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Capital Metro staff and board members expressed surprise yesterday when they learned that American YouthWorks (AYW) had selected the agency’s property just east of I-35 as an ideal location for a planned business and technology training center. Now staff and board members of both organizations face the challenge of trying to fit the proposed East Austin Economic Gateway Project into a planning process that won’t begin until this summer. Representatives of AYW, a non-profit organization devoted to education and training for disadvantaged youth and young adults, told the board they have already received a commitment for half a million dollars from the City of Austin’s Community Development Corporation (CDC), with the possibility of grants totaling $5 million to create the project. Executive Director Richard Halpin said AYW would like to acquire land and begin development as soon as possible.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003 by

The training center, which AYW would like to build on the blocks bounded by East 4th and 5th Streets, I-35 and Medina, is intended to train artisan, technology and culinary entrepreneurs. That area represents less than half of Cap Metro’s 11-acre property, but would have a significant impact on the request for proposals (RFP) for planning use of the land.

Susan Dawson, vice chair of the AYW board, told the Capital Metro board she sees the project as “a chance to create a . . . downtown Central East Austin hub,” with a focus on recreation and cultural arts. The vacant property would enhance the neighborhood by adding a multi-modal stop and useable green space, she said.

The property, which has sat idle for years, has been the focus of hopes and fears for residents of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood. “This is the kind of development that directly addresses 17 of the 20 goals of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood plan,” Dawson said. She said her group began planning the project in response to needs expressed by area neighborhoods, adding that AYW had attended some of Capital Metro’s neighborhood meetings on the upcoming RFP. The transit agency plans to release the RFP next week, but the process for selecting a contractor will probably not be completed until May, according to Sam Archer, assistant director for community involvement. That means the planning itself cannot begin until June—be too late for American YouthWorks, which hopes to begin occupancy of the first phase of its facility early next year.

Cap Metro Board Chair Lee Walker said, “I have absolutely no idea how to reconcile that with the land development project . . . with the planning project we have underway.”

Dianne Mendoza said, “Unfortunately, I cannot respond to the project,” since it has not been discussed at any community meeting. She added that the project would not be incongruent with the neighborhood plan and desires the neighborhood had expressed, but the timing would make matters difficult. Board Member John Treviño said he was surprised “because we have been working since September, discussing what possible projects could be implemented.”

Commissioner Margaret Gomez said she would like to receive letters from members of the community stating support for the project and asked that AYW meet with the members of the team chosen to represent the community in the RFP process.

Dawson told the board her group had spent “literally hundreds and hundreds of hours talking with the city and with members of neighborhood planning team. We do not want to short-circuit the process. But at the same time we feel a sense of urgency . . . so what we’re asking tonight is your permission to continue talking with neighborhood leaders . . . We believe we’re going to lose the opportunity to leverage a lot of this money by summertime.”

Halpin told In Fact Daily he felt that the project reflected what the area’s planning team envisions for future development.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “This has to be tucked into the planning process we discussed last week,” noting that “these properties have lain dormant for years . . . People have talked about trying to get economic and cultural projects in these areas . . . and ironically, just as Capital Metro is beginning to look at what can be done,” with the properties, “people are coming forward who want to do projects.” He said he would not want the Cap Metro planning process to retard or stop “the kind of projects we’ve said we want for years.”

Treviño listed a number of potential projects being discussed for East Austin. “I tell you ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never seen this much economic development activity go on in East Austin in my life.”

Cap Metro President Fred Gilliam directed his staff to meet with American Youthworks representatives. “But the key is to make sure this is compatible with overall neighborhood plans.” He promised a report at the next board meeting.

Contacted after the meeting, community leader Sabino Renteria said staff should not have been surprised by the presentation. “We told them about it months ago,” he said. Renteria, who is chair of the Austin CDC, said his neighborhood would support the project. “Whatever they’ve done is good,” he said. He acknowledged that the timing makes location of the AYW gateway on Cap Metro property a long shot, adding that AYW could find other East Austin locations to suit its needs.

TIP hearing draws no crowd

Few people turned out for the first of four hearings to assess the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CAMPO) upcoming Transportation Improvement Program, despite the hefty price tags involved.

The 5-year TIP addresses several large Texas Department of Transportation projects: the construction of two segments of US 183A between the San Gabriel River and Avery Ranch Boulevard ($247 million); the southeast leg of State Highway 45 from I-35 to US 183 ($167 million); and State Highway 130 from US 183 to the Caldwell/Travis county line ($34.4 million).

The CAMPO plan combines the efforts of TxDOT and a number of local agencies. Between fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2008, those entities will spend a total of $678.6 million on Central Texas road projects.

While TxDOT will spend the bulk of the money, local projects such as Capital Metro’s Park & Ride facilities on IH-35 and Loop 1, as well as those in Lago Vista, Leander, Oak Hill and Manor will also be covered. The City of West Lake will receive $5.5 million for the reconstruction of RM 2244 from Old Bee Caves Road to Loop 360, and the City of Cedar Park will receive $3.4 million for the reconstruction of FM 1431 from Bagdad Road to the railroad tracks east of US 183.

