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Council to consider statement

Thursday, October 3, 2002 by

On conditions for support of RMA

City wants transportation plan, ordinances followed

As Travis County moves toward appointing members of the proposed Regional Mobility Authority (RMA), Mayor Gus Garcia and the Austin City Council are preparing a resolution to show just how strongly they feel about the new organization complying with the city’s environmental ordinances and transportation plans.

A draft copy of the resolution says the City Council endorses Travis and Williamson County’s application for the RMA, subject to four conditions:

• That the governing documents include provisions that all decisions to build or fund transportation-related facilities in Austin’s city limits or its ETJ must be approved by the Austin City Council and comply with the 2025 Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan (AMATP).

• That all roads built by the RMA in Austin’s City limits and ETJ shall comply with all city ordinances and other regulations, particularly the Save Our Springs and other water quality ordinances.

• That RMA members request that the state RMA legislation be amended to allow an RMA to directly participate in the development of regional commuter rail.

• That the RMA be a partner in all air quality initiatives, including the ‘O3 Flex Plan, which has been adopted, and the Early Action Compact, which is expected to be approved by December 31, 2002.

Paul Saldaña, Garcia’s chief assistant, said Wednesday he expects the Council to approve the resolution without dissent today. Once the resolution is approved, he said, the Mayor would send copies to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) and Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock). If the counties and the city cannot reach an agreement, Saldaña said he believes “The city would strongly consider not endorsing the application . . . I think the City Council was pretty explicit last week that these are of major concern to us.” Saldaña said the Council is especially concerned about construction of roads over the aquifer and with compliance with the AMATP, which differs from the CAMPO plan.

Colin Clark, communications director for the Save Our Springs Alliance, told In Fact Daily the organization is happy that the City Council is taking a stand. “Our concern is that a regional mobility authority will be used to finance and construct a highway that would connect South MoPac to I-35 and that roadway is not in the AMAT plan. The city’s resolution addresses this by stating that any decision by the RMA must comply with the plan. Obviously, we wouldn’t want there to be any additional road building in the Barton Springs watershed, but we are pleased with the city’s resolution that all roads built by the RMA must comply with the SOS Ordinance.”

City needs full-service arts agency, consultant reports

A plan to revamp the city’s arts funding can’t come too soon as storm clouds hang over the process and downtown boosters voice concern over how the city uses its bed tax funds.

The City Council hired Dabney & Associates in August to review what has become a heated and often contentious process to fund city art programs. The consultants will evaluate the current process for managing and awarding arts funding, identify best practices from other cities and recommend alternative strategies for Austin.

But even as Dabney & Associates works to complete its $45,000 study—expected to be completed by mid-November—others are questioning how the city’s bed tax is apportioned. Austin’s hotel-motel tax, by state law, is intended to promote tourism. Local hotel operators continue to express discontent that too much of the money is going to projects that fail to do that. The problem is especially acute in a year during which the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau faced a million-dollar shortfall.

“I have heard many times over the years that too many non-profit groups receive money,” said Charlie Betts, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance. “We have a huge investment in the Convention Center and a Convention Center Hotel, so the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau should be getting more money.”

The Austin Hotel-Motel Association did not return a call asking whether the group intends to formally challenge the allotment of the city’s bed tax. But the consultants’ first presentation suggested that the city might want to spin off arts support and funding into its own city department or non-profit council. A non-profit council, like one created in Houston, would provide both artistic funding and practical training on running a successful business.

Austin is the only major city in the state not to have an arts council or arts department with the city, consultant Eduardo Diaz told the Council at yesterday’s work session. The program, structured almost two decades ago, continues to be managed by three employees in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Director Jesus Olivares admits that the limited staffing means employees can do little more than handle applications and make sure that local arts organizations funded by the city are in compliance with their grants.

Diaz said he had no doubt the city needs a full-service local arts agency that can meld the goals of a mature arts community: teaching emerging artists about the business side of the arts; integrating arts into local education; and seeking outside grants from corporations and foundation for additional growth.

The consultants from Dabney & Associates— Luci Dabney, Diaz and Marion McCollam—joined 70 local artists and community members at a daylong meeting last Saturday. They also met one-on-one with Council members to analyze the current situation in Austin.

Diaz presented the earliest observations of that analysis. He said the city, so many years after its arts funding was codified, lacks clarity in its vision for the arts. A disconnection exists between the city’s vision for the arts and its goals and activities to get there.

Timely communication is lacking in the community, Diaz told Council members. Clearly, the motel-hotel tax was in a downturn for months, but no one warned the art community that funding would be cut for the coming year before the funding period was actually upon them. Communication is weak on all levels, Diaz said.

Diaz observed that the city could be using “a new structure” to support the arts, either by a council or department, and that it should provide full services to local art groups. He also listed equity among arts organizations and clear ties between art and economic development as goals for the city. Strengthening the arts community, taken in the aggregate, can help the City of Austin grow its economy, Diaz said.

The consultants won wide praise from Council members. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said the study would provide a solid foundation for future decisions. She said the consultants’ observations would dovetail well with some of the ideas being considered by the Council.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley said she supported efforts by the city to help arts groups “become more self-sufficient,” even if it meant adding a grants person to the city’s payroll. She also suggested helping arts groups join together in umbrella organizations to seek more funding or to provide city facilities for arts fundraising efforts.

