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ZAP tells Smart Housing group to

Thursday, September 27, 2001 by

Seek more neighborhood input

Edgemond, Baker live in area

Plans for a Smart Housing complex at the former Garden Terrace Nursing Home in South Austin hit a roadblock at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP) as the project’s organizers were told to renotify the neighborhood, hold another public meeting and bring the proposal back before the commission in two weeks.

Foundation Communities, Inc. and the Capital Area Homeless Alliance (CAHA) were seeking a zoning change for the property at 1015 West William Cannon Drive that would allow them to renovate the building to include 85 single-occupancy residences. Those would be made available to individuals making no more than 50% of the Austin-area Median Family Income. Under the proposal presented to ZAP, 35 units of the complex would be reserved for the “working homeless,” and rents for all 85 units would range between $325 and $399 per month. Tenants would be required to sign a one-year lease. The project had been approved for the accelerated review process outlined in the “Smart Housing” guidelines.

Commissioners had several questions about the efforts made to notify the surrounding neighborhood. That neighborhood includes ZAP Chair Betty Baker and long-time south Austin activist Betty Edgemond. Craig Alter with Foundation Communities told commissioners they had followed the normal mailing procedures for notifying surrounding property owners and had held discussions with neighbors. “We met with neighborhood people early on, before we filed the zoning case,” Alter said. “We met with Betty Edgemond.”

Edgemond, who spoke against the zoning change request, said she had been made aware of the project, but didn’t attend the meeting the group held with neighbors. “I knew I would get mad, so I stayed home,” Edgemond said. She urged commissioners to consider the nature of the surrounding residential development and called for some of the proposed restrictions on the property outlined by Alter to be placed into a more binding format. However, Edgemond said she was not completely unwilling to consider the project. “I would rather much see the property used than just sit there,” she said. “But we do not want a place where on cold winter nights, we’re going have people shuttled over and bundled up in some meeting room. You wouldn’t want that in your backyard.”

The commission directed the applicants to distribute leaflets throughout the neighborhood and outlined an area greater than the one required by the city’s notification procedures. They also called for another neighborhood meeting before hearing more public comment at their own meeting on October 9th. Commissioner Diana Casteñeda said more neighborhood participation could only be beneficial. “The Betty Edgemonds of the world need to be satisfied,” she said. “They need to feel included, as well as all the stakeholders involved.”

The decision to ask for another meeting was not made without dissent. “I'm really surprised we don’t have 50 people here saying ‘I don’t want this thing in my backyard’,” said Commissioner Michael Casias. “I can say that even when people show up at the next hearing saying, ‘I don’t want this in my backyard,’ that’s not going to be good enough. I think there need to be some specific objections to this. There is a dire need for affordable housing.” Commissioner Keith Jackson also had reservations about the renotification requirement. “I have a problem with us putting this burden back on the applicant,” he said. “At least some of the very vocal and very active neighborhood participants had known about this since the middle of August.”

In what could prove to be a preview to the October 9 ZAP meeting, commissioners expressed concerns about the proposed facility’s tenants, security measures, landscaping and regulations. Commissioner Angular Adams took issue with rules limiting visitors and overnight guests. “I’m paying you to live somewhere, and you have just ‘Hitler-ed’ me into saying I can only have one visitor per day? I have a problem with that,” she said. Similar objections to the visitor policy were expressed by Casteñeda, while Commissioner Vincent Aldridge asked several detailed questions about security and enforcement of rules at the complex.

CAHA Executive Director Helen Varty attempted to explain the reasoning behind some of the rules for the facility, noting that they had been based on the experience of similar operations in other cities. “Single-room occupancies tend to be used by adults who are trying to work their way up the economic ladder, and if they have a ‘significant other’, they have to go to the ‘significant other’s’ house to stay overnight,” Varty said. “If you don’t do that, then you have a much bigger population in the facility than you want.”

If the facility does eventually win approval, the city may have limited influence over issues of visitation or other policies. While Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry noted that those could all be included in a restrictive covenant, enforcement of that covenant would not be up to the city. “The items that I heard described—the conditions for leasing, the arrangements for security, areas where people would be allowed to congregate, hours of operation in terms of when guests would be permitted—those are not issues that the city has an public interest in,” she said. “The city enforces restrictive covenants that address issues which are of a public interest to the City of Austin.”

