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Commission must follow rules, Mather explains

Wednesday, February 20, 2002 by

The Zoning and Platting Commission has approved the preliminary plan for the 80-acre Alta Mira subdivision at Circle C West, despite ardent pleas from neighbors. City planner Clark Patterson told the commission the Dietz-Crane Homes subdivision on FM 1826 would comply with the Bradley agreement, as well as all city ordinances and regulations.

Neighbor Cliff Anderson, whose home is across the highway from Alta Mira, said two homes per acre—the proposed density of the new subdivision—is too great to be compatible with his subdivision, the Overlook.

“Safety is also a concern,” Anderson said. “As soon as people start moving in here . . . they’ll dump (traffic from) those 225 homes onto 1826. This type of development shouldn’t occur until the road is widened.”

Neighbor Bruce Marshall said there are no schools in the area, which would not prevent subdivisions from being built, but might deter some would-be homeowners. He repeated complaints about the farm to market road, concluding, “All such proposed real estate developments, such as Alta Mira, should be put on hold until FM 26 is widened.” He said such developments are built “solely to satisfy the greed of profit hungry promoters.”

Hank Smith of Carter and Burgess, representing the applicant, said when a road through the subdivision and an adjoining one is built, residents of Alta Mira will be able to go directly to SH 45, without venturing onto FM 1826.

Marshall went on to complain that the water pressure at the Overlook is so low that it “has already prevented several very expensive homes to be occupied.”

However, Smith explained that Alta Mira, which is at a lower elevation than the homes across the road—and therefore less prone to low water pressure—would not experience the same problems. He said he did not expect Alta Mira to have a negative impact on its neighbors’ water service.

Rocky Klossner of the Water and Wastewater Department said the homes that cannot be occupied in the older subdivision will be habitable once a pump is installed.

The vote was 5-1 in favor of approval, with Commissioner Diana Castañeda voting no. Commissioners Niyanta Spelman, Vincent Aldridge and Joseph Martinez were absent.

Commissioner Jean Mather explained to neighbors, “When a subdivision conforms to the city regulations, it doesn’t always conform to common sense. It’s not the same thing, and unfortunately staff can’t take into account the size and unacceptable character of 1826. Their hands are tied and our hands are tied. We have pushed for a long time to have the Planning Commission have more discretion . . . We could vote against it and be subject to suit. No one would defend us.”

Representatives explain they must work with market

Catellus Development Corp. won’t be able to meet every standard set out by the ROMA master plan, but it is still possible that their efforts will be enough to win over a city evaluation team next month.

The San Francisco developer, best known for its large-scale master-planned urban projects such as Mission Bay in San Francisco, has been in town this week wooing the community, trying to walk the fine line between answering questions and lobbying decision-makers. Last night, Catellus representatives Stephen Bryan and Molly Maybrun were at a northeast-side YMCA to answer neighbors’ questions.

Most of the members in the audience of dozen or so were well-informed residents familiar with the master plan crafted by ROMA and the community. They wanted to know exactly what Catellus would deliver that would differ from the ROMA plan,

Catellus’ proposal is less ambitious than the ROMA plan: 3.8 million square feet of office space instead of 5 million square feet and 3,000 residential units rather than 5,000 units. With roughly 7 million square feet of office space downtown, another 5 million square feet at Mueller just didn’t make sense, Bryan told the group.

“The (market) statistics don’t seem to support it, and we’re market driven,” Bryan said. “We’re not going to deny what the market tells us, and if the market was exactly what the ROMA plan offers, that’s certainly what we would do here.”

Catellus is also interested in a variety of office formats. Fresh from a meeting with KRLU, KLBJ and the Austin Film Society, Maybrun said Catellus was convinced it was more important to offer various types of office space. For example, she said KLRU would be much more interested in one- or two-story Class B+ space than the three- to five-story office buildings with subterranean parking proposed under the ROMA plan.

The key to sustainability is diversity, Maybrun said. That also applies to retail and residential space. Catellus has proposed regional retail on 51st Street at Interstate 35. Much of the retail proposed in the ROMA plan had been neighborhood-oriented, but Catellus considers a broad range of retail to be a chance to generate additional income for the Mueller project.

