Thursday, August 16, 2001 by

Parks Board says ‘No’

To Lumbermen's height

Crenshaw, Arnold and Fath lead charge

The Parks and Recreation Board gave a thumbs down to the request by Lumbermen’s Investment Corporation (LIC) to build a 180-foot tall tower near Town Lake as part of its development near Sand Beach Reserve. The Planning Commission had sent the request to the Parks and Recreation Board for its assessment (see In Fact Daily, Aug. 1, 2001). Next week, the commission will get another opportunity to make a recommendation on the matter.

The Parks and Recreation board’s letter to the Planning Commission will state that, in their opinion, the development is “not compatible” with the adjacent parkland. Board Member Mary Ruth Holder had initially proposed including a list of reasons to support that statement, including the building’s height and massing, that it was “not to human scale” and the “canyon effect” she believed it would help create along Town Lake. But Board Member Ricardo “Rocky” Medrano suggested a simpler, more streamlined resolution and Holder agreed.

The 5-2 vote came after hours of public testimony from a standing-room-only crowd at the Parks and Recreation Department offices at 200 South Lamar. Much of the discussion was a reiteration of comments made before the Planning Commission and other boards and commissions as the project’s design has gone through the an elaborate review process. Attorney Jay Hailey and architect Madison Smith again displayed their model of the proposed development and explained the rationale for “stair-stepping” the buildings, which would put the 180-foot tall structure at a site on the lot roughly 800 feet from Town Lake while putting buildings of decreasing heights closer to the water. That design, they say, is more appealing than one featuring a series of buildings all at 120 feet tall that could be allowed without a variance. Hailey used an alternate model to show what could potentially be built on the site to demonstrate the aesthetic benefits of their proposal, but opponents of the project repeatedly referred to that model as a “threat.” Hailey indicated that Lumberman’s did not desire to build in accordance with the alternate design.

While representatives of the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association spoke up in favor of the taller design, which includes a mixture of condos and offices, most of the speakers urged board members to vote against the 180-foot height on the development. The list of those turning out to voice their opposition featured some of the more prominent names among neighborhood leaders and political activists, including Jeff Jack of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, political consultant Mike Blizzard and Ken Altes, longtime Seaholm supporter. The crowd reserved special applause for three long-time activists for parks and the environment: Shudde Fath, Mary Arnold and Roberta Crenshaw.

Arnold took exception to the characterization of the 180-foot structure as similar to other downtown buildings. “It’s important to remember the history of this area, it’s not downtown but the river area,” she said. “It’s a place of quiet dignity and beauty, and that is not what this very tall building will contribute. They could respect the height limit and there could still be a step-down.”

Arnold was joined by Fath, who said the 180-foot limit was inappropriate for the area. “I know there may be a little financial loss,” Fath said. Under a legal settlement with LIC, the city could lose some money the company has set aside for parking and landscaping in the area. “But it’s going to be a multi-million dollar project.” She also reminded board members about the stance taken by Roberta Crenshaw, and listed a few of Crenshaw’s many contributions to the environmental movement in Austin. “I don’t see how this board could sit here tonight and do anything against what she wants,” Fath said.

The audience reserved its strongest round of applause of the evening for Crenshaw. “This unique piece of property has been very enticing to a lot of people to misuse it,” Crenshaw said. “It seems to have a siren that lures men to . . . put a huge building here.” Crenshaw argued in favor of limiting the height of development because of its proximity to Town Lake. “This land has a unique value. How many cities have a lake right through the middle of town? We’ve got to protect the uniqueness of our environment.” If not, Crenshaw said, “We will have lost the greatest asset we’ve ever had.”

The board voted 5-2 to recommend against granting the height variance for the project. Board Members Jeff Francell and Clint Small were the ones voting in the minority. Small argued that the project proposed by LIC would be better than the one allowed without the height variance. “I still get caught up with the other option,” Small said, gesturing to the alternate model provided by Hailey showing uniform building heights. “Is this better for the parks?” he asked, holding up the model—which snapped in half, causing the room to erupt with laughter.

Holder argued against accepting that other model as a possibility for the site, asking “Does that really get built?” Comparing the two plans, Holder said, was a “false dichotomy,” adding, “If I were a developer, I would bring in a horrific blue styrofoam model, too.”

Chair Rosemary Castleberry brought the focus back to Town Lake, asking if the height variance could set a precedent for the rest of the lake. “We’re going to see multi-story, very high buildings,” she said.

The variance request now goes back to the Planning Commission, which is scheduled to vote on the matter on Tuesday. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman asked the commission to send the question to the park panel at a public hearing on the matter July 31. The City Council meets next on August 23rd, though the case will likely be put off until October if it is not heard during that session.

Commissioners approve mobile

Home park in northeast Travis Co.

Neighbors, developer, work out most differences

Travis County Commissioners Court finally gave its approval to the Springdale Heights mobile home park, but only after the developer and neighborhood representatives negotiated a final agreement during their lunch break.

Springdale Heights, which will sit on 46 acres off Springdale Road, will be the first manufactured home community approved in Travis County in at least a decade. Commissioners delayed approval of the plan three weeks ago, looking for ways they could control a type of development that counties are given little authority to regulate under state law.

The Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association had complained about the impact the 207-home development would have on traffic and on drainage to Little Walnut Creek. County Judge Sam Biscoe said that Travis County could do little to stop the development. The best the county could do was to bring both sides to the table and get them to come to some consensus. (See In Fact Daily, July 17, 2001)

“I don’t know that the county has any authority to impose more than what we’ve already done,” Biscoe said after some discussion of the project. “If the parties can help us out (and come to an agreement), I’d be as pleased as much as anybody else because we can’t impose more on the developer.”

