Friday, August 16, 2002 by

Some Chestnut neighbors worried about idea

A zoning change for a new park in the Chestnut Neighborhood won the recommendation of the Planning Commission on Wednesday. The site had already been approved for a small park as part of the Chestnut Neighborhood Plan. The city already owns the .63-acre site in the 2200 block of East 16th Street and plans to clear the lots and install a water spray or sprinkler to provide a play area for children.

The commission heard two views of the proposed park. East Austin resident Jennifer Durst complained that the city had not properly maintained the site and predicted it would be a magnet for crime. “It wouldn’t be an adequate park because of the size of the lot,” she said. “The area where it’s located . . . we’ve been having a problem with drugs and prostitution. We can run them off from the streets, but if they’ve got a park they have a legal place just to hang out during the day and the night. It’s not going to be patrolled or taken care of by the city.”

Scottie Ivory of the Chestnut Neighborhood Planning Team countered that the small area would be the perfect site for a park for younger kids to play. The additional activity, she predicted, would actually drive out criminals. “Drug dealers and prostitutes are not going to come anywhere where there’s light,” she said. “They’re like roaches. When you turn the light on, they’re going to go into their hole. Right now they’re using that particular area. One thing you know about the parks, they’re going to be monitored by the police department.”

Sarah Campbell with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department told commissioners that the park would be lighted and maintain standard operating hours. In addition, staff members affirmed that the park would be subject to patrols by police.

Commissioners were convinced the park would be an asset, not a detriment, to the neighborhood. “This is a neighborhood-based plan and this would be a neighborhood park, and I think it’s important that neighbors be active in seeing that this happens,” said Commissioner Michael Casias. “It can be done with minimal dollars and I think we need to be encouraging green space throughout the urban areas.” Commissioner Maggie Armstrong expressed confidence in the ability of neighbors to deter criminals from using the park. “If they’re going to be in there working on this park, I think that the adjoining neighbors should feel fairly comforted that there’s going to be a lot of eyes on that park,” she said.

The vote to approve the requested zoning change from SF-3-NP to P-NP was 7-0. The change next goes to the City Council for final approval.

Businesses, neighborhood groups worked together

The Planning Commission this week endorsed a host of zoning changes associated with the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan, which covers the area between Mopac, Town Lake, Lamar Boulevard and Enfield Road. The plan allows three infill options to promote housing development and allows for more mixed-use development. It also contains a pair of conditional overlays that will limit the height of structures on some tracts. Because of the topography of the neighborhood and the possibility that the flood plain could be altered, some of those heights are measured as the distance above mean sea level.

Members of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association said they had done extensive outreach to contact members of the community. In addition to putting up flyers and billboards around the neighborhood, said Mark Stine, they made an effort to contact business owners. “We worked as closely as we could with the business community and the West End Austin Alliance,” he said, “and we really appreciate their support.”

One point of debate during the formation of the neighborhood plan, team members said, was height restrictions along and near Lamar Boulevard. The conditional overlays associated with the rezonings would cap the height of buildings on parts of West Lynn and in the 600 and 700 blocks of North Lamar at 40 feet. The height of buildings in the 900 to 1000 blocks of North Lamar would be limited based on the mean sea level elevation, since the area is subject to flooding from Shoal Creek. And there would be varying height limits on the proposed development at 6th and Lamar based on the distance a building is set back from the busy intersection.

Commissioner Maggie Armstrong underlined the importance of those changes. “Along the corridor, generally, a 60 foot height is permitted today,” she said. Thomas Bolt with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department pointed out that the area was still subjected to compatibility standards, which could result in lower height limits. “What you’re proposing in the plan is to reduce that to less than 50 . . . and that would also be affected by compatibility standards,” Armstrong said. “In general, what the plan proposes is more restrictive than what is currently allowed.”

Melissa Gonzales, president of the West End Austin Alliance, told commissioners the height limits had been carefully negotiated after extensive discussion. “Downzoning was sort of the issue,” Gonzales said. “It was stuff being taken away and in some ways being more favorable to the neighborhood that raised the outcry among some of the landowners that had spent a lot of money for some very expensive dirt. They wanted to build more things on it. But it seems we got some things people were happy with. It became a pretty good compromise.”

Armstrong moved approval of the zoning changes, with a second by Commissioner Lydia Ortiz. “I know that this plan has been a long time coming and it’s very well thought out. I really can’t find any flaws in it and I support it,” said Armstrong. Ortiz said the neighborhood efforts to promote mixed-use development were also worthy of recognition. “In a very sort of unconventional way, the neighbors are excited about integrating infill options and increased densities in their neighborhood,” she said. “You’ve crafted a vision for your neighborhood that will include those new housing options.” The vote to approve the rezonings was 6-0, with Commissioner David Sullivan abstaining from the discussion and vote because he lives in the neighborhood.

