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MBE/WBE committees prefer manager-at-risk method

Thursday, August 29, 2002 by

The City Council is one step away from handing out contracts on the new City Hall and other major projects in a way that should effectively increase minority- and women-owned business participation.

The new City Hall is scheduled for completion in June 2004, at an estimated cost of more than $40 million. At this morning’s briefing, Council members will hear a proposal to hand out bids under a construction manager-at-risk delivery method, a first for the city. The construction manager-at-risk arrangement would make price only one of several criteria in picking a general subcontractor.

In the past, the city used a competitive bid arrangement. State law dictated that the city accept the lowest reasonable bid. But Senate Bill 510, approved last session, now allows the city to use a standard of “best value” for a municipality rather than “lowest reasonable bidder.”

Both the advisory commission and Council committee on minority- and women-owned business issues have endorsed the construction manager-at-risk model, which could add up to 18 weeks to the solicitation phase. City staff, on the other hand, endorsed the competitive sealed-bid model, which would add only 5 weeks to the process and give the city some ability to judge a contractor on the basis of past compliance with contract terms, such as commitment to hiring minorities.

One benefit of the construction manager-at-risk delivery method is the ability of the contractor to work directly with the architect as the design is being completed. City staff would also have some input on potential subcontractors, who would be hired after the construction manager-at-risk. Subcontractors could be hired under competitive bid or a competitive sealed-bid arrangement.

Project Manager Fred Evins who presented the delivery methods to both groups, argued that the competitive sealed bid “offers us an opportunity to minimize schedule impacts.” The construction manager-at-risk method, Evins said, would be more effective before a project’s design phase is effectively completed. The new City Hall design, for all intents and purposes, is finished and ready for construction.

Council Member Raul Alvarez, who heads the Council subcommittee on M/WBE issues, has continued to support a construction manager-at-risk model, despite city staff objections. Alvarez said he was convinced the option still presented the best flexibility to the city. Being able to look at a variety of factors in the selection of a contractor is “still a big plus, especially on big projects,” said Alvarez, adding that it allowed the city to find the strongest firms.

“The biggest con for construction manager-at-risk is the elongated or extended process, but I think it helps us to get to the decision for the best-qualified applicant,” said Alvarez, who was joined in his support by Council Member Danny Thomas on Tuesday night. “I think it’s worth taking that time.”

The construction manager-at-risk method is strongly supported by minority contracting associations. The Austin Black Contractors Association noted that AISD, the University of Texas and the State of Texas already use the construction manager-at-risk method.

The Council is scheduled to choose the delivery method during this morning’s meeting. If Council members agree to the construction manager-at-risk delivery method, staff members have asked that a consultant be hired to walk the city through the process. They also want each general contractor to state a maximum amount for the construction contract.

Apartments to be available to poor over 62 years old

The Planning Commission voted to recommend a downzoning from CS to MF-3 for property at 2700 Lyons Wednesday night despite opposition from some neighbors, who aren’t happy with the design for a proposed affordable-housing development for senior citizens. Family Eldercare is developing the Smart Housing project with federal grant money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The property is within the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Planning area.

“These grants are the crème de la crème of housing grants because it gives non-profits not only the capital to build independent living apartments but they also provide rental subsidies for the residents to ensure that nobody pays more than 30 percent of their total income on rent and utilities,” said Family Eldercare Executive Director Karen Langley. “HUD only funded two of these developments in the entire southern Texas region last year, and this senior housing proposal was one of them. It’s like winning the lottery of the affordable housing world. HUD has committed $3.2 million for the development.” The apartments will be made available to people over 62 years old with an income of 50percent or less of the Median Family Income, but officials with Family Eldercare say they will make a special effort to attract tenants at 30percent or less of the MFI.

Neighbors told commissioners the proposed three-story buildings would not be compatible with nearby one-story, single-family homes, and urged architects employed by Family Eldercare to consider two-story or one-story units. However, officials with the non-profit group replied that would not allow them sufficient space on the lot—which was donated by a supporter—to build affordable housing. Neighbors also expressed concern that the elderly residents might not be able to evacuate from the third floor apartments in the event of a fire. But officials with Family Eldercare noted seniors didn’t seem to find the third-floor apartments to be a problem. “We don’t think that there really is a safety issue to be concerned about,” said Langley. “All the affordable housing we have looked at . . . is three stories or higher.”

