayor Kirk Watson called on Goodman, who asked, “Trying to start a fight, Will?”

Wynn responded, “I’m in the real world here. And I see that we’re trying to mandate something that’s going to be hotly contested by adjacent property owners.”

Goodman said, “I live in the real world too, and let me tell you why my position usually was to support neighborhood valid petitions. It was in the name of a great deal of good urban planning that came before Planning Commissions and Councils for years and years.” She said the petition is still “virtually their only strong legal and binding tool . . . and there is nothing, in my opinion, inconsistent in my position.”

Griffith then had her say. “Never say never. There are certainly instances where the Mayor Pro Tem and I have been flexible where it’s appropriate, and I think we’ll still do that; but where there are circumstances that warrant it, we can do something else. I want to offer some amendments that I think would go a long way towards addressing this.”

Council Member Danny Thomas pointed out that he had two memos from staff, one from Aug. 28 and another on Thursday, which differed on how the ordinance would affect the price of housing.

Paul Hilgers, the director of the Housing and Community Development Department, said, “There was some alleged costs . . . that were reported to us . . . We don’t really have the assumptions behind that data.” The increased cost to developers under the ordinance has been a contentious theme ever since the idea of connecting subdivisions was first introduced to the Planning Commission in 1998.

Ken Blaker, who works for Stratus Properties, previously represented the Texas Capital Area Builders Association on a committee to determine the costs of such an ordinance, After the meeting, he said he would be happy to supply the numbers. Of course, those assumptions were based on one of the older versions of the ordinance. Consideration of the ordinance was postponed to Oct. 25.

City Council schedules hearing

To remove Frate Barker from Plan

Money for SH 45 North right-of-way released

City Council Member Daryl Slusher didn’t have to work very hard to convince other council members to schedule a public hearing regarding Frate Barker Road. The Council voted to hold a hearing on removing the road from the proposed Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan (AMATP) in an effort to send a message to the Travis County Commissioners Court and local environmental groups.

Commissioners recently decided to put a proposition on the ballot this fall that would authorize spending $13 million to extend Frate Barker from SH 45 South to FM 2304. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 22, 2001.) The road is in south Travis County in an environmentally sensitive area. The controversial nature of the project prompted commissioners to split Frate Barker from several other roadway projects in the proposed bond package, thereby giving the public a chance to either approve or deny the extension without jeopardizing funding for other roads.

Although Thursday’s vote was only to set a public hearing to receive further input on whether the road should be included in the city’s long-range transportation plan, Slusher got a head start by listing all the reasons why he believed it should be removed. “This proposed road would cut right through Bear Creek,” Slusher noted. “I just think this would be too damaging. I would like to send a message to the commissioners that we don’t believe this road is a good idea, that we think it would be very damaging to Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer.” Slusher indicated that city studies showed the extension of Frate Barker would not be needed for emergency vehicles to adequately service the area and that he believed it would not service enough people to reduce traffic congestion.

Slusher also stressed the urgency of removing the road from the plan before Travis County voters go to the ballot box in November. “At least one of the commissioners and probably other supporters have been using the fact that it’s in the city’s plan to argue in favor of the road,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman echoed Slusher’s desire to send a message to Travis County Commissioners. “I think for the upcoming election, it would be a better approach not to have an assumption one way or the other predetermined by Council plans and a supposedly approved designation for this particular street,” she said. “For the moment, I don’t think we should predispose the voters into thinking this is something we support.” The measure to set the public hearing for September 27th at 6:00pm passed unanimously with Council Member Beverly Griffith temporarily off the dais.

In other transportation matters, the Council voted unanimously to release money received from Capital Metro for regional transportation projects. The $6 million will go toward right-of-way acquisition along the proposed route of SH 45 North. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 10th, 2001.) The item had been delayed twice while Goodman tried to schedule a meeting with interested parties to go over details of how the money would be used. That meeting came together on Wednesday and included State Representative Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), light rail supporters, cycling advocates and neighborhood groups.

