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Lawsuit asks for retraction of false statements

Tuesday, November 5, 2002 by

Gerald Daugherty, the Republican candidate for County Commissioner Pct. 3, filed suit yesterday alleging that the Travis County Democratic Party libeled him in campaign literature. The suit, which was filed in Travis County District Court, alleges that the Democrats sent the mailer at a time when it would be impossible for Daugherty to respond.

The suit alleges that the material distributed by the Democrats “falsely charges (Daugherty) with being responsible and accountable for costing taxpayers $120,000, shorting investors over $240,000, and operating a party house which has been cited for liquor violations . . . The implications and descriptions were intended to and have seriously harmed (Daugherty’s) political future and financial reputation.” Daugherty is asking the court to force the Democratic Party to retract “the false statements, with such notice to be distributed in the same manner and volume as the false statements.” However, the candidate did not ask for a temporary restraining order, so it could be several months before any judge sees the case. The suit asks for an unspecified amount in damages.

The suit also alleges that the Democrats claimed Daugherty “has unpaid tax liens,” but that is not the exact claim made in the mail piece, which says, “Gerald had 19 unpaid tax liens to federal, state, and city government, totaling over $300,000.” The quote is attributed to KVUE News on Oct. 8, 2002. However, Daugherty did not dispute the fact that the liens had been filed. He did, however, tell an audience at the Real Estate Council of Austin that he had paid off all the liens. ( See In Fact Daily, Oct. 11, 2002 .) Democratic Party Chair Scott Ozmun asked for proof of payment, as did In Fact Daily, but none was provided. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 23, 2002. )

Travis Democratic party Executive Director Elliott McFadden said, “Basically, it’s a frivolous lawsuit. Gerald Daugherty is trying to divert attention from his own record of not paying his taxes, owning a failed business, and owning a business where minors were cited for underage drinking. If he doesn’t want people to know about the facts, he shouldn’t have gotten into the race.” McFadden admitted there is a difference between what the brochure says—“Gerald operates a party house that has been cited . . . ”—and the allegation that minors had been cited at the establishment. Daugherty’s attorney is Ronald Habitzreiter.

Neighbors worry about change of tenants for location

Members of the Zoning and Platting Commission last week kept their promise to the owners of a proposed North Austin cocktail lounge, despite the protest of the local neighborhood association.

Justin and Emily Green wanted to open a cocktail lounge/West African cultural club in the Braker Lane Center. City staff issued a site plan exemption—even though a cocktail lounge requires a conditional use permit, which is granted by the ZAP. The shopping center is within 200 feet of a condominium project and was built before the area was annexed into the city in 1984.

“The whole intent was not to run a bar, but a gathering place,” said consultant Sarah Crocker, who was hired by the Greens after it was flagged by a zoning case inspector. “The whole intent is to run a gathering place for Africans and their adult children.”

The Northeast Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association is also afraid the Greens might fail in their business and sublease or pass the site plan exemption on to a less-desirable business. Crocker said the Greens were willing to try to do everything possible to allay the fears of the neighbors, even limiting the site plan exemption to the length of the Green’s lease.

With only 1,300-square-feet of space, Sahara’s capacity will be limited to 63 people and will focus on occasional social events. Crocker said the Greens are people who have “fallen through the cracks” in the city bureaucracy, people who did everything they could to follow the law. Crocker said the couple had done everything possible to reassure the neighborhood association they would be good neighbors.

The city made a deal with the local neighborhood association that the property would be zoned CS-1, but would role back to GR if a nightclub were not opened within a year. Lester Johnson said other retailers on the property—a Subway shop, a paint store, a dry cleaners and a nail salon—were far more compatible with neighborhood retail.

“We consider this as a neighborhood shopping center, and we do not feel like a lounge is compatible with a neighborhood shopping center and other tenants that are there,” said Lester Johnson of the Northeast Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association.

But ZAP commissioners had to point out that other uses in the shopping center, a liquor store and a tattoo parlor, were not exactly neighborhood uses. Neighbors countered that those were zoning battles the neighborhood is still fighting, and that the tattoo parlor had been subleased from a restaurant that was illegally serving alcohol. The liquor store, on the other hand, had been a good neighbor.

Michael Lee, zoning chair for the neighborhood association, said he felt awkward presenting a case against Sahara’s to the ZAP. Neighborhood leaders had not realized the zoning on the property had not been rolled back in 1995, leaving the door open for a possible cocktail lounge.

“It’s almost a lose-lose situation for everybody here,” Lee admitted. “We never should have gotten to this point in the process.”

Commissioners were sympathetic to the Greens, who emigrated from Liberia in the early 1980s and now live in Round Rock. Commissioner Keith Jackson even spoke of his own wife’s desire to open a neighborhood bar. Commissioner Diana Castañeda encouraged the Greens to make sure that they—newcomers to the bar business—are careful about serving liquor on the premises, especially in a busy neighborhood.

Chair Betty Baker suggested a motion to approve the site plan exemption and even suggested a five-year term for the conditional use permit. She pointed out that most businesses cannot break even in only three years. Despite her early support, however, Baker was the lone commissioner who voted against the final motion in favor of the conditional use permit, stating that she had some second thoughts when she considered whether she would want a bar that would generate that kind of traffic in her own neighborhood.

Property owner seeks approval of plans for Clarksville lot

Mark Canada, who is facing misdemeanor charges in Municipal Court for demolishing his 90-year-old Clarksville house, was back at the Historic Landmark Commission last week seeking approval of the home he plans to build on the site. (See In Fact Daily, September 30, 2002 .)

