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CAMPO wants more input

Tuesday, November 20, 2001 by

On MoPac stakeholder plan

Vote on SH45 South set for Dec. 10

The CAMPO special committee on MoPac Loop 1/183 will have another chance to review the recommendations of the technical advisory group that was brought in last summer to study options for improving the flow of traffic on the road. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 25, 2001.) That decision from the CAMPO Policy Advisory Committee(CAMPO PAC) means the study will not yet move into Phase 2, satisfying members of the special committee who testified at last night’s CAMPO meeting.

The special committee will have two charges: to review again the recommendations from the technical advisory group with input from representatives from South Austin and southern Travis County that might have been left out previously, and to propose a structure for a “consensus committee” that would continue citizen input on the project on into Phase 2.

That consensus committee would be similar to a citizen’s advisory panel, with the extent of its powers and involvement yet to be determined. “My concern is how it can have more of an impact on what TxDOT actually ends up doing than some of the previous task forces, like the 290 West task force,” said City Council Member Daryl Slusher. Ian Inglis, a member of the special committee, was relieved at the CAMPO PAC decision to allow more time before a final vote on moving to the next phase of the study. “The staff recommendation was really inadequate,” Inglis said. “It said that TxDOT was to help pick the members of the consensus committee. It didn’t have any details about what the authority of the committee would be or whether it could report back to CAMPO. There was nowhere near enough detail.” Moving ahead to Phase 2 without the consensus committee, Inglis said, would effectively shut out citizen input on the plan “The further we move in this process, the more things are going to get set.” Bill Garbade, TxDOT District Engineer, attempted to reassure speakers that public input would be heard during the next phase of the planning process. “Anywhere else in the state or nation it would be an option,” Garbade said. “I don’t think in Austin, Texas, that citizen input will be optional.”

Members of the special committee and MONAC ( MoPac Neighborhood Association Coalition) also argued to have the recommendations of that panel of outside technical experts included as an option in Phase 2, which includes a more detailed study of the concepts presented so far. The recommendation of the special committee for two non-reversible HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes with commuter rail within the existing right of way is not currently on the short list for advancement into the next phase. But Garbade said that a similar plan had already been considered and was not judged to be feasible. “The two non-reversible HOV lanes have already been explored, and frankly we discounted it because we couldn’t get lane balance. We looked at that pretty carefully . . . We couldn’t make it work. What we’re proposing is one-way reversible HOV lanes.”

Sid Covington, representing the Old Enfield Homeowners Association, told officials that heeding public input up front would save time and money in the planning process over the long run. “The concepts you (TxDOT) brought to use back in April were clearly unacceptable,” he said, referring to the large turnout of MoPac-area residents at a previous CAMPO meeting who objected to the state agency’s plans for the road. Covington argued in favor of incorporating suggestions from the public and the technical advisory group earlier in the planning process to ensure the outcome was politically feasible.

The Loop 1/183 special committee will have until the December 10th CAMPO PAC meeting to draft its new set of recommendations. At the same meeting, PAC members will consider a resolution calling for delaying completion of SH 45 South between FM 1626 and I-35 until after SH 130 is finished. Environmentalists want to delay building the road to avoid turning MoPac/Loop 1 into a bypass for IH-35, while residents of northern Hays County and developer Gary Bradley would like to see the road built quickly to alleviate traffic congestion. CAMPO is accepting written comments through November 29th.

Design Commission considers

Taller Convention Center Hotel

Recommendation on Smart Growth points pending

The design team on the 32-story Hilton Convention Center Hotel made a second presentation before the Design Commission last night, hoping to pick up Smart Growth points after amending the original site plan.

The Commission won’t make a decision until Dec. 3. The project’s design team—headed by Gary Fayer and Ruben Rodriguez of Landmark and Joe Ellis of the architectural firm Ellerbee Beckett—presented the revised plans. Fayer, the senior project manager on the convention hotel job site, described those changes as “minor.” Market conditions and requirements of the Hilton Hotel Corporation were the catalysts for the changes, Fayer said.

The timeline is to finish the hotel by Oct. 2003. A slower Austin economy has not hurt the project, Fayer said after the meeting.

“I’ve been talking to the Convention Center. There have been no cancellations of any of their conventions, and conventions are already being booked through early 2004 based on this hotel being done,” Fayer said. “I’ve been talking to Bob Hodge (director of the Convention Center) and there are already 4 or 5 people on board selling our ballroom meeting space and booking conventions already. I don’t think anybody has seen any decrease in the requirements or the needs for this building.”

At least three members of the commission— Chair Juan Cotera and Commissioners Phillip Reed and Janet Seibert—had to sit out the discussion because of past and/or possible future connections to the 800-room hotel project. The most controversial aspect of the building—its height—was not mentioned until the end of the presentation and not discussed until the team left the room.

According to commissioners who compared the original site plan and the amended site plan side by side, the building has gained about 55 feet in height, bringing it to 354 feet. The understanding of the Design Commission is that the height limitation on the building was waived when the floor-to-area ratio was approved. Commissioner Joan Hyde said she could support the height if the positive goals the Design Commission saw back in May 2000 were still being achieved.

“It seems like this commission was in favor of a higher FAR because of certain things, things that they were doing that we thought were good,” Hyde said. “We need to go back and look at what was good and make sure those good things are happening. And if they’re not happening, we need to comment on that.”