Garcia tells RECA security

Austin's new urgent issue

Education, light rail continue to be important

Mayoral candidate Gus Garcia, still facing no significant opponents in the election this November, revealed few surprises at a Real Estate Council of Austin luncheon yesterday.

The crowd received Garcia warmly, although given Garcia’s stated support for light rail, perhaps not as warmly as they had County Judge Sam Biscoe last month. In a speech before the gathering—more informal chat than formal sales pitch—Garcia said city security had recently replaced transportation as a top concern among voters. The terrorist attack of Sept. 11 continues to weigh heavily on voters.

“The concern that the people have is if the city is protected right now, whether we have real vulnerabilities,” Garcia told a full house at the Four Seasons. “I would say we do have vulnerabilities in one or two areas.”

Those vulnerabilities include access to the city’s water system, Garcia told the crowd. The City Council must take the initiative to direct the water and wastewater department to secure the city’s water treatment plants. The cost of securing the city’s electrical lines, Garcia said, should also be taken up by Austin Energy and shared by the region.

During his speech, Garcia expressed continuing support for State Highway 130 and State Highway 290 West or “anything that will take the traffic off Interstate 35.” Downtown mobility and parking, he added, also continue to be a key issue.

Garcia volunteered his support for light rail. The topic has split RECA, but Garcia expressed his openness to the alternative form of transportation. Resolving how and where the lines are laid, he said, is a long-term issue and not one that is likely to be resolved in the immediate future. Garcia pointed to the system in Portland and said light rail often gives a city an edge in encouraging development along rail lines.

Garcia acknowledged that the campaign for light rail needed to be done better and that many who voted down light rail did so because of a mistrust of Capital Metro. But Capital Metro, Garcia said, had made changes in its board composition and had dramatically improved bus service throughout the city. The transit agency, Garcia said, was moving toward gaining the confidence of the people of Austin.

On other topics raised by the audience, Garcia said he had no easy answers for the best ways to anticipate the current sharp downturn in Austin’s economy. AMD’ s current layoffs put recent city layoffs into the “five figure(s) plus” category. City officials expect the budget to remain flat through 2003, with no idea when the economy will turn.

“We don’t expect those budgets to have the flexibility to do things that need to be done in the city,” Garcia told the audience, adding that Austin would survive, though, just as it had survived the 1980s downturn.

A couple of realtors in the audience raised the topic of affordable housing in the inner city, and Garcia said he saw public/private partnerships as the solution. “I’m sure it’s easier and cheaper to build out there (in the suburbs), but then you have to build the infrastructure,” Garcia said. “ I think we need to look at a more global perspective when it comes to housing.”

Garcia also expressed a continued commitment to the concept of neighborhood plans, acknowledging that some had created controversy but that the controversy could be resolved. To the extent the city can protect the integrity of Austin neighborhoods, the city is in a better, stronger position, Garcia told the realtors.

Garcia’s platform will also include involvement in Austin schools. Garcia said he—as a former school board president—considered a good education for Austin children to be the key to a strong future economy. School board members, Garcia said, need to speak clearly to the goals of the school district, especially given the fact that six of the nine members will soon be up for reelection in the community.

Garcia also committed the city to working with the Austin school district in a meaningful way and criticized an over-reliance on preparing children for the state-mandated Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.

Garcia’s only opponents to date are Jennifer Gale and Allen Phillips. Phillips, an electrician, paid his filing fee on Wednesday. Garcia spent nine years on Austin City Council. Prior to that, he served six years on the boards of the Austin school district and the Austin Community College district. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and a Certified Public Accountant.

ANC has tough task in

Deciding position on LIC

Argument between Downtown and Southside advocates

Discussion of the Lumberman’s Investment Corporation (LIC) project next to Sand Beach at last night’s Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) meeting escalated into a heated debate worthy of a courtroom or an election season. And when the ANC finally voted on a resolution to recommend denial of Lumberman’s requested zoning, the result didn’t reflect the unity the group would have hoped for.

After some confusion in the vote and a subsequent discussion of parliamentary procedure and Council bylaws, the amended vote was 7-1-5. Five neighborhood representatives abstained from the vote, it was noted, because of the group’s lack of unity.

President Jim Walker said the vote on the resolution was “very, very messy.” He abstained, and later explained why. “I abstained because I thought this is setting a precedent for what happens to us,” he said. The lone dissenter was Bennett Donovan, new president of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA)—the neighborhood where the LIC project and disputed zoning change are at issue.

