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Neighborhood particpation in survey was "record setting"

Monday, April 22, 2002 by

Last week the Austin City Council approved the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Plan and its associated rezonings on first reading. But the zoning on one tract in the South Austin neighborhood is still causing a dispute, prompting the Council to order both sides into mediation during the next 30 days, before the plan comes back for a final vote. The apparent ease with which the plan won approval belies the many months of hard work, arguing and compromise among the residents of the politically active near South neighborhood.

The plan covers an area bounded by Town Lake on the north, Oltorf Ave. on the south, S. Congress on the east, and the railroad tracks adjacent to West Bouldin Creek on the west. Planning Team Member Aaric Eisenstein told Council members there was overwhelming support for the plan. “Over 500 people participated, and nearly 90 percent of them said they were in favor,” Eisenstein said. “To get 90 percent of my neighbors to agree on which way is north is pretty impressive. This is a plan that has been vetted and vetted and vetted by everybody that’s looked at it.”

Planning team members listed preserving the neighborhood’s character and maintaining open space as their top priorities. The neighborhood survey soliciting comment on the plan received a 20 percent response rate, which Scott Whiteman with the city’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department described as “record setting.”

One area of dispute involves property in the 900 block of S. First Street. Under the proposed rezonings accompanying the neighborhood plan, the site would go from its current single-family designation (SF-3) to GR-MU-NO-NP. The new mixed-use zoning would allow for a Catholic spiritual retreat center. Property owner Margaret Quadlander said she had been working to obtain permission for the retreat center for several years and was puzzled by the opposition of her neighbors. “We didn’t have any opposition to speak of, except the usual stuff,” she said. “Then up pops this person, having been to no planning meetings, and he objects.”

The concern among those immediately surrounding the tract is that the mixed-use zoning could allow for the development of a hotel or motel, not just the retreat center proposed by Quadlander. “Since fall of last year we have been told that no hotel would ever be built on the tract, but instead a retreat,” said neighbor Tom Hurt. “We have since learned that a development on this property . . . to the best of our understanding . . . could be from 30-thousand to 40-thousand square feet, approximately the size of the Homestead Inn on South First. It could reach six hundred feet or more into our very quiet and naturally beautiful neighborhood.” Hurt’s wife, Kathy Tobo, told Council members she felt the scale of development allowed under the GR-MU-NO-NP zoning would not be compatible with the surrounding area. “It seems clear to us now that the proposed zoning changes would allow construction of a building of a size and scope drastically out of character with the interior neighborhood.”

Sarah Crocker, representing Quadlander, told Council members that concerns about a hotel were unfounded. “She wants to build a retreat center,” Crocker said, adding that city staff had determined the mixed-use zoning. “That’s the only choice that staff could come up with in the code that permitted her to do a retreat center.” Crocker also highlighted several restrictions on development on the tract that would make a 40-thousand square foot hotel impossible. “The very maximum amount of development you can put on it is 15,200 square feet in a two-story building,” she said.

The Council voted on first reading to approve the neighborhood plan, including the requested zoning change for Quadlander’s property. However, at the urging of neighborhood planning team members, the Council also ordered a 30-day city sponsored mediation process. The Council vote was 6-0-1, with Council Member Beverly Griffith temporarily off the dais.

Commissioners worry about Lumbermen's tract

The Planning Commission has endorsed the Seaholm District Master Plan as a framework for future development in the neighborhood surrounding the decommissioned Seaholm power plant. But the vote was close, and several commissioners expressed concerns about the overall plan and the future of the tract owned by Lumberman’s Investment Corporation (LIC). Development of the tract was the subject of extensive discussion last year. (See In Fact Daily, June 26, July 18, August 7 and August 23, 2001 .) The company had requested a zoning change for the property to allow a mixture of shops, offices and housing, but the City Council refused the request. Company officials have since said they could revert to a previously-filed site plan dating back to 1984, which would allow for development of a 200-foot tall office tower and parking garage. There is still some dispute about the viability of that site plan.

Commissioners heard from local cycling and transportation activists, including Robin Stallings and Eric Anderson, about various proposed alignments for the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. Commissioner Maggie Armstrong proposed a resolution endorsing the northwest extension of that bicycle and pedestrian bridge after hearing about the potential costs and available funding for both options. “I really think the long-term future of the bridge is a western section and an eastern,” Armstrong said. “But . . . my motion prioritizes the western section first.” However, other commissioners were hesitant to tackle the issue of prioritizing the alignment. “As much as I feel we need to jump start the east-west discussion, I do think the sense from this conversation will be carried forward,” said Commission Chair Ben Heimsath. “I’m really concerned that that in looking at some of the details we’re losing sight of the bigger picture.” Commissioner Silver Garza agreed. “I support trying to figure out what to do with the Pfluger Bridge extension,” he said.” I don’t think I’m at a comfort level to say I’ll go with the west side, because I don’t like 5.6 million dollars,” he said, referring to one of the cost estimates. “I just don’t want to pay that. But I do support the idea that there is some alternative that might be cheaper.”

