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Bulk of money to be used for maintenance, reconstruction

Thursday, September 5, 2002 by

A Capital Metro committee reviewed almost $30 million in road projects for Austin and surrounding communities yesterday. Those projects will be on the table for approval by the full board on Sept. 30.

Capital Metro will rebate $29 million in tax dollars back to Austin this year. The City Council has provided Capital Metro with a list that includes improvements to roadways, sidewalks and intersections. The city wants the biggest chunk of the money—$4.5 million—for general maintenance and reconstruction of roads.

Other projects that total more than $2 million include the roadway improvements to Pleasant Valley from St. Elmo to Button Bend, for a total of $3.52 million, and improvements to Anderson Mill Road in Williamson County at $2.7 million. A total of $3 million will be devoted to the Seaholm Plan implementation. This includes $2 million for the Pfluger Bridge extension and $1 million for Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way to provide parking for the visitors to the former power plant.

Close to $3 million will also be set aside for downtown mobility projects, including. the reconstruction of 2nd and 3rd Streets, as well as the Town Lake Park bus turnaround.

The Finance/Planning Committee listened to a review of the projects yesterday. They also heard a report on the more modest $885,000 which will be provided to Capital Metro member cities under the Build Greater Austin (BGA) program. In July, the Capital Metro board agreed to fund next year’s projects at this year’s funding levels and to extend the 10-year program another year.

That will bring the level of Capital Metro’s BGA contributions from $10.1 million to $12 million, said Project Manager King Kaul. Capital Metro also will be handing back a quarter-cent in sales tax to member cities, money that was set aside for light rail until the failure of last year’s referendum.

All the projects on the BGA list are intended to increase mobility in the name of mass transit. Projects range from walking trails and sidewalks that lead to bus stops to resurfacing and improvements on streets along Capital Metro bus routes.

Some jurisdictions have pooled multiple years of tax rebates to pay for larger projects. Travis County Precinct 2 will use three years of funding to pay for Grand Avenue Parkway Bridge at Gleeland Creek, Kaul said. The total price tag on the project is $1.5 million, of which Capital Metro will provide $1.2 million. This year’s total for Travis County is proposed to be $414,595.

San Leanna has pooled three years of funding to pay for roadway and drainage improvements on Hunting Creek Lane between Chapel Lane and Ridge Drive. San Leanna received a modest allotment of $32,867 this year.

Williamson County Precinct 2 will use this year’s funding—$118,893—to pay for the resurfacing of 18 streets in the area. Manor will also use funds this year to resurface 8 local streets, at a total cost of $39,182.

The funding formula gives each jurisdiction $30,000 in basic funding, and additional funding is figured based on a multiplier for population. Half the funds will be released to each city or county within 45 days of the Capital Metro vote on Sept. 30. The remainder will be provided at the end of each project after Capital Metro has inspected the projects and decided each meets the required specifications.

Atmosphere markely different from earlier meeting

The Zoning and Platting Commission has rejected a recommendation from the Environmental Board, voting unanimously to grant Lake Austin landowner Mike McCarthy a variance that will allow him to keep his boat ramp.

On August 12, In Fact Daily reported that the Environmental Board had agreed with city staff that the boat ramp at the McCarthy residence, 12021 Selma Hughes Park Rd., should be blocked, since the Land Development Code prohibits such construction. ( See In Fact Daily, Aug. 12, 2002.) But the Environmental Board has only the power to recommend, while the ZAP makes the decisions regarding variances.

Marisol Claudio-Ehalt, code enforcement manager in the Watershed Protection & Development Review Department, explained that the original site plan—which included the ramp—was denied, and the project red-tagged, in April 1999. In July of that year, inspectors found the boat ramp already completed. The following April, a site plan was approved that showed a boat dock on top of the illegal ramp, rendering it useless as a ramp and bringing the property back into compliance with code. In August 2001, the site was red-tagged with another stop-work order for a violation of shoreline modification. Complaints about the ramp followed in December, she said.

But consultant Sarah Crocker argued, “You can get a permit for a rock patio or a sun deck. Beaches seem to be the new thing. . . . What is more necessary access to this lake than a boat ramp? If a boat dock, etc., is permitted, why not a boat ramp?” The ramp should be considered a necessary access or appurtenance, contrary to staff’s interpretation of the regulation, Crocker said.

McCarthy also had recruited neighbors to vouch for him at the ZAP hearing. Harry Stanley said McCarthy had “done very well with the property . . . preventing a lot of erosion that was occurring in that area . . . . He’s a good man. He’s a good neighbor. I don’t like to see good neighbors hurt in this manner.” Stanley said the boat ramp prevented erosion, which he described as “a big problem” along that portion of the Lake Austin shoreline. “Any time the lake is dropped and there’s a heavy rain, there is a lot of erosion in that area,” he said but indicated there was none at McCarthy’s house.

Tommy Kennelly said McCarthy had “done a whole lot to improve the looks of the shoreline. . . . That’s just one more boat that isn’t going to get in line when I want to get my boat into the water” at the public ramp. “He has made it so beautiful that everybody who comes to my house wants to go look at his house . . . it’s a real improvement. . . . I think he should be given the variance.”

