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Of annexation for the City of Austin

Monday, June 24, 2002 by

Planner says he likes changes made by Legislature

In the past three years, the City of Austin has completed acquisition of 15,444.52 acres. Current proposed annexations total 672 acres, including the controversial Onion Creek area. Ben Luckens heads up the city’s annexation program. The soft-spoken Luckens, 52, grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. He went to the Army after graduating from the University of Kentucky. After his discharge, he got a job at the local health department, but when his future beckoned in the Lone Star State he took heed.

He came to Texas as a VISTA volunteer and worked in Corpus Christi, but then went to graduate school to study city planning at the University of Tennessee. His first city planning job was in Maysville, Kentucky, but wasn’t there very long because he wanted to come back to Texas.

Luckens moved to Austin to work as a Housing Program Specialist with the Community Action Agency. He took some time off to finish his thesis, while working part-time with the Clarksville Community Development Corp. to develop duplexes. He also worked with the Edwards Aquifer Research and Data Center in San Marcos.

After doing research on municipal utility districts in Southwest Austin, he began working with the city. “When you go to city planning school, as I did, you practice city planning by working for the city,” as he has for the past 18 years.

He’s currently working on completing the Onion Creek Annexation Area. Luckens says he likes the changes the 76th Texas Legislature made to the annexation process. “Before, we would give you notice. Then we were on like a speeding train. We had so many days to give notice, to have hearings and to take action.” Now, they have three years to do the annexation. State law now requires cities to identify land it intends to annex and put it on a rolling annexation plan so property owners and residents have enough time to comment on the area’s service plan. Unless an area requests annexation or the area is very small, each plan adopted must be a three-year plan with each annexation taking three years.

He says the three year process will help them understand concerns and issues people might have over annexation and help them find solutions.

Luckens says annexing people is very difficult. “You’re changing their form of government . . . adding a tax burden and changing most of their services.” He adds they need to “Explain what we are doing and try to get them to understand that they’ll be getting more value for their money and that their services will generally be better.”

“Annexation is very complicated. Very complicated,” but new technology, such as computers, helps the process. Years ago, they had to look through books of maps, but now all they do is just look it up on the computer. The department used to have three people, now it’s just two, Luckens and Virginia Collier . He said he also gets a lot of help from Collier and added that she is “much nicer” than he.

Luckens says what he likes best about his job is finding solutions for people. He also enjoys working with all the other city departments to help find solutions.

When asked what he likes to do when he’s not working, he joked, “I’m never not working.” He likes to spend time with his family, especially his ten-year old son, and go hiking. He says his son is at an age where Luckens remembers doing what his son is doing, like building models and playing sports.

Luckens also likes reading, especially books on Texas history. He says, “You get a feel for the culture.”

Friday.

Galleria hearing tonight . . . The Village of Bee Cave is holding a special meeting at 7pm tonight to hear opinions from the public on the proposed Hill Country Galleria. On Tuesday night at 7pm, Village aldermen are expected to make a final decision at a joint meeting with the Zoning and Planning Commission. For more information on the proposal, try this website: http://www.hillcountrygalleria.com/proposeagree.html . For the opponents’ point of view, visit http://www.nohillcountrygalleria.com/ . . . Villas on Town Lake owners upset . . . City staff has proposed that the Council approve a $1.8 million contract for additional design and construction work on the Mexican American Cultural Center on Town Lake. The first $315,000 of that is up for approval at this week’s Council meeting. But next door neighbors at the Villas on Town Lake are worried about their safety. They say the planned parking garage for the MACC will be built on the current fire lane to their building. If the garage is built, says condo owner Janet Gilles, city staff expects fire vehicles to enter through adjoining vacant private property. But that property won’t be vacant forever, counters Gilles . . . Design guidelines up at HLC tonight . . . The Downtown Design Guidelines, which have not met with universal enthusiasm, are up for discussion at the Historic Landmark Commission tonight. The group has an entirely different perspective on a number of matters, but it’s anyone’s guess how they will feel about the guidelines . . . RECA says still studying . . . Last week In Fact Daily mentioned that the Real Estate Council of Austin was opposed to the city’s proposed changes to downtown traffic patterns, but it’s not that simple. RECA Executive Director Janice Cartwright says the group does support some of the guidelines, namely providing dual left turn lanes from Lamar to Barton Springs, construction of a right turn bay from Lamar to Sandra Muraida Way, and making turn lanes on the S. First Street-Drake Bridge reversible. However, RECA opposes some of the more controversial plans, including conversion of numerous downtown streets from one-way to two-way and restricting left turns from Congress onto the numbered streets. She says they would support a 6-month trial only if the turns were prohibited during peak hours and if all bus routes were taken off Congress. The chances of the latter happening are quite slim, however . . . Speaking of bus routes . . . Council Member Danny Thomas will be attending his first meeting as a member of the board of directors of Capital Metro today. He will be taking a spot previously held by Beverly Griffith . The board agenda has a lot of blanks—for example the name of the party buying advertising from Cap Metro for a two-year time period. The amount of the contract is also blank . . . City Council work session . . . On Wednesday morning the Council will meet to hear a staff report on negotiations with Stratus Properties on their proposals for Circle C. In addition, Council Member Will Wynn has asked for ideas on starting a clean energy initiative in the city. The Council will also hear about legal changes needed to allow for repairs to the city’s aging water and wastewater lines. Thursday’s Council agenda is so long it should probably be called the Thursday-Friday agenda . . . Looking ahead . . . In Fact Daily will be on vacation July 1-5. That’s next week.

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

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