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Fire chief reports draft pipeline

Friday, September 27, 2002 by

Ordinance coming next week

Council grudgingly approves

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Austin citizens will get a chance to review the city’s proposed pipeline safety ordinance next month at a series of public meetings. The ordinance, first proposed during the city’s negotiations with Stratus Properties (see In Fact Daily, Aug. 9, 2002 ) would regulate new development near an underground pipeline carrying hazardous materials.

The draft of the ordinance should be available by the first public meeting on October 14. “We would like to bring the components and analysis that we have to date through a stakeholder process, and then to come back to Council with an ordinance for your review and approval,” Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon told the City Council yesterday. The proposed timetable calls for an ordinance to be presented to the Council before the end of the year. Details of the proposal should be available through the city’s web site beginning next week.

Austin Fire Chief Gary Warren explained that the proposed ordinance would require certain safety features for buildings within two hundred feet of a pipeline carrying hazardous materials, such as gasoline. “For existing structures within the two hundred feet that are already built and being used now, there would be no retrofit required,” Warren said. He said the proposal would include a variance process “for those different situations that need to be considered.” The proposed ordinance also contains a provision requiring pipeline operators to have sufficient insurance to cover accidents.

Copies of the proposed ordinance will be mailed out to the various stakeholder groups, boards and commissions, after which the city will hold a series of public meetings. The meetings will be held at LBJ High School on October 14, Johnston High School on October 21, Langford Elementary on October 28 and Bowie High School on November 4.

The Council also renewed an agreement with Travis County to provide funding for a special prosecutor to help police with organized crime cases, but not without some jabs at the county for failing to fund the position itself. The Assistant District Attorney has been working with police officers to prepare cases against major narcotics violators and career criminals, and has assisted in legal efforts to rid the community of buildings and businesses seen as public nuisances because of repeated criminal activity.

“This position is extremely critical,” Assistant Police Chief Rudy Landeros told the Council. Landeros cited his own experience in working with the prosecutor while trying to shut down an apartment complex that had been the site of several homicides. “Once we were able to get this attorney to assist us, we were able to close it within thirty days.”

Council members were quite vocal in their support for law enforcement, but questioned the necessity of the $88,500 coming out of the city’s budget instead of the county’s. “It seems to me this is a staffing issue for the District Attorney,” said Council Member Will Wynn. “I have a problem with city taxpayers paying for what seems to be a county prosecuting attorney position that should be funded through the county.” Wynn and other Council members have been upset with the county for failing to match the $500,000 the city recently agreed to pay for health and human services.

Landeros explained that the position had been initiated by APD using money seized in criminal cases. “The caseload of these attorneys was extremely high, and we needed someone that could specifically focus their time and attention to these problems we were having with these properties that needed to be abated,” he said.

Chief of Staff Michael McDonald recounted some of the history behind the agreement. “The District Attorney’s position is that they prosecute the cases,” he said. “What’s really important for us to be successful in abating the properties is the case preparation. We felt we needed additional assistance with that. It was the county’s position that it was not their role.”

The Council voted 7-0 to continue the agreement, which allows APD to fund the Assistant DA out of its budget. But several Council members made it a point to go on record about which agency should be funding the position. “I think everybody sees my issue here,” said Wynn. “It’s a county responsibility.” Mayor Gus Garcia, while agreeing with Wynn, pointed to the history of co-operation between the two governing bodies. “We have those kinds of co-operative agreements where we don’t quite know where the responsibility of one entity stops and the other starts. We want to make sure that the county understands that we are also doing our part. We’re all trying to make the city a safer city.”

All three cases could be appealed to City Council

The battle between the Hyde Park Baptist Church and the neighborhood surrounding it never ends—it just moves to another venue. The latest skirmish was fought before the Planning Commission at a meeting that ended at 1:40am Thursday. Members of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association challenged the city staff’s granting of an extension of time for the church to gain approval on three site plans filed on Dec. 12, 2001—one day before the City Council approved on first reading the zoning associated with the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan. Although the only question before the commission was whether the director of Watershed Protection and Development Review acted properly when he granted the appeal, a multitude of other issues were discussed. Two of the tracts are on Speedway and the third is on 39th Street.

The commission agreed with the neighborhood on two of the three cases, nearly guaranteeing that all three will now move to the City Council. Litigation is still pending and the church is also likely to ask for assistance from the Texas Legislature, as it did two years ago.

Neighbors argued that the church failed to show sufficient diligence on questions regarding the site plans, leading to the need for an extension of the 180-day time period statutorily given for resolving such issues. In one case, commissioners learned that there is a historic structure on the tract, so demolition cannot proceed without approval of the Historic Landmark Commission. That case was the easiest one for the commission to decide because the church did not take action to bring the matter before the Historic Landmark Commission until after the original time period had expired. Richard Suttle, attorney for the church, argued that there is no regulation requiring his client to seek that approval at a particular time, and that the site plan could be approved without filing of a demolition permit. But Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin said other regulations imply the requirement. The Historic Landmark Commission is scheduled to hear the case in a special meeting on Oct. 14, Stocklin said.

