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Charter work, signatures to keep

Monday, March 18, 2002 by

City Clerk

busy this week

Council has three meetings scheduled for Charter proposals

Employees of the City Clerk’s office are expecting a grueling week this week, as City Council incumbents Beverly Griffith, Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman turn in the signatures required to allow them to run for re-election. Griffith intends to hand about 25,400 signatures to City Clerk Shirley Brown after a noon rally on the steps of City Hall.

Goodman and Slusher expect to file their petitions on Tuesday. They and their staff worked through the weekend verifying voters’ names, etc. Former Mayor Bruce Todd’s Committee for Voter Choice spent the weekend gathering signatures, using a tape-recorded message from Jerry Jeff Walker to potential supporters asking them to come to Austin High School to sign petitions if they had not already done so. Todd said Sunday he believes the group gathered about 2,000 signatures, all of which would be turned over to the campaigns today, he said.

Sifuentes to file against Goodman

Retired policeman Billy Sifuentes had announced that he would run for Griffith’s Place 4 seat, but notified In Fact Daily Sunday that he had decided to run against Goodman instead. Sifuentes said he intends to file for Place 3 today. Once Slusher and Goodman have filed their petitions—assuming their signatures meet the magic number 18, 263 —candidates Betty Dunkerley and Brewster McCracken will have to decide whether they want to run against Griffith, since they have said they would not run against either of the other incumbents. Zoning and Platting Commissioner Vincent Aldridge and perennial candidate Jennifer Gale have said they will run against Slusher, but Gale is the only one to file for any seat on the May 4 ballot so far. If one of the incumbents fails to meet the requirements of the charter, any or all of the prospective candidates could file for the vacant seat.

The Council has scheduled three meetings this week, beginning on Tuesday afternoon, to deal with the many proposals for City Charter revisions. As noted previously, the Council voted to give staff direction on proposals for the ballot, but did not actually vote on any ordinances. (See In Fact Daily March 8, 2002 and March 11, 2002.) All three meetings may be required to approve every item on three readings.

After talking about Charter items for two days, the Council should be weary of that subject by Thursday. In addition to those items, a third reading on the controversial Villas on Guadalupe is high on Thursday’s agenda, along with setting an April hearing date for a hearing on annexation of Stratus Properties’ Bear Lake PUD.

Neighborhoods split on opt-in provision of proposed ordinance

The Planning Commission will spend a few more weeks studying a proposed “no parking” ordinance that is pitting neighborhood groups against one another. The ordinance, which would prohibit people from parking vehicles on their front lawns in residential areas, has been drafted to include an “opt-in” provision in an attempt to allow the practice in some parts of town while preventing it in others. But that provision doesn’t satisfy some east-side activists, who say parking cars in the front yard is an economic necessity for many residents living in homes without driveways and insufficient room for parking on narrow streets.

Under the current draft of the ordinance, areas in which front-yard parking would be prohibited would be outlined on a map attached to the ordinance. There would be an annual “opt-in” and “opt-out” period to allow any neighborhood property owner who obtained signatures from ten percent of the neighborhood population to request that the area to be added to or removed from the map. The City Council would have final responsibility for amending the map each year, leaving the potential for conflict if two separate citizens in a neighborhood were able to obtain the required number of signatures in favor of opposing options.

Planning Commissioners were especially concerned with the boundaries that would be used to determine which areas were included on the map. “In many ways we are paralleling the neighborhood planning process,” said Commission Chair Ben Heimsath. He noted that in some cases, neighborhood association boundaries overlapped while other parts of town did not even have active neighborhood groups. He urged fellow commissioners to consider neighborhood-planning boundaries as one option for allowing areas to opt in or opt out. “Many of the neighborhood planning boundaries would immediately solve some of the (problems in) areas where there (is) the most overlap,” Heimsath said. “These are defined boundaries where other city services are going to be defined as unique in certain areas and different in others.”

The issue wound up before the Planning Commission after several months of work by neighborhood groups with Austin Police Department representatives and Council Member Danny Thomas. Supporters of the proposal, including the North Austin Civic Association, say that front-yard parking is unattractive and detrimental to the neighborhood. “What we’re trying to do is give the neighborhoods a tool to protect their property values and enhance their quality of life,” said Linda Dailey, executive assistant to Council Member Thomas. But that emphasis on property values drew opposition from representatives of the Zilker and Vargas Neighborhood Associations. “We actually are fighting the increase of property values in East Austin,” said Susana Almanza. “We don’t care about our property values going up because we’re not going anywhere.” Jeff Jack, representing the Zilker Neighborhood Association, pointed to the recent city-wide escalation of property values. “Last year . . . the property values in my neighborhood went up 100 percent for the land values and 50 percent for the structure value without this ordinance,” he said.