Susana Almanza of PODER argued against the apartments and said that they would not provide housing for area residents. “Our elderly are coming from single-family homes…at 50 percent of MFI (median family income). You’re talking about $24,900 (per year)…I can assure that is not in our ZIP code area. It will be elderly with a real good income living on Social Security and other things. Our people are below $14,950.”

Although the neighborhood plan for the area has not yet been officially adopted by the City Council, members of the Neighborhood Planning Team said they supported the application for MF-3 zoning. Annick Beaudet of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department told the commission, “As a basis for the Smart Housing recommendation, they have worked with the Neighborhood Planning Team…the team feels the MF-3 is appropriate for this location, and it is a down-zoning.”

A representative of the nearby Rosewood neighborhood also indicated support. “Rosewood is in support. This is a win for East Austin. This is a win for seniors,” said Rosewood Neighborhood Planning Team Member Dusty McCormick, who is also a former chair of the Planning Commission. “In the 78702 ZIP code, we have a high concentration of seniors. This is an excellent place to put a facility like this. That way people don’t have to move from the place that they have lived all their lives . . . the place where they have their friends and all the conveniences they’re used to.”

Commissioners unanimously endorsed the zoning change from CS to MF-3. “It’s a great project,” said Commissioner Chris Riley. “It’s serving a local population and there’s a great need to serve that population.”

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

Endorsement expected . . . The state’s largest police association, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, as well as the Austin Police Officers Association, and the Austin Professional Firefighters Association are expected to endorse Austin State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos today. Democrat Barrientos will face Republican Ben Bentzin in November in the District 14 race . . . City Council agenda . . . The City Council will probably appoint Council Member Daryl Slusher to begin discussions with neighboring jurisdictions on a regional plan to protect the Edwards Aquifer. Slusher and Hays County Judge Jim Powers had agreed to co-host a regional planning conference in September, but Powers has requested that the conference be scheduled in November, after budget and election season. The Council will also be briefed on the status of the city/LCRA water supply impact committee. Later in the day, the Council will consider a number of zoning cases that presented problems on first or second reading. One of those is a change from interim RR zoning to MF-4-CO at 3226 W. Slaughter Lane . According to the SOS Alliance, the 30-acre tract is entirely within the Barton Springs recharge zone. SOSA has sent an email to supporters asking them to oppose the development. Unlike Stratus Properties the owner has no claim under HB 1704, according to Executive Director Bill Bunch. Bunch is having a bon voyage party next Wednesday before heading out for a year in the Czech Republic. He will still work part-time for the organization through the magic of the Internet . . . Lawn parking . . . The Council is once again scheduled to consider an ordinance that would prohibit parking vehicles on front and side lawns. This relatively small item has taken hours of work and its shape remained unsettled Wednesday . . . ZAP recommends zoning change . . . The ZAP on Tuesday recommended a zoning change for land on West William Cannon Drive west of Beckett Road. Lauretta Dowd, representing Lumbermen’s Investment Corporation, asked for a change from SF-3 to GO (office) for about six acres of raw land to allow development of an office building. The staff recommendation was for LO-CO, with the conditional overlay limiting the number of trips per day. The ZAP voted 5-1 to approve a change to GO-CO, with the conditional overlay relating to traffic. Commissioner Keith Jackson was opposed . . . Lawsuit filed . . . The Praise Tabernacle has sued Capital Metro over the agency’s alleged failure to make payments on the lease of a controversial parking lot for park-and-ride commuters. The church is seeking $19,500 in payments from February 1997 through May 1999. A spokesman for Capital Metro said that the agency had terminated its lease agreement in March 2000 “in accordance with the termination process identified in the agreement.” He said the church has not made any demands on Capital Metro since the contract was terminated. “That Praise Tabernacle would file suit at this time, without having submitted a proper demand with supporting documentation, is both puzzling and frustrating to Capital Metro. Capital Metro will aggressively defend the lawsuit and pursue any appropriate counterclaims.” In 1997, the FBI investigated allegations surrounding the decision to build the parking lot. The current board was created after that contract was signed.

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

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