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Opponents see conflict between car-oriented city and guidelines

Friday, May 24, 2002 by

Members of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) intend to formalize their opposition to a city move to codify more than a dozen downtown design guidelines, which developers say are more a hindrance than help.

Jeff Pace, chair of the Economic Development subcommittee, called the Downtown Design Guidelines “a beautiful thing,” just as long as they were not mandatory. Many of those guidelines are already embedded within the city’s SMART Growth matrix. Most members of the DAA subcommittee, which met with Planner Katie Larsen on Wednesday, wanted to leave well enough alone.

Certainly, some of the guidelines have rubbed DAA members the wrong way. Eddie Safady, the president of the downtown branch of Liberty Bank, said the guideline to prohibit new drive-thru business would likely push him out of downtown once his current lease expired. Even in the interim, rents for the limited number of drive-through facilities would go sky high.

“Austin is dependent on cars,” Safady said. “We don’t have trolleys. We don’t have mass transit. We are dependent on cars, and we have to address that need. Customers require motor banks.”

Other changes that drew fire from the business group included new denser floor-to-area ratios, which were strongly opposed by those with smaller parcels of land. The changes, Larsen said, were proposed to encourage the development of foot traffic and transit options. Many developers at the table said the changes would do nothing but hamper development.

“I implore you to, please, let the business people who are creating commerce and attracting people downtown have some input before you chase them out to the suburbs,” said developer Bill Ball, adding that his company had renovated the Brown Building and Norwood Towers. “I would much rather do a suburban deal than do a downtown deal. With all the construction and the fiber optic lines, it’s hard enough, and these rules will make it much harder, particularly for small businesses.”

Pace tried to put the discussion back on track. Members could have easily spent hours debating the merits of each proposed change, but the group as a whole wanted to come up with an overall position statement. That position statement would be presented to the full DAA board on June 7th.

“The higher-level issue is simply, how do you encourage or drive development?” Pace asked the group. “Do you encourage or drive development with incentives or do you mandate design and development through codification? I don’t think it’s any more than that.”

Most developers agree that so far the design guidelines in downtown Austin have yielded good results, Pace said. But few members of the group would agree that codification is a good thing. In fact, several members of the group would probably consider it a horrendous thing, Pace said. Better to work toward supporting the design guidelines and encouraging incentives to promote good development.

That is the message the subcommittee intends to take to the full DAA board and to various other Austin boards and commissions. The guidelines are good, so long as they aren’t mandatory. If they are mandatory, they may drive development to the suburbs. Larsen said the downtown design guidelines were intended to create development unlike that in the suburbs.

“We’re ensuring quality downtown development that is going to be unique to Austin, that is going to set downtown apart from suburban areas,” Larsen said. “I’ve heard comments about competing with the suburbs, but you don’t have to be the same as the suburbs to compete with them.”

The DMU and CBD zoning categories, Larsen said, have very little regulation. The goal is to add some development guidelines that would make downtown stand out from other areas of the city and other cities in the state. The proposed code amendments will go to the Planning Commission in July.

Architect Girard Kinney told the group that the Design Commission never envisioned codifying the design guidelines. They were intended instead to be ideals for downtown development.

Griffith says good-bye after 6 years of Council service

Outgoing Council Member Beverly Griffith received an emotional farewell tribute at Thursday’s Council meeting, which will be her last before she steps down in June. Griffith, who was elected in 1996, and 1999, garnered only 29 percent of the vote in her most recent re-election effort and decided not to continue her campaign into a runoff with Betty Dunkerley.

Griffith, who was active in local government long before her election to the Council, said little about her own accomplishments during her two terms in office. However, current Council members offered strong praise for both her policies and her determination. “I would like to thank Beverly,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. “She is a very passionate, determined, and inventive person who has made changes in Austin for the better. It's going to be a very different place around here without her and we will miss her.” Griffith's steadfast determination on behalf of various causes was noted by several Council members, including Mayor Gus Garcia. “When she dug her heels in on an issue where she knew she was right, you were not going to move her from there,” Garcia said. “She stuck to her guns regardless and defended her positions tremendously well.” Garcia cited Griffith's commitments to the Social Fabric Initiative and Destination Parks as two of the highlights of her years on the Council.

Goodman noted that while she and Griffith occasionally split on some high-profile issues, they are still friends. “The nice thing about being an American is that you don't have to agree with each other to be good friends,” Goodman said, “and the nice thing about being an Austinite is that you’re not expected to agree with each other all the time.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher, who first took office at the same time as Griffith in 1996, praised her determination and involvement in a variety of major projects. “She's tough, she's relentless,” Slusher said. He cited her efforts on the strategic plan for Austin Energy in 1996, her leadership on the redevelopment of the old Robert Mueller Airport, and the city's efforts to create Destination Parks. Griffith's determination was noted even before she was elected to the Council. She was described as someone who “clearly does her homework and can be dogged when she focuses on an issue.” ( In Fact No.35 in March 20, 1996. )

Some of the city's foremost environmental leaders also lined up to thank Griffith for her efforts. Mary Arnold, Shudde Fath, and Roberta Crenshaw all praised her as a tireless advocate for parks and open space. “Beverly's vision has been very broad and has brought forward pictures and visions that can inspire all of us, and inspire things to get done,” Mary Arnold said. Other Griffith supporters filled the meeting room of the LCRA for the ceremony in her honor, including cycling activist Robin Stallings, Jim Walker with the Austin Neighborhoods Council, and neighborhood activist Will Bozeman.

