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Dawson zoning changes

Friday, November 2, 2001 by

Postponed for third time

Neighborhood opposition still strong

The City Council postponed the third reading of zoning changes for the Dawson Neighborhood plan for the third time Thursday. Withdrawing his original motion to approve the zoning and infill provisions, Council Member Daryl Slusher made another motion to postpone the vote until December 6, which was approved 6-1. Council Member Danny Thomas voted against it.

Slusher, more outspoken than any other Council member in favor of passing the Neighborhood Plan Combining District (NPCD), said, “If we vote today, it will fail,” which means four years of work go down the drain. “I’m real skeptical we’re going to see a compromise,” he noted.

“I’ve put a lot into this because I really care about this neighborhood, like I do all neighborhoods in Austin,” he said. “I’m the one who originally—when it first came up in July . . . pulled the overlay out of the plan” and went out into the neighborhood and talked to businesses, thereby dramatically changing it.

Slusher urged his fellow Council members who opposed the zoning changes to work with the neighborhood and come to a compromise. Otherwise, he said, it would not be fair to the neighborhood and all the people who have worked so hard on the plan.

In an attempt to save Slusher’s first motion and the vote to approve the NPCD, Council Member Raul Alvarez made a friendly amendment to remove a provision in the plan allowing new homes to be built on substandard-sized lots, called cottage lots. Slusher and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who made the second on Slusher’s motion, accepted the amendment. But in the end Slusher withdrew the motion to prevent killing off the plan.

Mayor Kirk Watson noted that because there were several valid petitions against the zoning changes, six votes would be required to approve the plan. “Two votes can kill the entire effort,” he said.

Because some neighborhood residents and businesses are still voicing strong opposition to the plan, Goodman wanted to make sure proper procedure was being followed and all parties were appropriately notified for a fair process. She said every planning team that comes before the City Council meets some opposition, some legitimate and some not; some people are swayed by misinformation, she said.

But so far, “None of the neighborhood plans have cratered. I’m not willing to let this neighborhood be the first,” she said.

Thomas says he cannot support plan

Council Member Danny Thomas said because so many residents and business owners in the neighborhood have spoken against the plan, he could not support it. “I know four years is a long time, but citizens have been there for years. If they have a problem then it’s a flag for me, so I will not be able to support this,” he said.

Kelly Smoot, a Dawson neighborhood resident and the most vocal opponent to the plan, continually spoke out of order during the Council discussion. She irked Watson to the point where two Austin police officers were called into the meeting room, prepared to enforce order.

“We do not have a voice here,” Smoot shouted from the back of the Council chambers. “We own the property where zoning changes are proposed,” she said. Cutting her off, Watson responded. “You have one more chance. Don’t say it,” he warned, “don’t say it.”

Smoot had spoken out earlier in the meeting when Slusher reiterated his claim that a flyer that had been circulated in the neighborhood was filled with misinformation intended to deceive and confuse people about the neighborhood plan. “The flyer said this plan will result in increased runoff and will flood Bouldin Creek,” he said, at which point Smoot shouted across the room that it was true. She said she was a University of Texas-trained geologist and any increase in impervious cover would cause flooding.

Watson asked Smoot to stop disrupting the meeting. “Do you really believe the way you’re acting right now is helping your cause?” Smoot argued with the Mayor until one of her colleagues escorted her back to her seat.

At that point, Joe Pantalion, with the Watershed Protection & Development Review Department, explained to the Council that infill development that might jeopardize the watershed or cause flooding would not be allowed despite the zoning of a particular area. Each proposed development goes through an extensive review process and if certain flooding, erosion and water quality standards are not met, the project will not be approved, he said.

Slusher expressed strong disappointment with the intention behind the flyer circulated by opponents to the plan. Debate is good, he said, it’s a part of democracy. “But I would like to see things on a higher plane . . . those claims are absolutely absurd and completely untrue.” He said that he hated to see that kind of misinformation strategy brought into the neighborhood planning process.

Villas on Guadalupe

To go to mediation

Council hears hours of testimony

After several hours of public testimony, the City Council voted unanimously last night to send the Villas on Guadalupe to mediation for a one-week trial period. Tracy Watson, the city’s star mediator, will try to work out profound disagreements between the North University Neighborhood Association (NUNA) and the developer, who wants to build an MF-6 condominium project at 2717-2810 Guadalupe, facing Hemphill Park. He should report back to the Council on his progress—if any—next week.

Before that vote, Council Member Will Wynn made a substitute motion to approve the zoning. Only Mayor Kirk Watson was willing to join Wynn in that action. The Planning Commission turned down developer Brad Zucker’s request for the high density zoning in July, but a posting error brought it back to the Zoning and Platting Commission this week. The ZAP rejected the change from CS (commercial services) on a vote of 7-1. (See In Fact Daily, July 11, 2001, Nov. 1, 2001.)

The LCRA’s meeting room was packed with citizens by 4pm, when the zoning cases were scheduled to begin. Rachel Rawlins, representing NUNA, asked for a postponement, because the president of the neighborhood association had been injured and was unavailable. Council Member Beverly Griffith and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said they would like to ask city staff to mediate the matter.

