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Attorney tells neighborhood deal is far from certain

Tuesday, June 11, 2002 by

Members of the ZAP Stratus Task Force Monday evening delved into the details of how the proposed zoning changes for 14 tracts owned by Stratus Properties would affect traffic in Southwest Austin. The number of car trips that could be generated by the proposed new development on those tracts has been a sore spot with both local residents and environmentalists. Residents are concerned about increased delays on some streets or the possible expansion of others, while environmental groups such as the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) are worried about the extra pollution that would come with increased traffic.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement between Stratus and the City of Austin, the company would be allowed to “cluster” development on some tracts while leaving others vacant. SOSA opposes the clustering, predicting that allowing denser development on those tracts will spur a significant increase in traffic. SOSA submitted its own traffic analysis at Monday’s meeting, claiming that the city had significantly underestimated the number of trips that would be generated by the intended development. SOSA Executive Director Bill Bunch and environmental activist Steve Beers worked on the document, which states that “city trip generation estimates for the retail portions of the Stratus proposal underestimate daily trips by as much as 25,000 trips per day . . . the necessary conclusion is that the proposal will, in fact, likely trigger a need to expand South MoPac and other roadways.” The complete document is available on the group’s web site at http://www.sosalliance.org/heavy%20traffic.htm .

To calculate the potential number of trips due to development on the 14 tracts, city staff members are not using the Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) that is frequently used on individual cases. Instead, they’re using a macro-level approach designed to avoid double-counting trips. “The retail uses and residential uses interact with each other,” said City of Austin Principal Planner Teri McManus. “If we evaluate them separately in isolation, we usually see that we’ve overestimated the attraction trip rates by about 50 percent. We can look at them cumulatively and take into account the natural interaction and travel behavior. For example, you can drive from home to work, then from work to home. You don’t want to count the home as being responsible for both of those trips or the workplace for being responsible for both of those.”

As part of the proposed settlement, Stratus would provide approximately $1.58 million to cover the cost of traffic improvements, including additional traffic lights and lane striping on several Southwest Austin roadways. Residents had several questions about those improvements, voicing special concern about the traffic near Mills Elementary School on Davis Lane at Escarpment Boulevard.

Neighborhood representatives took the final moments of Monday’s meeting to address the process used for public input. John Larkin of the Cherry Creek on Brodie Lane Neighborhood Association applauded the creation of the Task Force, but said he was still skeptical about how his group’s comments were being received. “There’s a definite perception that city staff might not have been as objective as they would have been otherwise,” said Larkin. Other neighborhood representatives speculated that pressure from the City Council or city management had influenced staff recommendations. “There’s a lot of suspicion about what’s going on,” Larkin said. “It’s not directed at any one person. You’re going a long way about addressing our issues, tract by tract. But the overall sense, from some pretty moderate people, is that this deal is going to happen regardless of what we say . . . although it might be modified slightly.”

City staff attempted to reassure Larkin that they had not been swayed in their assessment of the proposals. Attorney Casey Dobson, who’s served as the city’s outside counsel in negotiations with Stratus, told neighborhood leaders that the settlement with Stratus was far from certain. “This is going to go before our elected leaders of the city and they’re going to make a policy decision,” Dobson said. “I don’t know whether the Zoning and Platting Commission will vote for it, much less the City Council. This is going through the proper public process, and the outcome is going to be up to the City Council. This is not a done deal. That’s not the case at all.”

Commission Chair Betty Baker also defended the efforts of city staff, and noted that the commission had spent an extensive amount of time dealing with matters related to Stratus. “I’ve been on the commission for six years,” Baker said. “We’ve spent more time on this case than on any other case we’ve ever had.”

Although the final task force meeting is scheduled for June 17th, it will likely be reserved for ZAP Commission members to review a report on the Stratus zoning cases before the commission meeting on June 18th.

ZAP Commissioners worried about Rural property

CAMPO executive asks for rezoning for wedding facility

The ZAP did not give Michael Aulick the warmest of receptions when he returned for a second appearance before the commission last week.

Aulick, who also serves as executive director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, has already visited ZAP once, receiving a nod to rezone land on Old San Antonio Road for commercial use. Resident Betty Edgemond, who also serves as a commissioner on the Board of Adjustment, vehemently opposed the zoning change, saying the rezoning from I-RR to GR would create a domino effect on a narrow two-lane road. The initial zoning changes were approved by the City Council last November.

