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Travis County bond package

Wednesday, August 29, 2001 by

Rolls toward November ballot

Onion Creek buyout to be done through CO's

The ball keeps rolling on the upcoming Travis County bond election, with commissioners approving the exact amount to be sent to the voters this fall as well as the list of propositions as they will appear on the ballot.

Next week, Travis County Commissioners Court will approve the election order on the November ballot. Tuesday afternoon, commissioners agreed to a bond ballot just slightly over $199 million. Commissioner Margaret Gomez, who wanted to keep the ballot at the $80 million commissioners initially suggested, voted against the measure. Commissioners made some minor adjustments to the $199.3 million cap commissioners approved last week.

With one exception, commissioners also approved five propositions on the ballot. The propositions, in ballot order, are local roads, drainage, bridges and pedestrian access; Frate Barker Road; State Highway 45N and FM 1826; and State Highway 130 East. Commissioner Todd Baxter made a substitute motion to fold Frate Barker into the general road proposition, but the motion failed for a lack of a second. He voted against the final list of propositions, saying the neighborhood had convinced him Frate Barker should not be singled out among the various road projects proposed by the county.

Frate Barker did take up a good deal of the additional discussion on the bond proposal, with members from both sides of the issue in attendance. Resident Vivian Caputo appeared before commissioners to stress both the need to avoid building over Edwards Aquifer recharge zone and the need to preserve historic land that was once owned by the Barker family.

If some of the people on Commissioners Court were the same people who served on CAMPO, Caputo asked, why were commissioners interested in looking at various alternatives? And why were commissioners looking for options to alleviate traffic on Mopac when connecting Frate Barker to Mopac would only add to the congestion?.

“I’m not even going to attempt to try to understand it,” Caputo said. “But I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why.”

Caputo rifled through paperwork, reviewing document after document she had presented to the commissioners in the past, but after 15 minutes Commissioner Karen Sonleitner interrupted to ask whether Caputo had something new to add to the discussion. Sonleitner said she understood her points absolutely and knew the speaker passionately believed that Frate Barker should be taken off the ballot, but Caputo was soon to be followed by equally passionate speakers on the other side of the issue.

Commissioner Todd Baxter closed the book on the environmental discussion by eliciting from Joe Gieselman of Transportation and Natural Resources the assurance that the Frate Barker Road project would meet standards set by the US Fish and Wildlife Service before being built. The county, Gieselman said, must be able to assure the federal agency that road construction would cause no degradation.

Three speakers— Jim Mann and David Hubbard of the Estates of Shady Hollow and Tom Bryan of Wildewood/Kelliwood—all supported putting Frate Barker on the ballot. Bryan spoke passionately about keeping Frate Barker under the local roads proposition, rather than carving it out and pitting the communities that want the project against those in the center city who oppose any new roads. Bryan said he was surprised to see the road “culled out of the herd for the predators” to attack.

Supporters like Mann pointed out that the county had already separated roads through that area—State Highway 45, in particular—during the last bond issue. The area should not be subjected to the same maneuver again, he said. Hubbard provided survey data from the neighborhood—dated, he admitted, from 1994—that showed almost unanimous support for the road project.

A couple of other topics were also discussed. Executive Manager Christian Smith of Planning and Budget convinced commissioners to pull the $1 million Onion Creek buyout out of the planned bond issue. The project will instead be carried under the debt load of certificates of obligation because drainage projects require a supermajority of voters under state law. Gomez said she could support pulling the project out, but only if she had a guarantee the project would be completed. Gomez said she considered the Onion Creek buyout project to be her top priority.

The budget office staff came back from lunch with specific amounts on each of the propositions. The numbers included both the cost of the project and anticipated administrative costs. The propositions are local roads, drainage, bridges and pedestrian access, $57.4 million; Frate Barker Road, $14.1 million; Parks, $28.6 million; State Highway 45/FM 1826, $32.7 million; and State Highway 130, $66.2 million. If approved by voters, Travis County will be picking up the tab on 50 percent of the right-of-way on State Highway 130 and 100 percent of the right-of-way costs on SH 45 North.

Planning Commission approves

Central East Neighborhood Plan

Blackshear residents say they don't want garage apartments

The Planning Commission gave its approval to the Central East Austin Neighborhood Plan Tuesday evening. The plan is bordered by I-35 on the west, Chicon and Northwestern on the east, MLK on the north and 7th Street on the south. While that geographical area includes the 11th and 12th street corridors, efforts of the Austin Revitalization Authority will take precedence over the neighborhood plan. The ARA is mentioned in the neighborhood plan, and Planning Commission member Sterling Lands also specifically called for that clarification before the plan was passed.