Council Member Will Wynn’s concern was that a new mechanism be in place before the next round of arts funding occurs. Applications are already going out for next year’s funding. Dabney said the team was sensitive to time constraints and intended to provide direction on specific methods sooner than its mid-November deadline.

Goodman explains strange zoning patterns

The City Council last week agreed with Koenig Lane neighbors and city staff, rejecting a zoning change that would have allowed a pet counselor to operate on their street. Although the vote did not generate the public interest and rhetoric of many other zoning cases, it reflects the Council’s attempt to protect neighborhoods suffering from decisions made decades ago when Austin was still a small town.

Charles Demel, representing the applicant, explained that the pet counselor would frequently leave the property to visit clients, and occasionally see pets in the office, which is currently a single-family home. However, he said there would be no training or boarding of animals on the premises. To be used for pet services, the property should be zoned LR (neighborhood commercial), but the city staff had recommended NO (neighborhood office).

Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, said the planned use was categorized as a pet obedience school—there is no separate designation for pet counseling—and is not compatible with the Neighborhood Plan. The Zoning and Platting Commission agreed with the staff, recommending NO zoning.

Alan Baldree, Demel’s associate, argued that Koenig Lane is “like the artery from 6th Street to MoPac. The street itself dictates that it goes to a more commercial use.”

Neighbors strongly disagreed. Koenig neighborhood resident Don Burwell said that he and his neighbors overwhelmingly supported NO zoning, not LR. He also complained, “There is a business running out of there now. They moved in two days after the Zoning and Platting Commission denied the zoning.” Burwell said he had filed a complaint with the city’s code enforcement division on August 12, and the business received a citation 10 days later. At some point, Burwell said, the pet counselor was in his backyard with “at least six dogs and 10 people.”

Christina Mannix, whose husband is the pet expert, urged the Council to consider the commercial zoning already on the map. She also said they were doing a service to the neighborhood, hauling away “two dump trucks of trash. My husband, Lee Mannix, speaks all over the world about dog behavior.” She said he offers “a good service for the community.”

Brentwood Neighborhood Association president Richard Brock told the Council, “I want to commend the Zoning and Platting Commission and staff for making an attempt to use the Koenig Lane guidelines . . . the neighborhood is surviving because of that delicate balance of what does or doesn’t happen on Koenig Lane. The quality of life in that area is as important as someone’s desire to make more money with more invasive zoning.” Finally, he said he was disappointed that people should view as inevitable the loss of Koenig Lane homes. As the city grows and changes, “A place in the central city for a person to live becomes more and more important,” Brock said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman told her colleagues, it might be difficult to understand the area’s zoning situation by simply looking at the map. “For those who were not around when the Koenig Study was initiated . . . The map may not tell you when the zoning occurred . . . The rezonings that you see on the property that have CS and LR . . . the CS was 1947. The other was 1959. And then over time . . . the rezonings that are LO all occurred in the mid 80’s right after the study was conducted. So, before the study was initiated and adopted by Council, yes, the rezonings were occurring without a lot of guidance.” She said the commercial and retail zonings were done before the study, which was approved in 1981, because before that time “there was a lack of guidance and vision for the area.”

Council Member Will Wynn made the motion to follow the staff recommendation and grant NO zoning. Goodman provided the second and the motion passed 7-0.

Friday .

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

Funds for water reclamation move forward . . . The city got some good news from Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s office yesterday. A few months back, Mayor Gus Garcia told the US House of Representatives that Austin needs money to enlarge its water reclamation project. The legislation that would grant the city $250,000 for master planning new uses for reclaimed water was approved by the House and is moving to the Senate. On Wednesday, Doggett recognized the Mayor’s contribution in his speech to the representatives prior to passage of the bill. Andy Covar, assistant director of the Water and Wastewater Department, said the department currently reclaims between five and ten million gallons per day. On an average day the city processes about a hundred million gallons of wastewater. Covar said he is hopeful that some reclaimed water can be diverted to the most demanding industries, such as chip makers . . . Less money for parades . . . The City Council is expected to approve a resolution today that would limit the amount of money going into fee waivers for various events throughout the city. Council Member Will Wynn is sponsoring the item, but said the entire Council has reached the conclusion that too much money is being spent on such waivers. His assistant, Josh Allen, said fee waivers cost the city about $200,000 last year. However, it is impossible to tell how much was spent on parades as opposed to other types of fee waivers sponsored by the City Council. That amount does not include staff-initiated fee waivers for Smart Growth. Wynn said the Council needs “a way to box ourselves in,” to prevent overspending. “First and foremost, it allows our budget office to have some predictability in what we’re looking at each year. We will no longer be providing out of pocket expenses,” such as police assistance, barricades and permits. There are five events that the Council will automatically continue to fund, including the Dies y Seis and Juneteeth celebrations. Each Council office will also have $6,000 to allow other organizations to be excused from city fees . . . Work session addition . . . Mayor Gus Garcia has added, once more, a 15-minute comment period from boards and commissions at the top of the Council’s work session. Any board or commission can use the time to address the Council on relevant issues . . . Planning Commission news . . . The Planning Commission’ s committee on the comprehensive plan has chosen Commissioner Dave Sullivan to chair the group . . . Water Conference announced . . . The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club will host “Water for People & the Environment” at Southwest Texas State University on Saturday, October 12. Those who wish to attend should register by October 8. For more information, call Jennifer Walker at 477-1729.

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

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