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TxDOT not following group's

Monday, October 15, 2001 by

Road construction suggestions

Aquifer district directors want better water quality measures

Directors of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) learned last week that the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) is not following design recommendations and may not employ water quality measures recommended by a task force for improvements of US 290 into Oak Hill.

The task force was created in 1996 to determine the best way to build the extension of US Highway 290 West. The group’s report made recommendations in two areas, design and water quality. “We made recommendations with a consensus for design changes . . . We recommended eliminating flyovers and one access road,” Board President Craig Smith told In Fact Daily. The task force, composed of Oak Hill and Bee Cave residents, environmentalists and TXDoT officials, recommended significant design changes, including putting access roads beneath the freeway lanes, Smith said.

“We learned today those recommendations were not going to be followed,” Smith said after the meeting. He added that Michael Aulick, executive director of CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) heard the news at the same time. “It was disheartening for us to find they were not followed,” he said.

In response to the information, Smith made a motion advising that TXDoT follow the 1997 water quality recommendations. Board Secretary Don Turner chaired this portion of the meeting so Smith could make the motion.

Board Member Jack Goodman added a friendly amendment for the recommendation to follow water quality measures at least as good as what the task force had suggested in 1997. And Board Member Jim Camp added a provision to protect sensitive environmental features in the area. The motion passed 4-0 with Vice President Bill Welch absent. He is on duty in Washington, D.C.

Smith asked Donald Nyland, an engineer with TXDoT, about the design of 290 West into Oak Hill. “The flyovers will be left out . . . at first,” Nyland said, adding that it will be 2010 or 2015 before the flyovers are built to connect US 290 to SH 71 in Oak Hill.

He acknowledged that the design might not be what the task force had recommended, but explained that his department has to work with a variety of competing factors. Nyland described Highway 290 in Oak Hill as “lined with car dealerships with a taco stand at the end.” He doesn’t think this is conducive to optimal planning, “but that’s what we’re stuck with.”

When Smith asked Aulick about the design, Aulick said it was beyond the purview of his organization. “TXDoT is the one that has the authority to do the design. CAMPO is just a planning organization,” he said.

Other road news

Another CAMPO recommendation that has recently been pushed aside is the extension of Frate Barker Road. “In our judgement, by 2025 Frate Barker is going to be needed there,” Aulick said. But, he noted that his organization defers to the judgement of city and county authorities. “Our plan is for Frate Barker intersecting ( SH) 45,” he said, acknowledging that funding for the extension of Frate Barker had just been dropped from the upcoming county bond election.

Both Aulick and Nyland discussed other road extensions in the area, notably the extension of SH 45 from Mopac to the east. A private consortium, including developer Gary Bradley, has proposed extending SH 45 further east to I- 35 and US 183 at SH 130 as a toll road through the Texas Turnpike Authority.

Nyland said his department still hasn’t determined the final alignment of SH 45. Travis County has purchased the land for the right of way, he said, but it hasn’t yet turned the land over to TXDoT.

Nyland’s explanation of how Mopac and SH 45 would be linked south and east to 1626 sparked objections from Camp. Nyland said the road would be built in two phases. Initially, it will be a two-lane road, he said, upgrading to a four-lane divided road at some point in the future when funding becomes available. TXDoT currently only has funding earmarked for a two-lane road, Nyland said.

Camp had serious safety concerns about building only two lanes. He said it certainly would cost more to build the final four-lane version of the road now, but it would be much safer and would require disturbing the environment only once instead of twice in a relatively short span of time. “It just seems short-sighted to build two lanes instead of four,” he said.

“In terms of public safety, I’m very concerned,” he said. Citing Loop 1604 in San Antonio as an example of the potential danger inherent in building only two lanes, Camp noted that when the loop was first built—as a two-lane road—there were numerous head-on collisions until it was upgraded to a divided highway. “It used to be called the Death Loop,” he said.

Voicing strong disagreement with TXDoT’s decision to build only two lanes in phase one, Camp said, “I predict there will be fatal accidents on that road.”

Smith asked Nyland about the current construction on south Mopac, between 290 West and William Cannon Drive. “Technically, that is not a state project,” Nyland responded, much to Smith’s surprise, since major construction is obviously already underway. Nyland explained that Ranger Excavating Inc., a private contractor, has been hired for development of The Terrace, a nearby office complex. Instead of hauling away dirt unearthed for that project, the company made arrangements to give it to TXDoT, which will need the fill material for the eventual extension of Mopac.

“Basically we get 200,000 (cubic) yards of material for free,” Nyland said, noting TXDoT expects to begin work on that segment of Mopac next summer.

ZAP recommends zoning for single

Room apt. complex for homeless

Baker, Edgemond oppose 'experiment'

The Zoning and Platting Commission last week gave its blessing to a zoning change that would allow Foundation Communities, Inc. to convert a South Austin retirement home to a single-occupancy apartment complex. The Capital Area Homeless Alliance (CAHA) is working with the foundation on the project. City staff, along with about 15 civic activists, supported the rezoning request, but ZAP Chair Betty Baker and Betty Edgemond, a member of the Board of Adjustment, opposed it. Both live in South Austin, close to the proposed complex. Baker asked how many of those supporting the zoning live within four blocks of the property. None did.

