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UTC postpones decision on

Tuesday, October 16, 2001 by

Street closure rules for films

Angry neighbors face film industry boosters

The Urban Transportation Commission last night postponed a vote on new guidelines for closing downtown streets for film productions, preferring instead to have representatives from the film industry and local businesses meet with city staff to revise the proposed changes within the next 60 days.

Staff, at the direction of the City Council, had studied the policies of other cities concerning street closures for film productions. They also met with representatives of local business groups before drafting recommended changes to the city’s current process for closing a street. Those recommendations included increasing the area within which notification of street closures is obligatory, requiring approval from 80 percent of the affected property owners and charging parking meter fees in addition to the $250 application fee.

The debate before the UTC pitted some angry downtown business owners against supporters of the film industry. Roxanne Wheelis of River City Tattoo and Richard Aleksander of the Aleksander Gallery both voiced complaints about the lack of notification on recent street closures. They also said the lack of parking had a negative impact on their business. “When a film is shooting, give me some notice—we’ll close,” Wheelis told commissioners. Aleksander supported her contention that the current process sometimes failed to provide enough warning to businesses that rely on street traffic and available customer parking. “Under the old ordinance, film crews had to provide 24 days notice,” Aleksander said, “Under the current ordinance, it’s zero in some cases.” He accused filmmakers of deliberately failing to notify businesses, or of misrepresenting to city staff the proportion of affected neighbors who are willing to go along with the closure.

But David Kruger of Kruger’s Diamond Jewelers told commissioners he didn’t mind the inconvenience. “They bring a ton of notoriety,” Kruger said. “I think they attract people. Let’s act like we like ‘em.”

Several location scouts attended the commission meeting to defend the film community, saying that most productions would not go into an area where they were not wanted. “They’re really conscientious people,” location manager Eric Williams said of his colleagues. “We’re all going out of our way to notify people.” He pointed out that many of the street closures downtown were not related to film projects at all; but instead stemmed from construction, utility work or road repair projects. “If you’re going to consider changes to the film permit ordinance, we ask that it be fair,” he said.

Tom Copeland, director of the Texas Film Commission, stressed the economic benefit that film production brought to Texas. “Austin is losing business to Canada because they’re subsidizing the industry,” Copeland said, urging the commission to avoid making it more difficult for film companies to do business here. Location manager Mateo Barnstone joined him, telling commissioners, “Austin has the most complicated procedures for permits compared to other cities.” Making the process more difficult through additional fees and notification requirements, said Barnstone, is “not the right signal to send to the film industry.”

The new rules proposed by staff did not find favor with either film industry representatives or small business owners, so Commissioner Michelle Brinkman suggested forming a subcommittee to work with both groups on a compromise. That subcommittee will report back to the UTC in 60 days with its suggestions.

Historic Commission to award

Grants for six Austin projects

ACVB to fund about $306,000 for historic preservation

The Austin Woman’s Club, Huston-Tillotson College and Matthews Elementary School are among the recommended recipients of Historic Landmark Commission grants.

The city estimates it will have $306,044 from hotel taxes available for historic preservation grants this fall. Seven grants were presented to the special grants committee Monday night; six were approved. The recommendations for the grants will be forwarded to the full Historic Landmark Commission. Huston-Tillotson and the City of Austin made the final presentations last night, both of which were approved by the committee.

The committee did add some strings to the two grants. For the $20,000 grant, the City of Austin will have to prove it will maintain the historic integrity of the West 24th Street Bridge as it starts the preservation process. Huston-Tillotson must use its entire $37,000 grant—part of a match for a $525,000 Department of Interior grant—to restore the exterior of its historic Administration Building.

Architect Evan Taniguchi and Terry Smith, assistant to Huston-Tillotson’s president, presented plans for the Administration Building to the committee. Committee members were concerned the university had yet to spend the $37,000 grant presented to the university last year, but Betty Baker of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau pointed out that recipients had up to three years to spend each grant. The commission has the option of requesting repayment of the grant money in the future, Baker said.

The Texas Historical Commission must approve the plans for the restoration of the building, which are still unfinished, Taniguchi said. The university must match the $525,000 federal grant. Fund-raising activities have included alumni tours during commencement exercises, Smith told the committee.

Commissioners were also concerned about maintenance of the color and consistency of the concrete on the West 24th Street Bridge. They will wait on a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Landmark Commission before releasing the grant. Commissioners expressed the city’s desire to maintain the historic integrity of the “one of a kind” bridge.

Other recommended grant recipients included the North-Evans Chateau of the Austin Woman’s Club ($33,500), Bell House at Pioneer Farm($5,000), Matthews Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District ($42,000) and Main Building at St. Edward’s University ($42,000). A grant for the German Free School was put on hold until a master plan is drawn up.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Forum on election of judges . . . The League of Women Voters, which supports appointment rather than election of state judges, is hosting a forum at 7pm Thursday at the LCRA Board Room, where the City Council regularly meets. Speakers include Justice Craig Enoch of the Texas Supreme Court, Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People, and Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice. The City Council is taking the week off . . . TNRCC appointment. . . Gov. Rick Perry yesterday announced the appointment of Kathleen Hartnett White of Valentine to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. White is co-owner of White Herefords and partner with her husband in a ranching operation in Jeff Davis and Presidio counties. She has previously served as director of environment and private lands for the National Cattlemen's Association in Washington, D.C. and executive director of the Ranching Heritage Association. . . City mail to be screened . . . According to a memo sent to City Hall offices yesterday, “Effective immediately, letters and other mail, packages, and courier deliveries will be redirected to the City central mail room. Packages and deliveries will be opened, inspected and re-sealed . . . Final chance for public input on Hays parks. . . The fifth and final public hearing on how Hays County should organize parks and open space is scheduled for 7pm tonight at the Buda Elementary School at 300 San Marcos St . . . Where’s Eric Mitchell ? . . . Last week’s Austin Chronicle said the former Council Member had postponed his official announcement from last Tuesday to today. Mitchell did not inform us of his plans, but we doubt he would call the Chronicle with up-to-date information on his candidacy after the brouhaha with Chronicle political writer Mike Clark-Madison. You may recall that Clark-Madison resigned from the Library Commission because of complaints about his description of Mitchell . . . No decision . . . Members of the Urban Transportation Commission were unable to reach a decision about a proposal to add a turn lane off Lamar Boulevard onto Windsor Road (24th Street). The Parks and Recreation Board had voted against the plan (see In Fact Daily, Oct. 1st, 2001), but the UTC split 4-4. The nine-member commission has had a vacancy since Ana Rodriguez turned in her resignation last month. Commissioner Tommy Eden led the opposition, saying he did not want to recommend taking any parkland. But Commission Chair Jay Wyatt argued in favor of the plan. “We’re charged with making the city better for transportation,” Wyatt said. The split vote means the measure will go on to the City Council without a recommendation from the UTC.

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