In the eyes of the commission and at least one of his Clarksville neighbors, the proposed house—at 2350 sq feet, including a detached three-story garage apartment—was a considerably more than would be appropriate for the small lot at 1804 W. 11th Street. The original house had only been about 800 square feet.

Commissioner Jim Fowler told Canada, “I spent a lot of time in front of the house and had a hard time seeing how that was going to fit.” Commissioner Jean Mather asked, “Why did you decide after you tore it down that you needed a house that was three times as big?” Canada said he “plans to start a family,” adding that he took the plans to the neighborhood association. “They all seemed to like it.”

That statement drew neighbor Pauline Brown to the microphone. “I tried not to come up but I could not sit there and swallow this,” she said. “The house that was there was a small house that was in tune with our neighborhood. I can’t see how these plans are going to fit on that lot at all . . . I did not see the plan that he is talking about at our meeting on Wednesday . . . None of us are happy about this at all, because the plans are just not right for the size of the lot. We don’t have any other house in that neighborhood like he’s talking of building, so I’m very hurt about the whole thing—how it began in the beginning—and we’re still having problems.”

Commissioner Julia Bunton said, “I have watched over the years Clarksville disappear . . . I have gone home with tears in my eyes . . . To me it is just devastating . . . (It’s) the same story every time something is demolished. If we lose any part of anyone’s history, we have lost everyone’s history.”

Bunton said she would have to vote against recommending issuance of a permit for Canada to build the house, “because I would send a message to our children that everyone is important . . . Austin isn’t just Austin—It’s the capitol . . . I pray that you find it in your heart to downsize the house.” The commission then voted to recommend against issuance of the permit, with Commissioners Liz Goins and David West in opposition.

Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin then discussed the possibility of a reduced punishment for Canada at Municipal Court if he made appropriate changes to his plan. Some commissioners seemed to like the idea, but others said they could not have any influence over the judge hearing the case. Canada is scheduled for trial at Municipal Court on Nov. 20.

Canada, however, said he and his girlfriend had already talked about not pursuing the garage apartment, which could diminish the footprint of the house considerably. After some discussion, Bunton made a motion for two commissioners to work with staff and Canada to come up with a plan on which he and the neighborhood could agree. Staff was given authorization to release the building permit once the design meets with agreement of all parties. The previous motion was withdrawn and the new motion was approved unanimously.

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

City Council committee meets this morning .. . The City Council Audit and Finance Committee will meet at 11am today in Room 304 of City Hall . . . Stocklin leaving . . . City of Austin Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin has accepted a similar position in Phoenix. Stocklin said her last day on the job will be Nov. 15 and indicated that the city is doing a nationwide search to fill her position. Stocklin will have her hands full at this week’s Council meeting, with a number of historic zoning cases on the agenda—including the controversial designation of the Raymond House at 4th and Congress as historic. The MexicArte Museum, owner of the building, has resisted the designation, but both the Historic Landmark Commission and the Planning Commission have endorsed the idea. The museum has a valid petition against the rezoning, so it would take the votes of just two Council members to block historic zoning . . . Political parties tonight . . . Democrats: Gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez plans to be at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Texas Ballroom. Attorney General candidate Kirk Watson and Rep. Ann Kitchen will be celebrating at the Driskill Hotel, while John Sharp, candidate for Lt. Governor and Sherry Boyles, Railroad Commission candidate will be at the Stephen F. Austin. Senator Gonzalo Barrientos will be at the Austin Music Hall. However, the Barrientos Campaign has announced that the candidate’s daughter and son-in-law are expecting the imminent arrival of twins. It’s possible the birth may pre-empt some of his scheduled appearances . . . Republicans: Senate Dist. 14 candidate Ben Bentzin will join County Judge candidate Bob Honts and Commissioner Pct. 3 candidate Gerald Daugherty, at JC’s Bar and Grill, 5804 N. I-35 (west side of the frontage road). Republican statewide candidates are expected to attend festivities at the Austin Convention Center, beginning at 7pm. Land Commissioner candidate Jerry Patterson is promising food, drinks and friends at his election night party from 7pm to Midnight at the American Legion Post 76, 2201 Veterans Drive, between Lake Austin Blvd and Town Lake near MoPac. Vote counting will take place at the Crockett Center . . . Zoning and Platting Commission meets tonight . . . The ZAP has a small agenda, which presumably will not take very long to work through . . . Short list announced . . . The city’s request for qualifications for the Construction Manager-at-Risk for the new City Hall yielded eleven responses. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 30, 2002 .) That group has been reduced to a short list of six companies: Beck/Prism Joint Venture, Beers Skanska Inc., Hensel Phelps Construction Co., Spawglass Contractors Inc. and White Construction Co. Company representatives will get a tour of the site on November 8, and must have their responses in to the official request for proposals by November 19 . . . Downtown briefing . . . Council members are scheduled for a briefing on Wednesday on the Downtown Access Mobility Project. The proposal to rearrange traffic flow downtown by changing some streets from one-way to two-way was scheduled to be presented to the Council in July, but the item was postponed . . . Cost of dam gates rises . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority’s board of directors has added another $8 million to the budget to replace the 10 gates on Max Starcke Dam on Lake Marble Falls. That brings the total cost to $25.4 million. The project will replace the 50-year-old bear claw gates with hydraulically operated crest gates.

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

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