The zoning change is item number 121 on today’s City Council agenda, which calls for changing the zoning from DMU, Downtown Mixed Use Combining district, to DMU-CURE, Downtown Mixed Use-Central Urban Redevelopment Combining district. The Planning Commission voted 6-1 to recommend granting DMU-CURE. LIC seeks to build a 180-foot tall building at Sand Beach, along the Town Lake Corridor, but current zoning allows for a maximum height of 120 feet. A site plan approved in the 1980s would allow LIC to build a 220-foot building.

“This is in DANA and DANA supports it, so I think it would be bad for ANC to oppose it,” said Donovan, who early in the meeting introduced himself and said this was his first ANC meeting. Walker agreed, in part, saying it was a problem to vote through an ANC resolution that doesn’t represent one of its members.

“Downtown is where you want density,” Donovan said, “Downtown is where you want a higher tax base to fund the city.” If the zoning change is not approved, the alternate proposals would be much less appealing, he said. “It’s gonna look like suburban Moscow—that’s what the architect said. The height issue is, from our point of view, an aesthetic issue . . . we support it overwhelmingly,” he said, pointing out that the tallest building would still stand further back from the waterfront than the high-rise buildings on Congress Avenue. “It’s set back quite a way,” he said.

Jay Hailey, representing LIC, said if the zoning change wasn’t approved, LIC might build according to a site plan approved years ago that would allow a 220-foot tall building.

Consultant Mike Blizzard, representing Roberta Crenshaw, one of the originators of the Town Lake hike and bike trail and park system, accused Hailey of making threats about going back to the old plan if the new zoning isn’t approved. “A ring of neighborhoods around this project oppose it,” he said, pointing out that it would be all luxury condos when there is a dire need for more affordable housing in Austin.

Jeff Jack, aide to Council Member Beverly Griffith and President of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, said this issue was not about aesthetics but about protecting the waterfront park. “We’re really talking about setting a precedent.” The protection of the Town Lake Corridor is based on zoning, he said, pointing out that there are many undeveloped commercial tracts along Town Lake. This zoning change would send a message to the development community that it’s okay to build tall buildings on Town Lake, he said.

Noting that he is an architect, Jack said it certainly would be possible to build an aesthetically pleasing project without having to make it 180-feet tall.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Another Wynn speaks out . . . Anne Elizabeth Wynn, wife of Council Member Will Wynn, has written a strong letter of support to the Council favoring the proposed CURE zoning for LIC’s project near the Seaholm Power Plant. She writes, “This settlement enables supporters of Seaholm to ‘turn the corner’ on protracted questions that have surrounded Seaholm. With this settlement finalized, Seaholm advocates can move forward to the next phase—attracting the optimal civic user. With parking secure and a friendly and functional user that contributes significantly to our tax base next door, we can finally get Seaholm’s redevelopment rolling!” . . Meanwhile, Will Wynn was speaking at the Islamic Center of Austin. In his prepared remarks Wynn described recent attacks on local businesses owned by Middle Eastern people as based on fear and intolerance. “We cannot allow this to continue . . . If you let the violence against us turn into violence among us, our cause is lost.” . . Candidate news. . . Mayoral candidate Gus Garcia is scheduled to address the Austin Firefighters’ Association tonight at a forum and meeting of the group’s political action committee. Garcia plans to make his twice-postponed announcement for election at noon on Monday near the Gazebo on Auditorium Shores. He is also scheduled to speak to the West Austin Democrats at 5pm Monday at the Howson Branch Library . . . City budget officer moves to private sector . . . Charles Curry, a man who does numerical magic with city money, has taken a job as chief operating officer of Weidner Consulting, Inc. Company spokesman Marv Weidner said his company works with federal, state and local governments to develop better management systems. He said Curry would be project director for the company’s work with Washington, DC. Curry began serving as the city’s budget officer in 1989. Friends gathered for his retirement party at the Convention Center on Tuesday . . . New bus chief . . . Capital Metro has hired Fred Gilliam, a nationally respected transit expert, as the agency’s new Chief Operating Officer. Gilliam will also serve as Deputy General Manager. “You won’t find a more experienced COO in the country,” said General Manager Karen Rae.“Fred strengthens our core team, bringing 38 years of management experience in private and public bus operations to Capital Metro.” Gilliam is currently Executive Vice President of Chance Coach Inc., a bus and trolley manufacturer in Wichita, Kansas.

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