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Settlement on 6-1 vote

Friday, July 12, 2002 by

Forty-eight speakers address Council, while others protest outside

After listening to speakers for four hours—generally a repetition of the June 27 hearing—

and three hours of discussion, the City Council voted 6-1 early this morning to approve the Stratus Properties settlement agreement and most of the zoning the company is seeking. Only Council Member Raul Alvarez voted no. He explained his decision to do so was based on the $15 million in incentives the city would pay in order to reduce development intensity on the 1,253 acres. Council Member Will Wynn, who made the motion to approve the agreement, questioned Alvarez sharply about what his alternative might be. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman chimed in, indirectly criticizing Alvarez as well as the sacred SOS ordinance.

Wynn asked his dissenting colleague, “Why don’t we just go back to the table and look at the money? What’s your alternative?”

Alvarez replied that there are “different legal avenues we could pursue . . . Let’s take a step back and try to see what’s causing the degradation (of the aquifer). I don’t see what Stratus has to lose,” by waiting. Several speakers had suggested a moratorium on development in the Barton Springs zone. Several even interrupted the meeting briefly by singing the word “moratorium” while the Council was discussing the matter. However, Goodman countered, “ Nobody can tell you right now if SOS (ordinance) protected anything . . . Nobody can even tell you why the salamanders and frogs and fish are developing those (air bubbles) that are killing them. There is no way to have a moratorium.” She said she too is uncomfortable with the $15 million package. “But then you ask yourself what is the aquifer worth to you? . . . It’s time to move on now, because everybody knows that SOS wasn’t enough to protect the aquifer.”

A passionate crowd of about 200—far fewer than appeared at the June 27 hearing—showed up at the LCRA building to express their feelings about the agreement. (See In Fact Daily, June 28, 2002. ) Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch tried to drum up a crowd equal to the several hundred who appeared at the first hearing. But the emails and phone calls did not have the same effect the second time around.

As the hearing got underway at 7:20pm, a crowd of protesters outside the door to the chambers shouted, “Let the people speak,” rattling the first speaker, Jessica Flair. Flair said she lives in Circle C North and had been totally against the proposal in the beginning. However, she said she had been very impressed by the diligence of the Circle C Homeowners Association and the willingness of the developer’s representatives to make changes to accommodate the neighbors.

Robin Cravey, a former aide to Council Member Daryl Slusher, said, “Once again the people of Austin come to the City Council requesting—demanding—that the Council stand firm against the pillage of our aquifer and the despoliation of Barton Springs.” He admitted that what “the development (the agreement) allows is far superior to the development proposed 15 years ago.” But Cravey complained that the development “does not meet SOS,” that the zoning is too intense. He asked the Council to maintain the Rural Residential zoning currently in place, with “a sprinkle of Neighborhood Office and Retail at major intersections.” He also asked the Council to impose a development moratorium on the entire Barton Springs Zone.

Longtime environmentalist George Cofer urged the Council to keep negotiating, saying he completely supports the concept of the agreement. “I absolutely know in my heart it’s the right thing to do. I know in my mind it’s the right thing to do. I’ve been fighting the good fight with many of the people in this room for over 12 years . . . And the lesson I’ve learned the hard way . . . with all our good victories, with all the lawsuits we have won . . . The buildings . . . keep springing up. So the lesson that I’ve learned is that ‘Just say No,’ and ‘Don’t do it’ and ‘Let’s downzone them,’ and ignoring things like takings law is simply not the answer in my opinion. I urge you strongly to follow your own counsel.”

He said he supports the idea of clustering, which is key to the Stratus proposal, adding more impervious cover to some tracts while leaving others as raw land. He added a personal plea that Tract 102, at least the part adjoining the city’s water quality land, be kept as open space.

“The alternatives are just not acceptable and in my opinion and I urge the listening audience to really think hard about what the alternatives are.” He said they should drive along South MoPac, Bee Cave Road and through Barton Creek Properties. “And if we say no, we’re going to get more and more and more of that, without the benefits that we’re going to get through this settlement agreement.”

Bunch spoke at length during the first hearing, but was not allowed to speak again, so he held an outdoor press conference denouncing the Council’s decision to limit input. “We have very Draconian restrictions on us tonight. The hearing room is cut off from public access. They are prohibiting citizens, for the first time that I’ve heard of, from going into the chamber.” The chambers did not fill as quickly as expected, but access was controlled by the fire marshal with the chambers were full when the hearing started. Television monitors were provided for those in the foyer and outside the building.

Bunch said, “We are recording with our own video cameras testimony from every citizen who wants to speak . . . We will provide these tapes to the Council next week. We’ve been relegated to second class status.” Joining Bunch were John Larkin of the Cherry Creek on Brodie Neighborhood Association and Amy Rupp of the Circle C Neighborhood Association, both of whom criticized the process. All three of them addressed the Council last week. Larkin and Rupp participated in the Zoning and Platting Commission hearing process and Bunch participated in the stakeholder meetings that started last fall.