Attorney Richard Suttle, speaking for the developer, asked to have the hearing.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “This does seem to be a worthy candidate for mediation, but it looks like there is no notification problem. There are lots of people here who would like to speak tonight.”

Suttle said, “From a land use perspective, MF-6 was designed for near institutions, such as the University of Texas. It’s kind of ironic that we’re asking for high density in the middle of high density.”

Rawlins told the Council, “The neighborhood association is not against a multi-family project, but is against the MF-6 ultra high density. If it were fronting on Guadalupe, it would probably be okay. It will load on 29th Street, with a parking garage looming over the park and across the street from small-scale structures. The project scale and massing is incompatible with the structures on the other side of the street . . . The neighborhood is afraid to set a precedent . . . afraid of the domino effect . . . NUNA would welcome a well-planned project here. The project is not Smart Growth. It is compatible infill . . .”

Urban planner John Hickman said he did the comprehensive transportation plan for the UT area. “As far as the project goes, it does a number of good things. It takes out a number of peak evening traffic spikes. It’s a good thing from a traffic planning standpoint.” He listed proposed new sidewalks, bike facilities and streetscape improvements “that are consistent with the UT Comprehensive study. It is providing code plus parking.”

Neighborhood leader Will Bozeman, who has lived in the area for almost 20 years, said, “This proposal is depressingly familiar because I live in a condominium that is really a 1980s version of this. I sincerely believe that NUNA’s opposition ultimately goes to promoting sound and better development. We live with too many poor developments and planning decisions from the past—projects just like this . . . To their credit, the developer has commissioned a transportation and parking study, but it should clearly not be considered comprehensive and conclusive in its assessments and recommendations.”

Rick Hardin, who is an area property owner and a member of the board of University Area Partners, said his organization had already arrived at an agreement with the developer. “There is an extensive deed restriction,” he said. He pointed out that UT has “a terrible dilemma on housing.” As the largest university in the US that is a commuter college, he said, “It’s bad for the students. Bad for the long term health of your most important resource. Most of the students live in the Riverside area (and are) commuting on your most overtaxed arterial, I-35. It costs UT about $3 mil a year to run the shuttle system. The main problem is that no housing funds can be taken from the Permanent University Fund. Neither the cash cow nor the milk from the cow can come from the funds . . . We need in to pitch in and help UT.”

Other speakers noted that the university has dormitory projects in the works and that there are numerous for rent signs in the area. The item is scheduled to come back next week, but since it will be Mayor Watson’s final meeting, the Council will make an effort to ensure that all items are done by 5:30pm.

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wrongly accused . . . Steve Drenner, who represents Stratus Properties, responded to a press release issued by the anti-bond group and quoted by In Fact Daily yesterday. “I was surprised to see the attribution because Stratus has been neutral with regard to the bonds. (The firm) gave $1,000, but if anybody went back and looked, we’ve supported every city bond proposal in the last 10 years. While we’re proud to represent Stratus, we represent a whole lot of other people, so I didn’t think it was appropriate to attribute it to Stratus” . . . Locals garner award for McKinney . . . The Gateway Planning Group, local architects, engineers and planning professionals, undertook a future tax base evaluation and crafted a conceptual land-use plan as well as an urban design-based zoning code. The City of McKinney recently received top annual awards from the Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association for that plan, a 5000-acre regional employment center. Members of the Gateway group include Kent Butler, Milosav Cekic, Cathy Howell, Pix Howell, Scott Polikov, Ralph Reed and Mike Weaver . . . Hours wasted?. . . After hours of testimony on zoning, Council Member Daryl Slusher noted that some newspaper had said the City Council spends too much time on zoning cases. “A zoning case might not seem like a big thing if it’s not next to your house. But it’s a big thing if it’s next to your home” . . . Deputy named . . . The City Council Thursday named Yvonne Spence to the position of Deputy City Clerk, choosing her from the list of three finalists for the position. Spence will deal with election-related duties and other items currently handled by Betty Brown, who’s planning to retire. Spence was most recently a customer service manager with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, and was previously employed by Sallie Mae, where she held several positions. “We are very pleased that someone of Ms. Spence’s credentials, experience and expertise is willing to make herself available as a public servant,” said Mayor Kirk Watson. Spence is already familiar with the Central Texas area. She currently lives in Cedar Park. She has a B.S. in Business Admnistration from the University of Central Texas in Killeen . . . Retired . . . Celeste Cromack has retired from the city’s Public Information Office. Her last day was Wednesday. Cromack had been handling publicity for the city’s “Downtown Jam” campaign . . . No action on 24th Street . . . The Council put off a decision on adding a northbound turn lane on North Lamar until November 29th. The Urban Transportation Commission initially recommended the item, but subsequently couldn’t agree. The Parks & Recreation Board voted against the proposal, since it would require taking about one tenth of an acre of dedicated parkland . . . Bummer . . . During the briefing on music and the economy of Austin, Council Member Will Wynn said the music industry is suffering so much right now, “We are in danger of losing our self-proclaimed title of Live Music Capital of the World.”

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