Council Member Griffith herself has refrained from public remarks about the conclusion of her time on the Council, and Thursday's meeting was no exception. She instead offered thanks to the city staff along with her own staff of Jeff Jack, Toye Goodson, and Barrett Sundberg. “Let's keep working together for our great city that we love,” Griffith said.

Council Members gave Griffith a hammock as a going-away present to mark her “retirement” from the Council. But that doesn't necessarily mean she will devote all her time to her business, Griffith Properties. Her aide, Jeff Jack, predicted she will remain active in civic affairs. “She has done things that the public doesn't recognize yet, but in years to come they will understand just how much she has contributed to this city,” Jack said. “I look forward to the days in the future when she will continue to contribute to Austin.”

While friends and supporters are sorry to see Griffith leaving the Council, her biggest supporter expressed mixed emotions about the transition. “I worked really hard to get her re-elected,” said husband Balie Griffith, “but if it wasn’t supposed to happen, I'm really glad to get my girl back.”

Council chooses alternate

Group to collect court fines

The City Council yesterday selected Municipal Services Bureau of Austin ( http://www.muniserv.com ) to handle the collection of delinquent fines and court costs in Municipal Court cases. While the staff recommendation was for State, Metropolitan, and County Services of Arlington, Council members instead selected the locally-based firm which had received the staff's alternate recommendation.

Council Members have that discretion under the rules for contracting for professional services. Several Council Members, including Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, had questions about some parts of the matrix used to evaluate bidders. The city currently has about $32.9 million in outstanding fines and court costs.

Monday ,,

Friday.

Nathan joining Sanchez campaign . . . Mark Nathan, executive assistant to Council Member Will Wynn, is joining the Tony Sanchez campaign as field director. He told In Fact Daily that he will be in charge of setting up the campaign field offices throughout Texas and overseeing voter identification and get out the vote efforts statewide. His final day with the city will be next Friday and his first day with the campaign will be the following Monday, June 3. This is Nathan’s second chance to get to the governor’s office. He was field coordinator for Governor Ann Richards in her reelection campaign in 1994. “I’ve had a great run with Will. I’ve learned a hell of a lot about how the city works and I’ve built a lot of strong relationships at city hall that I hope to maintain,” Nathan said. Nathan further remarked that he wants to return to statewide politics “at a time when things are finally looking up for the Democrats.” Wynn is interviewing prospective new assistants and expects to name his new aide in early June. Jerry Rusthoven, aide to Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, said he will try to get Nathan back so he can have a proper City Council goodbye on June 27th, since there is no Council meeting next week . . . Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Plan Approved . . . The City Council approved the near South Austin neighborhood’s plan with help from city mediator Tracy Watson . There was one parcel that neighbors and a landowner were disputing, but the dispute was resolved before yesterday’s final approval. The Southside Church of Christ also objected to the neighborhood’s zoning proposal, which was approved by the Council on a vote of 7-0 . . . Unavoidable interruption . . . Mayor Gus Garcia was interrupted suddenly yesterday by a loud buzzer in the Council Chamber. Everyone froze except City Manager Toby Futrell, who sounded like a grade school teacher when she said, “Since that is a fire alarm, I would suggest that we move quickly and quietly to the door.” Bill McCann, spokesman for the LCRA, said the false alarm was not a prank, but the result of welding in another part of the building . . . Cedar Door or not, zoning approved . . . Susan Toomey Frost explained to the Council that she still needed CS-1 zoning on her property on Toomey Road because she has “bonded with” the staff of the old bar. The new owner of the bar abandoned the location because he could not wait for the zoning, but Frost said the group that has run the Cedar Door for the past 15 years would put a new “old-looking” building on the property. The zoning was approved unanimously last night . . . Pollution search approved . . . Austin city staff will be working in conjunction with other government agencies in an effort to pinpoint the top sources of pollution in Barton Springs. The resolution doesn’t create any financial strain on the city budget, since current staff will do the work as part of their regular duties. “We’re seeing pollution that can’t be explained,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher. “We have a lot of programs aimed at preventing future pollution . . . We also have some aimed at preventing existing pollution, and I think we need to tighten those up” . . . Monday holiday . . . City of Austin offices will be closed for Memorial Day on Monday and In Fact Daily will take a holiday. The hardworking folks collecting garbage and recycling materials from homes will not have the day off, however. Since it’s a holiday, leave the jet skis at home when you visit Lake Austin . . . Officer Jones to be honored . . . The family of slain Parks Police Officer William Jones will unveil his picture and plaque at a memorial service to be held on Tuesday at 10am at the memorial, Robert E. Lee Road just south of Barton Springs Road . . . South Austin salute . . . Today is the last day to reserve a seat for the South Austin Culture Club’s annual luncheon and celebration, next Wednesday from 11:30am to 1pm at the Miller Crockett Bed and Breakfast, 112 Academy Drive. This year’s event is called “The Whole South Austin Enchilada,” a salute to our unique Hispanic/Mexican eateries “and to all the funky retail and fun goin’s on.” Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will be the featured speaker. Major issues facing South Austin, according to the culture club, are: Should South Austin progress through gentrification? And should we preserve South Austin for Bubbas/Bubbettes and Beer? . . . Seriously speaking of gentrification . . . Poder leader Susana Almanza asked the City Council yesterday to consider placing a 90-day moratorium on Historic zoning in East Austin . She complained once again about Anglos pushing Hispanic families out of their homes in East Austin. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said such a moratorium should be accompanied by a moratorium on issuance of demolition permits . . . Neighborhood plan amendments postponed . . . The City Council postponed consideration of amendments that would create sub-districts within Neighborhood Plans, so that there would be additional flexibility on where cottage homes, small lot amnesty and similar uses would be allowed

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

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