Most of the concerns voiced by neighborhood residents during the public hearing focused on the urban in-fill provision of the plan that would allow garage apartments in the Blackshear Neighborhood. “We do still have a problem with the garage apartments,” D’Ann Johnson told the commissioners. “If it’s possible, we would ask that you consider a recommendation to change the ordinance to allow little changes . . . if the neighborhood association wants to have a different perspective.”

While the plan may be adjusted in the future to eliminate the possibility of garage apartments in that neighborhood, commissioners said they were limited by the current wording of the urban in-fill ordinance. “I think certainly that it would behoove the commission in the future to take a look at the possibility of creating sub-districts. That might ease situations . . . where a particular sub-area within a planning area seems to have a distinct, but minority opinion of something like the garage apartments issue,” said Commissioner Jim Robertson. “I would expect that if the Council were to amend the in-fill ordinance to allow for sub-districts, I’m not aware of any reason why the planning team couldn’t come back through the process and seek that a sub-district be created.” Commissioner Jean Mather went one step further, suggesting rapid Council response to the problem. “I would like to urge the Council to move quickly to allow separate sections within a neighborhood to make their own choices in matters like this,” she said.

Other commissioners had their own concerns about the plan. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula wanted to make sure lighting was improved for pedestrians on 7th Street. “I’ve seen third-world countries whose cities have better lighting than Austin,” he said. Robertson also expressed reservations about the recommended zoning along 7th Street. “The southeast boundaries of the plan lie along what might one day be a light rail corridor,” he said. “We felt that from a planning perspective, it might be more realistic and beneficial for those parcels on East 7th that they go to a commercial, mixed-use type zoning. But that was not the will of the planning team, so at this point we defer to that.”

But those concerns did not prevent the plan from being unanimously approved by a vote of 8-0. Commissioner Silver Garza was off the dais. The zoning changes recommended by the plan will be taken up separately.

Click here to take you back: Friday 2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Gus gets a laugh from Sammy . . . former Council Member Gus Garcia, still the apparent front-runner in the race for mayor, laughed heartily yesterday when we asked what he thought of radio talk show host Sammy Allred’s announcement that he would run for mayor. “Everybody knows he’s not serious,” Garcia said, adding that his own campaign has “really taken off.” He said he would be interviewing with the Austin Police Association today because the APA is planning on making an early endorsement . . . Goodman-bye old Planning Commission . . . Just before adjournment on its final meeting night, Chair Betty Baker told members of the last Planning Commission to remember, “it’s taking two commissions to replace you.” A development representative told In Fact Daily that he thinks it will not be long before a lawsuit is filed challenging the city’s creation of the two commissions— Zoning and Platting (ZAP) and Planning. Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd said the Law Department had done research on the question and determined that the second commission could be created. When asked which commission would hear zoning applications that are currently going through the city approval process in areas where neighborhood planning is in progress, Lloyd said his department would be bringing an ordinance amendment to the City Council in the very near future. That amendment, he said, would clarify the cut-off date for zoning cases that lie within neighborhoods currently in that process. In neighborhoods with approved plans, zoning changes will be considered by the new Planning Commission. Zoning changes for property in neighborhoods that lack such plans will be considered by the ZAP . . . Biscoe cuts own pay increase . . . Travis County Commissioners Tuesday approved pay raises for elected officials, with only one small exception. County Judge Sam Biscoe made a last-minute motion to cut his own raise in half. That cut Biscoe’s pay raise from 10.5 percent to 5.5 percent over two years putting his salary at $88,092. Under the proposal, County Commissioners would each make $73,915, which is slightly more than a 7 percent raise. Commissioner Todd Baxter was the only one to vote against the raise. After the meeting, Baxter said he could not support the pay raise without pulling out the commissioners’ raise. Baxter also pledged to decline the salary increase, which is scheduled to begin in October . . . Sitting down together . . . Representatives from the Lower Colorado River Authority, the US Corps of Engineers, the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Save Our Springs Alliance are scheduled to spend the day in mediation on SOSA’s lawsuit over the Highway 290 water line to Dripping Springs. We don’t know the mediator’s name, but we understand he/she is an attorney from San Antonio . . . Advice from Freeport McMoran . . . A recent visit to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans provided a chance to visit the frog exhibit, which is part of the Freeport McMoran Wing. The exhibit provided the following recommendation for assisting frogs, “Don’t build, pave over, or drain the places where frogs live.”

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