Variety was also important on the residential side. Catellus wants to see a greater number of price points (price ranges) than the two sought by the ROMA plan. Maybrun told one concerned audience member that they would seek a variety of local homebuilders on the various tracts in the project rather than a “cookie cutter” approach.

“The last thing we want is some kind of ‘Stepford Wives’ development out here,” Maybrun said.

Catellus has also shifted the Town Center to the east and south so that the transit node is the center of the community. Some neighbors expressed concern that the project needed to blend into the cozy post-World War II neighborhoods. Maybrun stressed the concept of a development that was not an island.

“It’s got to be connected to the neighborhoods that are around it. Going out of here, coming into here, it should feel like one community,” said Maybrun, adding that the connection needed to be promoted with open parks, pedestrian-oriented services and public transit rather than open roads.

Despite some compromises to the earlier plan, developers insist much of the intent remains the same. Catellus remains committed to the neighborhood concept, which Bryan said had been used liberally in other redeveloped communities. They were ready to step up to the plate on affordable housing. They planned to keep the 160 acres of parks and even add a second site for a public or charter school, if necessary. Maybrun said Catellus had a history of working with communities—she estimated the developer had spent “hundreds” of meetings to open a dialogue with Mission Bay residents.

Bryan and Maybrun described five phases of development, led by residential, that would roll out between 2003 and 2012. Even if the contract is approved in April or May, Catellus does not expect a final master developer agreement to be signed before 2003. Maybrun stated that the 9- to 15-year timeline included the necessary infrastructure for each phase of the development, not necessarily the completion of each phase on the 700-acre property.

Catellus stressed its track record as its advantage over its local competitor, the coalition known as the Mueller Redevelopment Team. Asked directly by civic leader Jack Newman whether Catellus had the staying power to complete the Mueller project as directed by the neighborhood, Maybrun said Catellus was confident it did.

“We wouldn’t propose it if we didn’t believe it,” she said.

The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Implementation Commission will hear from both Catellus and the Mueller Redevelopment Team at a special meeting on March 5. The city evaluation team will look at both finalists on March 6.

Lonely runner . . . Yesterday was the first day to file for a place on the May 4 City Council ballot, but only perennial candidate Jennifer Gale signed up for a spot. A homeless person who believes that the Council should be made up of 32 members, Gale listed her occupation as candidate for US Congress. Assuming that she loses the primary battle to Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Gale will be running in Place 1, currently held by Council Member Daryl Slusher . . . Definitely not running . . . Jeff Jack, executive assistant to Council Member Beverly Griffith said Tuesday that he has no intention of running for City Council this year. He recalled running for the AISD board four years ago as a not altogether pleasant experience. He said he is focused—in his spare time—on assisting Griffith’s re-election . . . Reappointments . . . The City Council last week reappointed Wanda Penn to the Board of Adjustment and Linda Johnston and Bob Woody to the Downtown Commission. Phil Moncada of the Environmental Board was appointed as that commission’s representative to the Bond Oversight Committee. Camile Pahwa was reappointed to the Community Development Commission and Hank Kidwell was appointed for another term on the Impact Fee Advisory Committee . . . Women for Griffith party . . . Council Member Beverly Griffith is having a fundraiser at her campaign headquarters, which is also the Griffith Properties Office, 1206 W. 6th from 5:30 to 7pm Thursday. The emphasis here is on women’s support for Griffith after the bruising battle over amending the Seton/Brackenridge Hospital contract. For more information, call the campaign at 691-7961 . . . Hispanic firefighters, police officers join forces for Watson . . . While Republican Greg Abbot has been racking up the business endorsements, former Mayor Kirk Watson has been lining up backers too. The Austin Hispanic Firefighters and the Texas Latino Peace Officers Association are hosting a luncheon for their candidate for Attorney General at noon Saturday at the Omni Hotel downtown. Watson will be the keynote speaker for the two organizations’ legislative luncheon. For more information, call 801-4999.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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