Commissioner Perry Lorenz said the FAR on the project was 9.7, far below the 11 allowed under the building’s variance. He added that it was unlikely the developers would have gotten the permit to begin construction if the building did not meet its variance requirements. Reed said the ratio was based on the full land boundaries of the property, rather than the footprint of the actual building. The project will be bounded by East 4th Street, Neches, 5th Street and Red River.

The convention hotel is a mixed-used development with 800 hotel rooms, 110 condominiums and a limited amount of office and retail space. Much of the discussion last night centered on the basic design elements of the building and how it would look from the street. Commissioners talked about how the project’s pedestrian traffic would mesh with the streets program, how trees and canopies would shade the streets and how balconies would break up the boxy shape of the building.

Pollyanne Melton of the city’s urban design staff relayed Jana McCann’s concerns that an area for tree canopy be left along the edges of the building, as well as enough room for pedestrians. Rodriguez said those concerns—along with the concerns of the various city commissions—would be taken into account before the final design plans were submitted to the City Council.

Commissioners asked that full plans be submitted before the group renders a final report on Smart Growth points. The Hilton Hotel will be taken up again on Dec. 3. Rodriguez said his goal was to have his presentation ready for the City Council by the first week of January.

Mueller watchers hopeful as

Business plan deadline nears

The deadline for developers to submit a business plan to redevelop the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport property is fast approaching, and observers are hopeful that at least one of those plans will be a success.

The list of potential master developers is down to two. Catellus Development Corp. of San Francisco is known for its 303-acre mixed-use Mission Bay project in San Francisco’s financial district and the development of 6.5 million square feet of office space in Union Station next to the Los Angeles Civic Center. Mueller Redevelopment Team, a consortium of Austin-based companies, is the other bidder.

Miami-based Lennar, a third finalist, dropped out of the process last month, claiming a tighter economic climate made a proposal on the project too difficult. Those close to the process were skeptical of the claim, saying that any company that would want to redevelop the 700 acres that was Robert Mueller airport would have to be able to weather a number of business cycles. Jim Walker, who chairs the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Implementation Commission, says he’s not as concerned with the company as he is with what that company can do.

“You always get nervous about fewer people being in the mix. It has the potential to limit your options,” Walker said after last week’s commission meeting. “That said, what the community wants out of this developer—what the neighborhood wants out of this developer—doesn’t depend on who the developer is. It depends on whether that developer can execute the master plan.”

Business plans—an expansion of the request for qualifications—are due in to the city the first week of January. Walker admits that the plan’s goals are high, but they are goals that took a task force years to develop: mixed-use and pedestrian-friendly, housing of all income levels with a density of development that can be a model for the rest of the city. These are goals that any developer will have to meet to reach the standards that the city had laid out in its request for qualifications.

Both developers submitting plans have cleared the initial hurdle: the development team experience and financial capacity necessary for a long-term public-private partnership. The redevelopment of Mueller—which may be a mix of both a lease and purchase arrangements—is expected to unfold over 20 years.

The business plan will offer specifics such as the phasing on development and the money the developer would expect the city to put up for needed infrastructure improvements. Walker expects some of that information to be proprietary but would like the implementation commission to see at least the executive summary from both business plans.

The commission would like to get some idea of the “flavor” of the business proposals, and they want to see a presentation from each developer, but they know they don’t have the final call on who wins. The commission will make a recommendation, but the final decision will come from the City Council in the spring.

“The city is going to look at these proposals and they are going to find one proposal better than the other,” Walker said. “That’s fine. The principles in the things we expect—in the goals that have been developed—are all in the task force documents that the developers will consider.”

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Stratus holds stakeholders meeting . . . Stratus Properties will hold a meeting with the Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, Circle C Homeowners Association and other related organizations tonight at 5:30pm at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong has been talking to groups and individuals about development on the 1,253 acres the company owns at Circle C . . . Save Barton Creek Association hands out awards . . . For the twenty-second consecutive year, the SBCA applauded its heroes and heroines last night, feasting on turkey at the Splash! Exhibit at Barton Springs Pool. Consultant Mike Kelly got a big round of applause for “educating elected officials” about the dangers of special development districts. Kelly was instrumental in pointing out problems with special districts proposed for developer Gary Bradley and for Cypress Development Co. Robert Breunig, Lauren Ross and Gail Vittori received recognition for their work with Stratus Properties to make the proposed development at Circle C as environmentally friendly as possible. SBCA thanked City of Austin employees from the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, as well as those involved with the Splash! Exhibit. The group also recognized Earth Share of Texas, which has raised more than $10,000 for SBCA through its payroll deduction program. Meanwhile, outside, a crew from the Water & Wastewater Department continued round-the-clock efforts to remove 40 cubic yards of dirt that had collapsed, clogging a wastewater lift station. A spokesman for the department assured members that no overflow had entered the pool since Friday. He said he was hopeful that the job would be finished by Wednesday . . . Staff changes . . . Pollyanne Melton is the new city staff member for the Design Commission. She will take over from Michael Knox, who had been handling both the Downtown Commission and the Design Commission . . . Emergency declaration sought . . . Mayor Gus Garcia’ s office is preparing the paperwork for a local disaster declaration in response to last week's flooding. The city's Emergency Plans Officer Ken Neafcy says the application for assistance will go to the office of Governor Rick Perry, who will have the option to send it to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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