During a lengthy question and answer session, Council Member Daryl Slusher and City Manager Toby Futrell brought out details of the agreement, disputing numerous assertions of the agreement’s opponents. Futrell said the city started negotiations with Stratus based on what the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) told the company it would allow. Stratus reached an agreement with the FWS last fall. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 31, 2001. ) At that time, FWS Supervisor David Frederick wrote to Stratus, “we concur that development of the proposed project as described, is not likely to adversely affect the Barton Springs salamander, Golden-cheeked Warbler or Black-capped Vireo.” That letter set the stage for Stratus to negotiate with the city as well as those in other Circle C area neighborhoods.

Goodman and Slusher added some amendments to the proposal, which is designed to settle the company's claims to grandfathering provisions of HB 1704/Ch.245. For details on those amendments, see In Fact Daily July 11, 2002, and July 10, 2002. The Council is scheduled to consider the matter again on second reading next Thursday.

Reactions to the Council vote

Following the meeting, Stratus attorney Steve Drenner said he was comfortable with the proposals put forward by Council Members Goodman and Slusher. “We've still got some work to do, but I think we're going to get there,” he said.

Members of the SOS Alliance were dismayed at the 6-1 vote. “I'm surprised that only Raul Alvarez is courageous enough to stand up alone against the power that corporations have in this town,” said SOS Alliance Board Chairman Kirk Mitchell. “In spite of the huge turnout of citizens in opposition…we're going to subsidize development over the aquifer, which is a terrible idea.”

Bunch said he would continue to encourage the members of his group to follow the proceedings. “It's hard to get people to come out when the council is saying ‘we’re not going to listen to you,’ but we'll tell people that this is important and urge them to be here next week.”

Approval for 90-foot tower

Developer agrees to concessions to satisfy neighborhood

The City Council yesterday approved on consent a zoning change for the Vintage on Town Lake at 1400 E. Riverside Drive. Prior to the vote, the South River City Citizens (SRCC) and Street Development announced that they had reached an agreement.

Clarke Hammond, president of the organization, said they had been working with the developer for 19 months. He said that two weeks ago, “An absolute majority of the members voted to support the prop owner’s proposal . . . We realize that development and change is inevitable in our neighborhood . . . We realize that what is agreed upon today may set a precedent for future projects. East Riverside Drive has been in a state of transition and decline for the past few years,” He also expressed the hope that “a quality development” would pave the way for more improved development.

Consultant Sarah Crocker explained that only 42 percent of the building footprint will be allowed to reach 90 feet. “We understand that the hike and bike trail improvements will not just be dedicated but constructed,” Crocker said. She also said the parties are working on a rollback clause. If there is no site plan within five years, the city would initiate a zoning rollback on the property. This is being worked out between now and third reading.

Based on neighborhood pleas, the Council approved only MF-4 development when the matter came before them last August. However, Crocker has worked with the neighborhood association on other projects and found a compromise SRCC could accept.

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

Thursday

, Friday.

Wimberley planners win award . . . The two-year-old Village of Wimberley has won an unusual award. All seven members of the town’s Planning Commission have been chosen as Planning Commissioner of the Year for this area by the Central Texas chapter of the American Planning Association. Members of the original commission include Glenn Fryer, chair, Curt Busk, David Glenn, B.J. Kolenda, Betsy Markland, Pamela Showalter and Marilee Wood. Busk is the current chair. Former Alderman Walter Brown was the group’s liaison to the City Council. He is a former member of Austin's Planning Commission . . . Kelso to ride a bike . . . American-Statesman columnist John Kelso likes to poke fun at Austin’s “silly-looking bike riders” so often that Austin Bike List invited him to participate in a little ride, with the promise of barbecue and beer at the end. He’s supposed to start the ride at 5pm today from the Statesman parking lot on South Congress. Bikers are invited to join . . . Longhorn Pipeline returns to court today . . . Federal Judge Sam Sparks will hold a hearing this afternoon at 2 pm to consider motions for summary judgment from both sides of the pipeline issue. Plaintiffs include the City of Austin and some property owners along the pipeline route. The city is asking the court to order a complete environmental impact statement. Longhorn agrees with a federal government finding that the pipeline would have no significant impact, which the city disputes . . . Commission appointments . . . The Council made a number of appointments yesterday, including Nikelle Meade to the Commission for Women, Dan Leary to the Downtown Commission and Carla Schuller to the Bond Oversight Committee. Tim Jones and Phil Moncada were reappointed to the Environmental Board. Shudde Fath and Neal Kocurek were reappointed to the Electric Utility Commission, while Matthew Hersh and Francis McIntyre were reappointed to the Ethics Review Commission. Jonathan Betcher was appointed and Mahesh Naik was reappointed to the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee. Amy Babich was reappointed to the Parks and Recreation Board.

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

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