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Jackson says ARA budget could mean neighborhoods get less

Thursday, July 25, 2002 by

The Austin Revitalization Authority’s (ARA) budget will require another $64,000 this year, but some board members fear that asking for the money may alienate local neighborhood associations.

This year’s ARA budget will be $393,200, more than $118,000 higher than last year. Proposed new projects include the rehabilitation of the Bailetti House, a historic walking tour, community parking, a façade improvement program and the redevelopment of two additional blocks. Recent revenues will cover $54,000 worth of work, still leaving a $64,200 shortfall.

Tuesday night, the ARA unanimously approved next year’s work plan and the proposed administrative budget for the group, but concerns were again voiced about the budget increase. As Commissioner Larry Jackson told the board, some have raised the issue that member neighborhood groups may be upset if Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) funds are rerouted from deserving projects to the ARA.

The pot of federal money is small and other groups might resent the routing of funds to East Austin, Jackson said. ARA already pulls $275,000 from that limited funding for the redevelopment of a small slice of the city. Jackson said it would be one thing if the ARA were a stand-alone organization. Instead, it is a coalition that depends on the goodwill of its members to continue to do its work.

“We have to realize we are a coalition,” Jackson said, reiterating the concerns expressed by some in the group. “If we just look at our narrow world, we have to realize what we do may have some negative impact on other projects with people who are a part of our organization or our coalition. I agree that $64,000 isn’t any money to the city, but there are worthy groups that are out there that aren’t going to get $10.”

In other words, ARA’s request to the City of Austin could potentially cripple a project in Chestnut or Rosewood. Chair Charles Urdy argued, however, that it would be the city that would ultimately decide which projects got how much funding.

“It is my position that it’s really not for us to determine even if—let alone where—the city will fund projects,” said Urdy, a former member of the Council. “Requests are based on need, and it’s the job of City Council to assess that.”

ARA President Byron Marshall pointed out that the benefits of the increased funding could be passed on to the neighborhoods. A grant writer hired by ARA could also work with neighborhood groups. Jackson added that the option could provide a win-win situation for the group and the neighborhoods.

The city could choose to fund the ARA’s request or not, Urdy said. That funding could come out of general revenues or CDBG funds, although Marshall expressed serious doubts the city could afford to fund additional ARA expenditures out of general revenues, given serious budget shortfalls. Urdy added that ARA might have to turn to other funding sources to supplement this year’s budget gap.

Urdy added that ARA did not lobby privately behind closed doors or try to steal money under the table. All funding requests were public and would be measured equally against other requests. Commissioners agreed they would prefer to see CDBG funds spent on worthy projects underway along Eleventh and Twelfth streets rather than on projects they had yet to discover. Jackson called for a review of the city’s overall CDBG funding of various projects over the last 10 years, and even questioned some of the projects the city committed funding to when he served on the Planning Commission.

Priorities for this year’s work plan include the development of the East 11th Street Mixed-Used Project on Blocks 17 and 18, with construction beginning on Block 17; the redevelopment of the Juniper/Olive Streets Historic District; pre-development of the 12th Street Mixed-Income Sustainable Neighborhood Project; and feasibility studies for a parking structure on East 11th Street.

Lack of mechanism causing problems, says Moncada

The Planning Commission last night approved a proposal to allow existing neighborhood plans to be amended. The proposal, if approved as an ordinance by the City Council, would also set out procedures for creating subdistricts and handling zoning changes that are supported by neighbors but conflict with an existing plan.

While neighborhood plans are designed for the long term, city staff brought forward guidelines for amendments to allow for changing neighborhood priorities. “Ordinarily staff would be looking at general updates to a plan no sooner than five years,” said Ricardo Solis of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department (NPZD). “However, we do have opportunities where applicants want a zoning change that’s inconsistent with a neighborhood plan.” The guidelines put forth by staff, Solis said, would be useful in dealing with applicants seeking a major change in zoning, for example, from residential to commercial or industrial, or vice versa. “We’re looking at a dual process where the plan amendment would come forward and possibly a rezoning application as well.”