“The issue that came to the forefront was really about MoPac,” Goodman said. “This, in my opinion, does not have an effect one way or another.” As for the proposed SH 45 North, Goodman said she liked the proposal. “Environmentally and economically, this is beneficial for the city. I wanted the information to get out to those who are trying to be very aware of all the traffic issues and transportation issues that we take up.”

The Wednesday meeting apparently satisfied Goodman, and congratulations and thanks were extended back and forth between council members and representatives from Williamson County. Mike Heiligenstein, Williamson County Commissioner Precinct One, praised the efforts of Goodman and other members of the council. “Thank you very much for the regional cooperation you’ve shown,” he said.

The measures allocating the funds passed 6-0, with Griffith away from the dais

City, Acme win dismissal of

Billboard giant's federal suit

Fight between Reagan and competitors not over

US District Judge James Nowlin has ordered dismissal of a lawsuit by Reagan National Advertising against the City of Austin and Acme Partnership, a competitor of the billboard giant.

Reagan has been in a lengthy battle, fought through the city’s Sign Review Board, and in court, against its competitors. The competitors are offering higher prices to rent space for their signs than Reagan has been willing to pay. Part of the battle is over the issue of who may replace a billboard.

According to Nowlin’s order, Reagan has alleged that “only the current sign owner may replace or modify a sign,” under city ordinances. “Thus, Reagan believes that it is its sign that is grandfathered, not the land, and that if Reagan removes its sign, no new sign may ever be erected on that land under current City ordinances prohibiting off-premise signs. Reagan asserts that the City is violating Texas law,” and both US and Texas Constitutions “by issuing permits to build new signs to third parties.” So, Reagan sued the city for taking its property.

The city and Acme argued that Reagan had no property interest in the land once its lease had expired. Nowlin agreed. “The Court finds that there are no facts alleged that show any type of ‘taking’ by the City. In each instance complained of by Plaintiff, the lease for the property upon which Reagan’s sign is located has expired or will expire by its own terms.”

Did you miss the news earlier this week? See top of page.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

No Longhorn Pipeline ordinance now . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez, who had sponsored an ordinance “concerning hazardous pipelines” made a motion on Thursday to delay consideration of the ordinance indefinitely. Alvarez said attorneys for the city need to look into a number of issues on the matter. The motion came after an executive session discussion with attorneys on a number of issues, including pipeline regulation . . . Council hears good economic news . . . In these days of down markets and declining tax revenues, it’s not easy to find an economic advisor with good news. But Bill Newman of Public Financial Management, the city’s financial advisors, was all smiles when he announced the results of bids on the city’s bonds Thursday. The Council approved issuance of more than $79.6 million in public improvement bonds at a rate of 4.63 percent. In addition, the Council approved the sale of about $65.3 million in Certificates of Obligation (COs) at 4.36 percent, and $2.65 million in PPFCOs at 3.5 percent. Newman declared such a low rate of payment “good, if not wonderful.” The bids were taken on the Internet, he noted. Political consultant Mike Blizzard had complained in emails about the issuance of COs, but no one complained during the meeting. Council Member Beverly Griffith and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman were off the dais when the vote was taken . . . Charter Revision Commission appointments . . . The City Council also appointed all nine members of a new Charter Revision Commission yesterday. They are: Clare Barry, Ricky Bird, Bobbie Barker, Robert Chapa, Marta Cotera, Charles Miles, Eddie Rodriguez, Clint Smith and Stephen A. Yelenosky. All were appointed by consensus. Council Member Raul Alvarez appointed Maria C. Hernandez to the Commission for Women. Caroline M. LeGettte was reappointed to the Electric Utility Commission by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. William M. Moore was appointed to the MAP Advisory Board by consensus. Two members of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Advisory Committee were reappointed by consensus, Suzanna Caballero and Jim Walker. Council Member Danny Thomas appointed Bob Belanger to the Urban Forestry Board. Two members of the Water & Wastewater Commission, Jim Haley and Aida Berduo Douglas, were reappointed by Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Will Wynn, respectively. . . Labor Day closures . . . In Fact Daily will not be published on Labor Day and we hope you have a nice day off too. The City of Austin will take the day off also, except for the Austin Nature and Science Center, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check the city web site for a list of pools that will be open at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us

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