Comments from the handful of audience members were few at Monday night’s meeting. Will Bozeman, former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, stressed the need for neighborhood input throughout the process because of the lengthy timeframe on many of the projects.

Maureen Daniel, assistant director of CAMPO, explained the possible expansion of CAMPO to a 5-county area, which would improve regional planning but stretch the limited available federal grant dollars. Calculation of the exact amount of that federal money, known as STP 4-C funding, is based on the population of urban areas. Local projects designated for the funds have already been determined for 2004 and 2005.

Three additional hearings on the TIP will be held at North Village Branch Library, 2139 West Anderson Lane, on Jan. 16; Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, 808 Nile Street, on Jan. 21; and Round Rock Public Library, 216 East Main Street, Round Rock, on Jan. 30. All meetings will begin at 6 pm.

A public hearing on the FY 2004-2008 TIP has been set for a Feb. 10 CAMPO meeting to be held at UT’s Joe C. Thompson Center. The hearing is scheduled to start at 6:15 pm.

Change could open airport to non-Austin influences

The Austin City Council has put off until the end of the month a decision on whether to allow a national fast-food chain to move into one of the restaurant sites at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. The leaseholder, Harlon’s Bar-B-Q, is requesting permission to convert one of three barbecue restaurants at ABIA into a Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken restaurant. Because of the proposed franchise agreement with Popeye’s, the change could result in an additional $13,200 in revenue to the city per year. However, Council members are reluctant to allow a national chain restaurant into the airport without further study of the economic conditions there.

When the Council approved the contracts for food and beverage concessions at ABIA in 1997, they made an effort to ensure that local firms were well represented. “The absence of chains and the presence of local business is one of the great attractions of our airport,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher. “It’s won a lot of praise from a lot of people.” But an overall drop in air traffic since September 11, 2001, combined with extra security measures that allow only ticketed passengers access to the gate area, have resulted in decreased revenues for the restaurants and other concession stands.

Harlon’s currently operates three barbecue restaurants at ABIA. Converting one of those, across from Gate 5, would increase the variety of food available to travelers and improve the company’s competitive position, according to officials from the Aviation Department. The Airport Advisory Commission endorsed the change in December.

Council members are calling for more study from staff to determine if allowing a chain restaurant at the site is the only feasible option. They’re also asking for suggestions from staff on ways the city could direct more traffic to those businesses at gate-level. “I believe that our goal here was to be able to offer local businesses the opportunity to be a part of what visitors first saw when they came into town,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. “If there is no way to enhance the traffic and the ability for folks to go down to that end of the terminal, then in a worst-case scenario I would still not want to grant a franchise there unless we have very solid criteria.” Those could include participation by local merchants or design guidelines for the restaurant’s facade and decoration.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Campaign season begins . . . Mark Nathan, who resigned from his post as aide to Council Member Will Wynn to join the Tony Sanchez campaign last year, has taken on the job of helping his former boss become Mayor. If Wynn is elected, both Nathan and Wynn’s current executive assistant, Josh Allen, could find employment in the Mayor’s office . . . No staff yet . . . Council Member Danny Thomas, who plans to run for re-election, says Shirley Peeples has agreed to be his campaign treasurer. However, the one-term incumbent says he has not yet found a campaign manager. Thomas has no announced opponents for the Place 6 seat . . . Dewhurst to address Mexican American Chamber of Commerce gala . . . Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is scheduled to give the keynote address at tonight’s legislative gala in honor of Hispanic members of the Legislature. The TAMACC Legislative Gala begins with a reception at 6pm at the Hyatt Regency . . . Zoning and Platting Commission meets tonight . . . The indefatigable Josie Champion returns to the ZAP to request yet another zoning change, this time against the recommendation of city staff . . . The upper sign . . . The owner of a McDonald’s on I-35 at Howard Lane will return to the Sign Review Board next month with more information backing his request to raise the sign for his restaurant. A Home Depot and an NTB store, each with larger signs along the freeway, now flank the location. Board members were reluctant to allow the restaurant to raise its sign, citing fears of encouraging ‘one upsmanship’ among the businesses at the intersection . . . New sign OK’d . . . The Student Council at Bowie High School on Slaughter Lane will get to replace their school sign with a new, larger sign with internal lighting. The Sign Review Board voted 5-1 to allow the change, with Vice Chair Betty Edgemond opposed . . . Envision Central Texas chooses workshop locations . . . Envision Central Texas has selected the following six communities to host a series of public planning workshops for citizens to design their own neighborhoods, towns and communities: Bastrop, Lockhart, Dripping Springs, Pflugerville, Austin and unincorporated Williamson County were selected from 14 communities who applied for the free planning work.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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