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Company expecting up to $500,000 for Smart Growth design

Wednesday, June 5, 2002 by

Representatives of the Landmark Organization this week brought the current plan for their Hilton Convention Center Hotel to the Design Commission and took the opportunity to complain about City Manager Toby Futrell’s decision to suspend award of Smart Growth incentives.

Carl Cutler, senior project manager for Landmark, and architect Pim Robberechts of Ellerbe Becket, described the changes that were made to ensure the hotel met criteria for Smart Growth incentives. Recent changes made as a result of conversations with the commission include the addition of canopies and trees, and outdoor seating for restaurants.

City urban designer Pollyanne Melton told the Commission, “The City Council is considering not giving any incentives of any kind in this time of budget crisis. And due to that fact, we have informed the developer of that situation and that they were coming here at their own risk.” She said Landmark knows that the city may not be able to make good on incentives previously proposed by the Transportation Planning & Sustainability Department (TPSD). Therefore, the department would like the commission to view Landmark’s presentation as an update on the project but refrain from voting on a recommendation to the City Council “until the city (is) in a position to pay this.”

Cutler said that his company had “already commissioned and paid for all this information” when he received word that the department would not be asking the City Council to approve any new funds for Smart Growth.

Robberechts said Mark Schultz, president of Landmark, “wants to be a good citizen . . . Mark himself wanted us to push forward,” with the amenities suggested by the commission.

In response to questions from the commission, Cutler said the new Hilton will have a gym, swimming pool, locker facilities and showers that would be available to the public as well as to guests and residents of the building’s condominium units. Robberechts said the Hilton would own and operate the health center, at least for the foreseeable future.

Perry Lorenz, co-chair of the commission, told Cutler, “We feel like you’ve really responded to our previous comments.” He said commissioners would meet as a subcommittee “and tell you what we think of this and then the city can do what it will. I feel like you’ve done a good job.”

After the meeting, Cutler told In Fact Daily that Landmark had already spent “a tremendous amount of money” to meet the Smart Growth matrix and had been expecting between $450,000 and $500,000 in fee waivers and other incentives from the city. He said he felt that the city had a contractual obligation to Landmark to live up to its earlier promises, but he had been informed by Melton that the budget was too tight. Cutler said he had sent a letter to Melton protesting the decision.

George Adams, principal planner with TPSD, said Tuesday that a final decision has not been made on suspension of the incentives. “That’s going to be a decision that the City Council makes as a part of the budget discussion,” he said, noting that Futrell has recommended the change. In the meantime, he said, the City Council has not approved incentives for Landmark and the city is not under any obligation to waive fees. “There’s no deal,” he concluded. He said the department would abide by previous Council decisions on fee waivers and other incentives, but the department does not plan to take any new requests to the Council for the foreseeable future.

ZAP asks Planning Commission to help regulate fast-food sellers

The city’s Land Development Code could eventually be the tool to regulate the mostly unregulated activity of the city’s hundreds of mobile food vendors.

Residents in neighborhoods bordering East Riverside are fed up with the late-night taco stands that have proliferated between Interstate 35 and Pleasant Valley Road. Last night—for the third time—residents were at the Zoning and Platting Commission to lodge their protests. Peg Treadwell said the city ought to be fining the mobile food vendors near her home.

“In the olden days, 20 years ago, I would have made a call and this would be gone,” Treadwell said. “We need to make enforcement actually work again.”

A sweep of the Riverside Drive area by the Zoning Code Compliance Team last month targeted seven food trailers, Supervisor Jesse Washington told commissioners. Of those seven, two have been removed, one has been permitted, another is in the process of being permitted and three others are still under review.

Two of the three remaining vendors have not responded to city notices of violation. The third is the infamous El Taquito at 1713 E. Riverside, considered to be the busiest of the mobile food vendors. Owner Eloy Saenz has hired an attorney to work out problems with the city. If those problems are not resolved, city officials said they would file charges at Municipal Court against El Taquito on Friday.

