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Only Slusher, Wynn and Sonleitner vote no

Tuesday, February 12, 2002 by

The CAMPO Policy Advisory Committee will ask state transportation officials to speed up work on the eastern spur of SH 45 South, and indicated a willingness to put up some money to accelerate the process. The group also voted to withdraw a previous resolution that the western portion of SH 45 South be put on hold until the eastern portion is finished.

SH 45 South is planned to run from east to west, crossing I-35. The eastern leg will run from I-35 to Texas 130, while the western portion would run from I-35 to RM 1626. The concern among environmental groups and west Austin residents is that if the western leg is completed first, it could lure motorists, including 18-wheelers, off of I-35 and onto MoPac, essentially creating a “bypass.”

Ian Inglis with the MoPac Neighborhood Association Coalition (MoNAC) said he was disappointed by the decision “It’s certainly not what we wanted, which was to proceed with what CAMPO had voted on earlier . . . to follow the technical team recommendation and take the western connection out of the plan at least until SH 130 is built,” Inglis said. A special committee formed to study Loop 1 and US 183 had previously recommended that the western portion of SH 45 South be delayed “so as not to turn Loop 1 into a bypass.” (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 20, 2001. )

Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher and Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner both wanted to delay the vote to allow for further study of backup materials delivered just a few hours before the meeting, and to allow for additional public input. “We have some important decisions here,” Sonleitner said. “I’m very concerned about the lack of notice to the general public. I think people would feel a much larger comfort level if they would have some time to take a look at it.” But CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick told members that CAMPO was scheduled to request funding from the Texas Transportation Commission on March 28th, and postponing a decision until CAMPO’s March 18th meeting would create uncertainty as staff worked to prepare those requests.

Slusher attempted to move for a postponement, but was blocked by State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, who serves as the chair of the CAMPO Policy Advisory Council. “Certainly it’s complex, but it’s not all that complex,” said Barrientos “We can certainly make a decision tonight, even though this body is sometimes accused of not making decisions.” Slusher’s move for postponement was eventually allowed, but a new motion from Hays County Commissioner Bill Burnett then replaced it.

Burnett’s motion specifically called for CAMPO not to amend its long-term transportation plan regarding SH 45 South, and called for the group to send a statement to the Texas Transportation Commission encouraging the completion of the eastern half of SH 45 South before the western half. The possibility that the western half might be completed first, Burnett said, was not as frightening as the possibility that a negative recommendation from CAMPO could put a halt to the project. “People are going to be moving to this region,” he said. “If this segment is not connected to I-35, all those people are going to be channeled onto FM 1626.”

Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatright supported Burnett, and urged the group to make a decision. “Like it or not, we have to interact with the Texas Transportation Commission,” he said. “We have an image problem over there. I think what we’re doing here is putting forth the ‘hand of help’ and cooperation to the commission . . . because this board has been viewed, right or wrong, by the commission as a group of people that cannot agree on things and cannot move a project forward.”

That comment sparked the ire of State Representative Dawnna Dukes. She held her remarks until the end of the meeting, when she requested at “point of personal privilege” to respond. “When we’re told that we have an image problem with TxDOT, that doesn’t convince me . . . because when you talk to the people in my community who complain about the roadways, TxDOT has an image problem in my district. I was not brought here to vote on issues because I’m concerned whether or not TxDOT will like my image. I don’t think ever it should be thrown upon us that we should consider what we do because of our image to TxDOT.”

When it came time to vote on Burnett’s motion, Council Member Will Wynn and State Representative Elliott Naishtat attempted to “sever” the provision to allow for separate votes on different provisions of the motion. The measure prompted Barrientos to request that a copy of “Robert’s Rules of Order” be brought to the dais. The move was allowed after some discussion, but Wynn’s effort to split the motion failed.

The vote to approve Burnett’s motion then passed, 16-3. Slusher Wynn and Sonleitner were the three holdouts. “We just got this study in the last few days . . . it changed a unanimous vote on the timing of the western portion of SH 45 South that CAMPO took just a few months ago,” Slusher said. “I think it would have been appropriate to take a little more time to consider that.”

Along with the request to state officials to make the eastern portion of SH 45 South a higher priority than the western portion, CAMPO also voted to suggest to the state that the project could be paid for in part by $13.4 million available in “Metropolitan Mobility” funds. That money comes primarily from federal grants. CAMPO will officially list three other projects with the state as priorities for that funding, but will also indicate to state officials that the eastern leg of SH 45 South should be considered as well.

Neighborhood member pleads to be left alone

Dead or alive, the future of the Rainey Street neighborhood can still draw a crowd.

Last week’s discussion was at the Design Commission . City Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin offered an updates on Rainey Street. The discussion drew developer Robert Knight and architect Craig Nasso, who lives on Rainey Street, as well as a handful of other Rainey Street homeowners to the meeting.

Commissions have been weighing in on the subject of Rainey Street since November. The Historic Landmark Commission passed a resolution late last year to ask the city to move forward with a ROMA feasibility study of Rainey Street, despite city budget cuts. A similar resolution, proposed by Commissioner Teresa Rabago, subsequently died at the Downtown Commission for lack of a second, although the commission did agree to appoint a subcommittee to consider the issue.