Only seven new drivers would be added under proposed budget

Capital Metro’s first year of zero-based budgeting points to a coming year with no frills, yet no major cuts.

Chief Financial Officer Cynthia Hernandez presented budget assumptions at to the Capital Metro board on Wednesday. Revenues are expected to be $138.9 million, almost all of it coming from Austin’s sales tax and the majority of it going to fixed route services. Operational expenses are projected at $108.5 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

Staffing levels will remain steady, with only 7 additional bus operators to reduce overtime and no additions to the transit agency’s maintenance department. No administrative positions will be added; instead, the agency intends to reallocate some positions to “improve the quality of service,” Hernandez said.

The budget assumptions are based on some conservative estimates: 2 percent growth in sales tax revenue, investment returns and the UT shuttle routes, and relatively flat growth on fixed route service. The agency will see increased revenue from advertising contracts and service to the Austin Independent School District.

A zero-based budget, used for the first time this year, means department managers had to justify each line item in the budget to Hernandez. Long term, the transit agency intends to outsource copy, courier, mail and administrative services, Hernandez told the board members. The agency also will consider self-insurance for health care benefits and workers compensation.

All estimates are subject to change as the agency moves through the budget process. Finalized numbers will be presented to the Capital Metro board at a work session on Aug. 19. Copies of the budget will be available to the public after Aug. 30 and a public hearing is set for Sept. 16. Board approval of the budget is scheduled for Sept. 30.

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

Firefighters vote to boycott Bush . . . Reuters News Service reported yesterday that the International Association of Fire Fighters had voted to boycott an Oct. 6 tribute to firefighters who died last year, including 343 who died on Sept. 11. The union group is angry at President Bush for rejecting a $5.1 billion appropriations bill that included $340 million for equipment and training in the nation’s fire departments, as well as better communications systems and long-term health monitoring, the story said . . . Sixth + Lamar postponed . . . The Board of Adjustment last night postponed consideration of a 12-foot variance in height sought by Schlosser Development at the request of the developer’s attorney, Richard Suttle, who said he was still working on some items suggested by the neighborhood. Consultant Sarah Crocker was also granted a postponement on behalf of the South River City Citizens, who asked for reconsideration of the denial of an administrative appeal regarding the controversial El Taquito taco stand/restaurant. Both cases were rescheduled for September 12 . . . BSEACD to appeal . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District voted to appeal U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks’ decision dismissing the suit filed by the district and the City of Austin against the Longhorn Pipeline. Board President Jim Camp said the district might seek an injunction to stop operation of the pipeline . . . Statewide Democratic candidates gather . . . The State Democratic Party will be honoring Comptroller candidate Marty Akins; David Bernsen, who is running for Land Commissioner; Tom Ramsay, candidate for Agriculture Commissioner; and Sherry Boyles, candidate for Railroad Commissioner from 6 to 8pm today at the Austin Radisson Hotel Congress at Cesar Chavez St. For more information, call the party at 478-9800 . . . Deep Eddy Day party . . . Saturday marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Deep Eddy Bathing Beach and Mayor Gus Garcia has proclaimed Saturday Deep Eddy Day. Friends of Deep Eddy are hosting a party at Deep Eddy Pool from 6pm-10pm, which includes swimming and music. Descartes’ Belief and Poeta will provide the entertainment. In addition to brief speeches by local politicians those attending can watch the Austin Angelfish synchronized swimming team as well as Jenny and Adam fire spinners. The following will restaurants are catering the event: JimJim’s Ice, Magnolia Café, Thundercloud Subs, Mangia Pizza and Sweetish Hill Bakery . Proceeds from donations will benefit the restoration of the historic Deep Eddy bathhouse. For more information, visit www.deepeddy.org . . . August City Council schedule changing . . . Because of the need to approve a budget by the planned adoption date of September 12, Wednesday work sessions will begin at 9:30am next week and the following week. Council meetings will begin at 10am instead of 1:30pm. The time for citizen communications, however, will still be at 1:30pm. Wednesday sessions will continue at One Texas Center and Thursday’s meetings are still at the LCRA. . . . Senior Housing opens . . .Council Member Will Wynn and Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos were on hand for Thursday’s official opening of the new Primrose of Shadow Creek affordable apartment complex in northeast Austin. The complex will accommodate residents at least 55 years old who earn no more than 50 percent of the area's median family income. The Austin Housing Finance Corporation issued bonds to provide tax credits so the developer, Southwest Housing, could keep rents affordable.

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

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