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Mayor says gasoline supply

Thursday, September 13, 2001 by

Adequate for Central Texas

Officials tighten security at City buildings

Flanked by the city manager and the head of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, Mayor Kirk Watson held a press conference Wednesday to reassure Austinites that there is no threat to their safety. He said, “I want to reassure Central Texas that there is no indication that we are a target for any of this (terrorist) activity.” The city is slowly returning to normal operations, but increased security remains in effect at city buildings and facilities such as utilities.

Michele Middlebrook-Gonzalez, chief of the city’s Public Information Office, said access cards, which normally allow city employees into different city facilities, have been deactivated. On Friday, city officials will make a decision on whether to reactivate the cards, she said. Security at City Hall has also been tightened. Middlebrook-Gonzalez said that in the future visitors might have to stop at the front door to wait for a representative of the office they are visiting.

Watson also announced that the city would be working with the Consumer Protection Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office to assure there is no price gouging in the wake of Tuesday’s national tragedy. He said he knew of no instances of price gouging, but requested Austinites not to flock to gas stations as some did on Tuesday. The supply of gasoline in Central Texas is adequate for normal consumption, Watson said. Any suspected price gouging should be reported to the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-337-3928 or 1-800-252-8011.

Because so many people were volunteering to give blood on Tuesday and Wednesday, Watson urged those wanting to assist in that way to wait a few days. Anyone with training in mental health care or counseling can assist by calling 370-8800.

Middlebrook-Gonzalez said the city still does not know when Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will reopen. She said the Federal Aviation Administration wants to coordinate the openings nationwide.

County delays subdivision

Permit for lakeside condos

Final project to go through under old rules

Travis County Commissioners have delayed a permit on a Lake Travis subdivision because of concerns expressed by Hudson Bend homeowners.

Hudson Harbor Condominiums was one of the last subdivisions to pass through the permitting process in Travis County before recent expansion of county authority over subdivision platting. Senate Bill 873, passed during the last session, gave counties the same authority over subdivision platting as general law cities. That law went into effect Sept. 1.

County leaders sent the developer of the Hudson Bend condominium project to meet with neighbors last week. Tuesday morning, leaders of the homeowners group expressed dissatisfaction with the meeting, accusing the developer of refusing to negotiate on issues such as light pollution, sidewalk additions and safety concerns.

Resident R.B. Kluge, also a local architect, said it was too easy for the project to pass through the system. Since the developer requested no variances, approval of the subdivision plat was little more than a rubber stamp from county authorities. And he acknowledged that counties often had little authority in the process.

“Because they didn’t seek any variances, the review and the permitting process flew under the radar of public scrutiny,” Kluge said. “As long as you follow all the steps set out in standards, it essentially becomes an administrative approval.”

The multi-story project sits on Lakeshore Drive in Precinct 3. Commissioner Todd Baxter said it was his hope to give the homeowners and the developer the chance to meet so they could express their concerns and clear the air. But, when push came to shove, the county would have to approve the plat if the developer met all the standards set out by the county. It was his desire, Baxter said, to see that the process is fair to both sides; but there was no ordinance on the books that forces developers to be good neighbors.

The homeowners said they were willing to make concessions to the developer, who was not at the commissioners court meeting. Commissioners approved an 11-acre plat for the project on August 21. The project could be up to seven stories on top of a parking garage. Developer Morris Hightower now is awaiting a permit to begin construction on the project.

Chief among the neighbors’ concerns is light pollution. Kluge asked for concessions such as no floodlighting, no recessed light fixtures that washed the buildings in light and no illumination on features such as trees, signs or landscape. Kluge said the lighting scheme, as portrayed on a brochure distributed to local investors, looks something from Las Vegas.

Executive director Joe Gieselman of the Transportation and Natural Resources Department said that any regulation on issues such as lighting would have to come from the City of Austin. Of course, that understanding of the county’s authority is based on codes prior to Sept. 1. As of Sept. 1, Senate Bill 873 does expand county authority in regulating development. Plans for the Hudson Bend condominiums, however, are grandfathered under House Bill 1704, Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols told commissioners.

Resident Kim Anthony, also a local Realtor, said she could live with the fact that development is on Lake Travis. What bothered her was the developer not keeping an open line of communication with nearby residents. Her impression of the meeting between developer and homeowners was that the developer came to tell the local residents what he planned to do rather than negotiate with residents over issues.

Commissioners also had some frustrations over the specifics of the project. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner pointed out that a two-story groundskeeper building on the property appeared to be in property protected by deed restrictions. Commissioners put off a decision for another two weeks to both clarify issues and answer questions raised by the community and commissioners.

Planning Commission elects

Officers, postpones Holly Plan

Heimsath elected chair; Lands is vice chair

A subdued group of new Planning Commissioners met last night, elected officers, heard a report on neighborhood planning and adjourned early. Ben Heimsath, who served as vice chair of the previous Planning Commission, was the unanimous choice to be chair. Heimsath then nominated Commissioner Sterling Lands to be vice chair. Commissioner Chris Riley was elected secretary and Commissioner Dave Sullivan parliamentarian. Commissioner Cynthia Medlin was elected assistant secretary. None of the new officers faced any opposition. Only Commissioner Silver Garza was absent.

The commission postponed a hearing and action on the Holly Neighborhood Plan because Planning Team Leader Gavino Fernandez was unable to get back to Austin from North Carolina. Planner Mario Flores said he understood the need for the delay, but added that the plan is scheduled for City Council action on Oct. 11. The commission rescheduled the case for Sept. 26. Only three members of the public, including one reporter, attended the meeting.

Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, explained recent proposals for changes in her department. She pointed out that the average time frame for getting a plan through the process and to the City Council is 18 months. Her department must comply with performance measures that are based on the annual budget, she said. Also, people in different neighborhoods, Montopolis in particular, have pointed out that nearby neighborhoods—outside of their planning area—have an effect on their own plans. That is one of the reasons that the department has proposed making planning areas larger and combining several different neighborhoods for planning purposes.

Cora Wright has become assistant director to Glasco since the departure of Carol Barrett. Principal planner Ricardo Solis is acting manager of neighborhood planners. Glasco said the department has reallocated some positions, and now has a total of 21. However, she told In Fact Daily that nine of those positions are vacant. She said she expects to fill four of those vacancies “fairly soon.”

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

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Corrected . . . The City Council took action Monday to clean up a typographical error in the agreement with Matt Mathias and Riata Partners for development at Robertson Hill (also known as the Bennett tract) at East 11th Street and I-35. City staff had listed a key date in the agreement as August 1st instead of August 31st. The correction passed on a vote of 6-1, with Council Member Daryl Slusher opposed . . . Canceled or postponed . . . Mayor Kirk Watson, who is campaigning for Texas Attorney General, said Wednesday that he has suspended all activities except those relating to his position as Mayor. Last night’s meetings of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission and the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport advisory group were canceled . . . Trees seek sponsors . . . TreeFolks and the Texas Organic Growers Association are looking for groups that want to establish urban mini-orchards of fruit and nut trees. The orchards are planted to offer participants access to fresh, organically produced fruit and nuts as well as education in how to plant and care for trees. The groups want to encourage participation by neighborhood associations, community garden groups, senior and youth groups, churches and similar organizations. The application deadline for this season is December 31. The group must also agree to care for the trees for at least two years. For more information, call 512-443-5323 or email scott@treefolks.org

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