Most Popular Stories
Discover News By District
Some neighbors still oppose low income project
The proposed Pleasant Valley Villas squeaked through the Zoning and Platting Commission Tuesday night. While the commission did not actually take any action on a subdivision request or a roadway variance associated with the affordable-housing development in the 2800 block of Pleasant Valley Road, they did hear public comments on the variance. Since no action was taken to deny the subdivision request, it can become effective without further action within 30 days. That would also allow for the extension of Pleasant Valley Road into the development beyond the 2000-foot limit originally set forth by city code—with the expense incurred by the developer, not the city.Several other cases set for Tuesday night’s meeting were postponed because the commission had the bare minimum for a quorum. It takes five votes to approve any action by the commission, and since only five members were present it would have taken a unanimous decision to approve any contested item. However, Commissioner Melissa Whaley would have had to abstain from any vote on the Pleasant Valley item, effectively leaving the commission without the minimum number to actively approve the subdivision. But the developers of the Pleasant Valley Villas were facing a deadline of August 28th based on state funding from the TDHCA. “Even if you did a one-week postponement, they would not be able to meet their schedule,” said planner Susan Villarreal with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department . After hearing from some neighbors of the site who called for a postponement and others who supported the plans, commissioners decided to hear public testimony relating only to the granting of a variance for extending Pleasant Valley Road. The commission had previously granted a variance to prevent access to the development from nearby Benjamin Road, making an extension of Pleasant Valley a necessity for the project to continue. (See I n Fact Daily, May 15, 2002 .) Villarreal told commissioners that the city would probably not pick up the tab to extend the road if the developer was unable to do so. “Probably what would happen is we would lose the funding opportunity from the state and the project would not be built at all,” she said. During the hearing on the variance request, several neighbors again asked for the case to be postponed and were critical of the developer’s efforts to contact the community. But neighbor Robert Edwards defended the actions taken by Craig Alter and Southwest Housing Development . “The communication with the developer is a two-way situation,” he said. “Every time we have called the developer they’ve responded.” Paul Robbins criticized both the process used by the city and the merits of the case. Robbins had spoken previously to the City Council in opposition to the project. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 5th, 2002. ) “I don’t believe that there was a public hearing conducted properly,” Robbins said. “No one at the city ever notified me that there was a hearing on the preliminary subdivision tract . . . which I believe took place in May. I’ve talked to three neighbors, who all say that there was a public hearing . . . and some people who said that they wished to speak . . . but they were preempted from saying their piece. I think you need to hold another hearing.” Robbins, a frequent critic of the city, also expressed concern about a natural gas pipeline in the area. “This line is running down the right of way for Pleasant Valley Road that will serve this development,” Robbins said. He said the cost of relocating the pipeline was undetermined. After discussing their possible alternatives, commissioners chose to take no action on the case. There was no motion to either approve or deny the variance or the associated subdivision request. Without a vote to deny, state law provides that the subdivision request will be automatically approved in 30 days. Pfluger Bridge no safety problem, Futrell says Council members criticized local media during yesterday’s budget session, accusing reporters of failing to do their homework before finding fault with work on the Pfluger Bridge. Media reports have said the pedestrian bridge over Town Lake could have design flaws. Cracks have already appeared in the surface of the bridge. The city continues to take heat in the press, where letters to the editor have criticized the city for poor management of the project. During his budget presentation yesterday, Public Works Director Pete Riec k said the problem was the concrete surface material that covers the bridge structure. Rieck assured Mayor Gus Garcia it was no more serious than that. Rieck said the department was looking at a number of alternative methods for the bridge surface, none with any success yet. “There are absolutely no problems in terms of safety,” Rieck said. “It’s an aesthetic issue.” City Manager Toby Futrell said the department was still trying to determine whether it was a material issue or a workmanship issue in order to determine which warranty to access. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said, “ People ought to do a little research before they presumed to tell somebody as if it was an absolute.” The city separates public works into a number of budget areas: Public Works; Capital Improvement Projects; and Development, Environment & Transportation Services. Public Works provides the construction for other departments such as the Water and Wastewater Department. The Public Works Department will work with an operating budget of $41 million this year. Capital Improvement Projects will make up $11.3 million, or 28 percent, of the budget. Street maintenance has been rolled back slightly to $7.6 million, or 19 percent of the budget. Street repair is $6.6 million, or 16 percent, of the budget. Other categories – bridge maintenance, right-of-way management and concrete repair – are small slices of the pie. No one issue dominated the Council discussion on the issue. Council Member Daryl Slusher expressed concern that the “maintenance-reconstruction mix” be balanced so that the city did not fall behind on street repairs just as it has begun to catch up on street maintenance. Council Member Danny Thomas was concerned about the process on sidewalk repairs. And Council Member Raul Alvarez asked for information about where money was being spent geographically. Rieck also included highlights of major capital improvement projects in the coming year, particularly expenditures from the city’s 1998 bond package. Almost all of the public safety and flood control bonds have been spent from the package. Bonds still remain for transportation, parks and