Armstrong’s original motion also included a recommendation that the city explore buying the LIC tract, a proposal that has been championed by some of the city’s leading environmental activists. Some Commissioners, including Dave Sullivan, were interested in promoting the idea. “Having some mixed use at the LIC site is something I would be in favor of,” Sullivan said. But he liked neither the zoning request rejected last year by the City Council or the company’s 1984 plan. “It’s up to 200 feet tall under their immortal and immoral zoning site plan,” Sullivan said. “What about an option of only buying half of it?”

Jana McCann, with the city’s Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department, told commissioners that the option of obtaining the site had been, at some point, taken to Council members. “I suppose it would be possible to go back to Council . . . various options for purchasing were considered,” she said. Under the Texas Open Meetings act, transactions for “real property” can be discussed in executive session (http://journalism.utexas.edu/links/openmeet.html).

But not all commissioners were comfortable discussing purchase of the land. While Garza agreed that the LIC tract was a “black hole” in the Master Plan, he told fellow commissioners that “whether the city ought to acquire it or not is another issue.” Armstrong’s motion was replaced by a substitute by Commissioner Chris Riley expressing support for the plan without comment on the alignment of the Pfluger Bridge or purchasing option.

Heimsath endorsed Riley’s substitute motion, while pointing out other ways to advance discussion of the future of the LIC tract. “I do hope that staff does take a look at alternatives for the LIC site, if for no other reason than to establish what would be a reasonable purchase price,” Heimsath said. “That doesn’t need to be anything more than an analysis of whether that would be worthwhile or not.” Garza also didn’t reject the possibility of a city purchase outright, but said it should not be the only possibility discussed. “We need to explore what to do with the LIC parcel, if anything,” he said. “We can’t give up on the rest of this plan—which is darn good—waiting on some bounty from heaven so we can go buy it.” The cost for the prime tract, while fluctuating with the city’s economy and real estate market, could potentially top $10 million.

The vote to endorse the Seaholm District Master Plan was 5-3, with Commissioners Riley, Lydia Ortiz, Garza, Heimsath and Cynthia Medlin in favor. Commissioners Sullivan, Cloteal Haynes and Armstrong were opposed. Commissioner Sterling Lands was absent.

South Austin Democrats endorse . . . The large Democratic club endorsed all three City Council incumbents— Daryl Slusher, Jackie Goodman and Beverly Griffith. The group voted to oppose single-member districts and in favor of all the other propositions. They also endorsed Lilian Davis, John Hernandez and James McGuffee for the ACC Board and Craig Smith for the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board. The group also is backing the following for AISD: AveWahmund (Dist. 4), Patricia Whiteside (Dist. 8) and Robert Schneider held a campaign news conference on the steps of APD headquarters Thursday to announce he had received the ‘co-endorsement’ of the (Dist. 7) . . . What election? . . . That’s what poll workers are hearing at one of the most accessible of the city’s early voting locations. As of Thursday night, 571 voters had cast their ballots at the more than 20 places. For a full list of locations and the breakdown on how many are voting at each place, click here: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/election/0504evtally.htm . . . Parking on the grass (part 2) . . . Last week more than 30 people signed up to tell the City Council how they feel about a regulation concerning parking on the lawn. This was the second such Council hearing, and there will be a third. We have to admit yawning through it, thankful it was at the end of the agenda . . . Harris Branch PUD appeal postponed . . . HB Properties is appealing a decision by the Zoning and Platting Commission denying an administrative amendment to the Harris Branch PUD land use plan. This is the case involving whether the developer has to promise to connect to SH 130. The City Council postponed hearing that case to May 23 . . . HLC has lengthy agenda . . . The city’s Historic Landmark Commission is looking at a monster agenda tonight, but perhaps many of those items will be approved on consent. No discussion or action on 6th Street signage is posted and much of the agenda concerns certification of applications for tax exemptions for historic structures . . . Short agenda for ZAP . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission has only one item to consider Tuesday night after approving minutes and hearing citizens communications. The item is an appeal from a stop work order issued by Mike Heitz, director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. The project is located at Ogden Drive and Ottawa Drive and was halted, according to the agenda, because the developer failed to get approval of a subdivision construction plan prior to beginning the work . . . Brookings says growth policies uncoordinated . . . The Brookings Institution has released a new report questioning the effectiveness of “open space” policies in managing growth. Authors Linda Hollis and William Fulton conclude that the different local and state efforts around the country “are not well coordinated with complementary policies designed to shape urban and metropolitan growth patterns.” The full report is available online at http://www.brook.edu/dybdocroot/ . . . New City Council appointments . . . Mayor Gus Garcia has nominated Jennifer Piskun Johnson to the Ethics Review Commission. Unlike other nominations, members of that commission must go through two City Council votes. Last week, Johnson was nominated and she should be confirmed this week. We wonder if she knows what might be in store for her if Proposition 1 is approved by voters, since the commission will then take on a greatly increased workload. David Cater was appointed to the Urban Forestry Board by Council Member Daryl Slusher and Cheryse Phillips was appointed to the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee by consensus. Council Member Raul Alvarez reappointed Dan Garcia to the Child Care Council and the Council appointed Darrell Pierce to the Downtown Commission by consensus.

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

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