The vote was 5-2-1, with Baker and Commissioner Joseph Martinez voting no and Commissioner Jean Mather abstaining. Commissioner Angular Adams was absent.

Garden Terrace, which is slated to house 85 people at 1015 W. William Cannon, received expedited review through the city’s Smart Housing program. Units would be available to persons making no more than 50 percent of the Austin-area Median Family Income. More than one third of the units of the complex would be reserved for the “working homeless.” (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 26, 2001.)

When they first heard the proposal, ZAP Commissioners directed Craig Alter of Foundation Communities to hold another meeting with neighbors. Alter reported last week that he had held two more meetings, with eight to 13 people attending each one. Neither Baker nor Edgemond was able to attend. Alter said he did not face much opposition from area residents after he explained the project. He also changed his zoning request from MF-4 to MF-1, and agreed to a conditional overlay limiting the height of the building to the current 22 feet. The overlay also prohibits use of the property as a club, lodge or private recreational facility.

Alter told the commission that most metropolitan areas in Texas have such a facility. Paul Hilgers, Director of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, said his department is “strongly in support of trying to get this development achieved.” He said the project would provide not just housing, but “a continuum of services to people . . . This is Smart Housing. Also, we’ve had an open RFP (request for proposal) . . . We’ve been trying to get this for two years. It will require a substantial amount of accountability. We are here to promote housing, but it’s not housing at any cost.”

Baker told Hilgers, “This is very personal to me. You all talk about appropriateness of the zoning, and this would be the only MF (multi-family) on the map.” But she pointed out that there were already a number of apartments, because under the previous zoning ordinance, apartments could be built in areas zoned GR (general retail). “As this hearing began and so many stood in favor . . . I asked how many live within a 4-block area . . . There is not anybody sitting behind this table who is not compassionate and fair . . . A perceived fear is just as emotionally and physically damaging as a real and justified fear. This is an experiment. It is admitted to be an experiment for Austin. If this fails, Austin fails, but more importantly, people like me will suffer the direct consequence.”

Edgemond said of the project’s supporters, “The people who are behind me truly care about Austin. These are good people (but) they do not live where I live. I would have liked to see a lot more support” from the neighborhood. She concluded, “I’m not truly against it . . . The precedent of MF-1 is good. I want accountability . . . someone to come back to you or to the City Council in the next 6 months. If this one works then I think it could be better in other areas.”

Commissioner Keith Jackson made the motion for approval and Commissioner Michael Casias seconded. Jackson said, “Frankly, you brought up fear and concern in the neighborhood . . . and having it in another neighborhood . . . I am surprised by the lack of opposition. I attended the (neighborhood) meeting last night . . . There’s a known need in the community and this seems to be the right group and the right effort. It may not be the right place, but it is the place they could get under their control . . . I think they’ve gone a great step by creating the community advisory board. I am impressed by the way they ran the meeting.”

Casias said, “I greatly respect the comments that Commissioner Baker made last week . . . On my street there are flop houses . . . and as desperately as those people need that housing, there is no security . . . It’s about five houses down from where I live.”

Baker said, “I just want them to move it to Hyde Park and it would be OK.”

Commissioner Niyanta Spelman, who lives in Hyde Park, said, “If there was opposition to this, we would have seen them or heard from them. This is Austin. I think having an occupied property is always better than having a vacant one. You always think about this NIMBY . . . If this were in my neighborhood, I would have a very hard time opposing this.”

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Election? What election? . . In Fact Daily’s readers are always in the know, but we wonder what percentage of the population knows that early voting for the race to fill Mayor Kirk Watson’s unexpired term starts in just one week. We’ve seen one sign for Gus Garcia, one for Jennifer Gale and two for newcomer Greg Gordon . . . Uncommon event . . . Common Cause is hosting a fundraiser Wednesday, honoring Reps. Jim Dunnam (D-Waco) and Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen). The event will be from 5:30 to 8pm at the Texas Association of Broadcasters Building, 501 E. 11th St. Dunnam authored a bill to outlaw the practice of allowing law firms to pay Supreme Court law clerks bonuses before the clerks join the firms. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill. Hinojosa, as chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, helped enact a number of reform measures, including a DNA testing procedure to help inmates attempt to prove their innocence and a ban on executing the mentally retarded. Perry vetoed the latter . . . Seton/Brackenridge vote postponed . . . After hearing from both staff and representatives of Seton Medical Center on changes to the contract between the city and Seton relating to reproductive services, the Council, as expected, postponed the vote on the matter until its next meeting, Oct. 25 . . . Charter study continues . . . The new Charter Revision Commission last week elected Bobbie Barker as chair of the group. A second meeting will be held tonight, at 6pm in Room 304 of City Hall. The commission was asked to review conclusions reached by the previous Charter Revision panel and report back to the City Council within 45 days. The Urban Transportation Commission is also scheduled to meet at 6pm tonight at One Texas Center, 8th floor conference room. The commission is holding a public hearing on street closures related to film production.

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