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Divided Council rejects LIC plan

Friday, September 28, 2001 by

For land near Town Lake, Seaholm

Seasoned activists beat out downtown boosters

Thursday night’s 4-3 City Council vote to reject a request by Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. to build a 180-foot building at the intersection of West Cesar Chavez and the Lamar Bridge was a triumph of aging activists over downtown designers and business interests. Even avid Council watchers declined to predict the outcome before Council Member Daryl Slusher said he could not support the height, disappointing downtown interests, but making his oldest supporters, such as Shudde Fath, Mary Arnold and Roberta Crenshaw happy. Open space activist Arnold said, “It was really wonderful to see the Town Lake friends come together on the City Council,” referring to Council Members Beverly Griffith, Jackie Goodman and Slusher,” who voted against the CURE zoning for LIC. “We were very glad to have Danny Thomas join them. We appreciate his help and support,” Arnold added. She was referring to the fact that Thomas initially said he was abstaining from the vote. But when Mayor Kirk Watson—who voted for the project along with Council Members Will Wynn and Raul Alvarez—turned to him to break the 3-3 tie, Thomas said “no.” Attorney Jay Hailey, who has spent countless hours at boards, commissions and civic groups selling the project, told In Fact Daily, “It’s a real tragedy that a quality project like this was rejected. I don’t understand the attitude of egging us on to build a project that nobody wanted to have built.”

Hailey described his clients as “really disappointed. We thought we had a good show of support and now we’re going to go figure out how we can make the Jetco Building as attractive as we can.” Jetco is the name of the project that received site plan approval in 1984. Hailey has warned—some opponents have said he has threatened—that LIC would build the 220-foot building that was approved by a previous Council, if the CURE zoning were denied.

Arnold responded, “If they try that, there are a lot of stumbling blocks, including the flood plain, access and safety codes.” She said she and others would “continue to monitor the situation.” Arnold and her colleagues have said on numerous occasions that they did not believe LIC would go forward with the old site plan.

The losers in the battle, besides LIC, are those who were looking for a way to kick-start revitalization of the area next to the old Seaholm Power Plant. One of those is Planning Commissioner Chris Riley, a downtown resident and former president of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association. He told the Council he thought the project would be “a huge asset” for the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail.

Another avid proponent was Anne Elizabeth Wynn, wife of the Council Member. She told the Council she has been working on Seaholm’s redevelopment for five years. She is also a board member of the Austin Children’s Museum. Wynn said the board of that organization, as well as a number of others, including the Texas Fine Arts Association, Lifeworks and American Youthworks, all supported the CURE zoning.

But her words could not outweigh those of Shudde Fath, who has been active in community affairs for more than 30 years. Fath is close to many South Austin activists, as are both Goodman and Slusher. Noting, “I’m probably the oldest one here. I’ve recently been classified as a matriarch, whatever that is.” Fath urged the Council to “take a long, long range view of this property. I’m hoping to put a bond proposition on the 2002 ballot,” she said, so the city could buy the land to add to Town Lake Park.

Architect Sinclair Black was skeptical. He tried to get two earlier City Councils to purchase the property, he said. “They didn’t do it and you won’t do it now,” he said, urging that the Council approve the proposed zoning and get on with making Roma’s Master Plan for the area a reality.

It is unclear exactly what will happen with that master plan now. Riley said the whole thing would have to be scrapped if the LIC portion were removed.

Slusher said before the hearing started that the American-Statesman had reported, “that I was already in the yes column, but my policy is not to decide a zoning case until I hear from everyone involved. I just wanted to get that out.” After the final speaker, Robin Cravey, a former Slusher aide who was opposing the project, Slusher said, he wished that he and all his friends—on both sides—could just head over to the Cedar Door, which is next to the property in dispute.

“Many people that I like are all lined up here against it. There are some really great folks on the other side from the downtown community and I’ve worked with them,” he explained, to make downtown a better place. In so doing, a number of companies had been moved to downtown from planned locations over the Edwards Aquifer. “And I think Council Member Will Wynn is right and (the architectural team is) a good team and they would do a good project. I even thought we could send this to mediation for a few weeks to see if something could be worked out.” But he said he had become convinced that mediation would not work. He finally concluded, “So, what it really comes down to for me is, it is Town Lake and it is the heart of the city . . . so, I’ll be voting no.”

