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Council approves Hyde Park

Friday, December 14, 2001 by

Plan minus Baptist Church

Neighbors discouraged, but Suttle says church still willing to talk

It was a long, hard day at the City Council, with many items being pushed back on the agenda, so that item number 17, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan rezoning, did not come up until about 4:30pm.

Attorney Richard Suttle, appearing on behalf of Hyde Park Baptist Church said the church still wished to be left out of the new Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD). “But I’m also here to say the church is willing to continue the talks.” He said the church had “watched the Council respond to the concerns of the neighborhood” over the years. He then went listed numerous items the city had paid for involving Hyde Park.

“Previous Councils have been pretty even handed in mediating,” he said, but lately there has been a trend that is “disturbing to the church.” He described the current Council as “totally disregard(ing) and dismiss(ing) the concerns of the Hyde Park Baptist Church . . . What this has forced the church to do is resort to the self-defense mode,” namely litigation. He urged the Council to approve a plan that would allow the church to continue negotiations.

Neighborhood Planing Team Leader Karen McGraw has spent months negotiating and needs to get back to work and to her family, say neighbors who have watched the plan’s progress. She told the Council, “We are ready . . . the plan has not gone through a lot of change . . . We’ve tried to work on all of the petitions, some with success, some not . . . as far as Hyde Park Baptist Church, 11 years ago they got an NCCD in 6 months because they were threatening to tear everything down.” After we had the full 3-year city-sponsored mediation, she noted, the team and the church agreed to another set of meetings through the summer and fall, but could not reach agreement. She proposed two options—one taking in all the church’s property, and the other taking in only 5 tracts. She called that plan the “equal pain plan,” expressing the belief that only bringing in some of those tracts would force the church to bend in continued negotiations. She added that the neighborhood had come to a friendly agreement with the Hyde Park Church of Christ.

When the Council failed to approve the “equal pain plan,” opting instead to exclude all new property belonging to the Hyde Park Baptist Church in the NCCD, some members of the neighborhood planning team were in tears. They had clearly expected a 6-1 vote, since Council Member Danny Thomas has consistently said he would not vote against the church’s valid petition. But the team thought the rest of the Council would vote for inclusion of some church tracts. In fact, the church had agreed to that plan, but withdrew support at the eleventh hour. They needed to have at least six votes to overcome the church’s valid petition opposing the new NCCD and any change in its zoning.

In order to deal with the complicated plan and several valid petitions on individual properties, staff broke the zoning case into 12 separate motions. The first vote involved the Baptist Church. Council Member Daryl Slusher made a motion that would have included all of the church’s property in the NCCD. Council Member Beverly Griffith made the second. Slusher said, “I think we ought to go ahead and include all the property. If the neighborhood and the church want to continue talking . . . that’s good. We ought to get this part off our plate this evening.”

Council Member Will Wynn said he was concerned there would not be six votes for Slusher’s motion, leaving the audience to presume that meant he, along with Thomas, would not vote for it. Wynn proposed a substitute motion deferring “action on all Hyde Park Baptist Church-owned property only until January 31, in order for there still to be the existing zoning case and negotiations. Often times, we have referred to an almost deal. We have one in our backup. Then my personal intent would be to go through and approve everything else tonight . . . (The church is) not pleased with simple deferment and the neighborhood isn’t pleased with 2 tracts” being included. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman gave him his second. Later, she explained that there might not be six votes and that she was worried about legal action the church might take against the city. The city is already the defendant in a federal suit over the Hyde Park Baptist’s proposed parking garage.

Wynn, Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez voted for the motion. Mayor Gus Garcia, Griffith and Slusher voted no. Thomas abstained, but after learning that his abstention left the motion in limbo, he changed his vote to “yes.”

After that, the Council voted 6-1, with Slusher voting no, to approve the agreed upon zoning for the Church of Christ. By that time, the musicians who play at 5:30pm were ready to march onstage. After the music and proclamations, the Council went into executive session, so various members of the Neighborhood Plan team and other neighbors walked to the halls of the LCRA, fuming and complaining.

Terri Myers, a former Hyde Park neighborhood resident, called Suttle, “one of Satan’s crafty minions.”

Suttle thought that was too harsh, but took it without complaint. He tried to talk to McGraw and neighborhood advocate Susan Moffat about meeting for more negotiations. He said, “I don’t know why it would have to come back in 30 days. Nothing has to move quickly.”

McGraw responded, “We just get the rest of the NCCD and the church will destroy the neighborhood.”

Moffat, who has attended most of the negotiations, said later that she would agree to meet with Suttle, but she expects McGraw to drop out. Staff assured neighborhood members that the rest of their NCCD would be enacted into ordinance in the normal 10-day period. The other motions passed with little discussion on unanimous votes after the Council came back from its executive session about 8:30pm. The meeting finally ended about 9:45pm.

'Wheels come off' street

Connectivity ordinance

Mayor given new emergency powers

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to postpone once again the subdivision ordinance as it relates to street connectivity. After 15 minutes of discussion, the Council decided to take another look at the ordinance at the January 31 meeting. The measure has been postponed numerous times over the last year and various stakeholders, including city staff, former Planning Commissioners, the Real Estate Council of Austin, and the City Council have been grappling with the issue for more than two years. (See In Fact Daily, March 23, 2001 .)

Over the last month and a half city staff has worked with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman to solve outstanding issues and create a better street connectivity ordinance. The proposed ordinance provides a two-tiered approach for enhanced connectivity.