Finally, the commission decided to table the subject for the time being. Some commissioners, like Girard Kinney and John Patterson, would like further study of the issue. Others, like Richard Weiss would prefer to see the neighborhood planning process resolve the situation. Rainey Street, in the meantime, continues to sit in limbo to the frustration of many residents.

Some of the most poignant testimony came from homeowner Adrian Aguilar, whose 60-year-old family home is located on East Avenue, which fronts Interstate 35. Aguilar’s parents are elderly. He’s out of work, a victim of the recent economic downturn. Vagrants roam his neighborhood. His home is falling down and his taxes are rising faster than he or his family can afford.

“I don’t know what people are trying to save,” Aguilar told the commissioners. “I would like to stop being held hostage by everybody in town and sell my home and do with it what I want to do.”

Let the next owners worry about the future of Rainey Street, Aguilar told the commissioners. His family would like the plan for widespread commercial development to move forward so that he and his family can reap some benefit out of their family home. Earlier plans for widespread private redevelopment in the neighborhood fell through when developers failed to get enough homeowners to agree to sell. Then the economy went downhill.

Nasso argued that the city, after 35 years of uncertainty, should move forward with a planning process. Master planning, he said, makes more sense than spot zoning. Nasso provided commissioners with a long list of issues: Rainey Street is a National Register District . It is the last residential neighborhood downtown where families still live. It has affordable housing, large trees and residential infrastructure. And it is residential zoning surrounded by almost every type of zoning— CS, MF-3, LO, GR, DMU, CBD and Park—imaginable.

Urban Design Officer Jana McCann, who also was on hand, pointed out that the neighborhood sits between many important downtown landmarks, such as the Convention Center and the Town Lake waterfront. A good plan could provide appropriate linkages between the neighborhood and other development, she said. McCann later added that no prior study has addressed a bottom-line economic analysis on both full development and the creation of a mixed-use historic district.

No resolution on Rainey Street was posted for the Design Commission to consider. Chair Juan Cotera said he had a hard time grasping what additional studies could do with so many prior studies piled up. A number of them—including three or four out of the University of Texas —have considered the pros and cons of redeveloping the Rainey Street neighborhood.

McCann pointed out that ROMA had dropped its study on the area because the consulting firm couldn’t get past the political issue of whether it should even be developed. She said ROMA had intended to take the three options on Rainey Street—no development, all development and something in between—and calculate how each would play out economically.

Girard Kinney wanted to explore the possibility that the city set performance criteria on any future development project. Commissioner Perry Lorenz, who has attempted to redevelop Rainey Street with partner Knight, reminded him that Rainey Street was not public land like Seaholm . It was and remains private property that can be rezoned for commercial use.

“One of the things you could do is look at the options and test the implications of each of those,” Kinney said. “That seems to me to be the kind of thing the city would do on behalf of the public that the private sector is never going to do.”

Commissioners unanimously tabled the item. They appeared to be split, however, on whether the item should be placed back on the agenda for further discussion. The majority of commissioners who spoke, however, appeared to favor revisiting the topic in the future.

Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday,

Friday

Bring ‘em out with bar-b-que . . . Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez pulled two to three hundred people out to Wooldridge Park for lunch Monday with a tasty looking free lunch. State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos could be heard from the edge of the park railing at former Attorney General Dan Morales, who stepped into the race late, muddying the waters for Sanchez. Barrientos will have his own party at 5:30pm Wednesday at the Austin Music Hall. Sanchez continued to talk about elementary school education to a friendly audience, and promised to continue to talk about the state’s failing marks in that area for the next eight months. Meanwhile, the Young Conservatives of Texas are complaining that Sanchez’ use of the University of Texas tower in the background of one of his ads violates UT’s trademarked image. But would UT officials complain about the regent’s use of the picture? . . Back to Stratus . . . This week’s City Council agenda features Stratus Properties’ Bear Lake PUD, which was postponed last month on neighbors’ requests. Several neighbors and environmentalist George Cofer are requesting that the Council once again postpone consideration of the PUD. Cofer says he has spent many hours working to achieve consensus on the matter, and suggests that the task is merely difficult, not impossible. Attorney Steve Drenner, who represents Stratus, said his client would like the case to be heard this week. He argues that since the new PUD plan is far superior to the old one and since it complies with the SOS ordinance, there is no reason for the Council not to grant Stratus’ request . . . Regional Visioning Project on agenda again . . . The item was postponed last week because the Law Department advised that Mayor Gus Garcia might not want to sponsor it—he is one of the incorporators of the project—the matter will come up again this week. Now only Council Member Will Wynn is sponsoring the item. Wynn has been asked to serve on the group’s board of directors, but that board has not been formed, thus no conflict for him . . . Single-member districts up again . . . After a discussion on Wednesday, the City Council will again approach the prickly subject of putting single-member districts on this May’s ballot. Wynn is pushing hard for this one, but last week had support from Garcia and Council Member Raul Alvarez only. There is no mention on either agenda of the other items recommended by the Charter Revision committee. That committee is set to finalize its report this evening . . . Presidential advisor to speak . . . Sandy Kress, President Bush’s senior advisor on education, will talk about the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act at 7:30am Wednesday in the Bluebonnet Room of the Doubletree Guest Suites, 303 W. 15th. His talk is part of the quarterly forum on education and workforce development issues sponsored by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and IBM.

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

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