Council unanimously votes to

Remove Frate Barker from plan

Council hopes Travis County voters are listening

With minimal discussion, the City Council voted unanimously to remove Frate Barker Road from the city’s long-range transportation plan. Council Member Daryl Slusher had suggested the move last month to send a signal to Travis County voters, who are being asked to approve $14 million in bonds for improvements on the road over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 31, 2001.)

During the public hearing before the vote, environmentalists lined up to list the reasons they believed the road should be removed from the plan. But some Travis County residents showed up to argue for extending Frate Barker. Debbie Peterson, with the Shady Hollow Homeowners Association, told the Council the population in southwest Travis County was already putting a strain on the traffic grid. “It’s not a question of ‘if you build it, they will come’,” Peterson said. “They’re already there.” Slusher said he was open to exploring options, but there were some that would be off-limits. “I’m willing to work on solutions with you,” Slusher said, “but I really don’t want a solution that involves another bridge over Bear Creek.”

As noted by political consultant Mike Blizzard in his remarks to the Council, the actual decision over the future of Frate Barker is in the hands of Travis County voters. “As many times as we can say ‘Frate Barker bad, Frate-Barker bad’ before the election is a good thing,” Blizzard said. Voters will have a chance to approve or deny funding for the extension project on November 6th.

Homeless show does not

Prevent ordinance passage

Goodman says new ordinance does not target homeless

Despite the battalion of homeless crusaders marched into City Council chambers by homeless advocate Richard Troxell, and their raucous display of protest, the City Council voted on second reading Thursday to approve the ordinance prohibiting blocking sidewalks. The 4-3 vote means the Council must face the issue again on third reading before it can be adopted. This gave Troxell and his minions hope that they might have one more chance to be heard.

Hoisting signs that read, “Forgive us for being poor!” “We are Citizens,” and “House the Homeless,” the group shuffled in and out of the meeting room twice as the Mayor briefly tabled the item while waiting for a new draft of the ordinance to be delivered to the dais.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said the new draft of this ordinance was no longer worded in a way that threatened homeless people. “This law is no longer about certain people, it’s only about obstructing (passage),” she said. “The signs you see at the back of the room are very relevant to the old ordinance.” And this is not the old ordinance, she stressed.

Despite her persuasive efforts, Troxell and his followers were defiant to the end, shouting together in cadence, “Civil rights! Civil rights!” over and over while he read a doctrine on civil liberties. Austin police officers stood near the throng keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

Council Members Beverly Griffith, Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas voted against the ordinance.

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reporting today . . . The team of transportation experts hired to assist CAMPO is scheduled to discuss their observations and suggestions for dealing with congestion on Mopac at 10:30 a.m. today in the Lone Star Room at the Omni Hotel downtown . . . Montopolis plan finally approved . . . The City Council yesterday approved the Montopolis plan on 3rd reading, as well as a zoning change to allow an affordable housing complex in the area. Council Member Raul Alvarez provided the lone vote against the plan and new zoning. He told In Fact Daily that it was his understanding that the neighborhood wanted single-family housing on the tract now zoned to become apartments. The developer expects to receive federal assistance to build the apartments . . . Unlikely ally . . . Kirk Becker, a homeless man who attends City Council meetings from time to time, spoke out in favor of the Lumbermen’s zoning request yesterday. He argued that the city needs more housing, even for the affluent, adding that if they had their own housing, those rich enough to afford the townhomes would not be trying to move into homes that currently house the poor . . . Candidate news . . . Mayoral Candidate Gus Garcia and Sierra Club Conservation organizer Nicole Holt will be the guest speakers at the Public Affairs Forum in Howson Hall at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin at 11:15 a.m. Sunday. They will discuss global warming . . . No mayoral forum on Channel 6 . . . We overheard Jennifer Gale ask city Public Information Officer Michele Middlebrook-Gonzalez about where the city might hold a mayoral candidate forum. Middlebrook-Gonzalez said that it would not be possible this year. Cameras are not available at City Hall, she said, and cannot be moved from the LCRA’s building. She said that building is only available for City Council meetings . . . Charter Commission to start . . . The city’s new Charter Revision Commission plans to have its first meeting on October 8 at City Hall.

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