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Downtown Commission

Thursday, September 20, 2001 by

Okays LIC project height

City Council to decide issue next week

Members of the city’s Downtown Commission last night unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the proposed 180-foot CURE zoning for the Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. (LIC) project next to Sand Beach on Town Lake. Next week’s City Council agenda includes consideration of the zoning request.

The commission, which includes representatives of a number of other commissions as well as downtown business representatives, acted after hearing a brief presentation by attorney Jay Hailey, who represents LIC. The commission has heard numerous presentations on both the LIC project and the Seaholm Master Plan during previous meetings.

Last January, after both the city and state authorities had approved the settlement, attorney Casey Dobson told In Fact Daily that Lumbermen’s would still have to go through “all the usual site plan processes” any property owner faces when building a new structure in the city. Dobson, who represented the city in litigation over the Sand Beach parkland, said, “We’ve given them a head start by approving a few things,” including the height of the buildings and permission to build in the flood plain if safety regulations are met. (See In Fact Daily January 11, 2001.)

On Wednesday, Hailey said the City Council approved the 180-foot height in principle when it approved the settlement. LIC has the right to build one 220-foot tower on the property because another Council approved that site plan during the 1980s. Hailey said if the new building height is not approved, LIC will build under the old site plan. That contention is one opponents like Mary Arnold, Shudde Fath and Roberta Crenshaw dispute. But Hailey insists that the building of a single giant tower on the property is no idle threat, and failure to approve the CURE zoning would also eliminate the money LIC is offering.

Bennett Donovan, president of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, told the commission his organization “strongly supports the height variance.” He said the new design would not impose on people using the Town Lake Hike and Bike trail. There was little discussion among commissioners, with Commissioner Perry Lorenz noting that the building would be “the same distance from Town Lake as Las Manitas,” which is between 2nd and 3rd Streets on Congress.

Also Wednesday, Friends of the Parks added its name alongside of organizations opposing the CURE zoning for one of the four buildings LIC plans to build. Members of the Seaholm Reuse Committee support the zoning, which could be a boon to those who want to use the old power plant as a museum or similar public building. If the zoning is approved, Lumbermen’s has promised, as part of a legal settlement, to pay the city $1.25 million, of which $750,000 would be used to buy land for Seaholm parking. Ken Altes, founder of Friends of Seaholm, opposes the zoning.

Leslie Pool, a longtime member of the Seaholm Reuse Committee, was pleased to hear that the Downtown Commission had endorsed the project. She said, “This is a case of non-NIMBY-ism, because the neighborhoods in the backyard of this project want it.” (NIMBY: Not in my back yard.)

Mike Blizzard, a spokesman for the opponents, listed the following opponents to the CURE zoning: Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, West Austin Neighborhood Group, Zilker Neighborhood Association, Save Barton Creek Association, Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association and South River City Citizens.

Environmental Board gives

Wide range of awards

Austin still full of environmental activism

The Environmental Awareness Awards ceremony kicked off last night’s Environmental Board meeting with Board Member Debra Williams presenting plaques and acclaim to a variety of groups and individuals who have hit the target in their efforts to make a difference in the community.

The Environmental Board has hosted the awards since 1983 to recognize people who make significant contributions toward protecting and enhancing the environment.

Chair Lee Leffingwell opened the ceremony by awarding former Board Member Joyce Conner with a distinguished service award. “This award is for excellence of service—no one on this Board has worked as hard as Ms. Conner,” he said, noting how saddened he was by her resignation last July 1 after more than 3 years of service.

City Council Member Beverly Griffith, who appointed Conner, said it was her job to replace Conner on the Board, but that she could never really replace someone like her. She said Conner was an “inspiration, and a mentor—a constant source of peace, of strength and inspiration.”

“I want to thank you for what you mean to Austin—what you mean to the quality of life in Austin,” Griffith said.

After Leffingwell presented Conner with a gift from the board, Jody Hamilton, with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, gave her a gift from her department.

“I’m really overwhelmed,” Conner said. ”I’m not even going to say I’m going to miss you guys because you’re going to see me here,” she told her former board members.

In the keynote address, Austan Librach, director of the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department, told a true story of intrigue and murder that began with the first Earth Day celebration, back in 1970, and played out over nearly 30 years. As a graduate student in Philadelphia, Librach was an instrumental figure in organizing the national event. In the process, he had to negotiate part of the ceremony with a zealous hippie leader who years later was sentenced to prison for murder. His meeting with the man is chronicled in the book, The Unicorn’s Secret – Murder in the Age of Aquarius .

Librach said that first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was instrumental in the enactment of several pieces of federal legislation crafted over the following two years to protect the environment. He urged the audience, which consisted of members of city staff from various departments, as well as numerous award recipients, to continue to work for protection of the environment. “Keep up the effort, keep working for long-term, sustainable solutions,” he said.