During the Environmental Board hearing, staff showed photos of McCarthy’s large home, and board members expressed disapproval of his failure to yield to city regulations. The atmosphere at last week’s hearing, in contrast, was friendly to the property owner and ended with a 6-0 vote in favor of granting the variance.

The variance has been granted, but other questions about the ramp will now be considered by the Parks & Recreation Board.

One project to begin this fall; the other next spring

Henry Cisneros’ speech before the Real Estate Council of Austin yesterday coincided with the announcement of two new housing projects in Austin to be built by Cisneros’ American Vista.

The two projects, aimed at the affordable housing market, total almost 500 homes. The 136 homes in Los Jardines will be located off Interstate 35 near William Cannon. American Vista will break ground on Los Jardines this fall, with plans to finish the lots in February.

The second project, Viewpoint, promises 326 homes on Nuckols Crossing Road. That project should be underway by spring and is due to be completed by June 2003. The price range on houses in both projects will be $110,000 to $140,000. The median price of an Austin home in the current market is $164,000.

American Vista’s vision is to build affordable housing, close in, for families who dream of becoming homeowners, Cisneros told RECA members at a luncheon at the Four Seasons yesterday. Well-designed homes with amenities in a safe setting can be affordable, Cisneros said.

Cisneros told realtors he had rejected a third site in Austin—the location of a former manufacturing plant off Martin Luther King Drive in East Austin. The site, he said, had “only mild environmental problems.” But while “the location was a dream,” the land was priced so high that “no one who lived in the neighborhood could afford to live there,” after new housing was in place, Cisneros said. That stopped the deal, and Cisneros pointed out that sometimes affordable housing cannot come into being without the help of the public sector.

Cisneros’ speech to RECA sometimes sounded more like a college lecture from a former urban planner on the continuum of housing options—illustrated with a Power Point presentation—than a speech on his new projects in Austin. He outlined the issues that hinder affordability in the housing market, such as the high cost of land and the passive role of financial institutions. Government has a job to set policies and fees that encourage home ownership and especially the ownership of affordable housing, Cisneros said.

The trend is to tear down the traditional “housing projects” in favor of less dense, mixed-use development aimed at a cross-section of incomes, Cisneros said. That’s not always easy. Developers must resist the temptation of gentrification as older neighborhoods are torn down in favor of new development, Cisneros said. Even as urban areas are being redeveloped in the inner city, “people middle class and below keep falling off the edge of the table.”

The former Housing and Urban Development secretary said infill development has shifted from small builders with 10 or 15 lots to larger-scale development of bigger tracts. The emerging trend is to redevelop larger tracts that were formerly military installations or brownfields. Cisneros cited the former Mueller Airport as one example. The concept of a project that integrates research, university and retail site with plenty of housing and a town center “is an example of what in-fill can be if we are imaginative about how we do these things,” Cisneros said.

Cisneros did point to some positive indicators in the housing market. Home ownership is the highest it has ever been, at 68 percent of the US population; however, the concentration of Hispanics and African-Americans owning homes lags substantially behind that of whites.

Cisneros told the group he supported the concept of “home ownership zones” in the same sense the federal government has created empowerment zones. The goal would be to set home ownership as a goal for a designated area and to enable this scenario through public policies such as cleaning up brownfields, creating land banks, rehabilitating properties and making a commitment to rebuild infrastructure.

The traditional model of urban renewal was to use a retail district or a commercial strip center as a quick fix to revitalize a neighborhood, Cisneros said. A better concept – being used in Detroit and Cleveland – is to use new housing as the catalyst for redevelopment. The concept is slower, but it provides a durable and more stable growth pattern, Cisneros said.

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

Bentzin-Barrientos spat over radio ad continues . . . Senator Gonzalo Barrientos' campaign continued to scold thecampaign yesterday for failing to pull a radio commercial that seemed to imply that the Travis County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) was endorsing the challenger. Bentzin told In Fact Daily Tuesday that the ad was no longer running, but the ad ran again Wednesday. Brooke Gallagher, sales manager for KLBJ-AM, sent a brief letter yesterday saying that there had been “a miscommunication regarding the advertising . . . . We regret that any spots erroneously ran today, Wednesday, 9/4/02.” Gallagher said no spots were scheduled for the remainder of the month . . . Ahoj, Bill . . . That’s both hello and goodbye in Czech, and it was the theme of Bill Bunch’ s bon voyage party last night. The executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance was happy to pick up some volunteers to do last minute packing after the party and promised to return to Austin next August. In the meantime, he will be working part-time for the organization via Internet from Prague. . . Blood shortage . . . The Blood and Tissue Center of Austin is making an urgent appeal for donors. According to a press release from the center, there is only a one-day supply of blood on hand. The center will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 206-1266 or check the web site at . . . Downtown design guidelines hearing . . . Planner Katie Larsen, who is in charge of shepherding the proposed City Code amendments through the hearing process, said yesterday that the final meeting on the matter will be at noon next Tuesday, not at 7:30 a.m., as previously reported. We regret the error . . . Budget meetings . . . City Council aides and their bosses continue to work on various aspects of the shrunken city budget today, with particular attention going to funding for cultural arts projects . . . No City Council meeting today . . . The task force looking at gentrification in East Austin will meet tonight. Chief Appraiser Art Corey will try to explain his job and the impact that historic zoning may have on property values.

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

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