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Planning Commission suggests

Monday, October 29, 2001 by

Changes to billboard regulations

Hybrid ordinance recommended

Reagan National Advertising has been fighting with its smaller competitors through city boards and commissions, at the City Council and in court for months. (See In Fact Daily June 19, July 10, July 23, Aug. 14, 2001.) Results have been mixed, but Reagan lost its battle with Acme Partnership and the landowner at the City Council earlier this month. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 5, 2001). Last week, the fight moved to a different battlefield, as the Planning Commission considered changes to the city’s billboard regulations.

The codes and ordinances committee of the previous Planning Commission recommended that the ordinance be changed to allow a sign company to erect a new sign under the following conditions: 1. only if the company were permanently removing two other signs; or 2. if the sign being removed had been located on a scenic roadway; or 3. if the sign was of monopole construction.

In all cases, the new sign would have to be 25 percent smaller than the old sign or signs. The committee also recommended that applications for removal and replacement of billboards include the signature of the landowner, to ensure that the landowner knows about the sign company’s application. In addition, the committee said that neighborhood associations in the area of the sign should be notified of the changes.

Reagan and Scenic Austin supported the two-for-one replacement rule, while the smaller sign companies adamantly opposed it.

Luci Gallahan, manager of the sign permit and license center, told the commission that the department could not support the two-for-one change. Gallahan works for Mike Heitz, department director for Watershed Protection and Development Review. Heitz is the person designated in the ordinance as “the building official.”

Gallahan said, “As a result of recent events concerning disputes between competing billboard companies and property owners” Heitz was recommending that language in the current ordinance be changed so only interested parties may appeal staff decisions to the Sign Review Board and the City Council. Staff also recommended that replacement requirements remain as they are in the current ordinance.

Commissioner Lydia Ortiz, who served on the codes and ordinances committee, explained that it had been the group’s intent “not only to reduce the size of billboards, but also to reduce the number. The staff’s recommendation would be effective in reducing the size but not the number.”

John Joseph, Jr. with Minter Joseph & Thornhil l, representing Reagan, said, “We oppose staff’s version. The current ordinance fails to reduce the number of signs . . . (and) the staff proposal fails to offer any strategy that would reduce the number of signs. . . We’re really surprised they would even offer any recommendation. Staff offers just to scratch every bit of language that would allow the public to appeal staff’s decision. We have recently filed eight appeals.” He said one decision was overturned and staff modified its ruling in seven cases. So the appeal process was very, very important to ensure that the process is done appropriately.”

Norman Furley of Capitol Outdoors, told commissioners,” I would be happy to explain why a two-for-one replacement is not a good idea. Say there are 100 boards, 80 are Reagan’s. Of the 20 that remain, 10 are Lamar’s. The rest belong to small guys, local guys, and can be replaced today under the 25 percent replacement policy. I have five billboards. So if I find another landowner in town that wants to do business with me, I have to get rid of two.” The numbers are hypothetical, but Furley described himself and others as “the little guys, who are fighting for the crumbs off the table.”

After considerable discussion, the commission voted to recommend a hybrid version that would allow replacement on a monopole sign or a sign on a scenic roadway coupled with another or with a 25 percent reduction in size. Commissioner Sterling Lands summed up his thoughts by saying, “I have an overriding concern that we not be a part of a monopoly. I think our city is in the spirit of competition. The hybrid allows all parties to come to the table.” The vote was 8-0, with Commissioner Silver Garza not participating because of a possible conflict of interest.

Landmark Commission hopes

Historic designation now safe

Carver Library, Alfrida Johnson house designated again

The Historic Landmark Commission revisited two cases last week it never expected to see again: the Carver Branch Library and the Alfrida Johnson House.

Commissioners assumed both were safely designated for historic status. A recent review of city documents, however, indicated neither bore historic status. Commissioners voted unanimously to re-designate both structures.

The 75-year-old Carver Branch Library has the distinction of being both the city’s first library—built in 1926 at 800 Guadalupe—and, after moving to 1165 Angelina in 1933, the first branch library. During the neighborhood planning process, however, the land was inadvertently zoned as Public, rather than Public-Historic as it should have been, city Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin told the Historic Landmark Commission.