According to staff’s recommendation to the Council, “The proposed subdivision amendments are designed to create a more interconnected pattern of streets and pedestrian paths within newly developing residential areas. A more interconnected street and sidewalk network enhances pedestrian, bicycle and transit mobility, reduces traffic on arterial roadways, and improves efficiency in water and wastewater system design, solid waste routing and collection, and emergency access.”

Goodman and her executive assistant, Jerry Rusthoven, have tried to craft an ordinance that would encourage walkable neighborhoods, but also be acceptable to the real estate community. But when the item came up for discussion, Goodman said she no longer wished to sponsor the ordinance, and that she probably would not even vote for it.

“It turns out from the beginning I had been misperceiving the direction the ordinance was going in,” Goodman said. She wants to promote “the connectivity of people and the ability of getting away from cars,” she explained. “I’m not interested in designing neighborhoods where cars can live happily, I want to design neighborhoods where people can live happily,” she said.

Neighborhood designs have changed since World War II, she noted, and “it seemed to me we were once again designing for cars,” she said, “but the goal was to have people connections.”

Mayor Gus Garcia echoed her concerns, and said he wanted to keep the issue alive to make the changes necessary for improved connectivity. “I think the issue of connectivity is enormously important if we want to have livable neighborhoods,” he said.

“The wheels may have come off” of this initiative, he noted, but he told Goodman he too wants an ordinance that helps make neighborhoods more livable for people, not cars.

Council Member Raul Alvarez said he supported measures to enhance connectivity, and that he understood what Goodman was trying to accomplish. He noted that the city has been working on this issue for years, but it doesn’t appear the ordinance is evolving in the intended direction.

City Code states that there must be street connectivity, Alvarez said, but the code is weak and that’s why this ordinance is so important. At Garcia’s prompting, Alvarez made a motion to revisit the proposal during the last Council meeting in January.

On a lighter note

Earlier in the meeting, the Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance giving the Mayor authority to implement certain management measures in emergency situations. Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell said the provision puts Austin in alignment with other Texas cities and establishes penalties for failure to comply with the emergency orders.

Citing an earthquake as an example, she said it might be necessary to close off a street for safety or emergency procedures. Or, the Mayor might need to make a decree against price gouging, she said, noting that this ordinance is designed to establish that authority.

When asked why this had not been previously adopted, Council Member Will Wynn quipped, “The reason we haven’t done it before is because we didn’t have a Mayor we could trust with these powers.”

Villas on Guadalupe zoning

Postponed 'til next month

Neighborhood brought large contingent, including children

A vote on the zoning for the Villas on Guadalupe was postponed to January 10th, 2002 at the request of Mike McHone, who represented the applicant for the zoning change. The Council had previously heard the proposal to zone the property MF-6 and CS-MU-NO before it was sent to mediation and then to the Zoning and Platting Commission, where it was heard multiple times. The change would allow construction of an apartment complex in the 2700 block of Guadalupe and the 2800 block of Hemphill Park, designed for students at the nearby University of Texas. ( See In Fact Daily, Dec. 12, 2001. )

Members of the North University Neighborhood Association protested the postponement and called on the Council to hear the case and make a decision. Attorney Rachel Rawlins, representing NUNA, criticized the request for a postponement as a delaying tactic. “The applicant is still pursuing the same project that he was pursuing eight months ago when we started this,” she said. “The project has never changed. There’s been no interest in really compromising. The only thing that could be accomplished with the postponement, I suppose, is for the applicant to try to undo the valid petition.”

Several neighborhood residents signed up to show their opposition to the postponement, although only two chose to directly address the Council. More than 50 residents attended the meeting, including several kids from the Kirby Hall School, which is directly across from the site of the proposed zoning change.

Mayor Gus Garcia asked for clarification from staff about the appropriateness of granting a postponement request on an item that had already been heard by the Council. Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, told him the changes made since that first ruling technically made it a new case. “The case in its current configuration . . . this is the first time there has been a request to postpone it,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman indicated she would support the postponement request as a matter of consistency. “It is a courtesy issue, it doesn’t matter who asked for the first postponement,” she said. The first time the case was before the Council, Goodman requested the two sides to go to mediation in an attempt to arrive at a compromise. “It’s difficult for me to have asked that,” Goodman said, “and immediately after say you can’t have a postponement that we give to every other person who asks.”

Garcia tried to soften the blow for neighbors, reminding them they were also entitled to a similar request. “The flip side of this tortilla is that on the 10th of January, you can ask for a postponement and that’s automatic,” he said.

The vote in favor of the delay was unanimous. The case will be rescheduled for the Council’s first Thursday meeting of 2002.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

City Council appointments . . . Mary Gay Maxwell was appointed to the Environmental Board. Maxwell, a former executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, is working to revive the Hill Country Foundation. The City Council appointed David Glassco to the Downtown Commission and Jennifer Lin Cavner to the Commission for Women. Also appointed were Dan Gorman and William Muscato to the Bond Oversight Committee. In addition, the Council appointed Kelly Dodson to the Library Commission and Julien Ross to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs . . . Deputy City Clerk honored . . . Retiring Deputy City Clerk Betty Brown received a distinguished service award Thursday “for almost 17 years of service to the City of Austin.” Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman noted that Brown has also been providing good service to citizens who come to her for assistance. She praised Brown for always remaining calm during crises . . . Meeting on Saturday . . . Instead of Christmas shopping, the Telecommunications Commission will spend Saturday in retreat.

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