libraries/cultural centers. The city is in the fourth year of a six-year program for the $339.7 million bond package. Rieck reported $19.2 million would be spent on transportation projects this year. A total of 28 miles of streets will be reconstructed, along with improvements to Barton Springs, Dittmar Road, Dorsett Road and Loyola Lane. Barton Springs should be completed by November. Dittmar should be started and completed during the next fiscal year. Dorsett will only be started during the year. The $17.1 million appropriated for parks this year will include the completion of the Caswell Tennis Center and Mabel Davis Playscape. Construction is underway for the A.B.Cantu /Pan Am Recreation Center, Chestnut Park Development and South Soccer Complex. Design is underway for the Colorado River Park, Colony Park Recreation Center and the Gus Garcia Recreation Center. Almost all of the $54.7 million in bonds for public safety have been spent. The West Austin EMS station will be completed and construction continues on the Combined Emergency Center, Central/East Substation and Forensics Center, Del Valle & Harris Ridge Fire/EMS Stations and the Far Southeast EMS Station. This year’s appropriations for new library and cultural center construction are set at $4.6 million. That money will cover the completion of construction on the Ruiz Branch Library, as well as the continued construction on the Carver Museum and Library. Design is set for the Spicewood Springs and Terrazas branch libraries, as well as the Mexican American Cultural Center. The 1998 bond issue set aside $10.8 million for flood, erosion and water quality. Projects completed this year will include the East 11th/12th Street Storm drainage improvements. A total of 38 homes have also been purchased as part of the Onion Creek buyout. Construction on the second phase of the Creek Bend Flood Control project will also begin this year. Rieck also reported 64 percent of the $1.6 billion in capital expenditures since 1999, or $584 million, has gone to firms in the Austin metropolitan area. A total of $607 million will be spent by the city in capital expenditures during the upcoming fiscal year. Investment should save money in the long run A visiting court judge—intended to relieve some of the overcrowding at the county jail—is likely to cost Traivs County at least $650,000 county staff told commissioners yesterday. The court is only one of several measures that are being implemented by the county to cut the number of inmates at the county jail, which is now under scrutiny by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. The daily count—around 2,900—requires the county to ship inmates out of the county because of the jail’s overcrowded conditions. A Jail Overcrowding Task Force is addressing the problem from both the law enforcement and justice system points-of-view. Judges estimate the new court could dispose of an additional 50 cases a year and encourage another 50 to 100 pleas from inmates awaiting trial. For now, the visiting court and an accelerated docket for drug offenses are in a month-long trial run, for consideration as an addition to next year’s budget. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner called for a cost-benefits analysis. But the initial math of $40 per day for 100 inmates for 365 days, Sonleitner said, shows the court would pay for itself. The costs do not include staffing for the District Attorney’s office. Another component of the program, known as the “rocket docket,” would provide accelerated drug prosecution. It will require two attorneys and cost the county another $100,000, according to early estimates. The goal of the program would be to decrease the interval from arrest to court date from 35 days to 14 days. “This investment is a good investment and good justice,” Sonleitner said. “It’s bringing cases before the appropriate people faster.” Sheriff Margo Frasier said 80 percent of the crimes committed in the county are classified as misdemeanor offenses. She identified 326 Class A and B misdemeanor offenders in the jail on Tuesday who would qualify for the program’s target group. These are people who are sentenced to seven days in jail, but who have already spent 20 days there awaiting trial, she said. Other measures, many at the suggestion of County Attorney Ken Oden, include processing misdemeanor cases before people are booked into the jail. Those arrested and identified as eligible would be taken immediately to a magistrate for the disposition of their cases. Oden told the court his goal was to cut the intake at the jail to the point where the county would no longer need to send inmates to jails outside the county. That would be a savings of at least $1.5 million—and Oden didn’t hesitate to press for that money to go to cost-of-living pay raises for his employees. © 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved. Electric bill increase to be small . . . Juan Garza, general manager of Austin Energy, told the City Council Wednesday that the utility needs to collect about fifty cents more on the average electric bill to help defray the additional cost of deregulation. However, consumers will not see a rate increase next year. Garza said that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) previously charged Austin Energy about $50,000 per year. The new ERCOT fee is expected to be about $2.3 million for administrative costs and another $3 million for transmission congestion charges. Council Member Danny Thomas said he thought the charge was too high. He told In Fact Daily that he would be amenable to a charge of twenty-five to thirty cents per month. The Council will conduct public hearings on rate changes for the Water and Wastewater utility, as well as Austin Energy, at 6:00 p.m. at night . . . New appointee probable . . . Rhonda Pratt, a member of the Parks & Recreation Board, has applied for appointment to the Planning Commission and is likely to be appointed today . . . Parking on the grass? . . . The proposed ordinance to prevent Bubba from parking on the lawn may not move forward today. Some amendments have been proposed but it is not clear that those would be acceptable to a majority of the Council, which has approved the ordinance on two readings . . . Cisneros to speak . . . Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros will address the Real Estate Council of Austin on providing housing in today’s market at its September 4 meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel . Cisneros is chairman of American City Vista. RECA will accept reservations through next Thursday at 684-5793. © 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.
Join Your Friends and Neighbors
We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?