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Affordable housing vote

Monday, November 5, 2001 by

Challenges Council goals

Northeast neighborhood has valid petition against zoning

Plans for an affordable housing development in northeast Austin won preliminary approval on first reading from the City Council last week, but not by a large enough margin to overcome a valid petition. Neighbors want to prevent the Community Partnership for the Homeless from building 30 small single-family homes on eight acres at 10300 Dessau Road.

The zoning change from the existing SF-2 to LO-MU-CO (Limited Office-Mixed Use-Conditional Overlay) would allow for a small office for social service programs along with a child-care facility. The child-care and social service components would serve the residents, who would be single parents making 50 percent or less of the area’s median family income. Neighbors have protested vigorously that the development would create additional traffic problems along Dessau, and that children would be in jeopardy because of neighborhood traffic and a nearby creek. (See In Fact Daily, Oct 19, 2001.)

Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas both echoed concerns from neighbors about getting the children who would live in the homes to and from school. “I’m going to need to know more than I do right now to be able to vote,” Griffith said. “I’m not sure this is the right zoning, and I’m not sure there’s going to be safe access. It doesn’t look like it right now.” Thomas said he would prefer not to rush approval for the project, and would instead like to see some of those transportation and access issues resolved. The Community Partnership for the Homeless has applied for city fee waivers under the Smart Housing program, which promotes safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced, transit-oriented development. But because of changes in bus routes by Capitol Metro, the location on Dessau Road may not meet the specific guidelines laid out under the “transit-oriented” section.

“It’s an excellent project,” Thomas said. “We can build all of the affordable cottages, but if we don’t have a way of transportation for some of the people, we are defeating our purpose . . . I’m stuck on the ‘T.’” City staffers explained that there were provisions for the Council to allow for the fee waivers once the project is developed. Thomas, however, expressed reservations about moving ahead while there were still some uncertainties. “I believe we should have all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed when it comes to affordable housing.” he said. “Let’s make it a Smart effort. If that ‘t’ is not in that Smart effort, that doesn’t spell Smart.”

Mayor Kirk Watson attempted to persuade fellow Council members and those in the audience of the proposal’s value, and of the city’s Smart Housing program in general. “I think it’s one of those instances where it’s either put up or shut up time,” Watson said. “Either we are for affordable housing or we need to quit playing politics with it. This is a vote that demonstrates whether you are going to have the discipline to put your vote where your mouth is on affordable housing.”

Although Watson did not mention Griffith or Thomas by name, he did bring up their push for more affordable housing funding last fall. “We had a big debate here for a period of time about whether or not we ought to put bonds on a bond election (ballot) and change our financial policy to get more bonds for affordable housing.” At the time, Watson argued against taking money or public attention away from the city’s transportation bond package, which eventually passed. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 18, 2000.) Voting against the zoning change for the tract on Dessau Road, the mayor argued, would send the wrong signal. “It is a vote, as far as I’m concerned, on whether you want the city to be a city of haves or have-nots . . . where we’re going to say, ‘I got mine, you get yours . . . and I really don’t care how you get it, but not near me.’ I think we need to vote on this and I think we need to move forward.”

Council Members Daryl Slusher and Raul Alvarez supported Watson, pointing out that under the current SF-2 zoning, the eight-acre tract could be developed with nearly twice the number of single family units proposed by Community Partnership for the Homeless. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, however, wanted more information. She also requested representatives from both sides to meet with a city mediator this week before the item is brought back up for second and third reading. That mediation session, Goodman said, could be “a discussion where we got some of the real issues on the table. I don’t really feel like some of the issues are the real reason for opposition, and I would feel much better if I knew flat out what all the issues were.” When the project went before the Zoning and Platting Commission, some opponents voiced their frustration at what they believed to be the concentration of affordable housing or low-income development in their neighborhood. But with a few brief exceptions during that same ZAP hearing, they have avoided any mention of the possible impact the project would have on nearby property values.

