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Final vestiges of 1869 US Army HQ to make way for new use

Friday, November 8, 2002 by

In spite of pleas from the historic preservation community, only two members of the Austin City Council—Will Wynn and Jackie Goodman—voted in favor of historic zoning for the MexicArte Museum’ s home at 419 Congress. Wynn told his colleagues, “This is why I wanted to be on the City Council. I’m a big fan of MexicArte’s.” Wynn, a downtown developer, said he watched downtown start to grow in the late 1990s and saw “the writing on the wall for MexicArte. They had a month-to-month lease. There was going to be tremendous pressure,” on the owner to sell the property for redevelopment, “and I wanted to do something about it.”

Wynn said his goal in forming Block 42 Partners Ltd., which purchased the entire block and later sold it to Cousins Properties, was to help MexicArte and to preserve what remains of the 1869 building called the Raymond House. “I was the General Partner. My partners and I had to buy the entire block at significant cost,” Wynn said, because it was “the only way I could . . . save MexicArte and their tenancy.” He said his goal was not only to save the museum, but also to save a historic building that would fit in with the two historic buildings across 5th Street from the property. “I need to stick with that original concept and I will move approval of the historic zoning.”

Goodman seconded the motion, saying she understood that the museum would have to spend more money in order to preserve even the façade of the structure. However, she said when she voted to grant the museum $740,000 in city funds, she did so with the understanding that the building would be saved as a historic structure. “I think I have to stand by what I told people I was supporting in the beginning,” she concluded.

City Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin explained the position of both the Historic Landmark Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission—that the façade be saved and incorporated into the new building. “The issue of historic zoning was specifically discussed when MexicArte got the land,” she said, and even though the agreement between the city and the museum does not specifically say the building would be zoned historic, that was the city’s understanding, she said. Stocklin said the building was one of 28 buildings recognized as being historically significant in the Congress Avenue Historic District. Stocklin said the building was erected for the US Army after the Civil War. It was subsequently used as a hotel, dry cleaners and saddlery.

MexicArte did not want historic zoning, according to a number of speakers, because preserving the fragile shell of the building would add as much as $2 million to the cost of renovation and expansion. MexicArte has an agreement with Mexico’s National Council on Arts and Culture to display major exhibitions of Mexican art work. To do so, the museum must build a much larger structure than previously envisioned.

Architect John Nyfeler, a museum supporter, said, “The building at 419 Congress is not the Raymond House. The Raymond House is gone and no more than 10-15 percent is still there. This is not a historic building. It does not meet the criteria of the Texas Historical Commission.”

Historic preservation architect Wayne Bell countered, “MexicArte is saying the building is not historic because it does not fit their needs.”

Lulu Flores, vice president for public affairs for the museum, told the Council that the new agreement with Mexico had spurred a capital campaign to raise the additional funds needed. The museum would not want to seek another location, she said, because, “We believe this prime location has been a major factor in our success.”

Council Member Betty Dunkerley abstained from the vote, saying she worked on the matter as a staff member and could see both sides of the argument. Council Members Raul Alvarez, Daryl Slusher, Danny Thomas and Mayor Gus Garcia voted against the historic designation. Slusher drew the only applause from the audience when he said, “I think the use this building is going to be put to now will be history-making in itself.”

By Bob Ochoa

Hays County native Patrick Rose, the Democratic winner in the close race for State Representative District 45, which includes the sensitive Barton Springs recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer and currently is a battleground between resident environmentalists and development interests, pledged Thursday to work to find common ground between the two sides.

“We need somebody who is in the middle,” Rose said. “My office will be a conduit for the dialogue and solutions.”

Granting additional ordinance-making authority to fast-growing counties, such as Hays, will again be a high profile issue in the next legislative session, Rose added. “I intend to work with county commissioners here and other likeminded folks who want to see our quality of life protected.”

Rose, only 24, and fresh out of Princeton University where he graduated with honors from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, may have to prove his mettle on mediating quality of life issues sooner than he expected.

The city of Dripping Springs, his hometown, was sued last week by a North Hays County homeowners association known as the Friendship Alliance, claiming the city illegally entered into development agreements with two large subdivision developers inside the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The two developments, commonly referred to as Rutherford Ranch and Foster Ranch, comprise about 4,300 acres and lie within the Barton Springs recharge zone. At final build out, the two subdivisions reportedly would become the home to 15,000 new residents.

Austin attorney Mike Marcin, who is representing the Alliance and resides in north Hays County, said Dripping Springs city officials “essentially abdicated their oversight authority to the developers.”

After the city files its response to the lawsuit in Hays County district court later this month or next, Marcin said the Alliance will ask for a summary judgment to declare the agreements illegal. Dripping Springs officials have said if that happens, the developers would be free to develop the land with greater density than is allowed in the agreements.

Rose did not comment on the lawsuit, but Jim Camp, the president of the Board of Directors of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, said he would welcome any help from the area’s new state representative to preserve the recharge zone from over-development and pollution.

The Barton Springs district, a frequent target in the Legislature of disgruntled developers and property rights activists, plans to focus its next legislative agenda on two main goals which could use Rose’s help: capping the geographical size of the district’s two Austin precincts (4 and 5, represented by Jack Goodman and Craig Smith, respectively), and expanding the district’s authority over maintaining so-called water quality basins.

Based on his initial impressions of Rose, Camp said he has high hopes for support, in contrast to the record of outgoing Republican Rick Green .

