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City Council will be briefed on matter next week

Monday, September 16, 2002 by

CAMPO’s Policy Advisory Committee has endorsed a resolution in support of creating the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, but some representatives of the City of Austin withheld their approval because the City Council has not yet taken a position. Recent changes in state law allow for the creation of Regional Mobility Authorities, which will have the authority to build toll roads. The first project would likely be a toll road option to US 183 in northern Travis and Williamson Counties, known as US 183-A. There are also several other projects that could receive financial support. Commissioners of both counties have already adopted their own resolutions in support of an RMA. Those two counties could hold public hearings on the proposal at the beginning of October, with Texas Transportation Commission’ s approval of the RMA arriving by the end of that month.

“We now have a new tool,” State Representative Mike Krusee told fellow CAMPO PAC board members at their most recent meeting. “It has the potential to bring an unprecedented amount of local control to the development of mobility projects and their operation, and also discretion on how to use the funds.”

Travis County Commissioner Margaret Moore said US 183-A enjoyed widespread support in her precinct, and urged fellow CAMPO members to support the RMA resolution. “The opportunity to partner with another county is unprecedented,” Moore said. “It opens up opportunities previously unavailable in central Texas.”

While Travis and Williamson County Commissioners have taken official votes in support of the RMA, the Austin City Council has not. That caused CAMPO PAC members from Austin to call for a delay in the vote by CAMPO. “The City Council will be hearing a report on the RMA at its September 25th work session,” said Austin Mayor Gus Garcia. “I would like to wait until the Council has had a chance to review it. I’m a little bit uncomfortable without the Council having seen it.” Many of the roads that the RMA could fund would either pass through Austin’s city limits or the city’s ETJ, and could have an impact on the city’s long-term transportation plan.

While the other Austin City Council Members on CAMPO and some members of the Travis County delegation to the Texas Legislature agreed with Garcia, other CAMPO board members pushed for the resolution to be passed sooner rather than later. “We do have a sense of urgency from the standpoint of trying to get our presentation before (the) state,” said Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatright. The State of Texas will support RMA start-ups with up to $10 million in funding. State Rep. Krusee also told fellow CAMPO members that Central Texas is on track to be the first region in the state to meet all the requirements for forming its own RMA. “We’re probably about a year ahead of everybody else in the state,” he said.

The vote to support the creation of an RMA was 12-0-7, with the seven abstentions coming from the four Austin City Council members along with State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, State Rep. Elliott Naishtat and Capital Metro Board Member John Treviño.

The next step for CAMPO and its member government groups will be to go back to the Texas Legislature next year and push for changes to the law authorizing RMAs. The CAMPO resolution calls for giving the RMA the authority to condemn property, issue debt and to enter exclusive development agreements.

Neighbors say restaurant has not been a good neighbor

The Sign Review Board denied a request to raise the road sign for Denny’s Classic Diner at 16th and I-35 last week in a split vote. Melissa Whaley argued on behalf of the restaurant that the existing height limit on the sign placed the diner at a disadvantage because of the topography of the land and placement of exits along the freeway. However, she was unable to convince a majority of the board members that the requested variance was necessary.

“It’s actually at a disadvantage compared to other restaurants located along I-35 that just plain have visibility,” Whaley said. She pointed out that the relatively low level of the sign, combined with the split between the lower and upper decks of I-35, rendered it ineffective. “If you do not see this Denny’s, you’re almost to US Highway 290. Would you turn around and go back?”

Several neighbors spoke against granting the variance, telling board members they had experienced several problems with the restaurant. Mike Tolleson said there was no need for the restaurant to raise the sign. “Anyone who can’t see this Denny’s on I-35 within a mile of there must be blind because they’ve got a neon light going there,” he said. “It looks like a nuclear power plant. This place really stands out.” That neon lighting also drew the ire of several other residents, who complained that the presence of the restaurant disrupted their neighborhood. “We want you to deny the request to raise the sign,” Tolleson said. “We think it would further junk up the area.”

Other residents pointed to the nearby Doubletree Hotel as an example of a good neighbor that happened to have a somewhat higher sign. “There is a hotel across the street that has been absolutely non-obtrusive, with no big lights and no neon” said Jo Ann Schotz. The sign for that hotel is approximately 55 feet high. Whaley had requested for the Denny’s sign to be raised to 65 feet so as to not block the hotel sign.

As a compromise, Board Member Frank Fuentes suggested that the restaurant be allowed to raise its sign to a height comparable to the hotel’s but no higher. “I’ve heard all of the concerns of the neighbors, but they do not speak to the findings of fact,” Fuentes said. He argued that the difficulty in exiting from I-35 to reach the restaurant constituted the necessary hardship. “I would rather have the folks see the business from a safer distance and be able to exit in a safer manner. We’re here to deal with the height, not to deal with the neon or the aesthetic look of the restaurant that’s already there.”

Fuentes’ motion was defeated by a vote of 4-2. Board Chair Herman Thun joined Fuentes in moving to grant the variance.

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

Just the numbers . . . Last week when the City Council was discussing whether to implement Council Member Will Wynn’s proposal to eliminate some Council staff positions, Mayor Gus Garcia’ s office asked for statistics on the number of phone calls received by each Council office between June 1 and Aug. 31. Here’s what was reported: Mayor Gus Garcia: 4627; Council Member Daryl Slusher : 3428; Council Member Raul Alvarez: 3111; Council Member Betty Dunkerley: 2881; Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman: 1750; Council Member Danny Thomas: 2211; Council Member Will Wynn: 1239 . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Board of Directors of Cap Metro will meet at 3pm today for a work session. Items on the agenda include discussion of the agency’s annual operating budget for the coming year. The Electric Utility Commission will meet at 6pm tonight . . . No City Council . . . The Austin City Council is not meeting this week and In Fact Daily is taking Friday off to go fishing . . . Honors for Wimberley . . . The Planning & Zoning Commission of the Village of Wimberley has been awarded the American Planning Association’s Special Recognition Award ( Texas chapter ) for excellence in planning. Four members of the commission and the city’s attorney who assisted them in drawing up ordinances for the new town will travel to El Paso to receive the award on October 4th. The group will also offer tips on small-town planning to attendees . . . Hispanic Bar luncheon today . . . Patricia Diaz Dennis, senior vice president and general counsel for SBC Pacific Bell/SBC Nevada Bell is the keynote speaker for the 6th Annual Hispanic Heritage Luncheon beginning at noon today at the Marriott at the Capitol. Diaz Dennis is a former appointee to the Federal Communications Commission, has served on the National Labor Relations Board and as Assistant Secretary of State for human rights and humanitarian affairs. The luncheon is presented in partnership with the Travis County Bar Association and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The Hispanic Bar Association raises money for its charitable foundation, which in turn awards scholarships to Hispanic law students and undergraduates interested in a legal career. For more information, contact Veronica Rivera at 478-1075.

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

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