The Beth Brown Boettner Individual Award was presented to Martha Cason for her work with gardening, beautification, recycling and rainwater collection at various public schools. Cason is the horticulture and social studies facilitator at Gonzalo Garza Independence High School. Trek English, neighborhood activist and President of the Northeast Action Group, was runner-up.

The Texas Campaign for the Environment received the award for best community group or non-profit. This grassroots organization won the award for its work in mobilizing Texans to protect their quality of life, health and environment. The runner-up was the Central Texas Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists.

Maplewood Elementary School won the award in the School or Other Educational Institution category for creating a community solar science lab made of alternative materials. The 60’ by 40’ building is designed to collect rainwater and serves to teach children how to find alternative ways to solve energy problems. The runner-up was Bedicheck Middle School.

The Millennia Group, which works with the City of Austin Green Builder Program to construct Smart Growth communities, won the award in the Private Commercial Enterprise category. Hangers Cleaners was the runner-up.

In the Government category, the Splash! into Edwards Aquifer Exhibit garnered the award. Splash! is an educational exhibit illustrating the hydrology and ecology of Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer. The exhibits—complete with live specimens—create a working model that traces the flow of rainwater across the Hill Country landscape, through the aquifer, into Barton Springs and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico via the Colorado River. The runner-up was the Water Quality Protection Lands Management Team.

ZAP has quiet evening,

Adjourns in 20 minutes

Commissioners draw lots for one and two-year terms

That the Zoning and Platting Commission finished its meeting in a record-breaking half an hour with the majority of the agenda approved on consent was more coincidence than the new division of labor, Chair Betty Baker said afterTuesday night’s meeting.

Duties of the previous Planning Commission are now divided between the Zoning and Platting Commission and the reconstituted Planning Commission. Zoning and Platting will take up zoning cases and subdivision plats. Planning Commission will handle neighborhood plans and amendments to codes and ordinances. Last night, the Zoning and Platting Commission passed 18 plats for approval or disapproval on consent and postponed another four cases. The whole process took roughly 20 minutes.

“I think the agenda was coincidental tonight. The postponements were very appreciated,” Baker said after the meeting. “Hopefully for us, the long discussions on capital improvement projects and neighborhood plans will be determined by the time it comes to us. It will just be a procedural matter.”

A liaison committee will meet every six weeks to provide dialogue between the two groups. Commissioners Jean Mather and Keith Jackson are expected to be the ZAP appointees to the committee.

Last night commissioners also drew for one- or two-year terms. Those drawing one-year terms included Chair Betty Baker, Diana Castañeda, Angular Adams and Assistant Secretary Mather. Secretary Michael Casias, Niyanta Spelman, Vice Chair Joseph Martinez, Vincent Aldridge and Parliamentarian Jackson drew two-year terms.

Did you miss this week's news ? See top of page. Click on the day you want to see.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Firefighters to honor their own . . . The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters will hold a vigil on the south steps of the State Capitol Friday at 7:30pm. Hundreds of local firefighters plan to honor their fallen brother and sister firefighters who died heroically in last week’s tragedy in New York. There will be a presentation of colors by the Austin Fire Department Honor Guard, as well as a tribute by the AFD Bag Pipers. The association is inviting the community to attend, but carrying flash lights, since candles are not allowed on the grounds of the Capitol . . . Lots of shuffling among state candidates . . . Harvey Kronberg reported in the Quorum Report last night that Marty Akins has decided not to run for the Democratic nomination for Governor, but to mount a campaign for Comptroller, a spot held by Republican Carol Rylander. And former Supreme Court Justice Gregg Abbott is said to be planning to withdraw from the race for Lt. Governor in order to run for Attorney General. Abbott could be the lone runner in the Republican primary. Austin Mayor Kirk Watson is so far the only announced Democratic candidate, but Rep. Sylvester Turner, an African-American from Houston, is said to be considering the race . . . Hays County to host parks meetings . . . Hays County is holding five meetings to receive public input on a master plan for open space and parks. Three meetings will be held next week, beginning Tuesday at 7pm at Susie Fuentes Elementary School in Kyle. Wednesday’s meeting, also at 7pm, will be held at the San Marcos Activity Center, 501 W. Hopkins, and Thursday’s meeting is planned for the Dripping Springs School Library. Meetings in Kyle and Buda are planned for Oct. 15 and 16. For more information, contact parks consultant Mark Spencer at 903-597-6606 or email . . . Moving days . . . Members of the city’s Neighborhood Planning Department have been moving this week from the building at 1011 San Jacinto to the more modern One Texas Center. Members of the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department have not yet been notified of when they might be able to move.

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