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Make more major concessions

Wednesday, July 10, 2002 by

Funding mechanism for purchase of green space; no gas station over recharge

Council Member Daryl Slusher announced late Tuesday that Stratus Properties has agreed to several major changes proposed by Slusher and environmentalists. The first—elimination of the possibility of a gas station over the recharge zone at Circle C—seemed like a cinch even when attorney Steve Drenner was saying no. It was the one item that Straus could give in on without jeopardizing any major piece of the development. The second, which Slusher describes as below, would provide money to acquire more green space without increasing the city’s bonded indebtedness. Here is what Slusher had to say in an email to In Fact Daily:

“The first amendment I will propose is that there be no gas stations in the recharge zone. This is just too dangerous and not necessary. Stratus has agreed to this change. Second, I am discussing with Stratus representatives the possibility of establishing a funding stream for open space acquisition. Stratus has accepted this idea but the details have not been finalized. The idea is that it would be done through a levy on commercial property. Over time millions of dollars could be generated for land purchases to protect water quality.

Buying land for preservation is the best way to protect the aquifer and Barton Springs. The city has already spent tens of millions of dollars for this purpose, but much more is needed.

Third, I have talked with Hays County Judge Jim Powers and he and I have agreed to co-host a regional planning summit focused on protecting the aquifer sometime in the fall, hopefully by September. Much of the Barton Springs Zone is outside the city's jurisdiction and saving the springs will require regional action and regional cooperation.

Also, I have asked Stratus to build water quality controls to city standards current at the time of construction. Stratus is agreeable under certain conditions that are still being negotiated.

Many environmental stakeholders have asked for increased setbacks from the critical environmental features (CEFs) on Tract 107, something I too have asked Stratus to do. Details are being worked out to increase the setbacks from both sinkholes on this tract from 150 feet to 300 feet. There are a few other details in addition to these amendments that I would like to see worked out. Two critical components of the agreement must be finalized in time for thorough review: the green building standards and the native plants agreement. Both of these components can set high standards for other developments. The native plants agreement can also set an example for existing development, leading to less pollution over the aquifer.”

Stop El Taquito restaurant

3-2 vote at BOA not good enough to overturn decision

Members of the South River City Citizens (SRCC) failed in their effort to convince the Board of Adjustment to overturn the administrative decision to allow El Taquito to convert into a “limited restaurant.” Neighbors have been trying to shut down or limit the operation of the taco stand in the 1700 block of East Riverside Drive for some time, citing the additional traffic and noise generated by its late-night customers. (See In Fact Daily, June 5, 2002. )

Although the eatery originally began its existence as a mobile food vendor, the owners had recently applied for permission to operate it as a fast food establishment. That type of general restaurant requires GR zoning. So the owner revised his plans so it could operate as a limited restaurant, which is allowed under the site’s Neighborhood Commercial (LR) zoning. The director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department had decided that the facility would qualify as a limited restaurant, which does not have a drive-through window.

Attorney Veronica Rivera, representing owner Eloy Saenz, told board members that he intended to make the appropriate changes to meet all of the requirements for a limited restaurant. “It’s going to be selling what’s called ‘aguas frescas,’ which are ‘fresh waters’ . . . like lemonade,” Rivera said. “It’s a different type of cultural-style restaurant, but it is a limited restaurant.” Saenz plans to have the restaurant offer sit-down service with wait staff, with all food being served on china flatware. City staff agreed that these provisions met with the definition offered in the city code that separate a restaurant from a fast-food stand.

Clarke Hammond of SRCC originally filed the appeal of the staff decision, although he was unable to attend Monday’s meeting. In his appeal, Hammond cited sections of the Land Development Code that he believed restricted a limited restaurant to being either a soda fountain or an ice cream parlor. Attorney Kyle ZumBerge, who represented the group, backed up Hammond’s claim. “We have hinged our disagreement with the city staff . . . based on a plain reading of the Land Development Code,” ZumBerge said. “Our feeling is that under the code, the default category for any restaurant is ‘general.’” But the position of NPZD Director Alice Glasco was that it did not matter that the restaurant would not be serving ice cream, and that it did qualify under LR zoning. “The definition of ‘limited restaurant’ does not speak to the cultural style of food served,” Planner Greg Guernsey told board members.

Board Chair Herman Thun moved to deny the appeal filed by SRCC, effectively allowing El Taquito to continue operating as a limited restaurant. The vote to deny was 2-3, with Thun being joined only by Board Member Frank Fuentes. But that was enough under the complicated rules of the Board of Adjustment. State law requires four votes for the board to uphold an appeal of a decision by the director. A split vote of 2-3, Assistant City Attorney David Petersen explained, meant there were not enough board members in favor of granting the appeal. “When the motion to deny an appeal receives at least two affirmative votes, it shall be entered in the minutes as a motion to deny,” Petersen said, citing the Board of Adjustment’s rules. “You received two votes against the appeal, so that constitutes a denial of the appeal. That’s the rule of the State of Texas.” Board Member Betty Edgemond, who sided with the SRCC, expressed her displeasure. “So the city wins, and yet the majority voted against the city,” she summarized.

Members of the SRCC delegation were not happy that a majority of the board members appeared sympathetic to their position, but were blocked by the procedural requirements. They may choose to petition the board for a reconsideration; and an appeal to district court is a strong possibility. ZumBerge asked if the city could refund the group’s $660 application fee so they could use it for their expenses in district court, Thun said that it would not be possible.

Commissioners still tinkering With waste siting ordinance

Gomez especially anxious to move forward with regulation

Travis County Commissioners have agreed to hold off, once more, on finalizing the long-awaited waste-siting ordinance that has been almost nine months in the making.