A historical house built in the 1860s already sits on the property. Aulick’s intention is to add a catering facility at the back of the house, as well as additional parking for visitors. The two-lot property is a little less than 6 acres and is located in the 10300 block of Old San Antonio Road, between South First Street and IH-35.

Aulick was forced to return for a second round when he and partner Adrienne Arnold realized the first zoning change would not provide enough land to allow a wedding reception and catering business on the proposed property. To resolve the problem, Aulick needed to rezone the second lot to GR-MU-CO, giving him a Community Commercial-Mixed Use-Conditional Overlay combining district, with some use restrictions.

Edgemond told commissioners she felt betrayed by the additional zoning change, despite Aulick bringing letters from neighbors to support the zoning change. Edgemond said neighbors who supported the second zoning change were likely interested in rezoning their own properties for commercial use. She added that she felt in her heart the owners would eventually propose something more intense than a wedding and catering business, knowing the site was so close to the freeway.

“At least subdivide it and make it one tract,” said Edgemond, echoing a proposal made by Chair Betty Baker. “Keep it to 1,000 trips per day for the whole piece of property. Even that is too many trips for a two-lane road.”

Chair Betty Baker agreed with Edgemond’s assessment that the new zoning created a dangerous trend on what was really no more than a country road. But commissioners believed the zoning could help create a business to preserve a historic house and that zoning could be narrowly defined to limit the specific type of development on the property.

“I would remind the applicant that we cannot zone for economics, and we’re zoning for the wrong reasons if we do,” Baker told Aulick. “I realize the property needs to be viable, but we should not be zoning this for an economic reason, and I apologize because I think we are.”

Commissioners did recommend the zoning change with conditions: If the City Council accepts that recommendation, the property would be limited to bed and breakfast, outdoor/indoor entertainment or restaurant use; the types of gatherings on the site could include weddings, corporate retreats and limited restaurant activity; and the second property would be limited to 200 trips per day. That would give Aulick a total of 1,200 trips per day on the property.

Commissioner Jean Mather also insisted that the portion of the large property in the 100-year flood should be zoned RR. The height of the additional building is recommended at no taller than 35 feet, with impervious cover limited to 35 percent. Baker also insisted Aulick move to re-subdivide the land as one lot. If the building built on the property straddles both lots, the tract will automatically be considered one site.

Aulick says toll roads a "tremendous step forward"

A public hearing on proposed amendments to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Improvement Program last night was anticlimactic, given that the most important updates to the plan were made at last month’s Texas Transportation Commission meeting.

The Texas Transportation Authority approved $2 billion in funding last month for three new toll roads in the Central Texas Turnpike Project: State Highway 130 from Georgetown to Buda, State Highway 45 South from SH 130 to Interstate 35 and the extension of Loop 1 North to State Highway 45. The state has pledged to complete SH 130 and SH 45 South, in tandem, by 2007.

With few other speakers—and almost no opposition to the incorporation of a number of TIP projects— Bob Daigh, Deputy Director of the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, held court, updating the CAMPO Policy Action Committee on the status of the three turnpike projects.

Funding for the projects, which will be more than $3 billion when right-of-way acquisition is included, will be underwritten by revenue bonds, TxDOT funds, the commitment of local entities and federal loans. TxDOT will seek more than $1 billion in revenue bonds, which will be paid back over 40 years by toll revenues. TxDOT has committed $700 million upfront and secured another $916 million in federal loans, and local entities have provided hundreds of millions in right-of-way funding.

Executive Director Michael Aulick said the funding approval for the toll roads projects was a “tremendous step forward,” but pointed out that those funds still neglected the core of Austin, including Interstate 35. Assuming the bonds receive ultimate approval, they will begin to be sold later this summer.

Council Members see media technology and communication as future

Council Members Raul Alvarez and Will Wynn have joined with other citizens concerned about the future of Johnston High School in the wake of a decision by AISD to take the school out of the magnet program. The group, which bears the lengthy moniker of Media Technology/Communications Ad Hoc Committee in Support of Johnston High School (MTC Committee), hopes to convince the school district to bring media technology and communications career path programs to Johnston.