Due process proves costly for neighbors

El Taquito had filed a site plan to become a drive-in fast food restaurant and that approval was pending when the vendor’s neighbors learned about the plans. At that time, they say neighborhood-planning officials decided that El Taquito should be designated as a “restaurant—limited,” so it did not need a site plan, only approval from a city official. However, the neighbors have appealed the official’s approval to the Board of Adjustment, which is scheduled to hear the case Monday night. Neighbors had to pay a $660 filing fee to appeal the matter.

Clarke Hammond, president of the South River City Citizens, said, “This is the cost of due process in the City of Austin.” He said such problematic vendors should be dealt with as LULUs (locally undesirable land uses).

Most of the problems associated with the mobile food vendors have been problems with noisy patrons traffic late into the night.

“Short of liquor sales, we do not control the hours of operation of the business,” Washington said. “There are no other legal avenues for us.”

The only real regulatory sword the city holds over mobile food vendors lies in the city’s health code, said Senior Sanitarian Chuck Schlegel. Unregulated mobile food vendors are self-contained mobile kitchens, Schlegel said. Regulated mobile food vendors sell pre-packaged foods. Schegel handles complaints and permits on all 655 permitted mobile food vendors in the city, which also includes street-side produce vendors and ice cream trucks.

Mobile food vendors have limited regulations, Schlegel said. Plumbing cannot be connected. Electricity can be added only via a temporary loop. Location is not an issue with the city, with the exception that the location of an unregulated mobile food vendor cannot establish a permanent street-side location, Schlegel said. State code once implied the unregulated food vendor would return to a commissary; that language has now been deleted from both the state Health Code and the subsequent city-adopted ordinance.

“The language of the Health and Safety Code, of the City Code, is that you must return to your commissary ‘as needed,’” Schlegel told commissioners.

Public health complaints provide the strongest avenue of control the city has over the vendors. However, as Schlegel told commissioners, complaints about food-borne illnesses from the wagons of the mobile food vendors have been few. Most of the 150 to 200 calls Schlegel fields each week are neighbors reporting nuisance activities

ZAP commissioners decided that formulating new language for food trailers could resolve the situation. The recommendation will be passed on to the Planning Commission. To do that, said Vice Chair Michael Casias, would place the mobile food vendors within the control of the city as well as the city-county health department. Those regulations could include a conditional use permit that would require the vendors to limit either hours or traffic.

Schlegel called such a move “a blessing in disguise.” Chair Betty Baker said the Land Development Code would be “a starting place” for regulating the food vendors.

Goodman to advise Albuquerque . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will address the directors of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce on how Austin has achieved its success in overall economic development. One reason they want to hear about Austin is that Albuquerque has similar demographics. Goodman will talk about how the business community can work with government to address and move critical issues forward to the advantage of all . . . Travis County projections improve . . . Revenue projections are looking more hopeful for the county . . . The earliest revenue projection indicates county commissioners should have $298.5 million for the new budget cycle. That’s about $6.25 million more than the amended FY 2002 budget. The county’s main source of income is property taxes. County Auditor Susan Spataro said figures are likely to change as new revenues and expenditures are added to the equation . . . Leadership initiative starts today . . . The Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce plans to announce a statewide initiative to develop Hispanic leadership and entrepreneurship at a press conference this morning. Senator Gonzalo Barrientos will introduce the program’s partners, who include Dennis Nixon, CEO of the International Bank of Commerce, and Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson of UT. The news conference is at 10 am at the Capitol building . . . Contract awarded without Davis . . . County commissioners approved a contract with Office Depot without the support of Commissioner Ron Davis. Davis said recent reports about Office Depot refusing to place advertisements in black-owned newspapers bothered him and the county auditor’s office was unable to provide Davis with proof otherwise . . . Dinwiddie resigns . . . Dinah Dinwiddie, the county’s executive manager of Justice and Public Safety, has submitted her resignation in order to pursue other career interests, effective July 31. Her job duties, however, are so diverse that commissioners have agreed to appoint a subcommittee to review and revamp her job description, which includes oversight of the Medical Examiner, Emergency Services, the Juvenile Public Defender and 911 deployment. Dinwiddie is also an accomplished romance novelist.

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

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