The latest versions of the county’s plan have included three options: waste-siting ordinance plus operating agreements; no ordinance and no operating agreement; and enactment of an ordinance but no operating agreement. The third version also included a new alternative that would delay the ordinance until operating agreements could be signed with current landfill operators.

Commissioner Margaret Gomez admitted she was ready for action on the ordinance. All of its related issues have been dominating her thoughts day and night.

“I think I dream about this stuff,” Gomez said. “Now I’m starting to have nightmares.”

Commissioner Ron Davis said he could support no ordinance that would include an operating agreement, citing the concerns of residents who said the neighborhoods had suffered enough. “No reward should be granted to landfill owners for doing a poor job.” Many critics of the ordinance remain unconvinced the county has exercised all of its authority to enforce the existing state Health and Safety Code.

Many questions, Davis said, have yet to be answered. Chief among them are how to deal with the 21,000 barrels of toxic material buried under the Waste Management Industries landfill, and how to enforce the relevant rules and regulations of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

Still, the operating agreements with landfill operators remained the crux of the issue, Davis said. He believed that Travis County might have jurisdiction over existing and expanding landfills, but asked Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols for clarification.

Nuckols said current state law clearly grandfathered existing facilities and that all areas issued a permit by TNRCC are exempted from county regulation.

“What that means to me is that if we go ahead with any contracts, we will pull the teeth out of any jurisdictional authority that Travis County has,” Davis said. “That’s not something that I would do, pull away the authority we have in Travis County.”

Gomez, however, stated that nothing short of a contract could protect the county. Both Gomez and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner argued the county created its garbage problem and now had to find a way to properly deal with it. The operating agreements were going to enable the county to bring landfill operators to the table, Gomez said.

The problem already exists and will only continue, Gomez said. The goal now, she added, needs to be long-term planning for the county’s landfill operations.

County Judge Sam Biscoe argued, and commissioners eventually agreed, that the operating agreements would be key to the success of the ordinance. Without those operating agreements, Biscoe said, there would be no purpose in moving forward. If the county put provisions in place first, it could set a benchmark for improving the landfills.

Biscoe wanted to pull out specific details of the agreements from the ordinance and handle those agreements separately. Passing the agreements, Biscoe said, would be “the most difficult aspect of the ordinance.” Commissioners agreed to look at the progress on the operating agreements in another three weeks and wait to approve the ordinance.

Davis made a substitute motion to pass the ordinance without the provision for operating agreements. That motion failed to pass for lack of a second.

In Fact Daily was on vacation last week. For news from June 24-June 28, click here. Click

Friday.

Press conference today . . . Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell has called a news conference for 10 a.m. today to announce “a major economic development project” in Round Rock. . . . Early birds file reports . . . The anti- Prop. 1 political action committee with the lengthy moniker Citizens Committee for Proper Expenditure of Local Taxes, reported raising slightly more than $40,000 between April 25 and June 30. The Real Estate Council of Austin's business Political Action Committee donated $25,000 in cash and $10,000 as an in-kind contribution. RECA’s in-kind contribution was sponsorship of the eye-catching billboards that dotted the city’s streets shortly after the PAC was formed. The Texas Capitol Area Builders Association’s Political Action Committee contributed $5000. The citizens committee reports spending $30,000, of which McDonald Public Relations Inc. received $28,500. Reagan National Advertising received about $1100 for printing the billboards, plus whatever RECA paid for use of the signs. The group’s financial report will likely get some thorough scrutiny from Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People, who expressed concerns during the election that the group may have violated campaign-finance laws by raising money or securing pledges before filing the proper documentation. (See In Fact Daily, May 03, 2002 .) . . . ZAP meeting brief . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission quickly moved through its brief agenda Tuesday evening. The ZAP voted 6-0 to recommend zoning changes on two tracts owned by Stratus Properties . The commission reaffirmed its earlier recommendations on the two tracts, which had to be sent back for another vote because of errors in the original notification process. (See In Fact Daily, June 27, 2002. ) The public hearing on the proposed settlement with Stratus and the rezoning cases is scheduled to resume at Thursday’s Council meeting, which will be at the usual location in the board room of the LCRA . . . The winner in one category . . . Perpetual candidate Jennifer Gale, who ran against Council Member Daryl Slusher, reported collecting slightly more than eleven dollars for her race. On a per-vote basis, she may win the prize for least expended to lose a race . . . Work session this morning . . . The City Council has scheduled a briefing on the much-discussed (and in some quarters cussed) Downtown Austin Mobility Plan. The more interesting matters will probably be behind doors, however, as the Council hears from attorneys and Austin Energy officials in executive session . . . Planning Commissioners leaving . . . Commissioners Cloteal Haynes and Sterling Lands, the commission’s vice chair, will join Chair Ben Heimsath and Commissioner Silver Garza in retiring from the commission once their replacements are named. Zoning and Platting Commissioners Michael Casias and Niyanta Spelman have said they would like to switch from their current positions to the Planning Commission. But that leaves two extra spaces to fill on the ZAP . . . Travis Commissioners OK bonds . . . Travis County Commissioners have signed off on Ascension Health’s plans to issue $225 million in tax-exempt bonds to upgrade the multi-state non-profit hospital system’s various facilities. Almost $28 million will go to the Seton hospitals in the Austin area . . . Water is core . . . Members of the Resource Management Commission have passed a resolution asking the City Council to classify the city’s Water Conservation Program as a “ Core Service,” which would make it more likely to be funded during the 2002-2003 budget cycle. (See In Fact Daily, April 18, 2002. )

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

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