In addition to the two Council members, the group includes new ACC Board Member John Hernandez, Pat Dabbert with Partners in Education, attorney and student mentor Veronica Rivera of Minter Joseph & Thornhill and several others. Alvarez said the MTC Committee is moving considerably faster than the AISD-appointed Johnston Futures Committee . Dr. Juan Sanchez of Southwest Keys, which specializes in helping at-risk youth, is a member of the both committees. The Futures Committee is a short-term task force that’s supposed to look at the question of a career academy or institute for Johnston for the 2003-2004 school year. No changes are planned for the upcoming year.

Alvarez said Johnston is already working with filmmaker Cine Las Americas and would be a perfect place for a media and technology career path program. “We want something positive people can get behind.” He said the committee is currently talking to media firms to see if they can lend resources, including internships and mentoring programs, as well as cash, to get the ball rolling.

He provided a handbook already prepared by the MTC committee that says the group would like to provide “information on issues such as job availability, pay scales, established programs in the field, and opportunities in higher education.”

According to documentation prepared by the committee, media technology and communications “is an attractive option for Johnston for several reasons:

• It has such a natural affinity with other career pathways in areas such as business and information technology; • The technology aspect of this proposal ties in directly with Johnston’s efforts to develop the International Baccalaureate program; • It offers real career choices to the students of Johnston in a multidisciplinary framework that can be easily integrated into the school curriculum.”

Wynn said, “I'm playing a supporting role for Council Member Alvarez and the rest of the committee. My role will be bringing a cross-section of appropriate employers to the effort. We believe that as the students are exposed to the different skill sets involved, there will be an absolute pipeline of talent created—a pipeline flowing in both directions.”

Alvarez said courses toward the various career paths could start as early as 9th grade, with an internship program in the fourth year. He said the committee has not decided whether the career path would be open to students from around the district or only to Johnston’s regularly-enrolled students.

Jerome Hurt, director of AISD’s School to Careers program said the Futures committee would be evaluating a number of proposals, including some from the health professions, and attorneys, as well as the media/tech and communications fields. He noted that Johnston already has the only baking apprenticeship program in the state, as well as automotive repair, business, and computer skills programs. Hurt said partnerships with the community would play an important role in the district’s decision.

Review of road bonds continues . . . The state’s Bond Review Board, which must approve all state-issued bonds, meets at 10am today in Room E-2026 of the Capitol to hear more about TxDOT’ s plans for financing the northern stretch of SH 130, Mo Pac ’s northern extension and SH 45 North. Sierra Club transportation chair Dick Kallerman says the $3.3 billion in revenue bonds are a risk the state should not take. The transportation department will have its own experts at this morning’s meeting, according to TxDOT spokesperson Gaby Garcia. She said the item is among several on the board’s agenda and that a vote on the matter probably will be scheduled for the board’s June 18 meeting. The Bond Review Board is made up of representatives of the Governor, Lt. Governor, Comptroller and the Speaker of the House . . . Golf course may finally be coming to Northeast Austin . . . Pioneer Crossing has plans on the drawing board to expand. One of the amenities developers hope to add is a golf course, which Northeast area residents have long sought. Samsung executives are reportedly excited about having a golf course close to the office too . . . No Zoning and Platting Commission tonight . . . The commission is not meeting tonight, but will meet next Tuesday night, as usual . . . The agency formerly known as TNRCC . . . The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission will become the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) by legislative mandate on Sept. 1. We expect lots of jokes about this. (Will they sing any differently under the new name?) . . . Shopping center may erect taller sign . . . The Board of Adjustment last night granted a variance to the Brodie Oaks Shopping Center, at the intersection of S. Lamar and Loop 360, to allow placement of a 35-foot pylon sign. Motorists are missing the center, complained Kelli Reed of Sign Tech, who represented the shopping center. Reed said the current small sign does not adequately alert drivers of the center’s location, showing photos of much taller signs in the area. The variance is required because Loop 360, which is designated as a Scenic Sign District, abuts the southern edge of the shopping center. The variance won unanimous approval.Chair Herman Thun said the 35-foot sign is exactly what Brodie Oaks would have been allowed to build if it were only on Lamar. An earlier report of this case was in error.

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

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