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Subcommittee wants to rescind previous rejection of deal

Wednesday, June 12, 2002 by

A subcommittee of the Environmental Board has voted to recommend rescission of a previous Board decision in opposition to the proposed settlement between the city and Stratus Properties. Board Chair Lee Leffingwell said the three-member subcommittee unanimously agreed on the rescission, but split 2-0-1, with Board Member Mary Gay Maxwell abstaining on a motion to grant approval with 14 conditions attached. Another subcommittee member, Vice Chair Tim Jones, was out of town, but Leffingwell said Tuesday that Jones is aware of the subcommittee’s action. “He has already sent me a statement of dissent,” Leffingwell said.

In May Jones said, “I want to see something that offers me encouragement that we’re not [killing off] the ( Barton Springs) salamander,” he said. One of Jones’ urgent concerns was the amount of pollution entering the aquifer from roadways.

A number of the recommendations relate to treating runoff from “roadways contiguous to the Stratus Circle C development” in conjunction with various governmental agencies. Another recommendation is that Stratus agrees that it will not locate service stations or other businesses that use environmentally hazardous materials over the recharge zone of the aquifer. There are also a number of recommendations concerning use of current City of Austin best management practices and environmentally friendly designs.

In the event the board does not agree with the conditional recommendation, the committee recommended that the panel take no position on the matter. The board voted last month to oppose the agreement, which was presented to them as a term sheet, with Leffingwell and Board Members Ramon Alvarez and Matt Watson abstaining. (See In Fact Daily May 3, 2002 )

Attorney Steve Drenner, who represents Stratus, said he and his clients were generally in agreement with the Environmental Board committee’s recommendations. He said, “I thought they had done a pretty good job of analyzing the issues.” He said Stratus was still studying two issues: placement of a service station and impervious cover assumptions for development of single-family homes. The company had chosen two tracts as possible gas station sites—one is over the recharge zone and the other over the contributing zone, he said. Stratus also did not want to leave any loose ends, such as a possible change in impervious cover assumptions, which is what the board’s recommendation would do. The committee suggested that impervious cover assumptions not be done until the property is subdivided. Impervious cover assumptions do change from time to time, generally shifting upward.

The proposed agreement between the city and Circle C Land Corp. (CCLC) would settle existing Chapter 245 claims covering all 1,235 acres owned by CCLC, a subsidiary of Stratus Properties.

The SOS ordinance allows 18.1 percent of impervious cover overall among all of the tracts in Circle C. This agreement would allow a total of 18.1 percent impervious cover. But the agreement calls for all of the tracts to be considered together and development to be clustered, thereby shifting impervious cover “credits” from tract to tract to accommodate Stratus’ development plans. The proposal would allow for impervious cover of between 30 percent and 45 percent on some tracts, with no development on other tracts.

To see the city’s proposal, click here:

Black contractor representative Says group angry at City Council

African-American contractors' piece of pie dwindling, Hadnot says

The Austin Black Contractors Association is angry at the City Council, according to Carole Hadnot, with the ABCA. She accused the City Council last night of ignoring African-American contractors at the MBE/WBE Council subcommittee meeting.

Hadnot said African-American contractors have given up on landing city jobs and the city was doing nothing about it. Hadnot claims city officials told her they couldn’t do anything about it until all the MBE/WBE groups agreed and said that African-American contractors aren’t getting enough city jobs. “I was insulted–and it reeked of racism,” said Hadnot.

She said the dwindling number of contracts for African-American businesses has caused the number of such businesses certified to work for the city to decline from 174 to 52.

The city’s goal is 2.6 percent for African-Americans, but Hadnot said the number is at most just over one percent, and that different city departments had their own interpretations of how much represents 2.6 percent. She added that Hispanic contractors are meeting their goal.

Lino Rivera, director of the Small and Minority Business Resources (DSMBR) told Council Members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas that the matter could only be discussed in executive session. Thomas said he did not know of any Council member who did not want to work with black contractors. He added that African-American participation is on the decline, but that together they could overcome the obstacles.

Alvarez added that they are trying to “level the playing field,” for contract awards.

“What we want are outcomes and contract awards. We know the process,” said Adrian Neely, also with the ABCA. He said frustrated contractors just want the opportunity to participate.