Carver Library, now a museum, is located within the East Caesar Chavez neighborhood plan. Chair Lauretta Dowd wanted to be assured by staff that the mistake over Carver Library was a one-time incident and wouldn’t be repeated in other neighborhood plans currently in process. Stocklin told her that the erroneous designation—which occurred during the base zoning process—was an isolated oversight.

The historic Alfrida Johnson house on East Seventh Street, on the books as one of the finest examples of early Austin architecture and the home of one of Austin’s founding families, was thought to be designated historic in April 1992, Stocklin said.

A review of recent records revealed that the City Council never approved the third reading of the historic status, and thus failed to designate the house as historic, Stocklin said. It had been the understanding of city staff, she said, that the house was historic, and she asked that commissioners correct the oversight. The house, zoned single-family, was quickly re-designated for historic status.

Council gives tentative OK

To zoning change over aquifer

Dry cleaning business worries Slusher

Members of the City Council l ast week voted in favor of a zoning change for the lot at 4912 Monterey Oaks Boulevard amid concerns about the proposed use for the property. Plans call for a laundry and dry cleaning plant on the site, which lies just south of US 290 West, and over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. The plant would provide laundry and dry cleaning services for other dry cleaning shops across the city, some of which do not operate their own plants but merely serve as a drop-off location for customers.

The Council focused on the methods of dry-cleaning that would be used at the plant. Council members were especially concerned no chemicals used in any process are released into the city’s wastewater system. The applicant, along with city staff, provided information about the measures normally required to contain any chemicals in the event of a fire or accident. “They literally have to build the slab like a small swimming pool,” said Pat Murphy, deputy environmental services manager for the Watershed Protection & Development Review. The purpose of that design is to collect any chemicals on the property and prevent runoff, he said.

In an attempt to address environmental concerns, the applicant is working with potential tenants to secure their pledge to use a newer dry cleaning technique based on carbon dioxide (CO2). According to Amelia Lopez-Phelps of Lopez-Phelps, Vaughn and Associates, one potential tenant has already agreed to that condition. Many existing dry cleaning plants use the chemical perchloroethylene (called PCE or “perc”) as a solvent to remove stains. In the newer CO2 technique, liquid pressurized carbon dioxide is used instead. Phelps told Council Members that the CO2 method is growing in popularity around the country.

The zoning change from GR-CO to CS-CO was done on first reading only, in part to give the city time to determine if it is possible to require the use of the CO2 method at the site. The conditional overlay would allow dry cleaning, but no other category of commercial services on the property. Council Member Daryl Slusher voted against the zoning change, citing concerns about the possible impact on the Edwards Aquifer.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Second reading on Brodie tract . . . On a vote of 4-3, the City Council approved on second reading Thursday a zoning change that would allow developer Larry Niemann to build a single-family subdivision on the sensitive Brodie Springs tract. The property contains a number of features, such as sinkholes, which are important avenues of recharge for Barton Springs. The tract has an approved site plan from 1995, grandfathered under HB 1704, which allows for slightly more impervious cover and considerably less water quality protection than the current plan. However, Council Members Daryl Slusher, Raul Alvarez and Beverly Griffith voted against the change, saying that the new plan does not offer enough protection for the watershed. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 12, 2001) . . . Party with the judge . . . Judge Gisela Triana is having a Halloween bash and fundraiser Tuesday from 6-8pm at Miguel’s La Bodega, 415 Colorado . . . City Council appointments . . . Last week the Council reappointed Maria C. Hernández and Anita Mennucci to the Commission for Women. Behram Atashband was appointed by consensus to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs and Michael Alder was appointed by Mayor Kirk Watson to the Community Development Commission. Downtown Commissioner Bruce M. Willenzik will continue to serve as the representative of the Arts Commission. The Council filled a vacancy on the Ethics Commission by appointing Jo Ann Merica to represent the Travis County Bar Association.

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