Since the first round at Commissioners Court almost a month ago, the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association had presented developer Brian Rogers and his attorney with a list of 30 issues the neighboring subdivision wanted addressed in the project. Joe Gieselman, executive director of the Transportation and Natural Resources Department, reported that the developer had dealt with 20 of the 30 issues, leaving a security fence and the project’s density the final unresolved issues. Neighbors had asked Rogers to cut the density of his project down to two units per acre.

Gieselman addressed some of the issues county commissioners brought to the table when the plan was first presented to the commissioners court. He said an engineer reappraised the site and determined that drainage plans were adequate for major storm events. And two-lane Springdale Road was deemed sufficient to handle the additional 1,100 trips a day the project would generate. But he reaffirmed that state law regulates the transfer of manufactured homes to the site, not the county.

Several city representatives were in attendance. Susan Villareal of the city’s planning department, who handled the Springdale Heights project, said the development had all but met a couple of minor city requirements and would be approved. The only legal authority the city held was to deny a certificate of occupancy if the project failed to include the specific amenities listed on the city-approved site plan approved.

Rogers agreed to a list of deed restrictions presented by his neighbors, restrictions that would follow the property even if he chose to sell it. Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols outlined those restrictions, which ranged from an owner-maintained office on site to the appearance of the homes and the storage of building materials. The deed restrictions even outlaw chickens on the property.

Commissioner Ron Davis asked if the county had a right to enforce deed restrictions. Nuckols admitted that the authority to enforce deed restrictions was on the books—it had been granted to Harris County, which has no local deed restrictions—but to use it in Travis County would set a precedent. Nuckols added that his department was not prepared to proceed with such a precedent without a look at what resources would be required to follow through with the decision. In Harris County, a fee paid by the complainant, Nuckols told Davis, covers the enforcement of deed restrictions.

In short, the Springdale Heights developer had met every objection raised by Travis County and most of those raised by his neighbors. Still, next-door neighbor Chuck Kroft told commissioners it was morally wrong to allow the development, complaining that the property would bring another 900 to 1,000 residents to the area. Biscoe said it appeared that the developer had resolved most of the neighborhood’s concerns and that the two sides were close to resolution. Kroft disagreed. He said the biggest issue—the density of the development—would never be resolved, and Rogers admitted he would not concede the point. The Springdale Heights plans are roughly 4.5 units per acre.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the development after Gieselman stated that the neighborhood would withdraw its objections if Rogers agreed to split the cost of a security fence with Kroft. The approval also was contingent upon the filing of deed restrictions. Commissioner Ron Davis amended the motion, asking the county to request that the City of Austin look at extending some of the same protections to Little Walnut Creek that it had extended to the Barton Creek watershed.

Local residents also asked for a light at Ferguson and Springdale to control the additional traffic. Gielselman promised to study the intersection to see if it met requirements for a signal.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Calling out the troops . . . Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance is urging environmentalists to contact County Commissioners or attend Friday’s 9 a.m. hearing on the proposed County bond package. Commissioners will be looking at a committee proposal for $250 million in bonds, which Bunch and others argue should be scaled back to $80 million. That’s the magic number for not raising county taxes. In addition, commissioners can expect input about ceasing expansion of roads over the Barton Creek watershed, especially Frate Barker, and denying money for extension of SH 45 . . . Correction. . . Yesterday In Fact Daily reported in its early morning editions that Robin Rather “did not rule out a future City Council race for herself.” Rather sent us an email stating, “I will consider running for mayor in 2003 or later. I will not run for a Council seat next year or ever.” We regret the error . . . No new applicants . . . Candidates for mayor of Austin did not beat down the City Clerk’s door yesterday seeking Designation of Treasurer applications. In fact, none were filed, but we understand that some blank forms were taken by unknown persons to, perhaps, be filled out at home . . . New airport hotel opens . . . The Austin Airport Marriott South opened Wednesday, touting its location at 4415 S. I-35, between downtown and the airport, Allie’s American Grill and banquet space for 575 people . . . Willie Kocurek worried . . . Kocurek writes us, “The libraries of Austin need to be favorably financed,” noting that the average spent on libraries in our city is only $22 per person, compared to $60 per person in Seattle. Failure to meet library needs, he says, will mean that the work of the Libraries for the Future task force will go for naught . . . Habitat conservation planning for Hays County . . . Board members of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District had proposed to environmentalists and to Hays County Judge Jim Powers that the region develop a Habitat Conservation Plan, similar to the one in Travis County. After attending a couple of meetings, Powers wrote to Craig Smith, president of the BSEACD, “ Hays County is assisting the City of Dripping Springs in developing a regional solution for protection of surface water and groundwater in the Hays County portion of the Barton Springs Zone.” He promised Smith that Hays County would share a draft of the plan for the regional solution when it is ready . . . Two neighborhood plan meetings . . . Different factions of the Rosewood neighborhood are also scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. at ACC’s Eastview Campus, 3401 Webberville Road, in room 1208-1210. The Rosewood Neighborhood Plan is on the agenda for next Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.Representatives of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Planning Team are scheduled to meet tonight to talk about the fate of the Post Office property and on Monday night to look at a final version of the ordinance that will go to the City Council on Thursday. Both meetings will be at the Hyde Park United Methodist Church, 4001 Speedway. They are not scheduled to meet with members of the Hyde Park Baptist Church, as earlier reported.

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