Neely said there were 56 contractors at a networking session Monday night, but that when contractors lose their bid on a job, they often get no feedback on why they didn’t get it. He added that they also don’t get invited to bid.

The city has agreed to award 10 percent of the Carver Library renovation project to African-American contractors. However, the city has failed to meet the 2.6 percent goal for the City’s major projects, including the Convention Center expansion and the Palmer Events Center, Hadnot said.

Alvarez said they want to redraft the current ordinance to strengthen minority involvement before bids go out on the new City Hall project. Construction of the parking garage and public plaza is currently underway.

Developer representative says variance necessary

Faced with almost certain denial, developers of Sixth + Lamar withdrew their proposal for a variance on the height of the downtown project and asked the Board of Adjustment (BOA) for a postponement in order to reformulate their approach.

Plans for Sixth + Lamar have been scrapped and redrawn. Initially, plans were for a dominant retail center that would have included a Target and a movie theater. New plans would put a seven-story tower on one edge of the property. That office tower will replace and expand the Whole Foods store across the street and provide the company with six floors, or 200,000 square feet, for its national headquarters.

The Sixth + Lamar site is a combination of three tracts, all zoned DMU (Downtown mixed use). DMU sets a maximum height of 120 feet. The proposed seven-story office building would require a variance for an additional 12 feet. The developers had a tough time convincing the BOA that a hardship on the property would justify the variance.

“This is a brand-new building, and I really have trouble on a brand-new site dealing with this issue that you can’t make it work,” BOA Chair Herman Thun told consultant Melissa Whaley. “Somebody has obviously arbitrarily chosen to establish a certain economic level that they want to achieve on this site, and you’ve been given a certain set of circumstances that this is what you’ve got to do to make it work.”

But economic hardship—or the need to turn a profit—is not a reasonable justification for a variance, Thun told Whaley and developer David Vitanza on Monday night.

Part of the Sixth +Lamar tract, Whaley argued, is located within the Capitol View Corridor, which limits the configuration of the property. Outside the meeting, Vitanza said Whole Foods is only the first phase of the Sixth + Lamar. Developers would like to add a second phase on the tract—possibly a movie theater. Whaley argued that the height would be in alignment with two neighboring multi-family projects that are each approximately 14 stories.

The tract sits directly south of the current Whole Foods store. The Capitol View Corridor will limit the height to 60 feet on some portions of the tract and 90 feet on others. The site slopes 17 feet from Lamar Boulevard to Bowie Street. Whaley said the Capitol View Corridor would cost the developer about 220,000 square feet of retail.

Local neighbors from the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association took no position on the variance. Steven Moore, who chairs OWANA’s Design Advisory Committee, said he could personally support the height variance if the developer was willing to address some of the association’s objections to the current design.

Thun’s comments, which were echoed by Commissioner Frank Fuentes, brought Whaley and Vitanza’s presentation to a halt. Faced with the obvious opposition of two of five commissioners, Whaley asked that the hearing be delayed until the BOA’s July meeting.

No help for cluster proposal . . . The Board of Adjustment denied, for a second time, a variance for Pleasant Valley Villas, a proposed Smart Growth project on 30 acres at 2800 South Pleasant Valley Road. Commissioner Frank Fuentes said he could find no hardship that would give Southwest Housing a reason to ignore setbacks in order to cluster housing . . . Free fun in Round Rock . . . The Round Rock Parks and Recreation Department’s Summer Concert Series kicks off from 7 to 9pm on Sunday, June 16. A free live concert will be held at the Central Green at La Frontera. For information, call 218-5540 . . . GTOPS recipients announcement today . . . The City of Austin Telecommunications Commission will announce recipients of 2002 grants technology opportunities (GTOPs) at 2pm today at the Grandma Camacho Activity Center, 34 Robert Martinez Street. Last year’s recipients will appear along with the new grant recipients to talk about how a little funding can go a long way . . . Planning Commission meets tonight . . . The Commission will be considering the Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan and associated zoning . . . 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 . . . Buda keeps it simple . . . A committee formed to study Buda’s sign ordinance is recommending leaving the regulations unchanged. Committee chair Lee Rains told the Buda City Council that a proposed new ordinance they were asked to review covered 34 pages but failed to meet the city’s needs. “We already have an adequate sign ordinance,” he said. “It’s 15 pages and it’s written in English, not legalese.”

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

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