The measure endorsed by the Planning Commission would establish a two-tier system for modifying an existing neighborhood plan. The first tier would cover amendments for individual lots, which could be made each January and June. Applicants unable to wait for the designated period could apply to the Director of the NPZD for special consideration. If they were able to demonstrate a specific hardship, the case could be heard sooner. “This is only if it requires a plan amendment,” said Solis. “Other zoning cases consistent with the neighborhood plan could be heard at any time.”

Phil Moncada, a member of the city’s Environmental Board, told commissioners a system was needed to allow for those zoning changes that had neighborhood support but didn’t fit the existing plan. Moncada is representing a dentist who wants to move his practice to 1421 Olander near Brackenridge Hospital. The property, which faces the I-35 frontage road, is zoned SF-3. When he contacted the city seeking the change, Moncada was told he would have to wait until there was a procedure for amending neighborhood plans.

The resolution also includes guidelines for the NPZD Director and commissioners to use when considering a plan amendment. The applicant would likely receive a favorable recommendation if he could show that the existing zoning was based on a mapping or textual error or omissions in the original plan. Changes to the plan would also be possible if denying the change put the public health or safety in jeopardy, or if there had been a material change in circumstances since the adoption of the plan.

The second tier of the amendment policy covers the creation of subdistricts for infill development. (See In Fact Daily, July 22, 2002) Those subdistricts could be created every two years. Commissioners approved additional criteria suggested by Commissioner David Sullivan. When neighborhood planning teams consider area-wide amendments, they will be asked to address how they plan to increase Smart Housing within their planning area. Those also proposing subdistricts for neighborhood plans will be asked to set out provisions for accepting locally undesirable land uses.

The commission endorsed the resolution by a vote of 6-0. “This comes very close to doing the best we can right now to catching those circumstances where we’re requiring developers to think twice before they come before us with a zoning change that is inconsistent with the adopted neighborhood plan,” Commissioner Michael Casias said. “And we’re avoiding the danger of adding another layer of cost and time to those property owners that are doing something that is consistent with the goals and objectives of the neighborhood plan.” The proposal is tentatively scheduled to go before the City Council on August 27th.

Friday

Who’s in charge here? . . . New Planning Commissioners Michael Casias and Matt Moore attended their first meeting last night, and Commissioner Chris Riley chaired the meeting. Riley is the commission’s secretary and was the highest-ranking among the group since Chair Ben Heimsath and Vice Chair Sterling Lands stepped down. Riley is already chair of the Downtown Commission, so it seems unlikely he will want to be permanent chair of the Planning Commission. Commissioners Cloteal Haynes and Silver Garza also departed, so there is still a vacancy to be filled by Council Member Danny Thomas . . . Don’t believe everything you read . . . On Tuesday, In Fact Daily reported that the zoning for the Shaw-Pease Mansion, also known as the Woodlawn mansion, would be changing from SF-3 to CBD-H. This was a shock to a few alert readers who called City Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin. Stocklin said her back-up material mistakenly noted the change to Central Business District, but the Historic Landmark Commission recommended a change to SF-3-H. In Fact Daily regrets the error . . . Rejoice! For there is no City Council meeting today . . . But the Save Our Springs Alliance is not resting. Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch sent out an email today urging supporters to contact City Council members and ask them to reject the settlement with Stratus Properties. The group will meet at Barton Springs on Saturday from 12-6 to sign letters, make signs and get organized for next week’s final vote on the deal. SOS is also hosting a benefit party from 5 to 10pm Sunday at 3600 South 2nd Street, one block west of South 1st, between Cardinal Lane and South Center St. Lee Ann Atherton will be performing . . . Mexican-American chambers meet today . . . The Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce begins its 27th annual convention and business expo today. Registration and the first round table will be at the Omni Hotel Downtown, with exhibitors setting up at the Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall 4. On Friday, Gov. Rick Perry will be keynote speaker for breakfast at the Convention Center. For a schedule of events, see http://www.tamacc.org/cs.htm . . . Groundbreaking ceremony this morning . . . Volunteers of America Texas and the Austin Housing Finance Corporation will be breaking ground at 10am today at 5907 Manor Road. The project, called Manor House, will be an 11-unit, affordable rental facility for families and individuals with special needs. For more information, call Brenda Ham, 974-3175.

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

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