Suttle argued that the church was working diligently with city staff to clear up all comments before the deadline. He said the church’s decision to cooperate with the city led him to request the extensions. Otherwise, he said, the church could have appealed the staff’s failure to approve the site plans when the 180-day deadline arrived. Hyde Park Baptist should not be punished for cooperating with staff, he said, but that would be the result if the commission granted the appeals. Suttle also argued, unsuccessfully, that the neighborhood lacked standing because of its failure to register as an “interested party” in the site plan matters. However, staff produced documentation showing that neighborhood leaders had registered—even though the church may not have received a timely notification of the registration.

Karen McGraw, leader of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Planning Team, said the Land Development Code requires “good cause” for extension of the site plan. “If the plans don’t meet the current adopted code, what is the city’s interest here?” The Neighborhood Plan was adopted in April of 2000 and the associated zoning went to the Council on December 13, 2001. The site plans were filed only one day before the City Council gave preliminary approval to zoning associated with the Neighborhood Plan, “ I think these plans were filed with the clear intent to circumvent the Neighborhood Plan,” said McGraw.

Case manager Tom Bolt told commissioners that requests for site plan extensions are commonplace. “Almost regularly we’ll grant some extensions to those who request (them) when we feel that we are in a forward movement toward resolution. There are times that we feel that the gap is so great that we don’t.” In these cases, Bolt said he felt that there had been sufficient progress to justify granting the extensions. He said he thought 45 days would be sufficient to work out problems and release the site plan. Bolt also explained that staff mistakes caused some of the delays.

Commissioner Maggie Armstrong persuaded a majority of her colleagues to uphold the neighborhood’s appeal on the final tract, which would be a multi-level parking garage. She said the City Council must decide a basic policy question about neighborhood plans. “Are extensions going to be based on extenuating circumstances . . . or are they just going to be routine? This is a very important issue for a neighborhood plan . . . Are those plans going to be enacted at a six-month deadline if there’s a site plan put in at the last minute? . . . Or is the six-month deadline, just by routine, going to drift into a seven-month, eight-month or nine-month extension? Because in this neighborhood, three major tracts are not going to be—if this appeal is not granted ultimately—in a relatively small neighborhood the Neighborhood Plan is not going to be as approved to be. And that’s a huge issue.”

Commissioner Chris Riley, who voted with the church on one case, but in favor of the appellant neighborhood in the other two, said, “The one thing that really bothers me the most is I just can’t square this plan with the whole vision of the neighborhood that’s set out in the neighborhood plan—whether it’s from 1990 or any other time—this building just doesn’t belong there. I would think that the church as a member of that community could see that.” Riley said the parking garage, sitting across the street from another such structure could “kill a neighborhood. Having lived downtown, what you can do to a neighborhood with garages . . . I just can’t stomach it. I cannot see good cause for extending the time on this plan because this plan should never have been accepted in the first place.” One of the tracts, he said, was not significantly different from the neighborhood plan, but the other two are just too different to receive an extension of time.

Commissioner Niyanta Spelman, who lives in Hyde Park, did not take part in the deliberations, and Commissioner Cynthia Medlin left the meeting early. Commissioner Matthew Moore voted against the granting of all three appeals. Commission Chair Lydia Ortiz and Commissioner Armstrong voted in favor of all three. The vote was 5-2 in each case.

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

Congressman to hold town hall event . . . Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who has taken a leading role in opposing President Bush’s plan to invade Iraq, is holding a town hall meeting to discuss the matter at 8:45am Saturday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover. The Gray Panthers are sponsoring the meeting . . . Appointments . . . The City Council appointed Janis Pinnelli, an active member of the West Austin Neighborhood Group, as a consensus member of Zoning and Platting Commission. Perry Lorenz was reappointed to the Design Commission, as was Girard Kinney; and Lorenz was reappointed as the Design Commission’s representative on the Downtown Commission. Planning Commissioner Chris Riley and Craig Nasso, representing downtown residents, were also reappointed to the Downtown Commission. Council Member Betty Dunkerley appointed Rodney Madden and Mayor Gus Garcia appointed Sharon Hernandez-Dorow to the Water & Wastewater Commission. Alex Zwarun was appointed by consensus to the Solid Waste Advisory Commission. The Council also reappointed Jo Ann Merica and Hector Ortiz to the Ethics Commission. Council Member Will Wynn appointed Steven Pomikahl to the Electrical Board and Dunkerley appointed Suzie Harriman to the Arts Commission. Harriman was at one time secretary for then-Council Member Beverly Griffith. Mayor Garcia reappointed Kathleen Harman to the same group . . . Hazelwood to step down . . . Mark Hazelwood, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, announced yesterday he would leave the Chamber at the end of the year. The Chamber executive committee has named Rick Burciaga of Wells Fargo Bank to lead the selection committee for Hazelwood’s successor. Hazelwood said he has not made a decision about his plans after exiting the Chamber . . . Cumberbatch to speak Sunday . . . Ashton Cumberbatch, executive director of the Austin Council for Community Reconciliation (CCR), is scheduled to speak at the Public Affairs Forum to be held in Howson Hall at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin at 11:30am on Sunday. The CCR seeks to reduce prejudice and racism in Central Texas through training and various collaborative efforts.

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

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