Sections

About Us

 
Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism
 

Council likely to seek new

Thursday, October 11, 2001 by

Options for managing BCP

PARD staff already stretched thin, Wynn says

Council Member Will Wynn, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Mayor Kirk Watson want City Manager Jesus Garza to review management of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP), which is currently done through the Parks & Recreation Department (PARD). If their idea receives City Council approval today, Garza would be asked to report back on alternatives within 45 days.

Wynn told In Fact Daily that “a number of issues are sort of coming together right now, which drives the timing of the inquiry.” Wynn said he intends no criticism of PARD, but noted that the department is “already underfunded and stretched thin.” Most of the land that the parks department manages is parkland, not habitat for endangered species, so management objectives are different, he said. “We see an opportunity to relieve PARD of a management task that isn’t suited to their mission.”

In addition to land the city has set aside in the BCP, the city has purchased about 15,000 acres of Proposition 2 land to protect water quality. The Water & Wastewater Department manages that land. Wynn said the city has “a number of very highly qualified staff” who could assist in management of the preserve property. Some are in the Water & Wastewater Department, some are in Watershed Protection & Development Review and some, like real estate expert Junie Plummer, are in yet another department.

Wynn said possibilities include switching management of the BCP land to the Water and Wastewater Department, or creating a small new department that would manage all the city’s different land management commitments, including conservation easements.

The city has nearly 13,000 acres in the preserve. Eventually, all the participating governments and other entities must have a total of 30,428 acres, said Parks & Recreation Board Member Mary Ruth Holder. She said the Texas Nature Conservancy has about 4,000 acres, the Travis Audubon Society about 600 acres and the Lower Colorado River Authority 2,150 acres.

Ann Denkler, assistant to County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, said the county currently has 2,448 acres of preserve land and is “real likely to acquire another 662 acres within the next 60 days.” Rose Farmer, a resource management specialist for Travis County who works with BCP land, told In Fact Daily the county spends $540,582 per year on Balcones land. That includes administration, as well as the activities required by the designation: funding park rangers on staff to patrol the area; enforcing the prohibition on hunting; taking out deer, feral hogs and fire ants when they become too abundant. In addition, county staff studies endangered species and works to remove non-native plants when they are discovered.

Wynn said city BCP land has recently experienced a “dramatic deer overpopulation,” as well as large numbers of feral hogs. Both destroy bird habitat. The joint committee, composed of officials from the city, county and other agencies, is “quite concerned” about those problems, he said.

When Garza returns to the Council with his proposal, Wynn said, the sponsors intend to ask for input from the joint committee as well as from city boards and commissions. He noted that the city manager has been thinking about the problem for several months. A joint committee of the Environmental Board and the Parks board recommended last summer that the Council “review the current BCP levels of funding being allocated to management of the BCP . . . and ensure that levels of funding are adequate for operation and maintenance, habitat restoration, fencing and patrol of BCP tracts.” The Environmental Board adopted the resolution and forwarded it to the Council for consideration, along with a number of other recommendations.

Cap Metro interested in

Plan for Nuevo Mercado

Developer proposes E.5th-6th Street mixed-use project

Capital Metro is interested in signing a letter of support for a mixed-use project that could become a future transit hub for the agency just east of I-35.

Z Development LLC has proposed a mixed-use mid-rise project—seven stories of retail, residential and office space—between Fifth and Sixth streets about two blocks east of I-35. The team of developers said the incorporation of land owned by Capital Metro into the plans for Nuevo Mercado would enhance viability of the project.

“What we have been discussing is the idea of making a proposal that would offer development on your property,” architect Phillip Reed told a Capital Metro planning/finance committee yesterday. “We think we can get some synergy between these properties and make them viable, especially if we’re looking at future plans for light rail. We think this would make a transit stop or hub for rail, or even buses and taxis.” Reed is with the firm of Cotera Kolar Negrete & Reed.

Local residents are already on board with the project, developer Steve Bowman told the subcommittee. Height limitations under zoning put the project at no more than 60 feet. Because the land between the two streets slopes, the first two floors on the western edge of the project would be underground parking. The part of the property that fronts Fifth Street would be a green grocer, which could be connected by a bridge to Cap Metro’s property.

The remaining levels would be built around a central plaza, with street-level retail, a level of office space and three additional levels of residential development. Street-level retail would include a mix of space for retailers and local artists, as well as pedestrian-friendly kiosks that could be leased by street vendors. Plans also include space for up to 60 additional living units on the upper floors.

General Manager Karen Rae said it was the wish of Capital Metro staff to continue to explore the possibility of a public/private partnership on the Nuevo Mercado, although she hastened to add it did not mean the transit agency had “signed on the dotted line” to support the project. Rae said its goals appeared to be consistent with agency goals. She asked the board to consider signing a good faith letter of support for the project.

The concept of Nuevo Mercado, Rae admitted to the committee, probably had more support than Capital Metro’s own long-range master plan for agency-owned land. Many neighborhoods, she said, still fear that a Capital Metro master plan would override neighborhood plans already put in place by the city.

Bowman said he visualized an agreement on the Fifth Street property to be something like the lease between the state and the developer on the Triangle property. Capital Metro could hold the deed on the Fifth Street property, while offering a long-term ground lease to Z Development, he suggested. Initially, the property would likely be used for additional parking for the Nuevo Mercado development, Bowman said.

The developers said it would be far more attractive to anticipate a pedestrian-friendly development on Capital Metro’s Fifth Street land than to spend $60 million on a project just to see a parking structure go up across the street. The current zoning on the land for Nuevo Mercado is commercial sales/light industrial. Rae said zoning on the Fifth Street property is most likely also light industrial.