The Planning Commission referred the ordinance to its Comprehensive Plan Subcommittee, which will report back to the full commission on March 27th. The Planning Commission could elect at that time to reopen the public hearing before making a recommendation to the City Council. The Council is tentatively scheduled for three public hearings on the proposed ordinance during the month of April.

Planning Commission approves Plan for North Loop Neighborhood

Traffic is biggest issue for most residents

Last week the Planning Commission approved the North Loop Neighborhood Plan and its associated rezonings. The area is bounded by Lamar Blvd. on the west, Koenig Lane on the north, IH-35 on the east and 45th St., Red River and 51st St. on the south. If approved by the City Council, the plan calls for 101 base-district zoning changes. Many of those involve the addition of a conditional overlay to tracts with CS zoning.

Neighborhood planning team members hope the plan will help change the character of Airport Blvd. “Anyone who has lived in our neighborhoods, especially those in sections east of Airport Blvd., knows the negative impact of traffic on our lives,” said Planning Team member Matt Holland. He told Planning Commissioners the neighborhood’s top priority would be a follow-up study on traffic calming. Planning Team member Martha Cook Ward said she hoped some of the rezonings, along with traffic calming and streetscape improvements, could result in a fundamental shift in how people perceive the busy street. “We know that we’re going to continue to have urban traffic coming through that area; that’s not going away,” Ward said. But she hopes the improvements “would create something that would be truly attractive.”

The area within the North Loop Neighborhood planning area is almost entirely developed, although residents have been working with city staff to secure some open space on a city-owned tract at the intersection of Bruning and Evans. According to Planning Team member Teri Sperry, that site will not be officially designed as a park but could fulfill a similar function. “This all-volunteer effort would transform a small, poorly-drained triangle of city-owned land into a shady and inviting landscape that would function as a neighborhood focal point and gathering space,” Sperry said. “Our neighborhoods have expressed a desire for open space in no uncertain terms.”

The commission voted to move ahead with the rezonings despite a request to delay that decision from a partnership that controls 203 E. Koenig. Members of the partnership, which recently gained control of the property through a long-term lease with Southern Union Gas, were not involved in the initial stages of the planning process and expressed concerns about limits that would be placed on the property. They will still have the opportunity to request changes in the proposed conditional overlay when the rezonings go to the full City Council.

We were on Spring Break Tues-Friday.

Wynn in Washington . . . Council Member Will Wynn spent several days in Washington D.C. last week talking to federal officials about more funds for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman has served as the city’s representative on the Balcones Canyonlands Coordinating Committee and Wynn will be taking over those duties next month . . . Now the campaign really begins . . . Council Member Beverly Griffith is holding a campaign kick-off party from 6-9 pm Wednesday, at the Zilker Clubhouse with live music, dancers, and refreshments . . . Who’s not running . . . Rumors were flying last week that Jeff Heckler, unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Travis County Commissioner Pct. 2 would be running for the City Council. Not true, says campaign consultant and buddy Mike Blizzard. Blizzard said the rumor was just that, and Heckler had never planned a City Council race. The name of attorney Darwin McKee, who is chair of the Water & Wastewater Commission, also surfaced last week as a possible City Council candidate. McKee said he would only consider jumping in if one of the incumbents fails to bring in the necessary signatures. McKee’s wife, Evelyn McKee, was a candidate for County Court at Law Judge, but she was beaten in the Democratic primary by fellow Municipal Court Judge Elisabeth Earle . . . ZAP and Planning Commission on spring break . . . Both panels of hardworking citizens met last week and are taking this week off. The Arts Commission and the Urban Transportation Commission are scheduled to meet this evening . . . Martin working to conclude agreements . . . Andy Martin, former Austin City Attorney, will be heading to San Antonio at the end of the month to take the same position with that city. San Antonio will be paying Martin $155,000 a year to take on some difficult land development issues similar to ones he handled for Austin. Martin said his final duties on a contract with his old employer would be to finish up agreements between the city and Travis, Williamson, Hays and Bastrop Counties. Under HB 1445, the city must come to an agreement about which jurisdiction’s subdivision rules apply where the jurisdictions overlap in the city’s ETJ. Martin said the Legislature set a deadline of April 1 for those agreements—the day he is scheduled to start his new job. The matter appears on this week’s City Council agenda.

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

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