“I was very impressed with Patrick seeking out help from people who could help him understand some of these issues,” Camp said. “From what I heard him say, he is going to be very supportive of regional solutions to protect water resources, where Green was antagonistic of water resources.”

Rose defeated Green by a mere 360 votes in what should have been an easy re-election victory for the Republican.

Almost immediately after the official vote tally, rumors began flying that Green would ask for a recount, but no such request has been formally entered with the Secretary of State’ s office as of this writing.

“No sir,” Rose replied when asked if he anticipated a recount. “Rick Green called me and conceded on election night. We won this race because of the bipartisan support we received throughout the district.

“The people of this district were looking for someone who wants to work hard, be honest and build consensus. That’s what I believe, that’s what I’ve been hearing and that’s what the voters said on Election Day.”

Rose carried both Hays and Caldwell counties, 17,493 total votes to Green’s 16,486, which put Rose over the top. Rose lost to Green in predominantly Republican Blanco County, 1,772 to 1,125 votes.

Rose becomes the youngest member to serve in the legislature’s current membership. But his youth became a target of Republican supporters of Green, who sarcastically criticized Rose as a “kid” fresh out of college who hadn’t even paid property taxes.

Rose’s campaign countered with a barrage of stinging television commercials and mailers accusing Green, only 31 himself, of more than a dozen business failures and forfeitures. Voters were also repeatedly reminded that Green was the target of an ethics investigation for improperly representing the diet supplement company Metabolife before a state agency.

“The first bill I’m going to write is to not allow legislators to represent clients before state agencies,” Rose said. “In addition to the issues of quality of life, water and transportation, growth and development are going to be critical and I’m going to be very hands-on in building a consensus.”,

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

Monday is Veterans Day . . . In Fact Daily will take the day off, as will city, county and state offices . . . Downtown mobility hearing postponed . . . The worst part of Thursday’s lengthy City Council meeting was—as it often is—the waiting. Shortly before midnight, the Council postponed a discussion of the proposed Downtown Austin Mobility Plan. Rumors circulated earlier that the Council would not approve a proposal to restrict left-hand turns from Lamar to 6th and. Business owners on those streets had lobbied the against that idea and Austan Librach, director of the Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department, said he was expecting the Council to eliminate that proposal. The plan should be back on the agenda at the next meeting on November 21 . . . Investigation team hired . . . City Manager Toby Futrell announced yesterday that the City of Austin has hired Bellinger and Dewolf of Dallas to investigate the death of Sophia King. The firm has been asked to complete the investigation within 30 days and write a report for the manager and Police Monitor Iris Jones . . . Neighborhood Plans . . . The City Council postponed consideration of an amendment to the Montopolis Neighborhood plan, but approved passage of the East MLK Combined Neighborhood Plan and associated rezonings . . . Mayor appointed . . . The Council appointed Mayor Gus Garcia to the Commuter Rail District board of directors . . . Historic zoning questions . . . Although the Council approved historic zoning for seven properties yesterday, Council Member Betty Dunkerley and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman told staff they have a lot of questions about the process and the cost to the city. Dunkerley asked for a report on the number of historic zonings the city has done in the last 5 years and the amount of tax relief. Goodman said she would like a task force—perhaps the task force looking at historic zoning and the gentrification of East Austin—to look at the inventory of historic-zoned and historic-eligible zoning property in the city, among other things. Council Member Raul Alvarez, a sponsor of the current task force, said that group would be making a report to the Council on Dec. 4. At that time, he said, the Council can discuss adding to the task force’s charge and also whether the group needs some additional members. Betty Baker, chair of the Zoning and Platting Commission, suggested such a study was necessary when the Gatewood House initially came up for historic consideration (see In Fact Daily, Oct. 17 and Oct. 23, 2002 ) . . . Loan agreements . . . The City Council, acting as the board of directors of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, agreed yesterday to loan up to $375,000 to Stassney Crossing LP to acquire property on the east side of Nuckols Crossing Road, south of St. Elmo St., known as Los Arboles Phase II Subdivision. The developer is planning 108 lots for Smart Housing compliant single-family homes . . . Appointments . . . Joan Hyde was appointed and Holly Kincannon was named a new appointee to the Design Commission. Council Member Betty Dunkerley appointed Alice McFarland to the Electrical Board. Leo Anchondo was appointed to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs and Joyce Basciano was reappointed to the Urban Forestry Board. Sid Covington of MoNAC will be Austin's business-community representative to the Austin-San Antonio Rail Corridor Council (see In Fact Daily, Oct. 9, 2002) . . . A message from Doggett . . . Congressman Lloyd Doggett sent the following message to his supporters, “Thanks for giving me the opportunity to participate as a Member of Congress in the very difficult struggle ahead. For those whose vision of America was not reflected by yesterday's returns, let all of us rest and recover for one day, but regroup tomorrow, and let us work together for a world worthy of our children's children. Never give up. Never give in” . . . Capitol Metro groundbreaking today . . . Capitol Metro will be breaking ground at 2:30pm today, on the site of the new Northwest Park & Ride. The facility is to be located in the northeast quadrant of US 183 and RM 620 east of Lake Creek Parkway. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a long-time supporter of Capital Metro, is slated as the keynote speaker for the groundbreaking ceremony. Joining Hutchinson will be Mayor Gus Garcia and State Rep. Mike Krusee. The facility should be completed by next summer.

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

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