Capital Metro has no plans for the Fifth Street property in its current five-year plan. The Z Development project likely will be presented to the full Capital Metro board at a work session on Oct. 22.

ZAP Commission evenly

Split on tower for E. 6th

Location chosen for tower conflicts with Holly Neighborhood Plan

The Zoning and Platting Commission deadlocked 4-4 Tuesday night on the question of granting a conditional use permit to allow a telecommunication tower in a section of East Austin where neighborhood members want to prohibit such towers. Two weeks ago, the commission postponed a decision on the matter, thinking that the Planning Commission would be able to give them some guidance on the tower question. That commission was scheduled to make a decision on the Holly Neighborhood Plan the following night. ZAP Commissioners were responding to a postponement request from neighborhood plan leader Gavino Fernandez. In addition, Commission Chair Betty Baker wanted to hear from city legal staff on whether federal law would allow a neighborhood plan to exclude telecommunications towers from particular areas. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 26, 2001.)

Early in Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners went into executive session with Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry, to discuss communications law. Terry declined to discuss her advice after the session.

When the matter came up, Commissioner Vincent Aldridge moved to approve the permit for the tower at 2233 E. 6th St. Commissioner Niyanta Spelman provided the second and said, “There is a black hole here (in cell phone coverage) and they need it.”

Commissioner Diana Castañeda said she did not believe the applicant had done “an extensive search of the entire area” to determine that the tower had to be on 6th Street, rather than 7th Street, where the neighborhood plan would support it. Castañeda said, “I see people here who signed the petition (for the tower). This does not sway me, and it offends me. People who come in to the neighborhood to work, leave. They don’t have to live with the power plant and the railroad tracks . . . there is no black hole in East Austin.”

Baker tried to convince other commissioners and the applicant, Crown Castle Telecommunications, that they should postpone the item for two weeks so the applicant could bring back proof that he had diligently searched properties between 5th and 7th Streets close to the railroad tracks. But the applicant did not want to do that and other commissioners wanted to vote. The motion to approve the permit thus failed, with Commissioners Baker, Castañeda, Jean Mather and Joseph Martinez voting no. Commissioner Angular Adams was absent. Baker once more urged a postponement and the applicant agreed to bring back more information on properties scouted for the tower.

The permit is required for the area covered by the East Austin Overlay, which was enacted to assist East Austin neighborhoods going through the neighborhood planning process.

Planning Commission puts off decision on plan

Last night, the Planning Commission postponed action on the Holly plan, agreeing to a timetable proposed by staff. Several neighborhood residents came forward who had not attended the previous meeting. They were supportive of the plan and disputed assertions made at the last hearing that outreach to neighborhood residents had been insufficient. However, commissioners could not forget that they had previously judged participation as inadequate. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 1, 2001.)

Commissioner Dave Sullivan said, “For the sake of people who are here . . . one of the reasons we’re postponing this is because of the low participation, not the quality of the plan . . . This is not any indication of how we feel about the plan itself. This is simply an effort to boost the low turnout.”

Commissioner Lydia Ortiz, who voted against the first postponement, said she would go along with the delay, but added, “I’m not sure that having one more meeting is going to make the difference . . . I hope in the future we will work with staff to have really fantastic outreach sessions rather than having to go back at this stage.”

The City Council was scheduled to hold a hearing on the plan today. Staff is recommending that the commission facilitate a meeting in the neighborhood during the first week of November and that staff bring back both the plan and the rezoning requests on Nov. 28. If that schedule is followed, the Council should be able to hear the plan on Dec. 6.

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.

Eastside Council meeting today . . . The City Council will meet at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, 808 Nile St., at 10am. We have heard that the move from the LCRA costs about $1,000 per meeting, due to the relocation of so much equipment . . . Hyde Park again . . . The City Council seems likely to approve some version of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan on second, but not third, reading today. Neighborhood team leaders are still working on the legal language associated with the plan, and say they have quite a bit of work left to do. Representatives of the Hyde Park Baptist Church and team members have continued to meet, but both sides say they are not making progress toward resolution. There is a reason now why the neighborhood might want to slow the process— Mayor Kirk Watson seems unlikely to vote against the church’s valid petition, but a new Mayor might feel differently. Council Member Danny Thomas is unlikely to vote against the church either, leaving the church out of the neighborhood plan. Watson will only have two more Council meetings, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1. After that, it’s somebody else’s problem . . . Speaking of problems . . . There are still signs around the Dawson neighborhood between S. 1st Street and Congress Avenue saying they oppose the zoning changes. Council Member Daryl Slusher has pointed out that much of the information given to the residents is false, but it appears they haven’t understood or believed the news. The Council is scheduled to approve those changes on third reading. Some property owners have filed valid petitions against the conditional overlay involved with the rezoning, but the vote was 7-0 on previous readings . . . More work for new Planning Commission . . . Chair Ben Heimsath told fellow commissioners last night that they would be asked to participate in the city’s Neighborhood Academy. He also announced members of the commission’s standing committees. Silver Garza will chair the Codes and Ordinances Committee; Lydia Ortiz will chair the Comprehensive Plan Committee; Sterling Lands will chair the Education & Outreach Committee; and Maggie Armstrong will chair the CIP Committee. . . Planning Commission v. ZAP ordinance . . . The ordinance that would take some duties from the Zoning and Platting Commission and give them to the Planning Commission is scheduled, along with some other items, for a 6pm hearing at today’s Council meeting.

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top