The motion to approve the zoning change on first reading only passed with a vote of 5-0-2, with Council Members Griffith and Thomas abstaining. Because of the valid petition, it will require at least six affirmative votes on third and final reading for the zoning change to pass.

Charter revision group

Racing toward deadline

Commission reviewing previous recommendations

The reconstituted Charter Revision Committee has less than a month to come up with a recommendation on single-member districts for the City Council, but it’s already apparent the committee will not sign off on all aspects of the work of the group that preceded it.

This week the new committee reviewed the work of the previous Charter Revision Committee that met for over a year and issued five recommendations in January 2000. The new committee decided to support one suggestion, toss out another recommendation and put three points aside for more discussion. The group has until Nov. 26th to come to consensus.

The committee’s goal is to provide a revamped list of recommendations, which includes reflection on recent census data, to the Council by the end of November. The Council would like to call a Charter election in May 2002, to consider not only a Charter amendment proposed by a citizens group, but also alternatives, perhaps including a new method for electing its own members.

The new committee did agree that an independent redistricting committee should be appointed by the Council to perform decennial and interim redistricting. The group rejected the idea that a committee should be formed the year before each census to consider whether the method of election should be changed. It was the new committee’s opinion that the City Council could, and should, appoint a committee to consider the issue at any time.

The committee was split on the mix of district and at-large representation. Some members favored all representation by district. Others thought a mix of at-large and districts would give broader representation for the individual voters. Member Ricky Bird told the committee he felt strongly that the lines needed to be drawn to guarantee at least one African-American representative on the Council, but no one appeared to support a suggestion of 14 districts, as recommended by demographic information provided by city demographer Ryan Robinson at the last meeting.

A four-year term for Mayor also is still on the table. The goal of the recommendation was to make sure the Mayor would not be running with the same group of District Council candidates every election. Council members would have three-year terms. The Mayor would have a four-year term. Chair Bobbie Barker, however, asked whether two years was out of the question because it might encourage more candidates for the office.

In addition, the committee is split on Instant Runoff Voting. The proposal to use the method was made before a recent Attorney General’s opinion that that form of voting was not sanctioned under current state law. Some committee members thought ballot language should be provided that would allow the method of voting if, and when, state leaders approved it. Others thought it should be pulled off the table entirely until it was allowed under law.

The commission is scheduled to meet again tonight in South Austin.

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.

That time of year for judges . . . The judicial subcommittee of the City Council is scheduled to meet this afternoon to talk about how the Council selects judges. More importantly, they are scheduled to “select candidates for Presiding Judge, Associate Judge, Relief Judge and Community Court Judge to recommend to the City Council for appointment for the 2002 – 2003 term.” But that part of the meeting will be in executive session. The committee includes Mayor Kirk Watson, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Will Wynn . . . ZAP Commission not meeting this week . . . Tuesday is Election Day and the commission will not be meeting. Last week, the City Council postponed consideration of an ordinance that would reduce the ZAP’s duties and add to those of the Planning Commission. The Council’s evening agenda was heavily laden with zoning hearings, so Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman asked to put the matter off until Nov. 29. She said she plans to amend the staff’s version . . . It’s his fault . . . Mayor Kirk Watson can expect some good-natured ribbing at his final Council meeting on Thursday. Council Member Will Wynn has posted an item on the agenda calling for “a resolution blaming everything that has gone wrong in Austin since I was elected on Kirk Watson.” While there are some who would lay all of the city’s problems at Watson’s feet, Wynn has actually been one of Watson’s most consistent supporters on the Council . . . Family planner to address Seton-Brackenridge problem . . . Peggy Romberg, executive director of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, is scheduled to address the Travis County Democratic Women’s Committee at 6:15pm Thursday. The group’s meeting begins at 5:30pm at the Marimont Cafeteria, 623 W. 38th St.

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