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Goodman tells SBCA Paper politically motivated

Tuesday, January 21, 2003 by

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman told members of the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) last night, “I don’t think we should ignore the fact that an attempt is being made to rewrite history and ignore data,” concerning pollution at Barton Springs Poo l. Goodman said the Austin American-Statesman blames environmentalists for “fighting the Gary Bradley’s when really it’s an old coal fill,” raising the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in sediments in the pool. The city has requested permission to do tests on the site of the apartment complex—where the newspaper asserts toxic ash was dumped from a 19th century coal mine—but Goodman, like City Manager Toby Futrell, finds the scenario unlikely. She also repeated comments made by Futrell Sunday that city officials believe the newspaper has misapplied test standards and arrived at the wrong conclusions concerning the safety of the pool. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 20, 2003.)

Goodman said the Statesman’s editorial page showed the newspaper’s political agenda of discounting pollution caused by new development. She also disputed the editorial statement that “watershed protection employees were concentrating on the salamander, not on people, focusing on environmental resource protection, not public health.” The reason the pool is closed during and immediately after rainstorms, she said, is because people—not the Barton Springs Salamander—need protection from pollution in the water released by the storms.

No great concern about their own health was expressed by any of the approximately 20 members present at the meeting, although a number are regular swimmers at the pool. Several wanted to know how to motivate the city to retrofit old developments—such as the Barton Hills neighborhood—sooner, rather than later. Goodman said retrofitting is more expensive than building in pollution controls during development and pointed out that the city has a severe budget deficit, probably precluding new spending. The conversation will continue at next week’s meeting.

Without much fanfare, the Environmental Board voted last week in favor of making amendments to two Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) in Austin’s northern environs.

Some board members seemed downright gleeful with the changes proposed for the Pioneer Crossing PUD, located 12 miles northeast of downtown near the intersection of Dessau Road and Parmer Lane. The recommendation, which staff supported, is to amend 236 of the original 1,509 acres in the PUD and to include about 138 acres of new land.

Attorney Henry Gilmore, representing the American Realty Trust Inc., told the board about numerous improvements to the original plan. He said he was involved when the PUD was created in 1997, working with eight different neighborhood groups. “It was the way you would hope PUDs would be done,” he said.

Now, the project is being amended in ways that make it more environmentally friendly. “The only thing we’re asking . . . is to add 130 acres to build a golf course,” Gilmore said, explaining that 100,000 square feet of commercial/industrial space is being removed from the plan for the golf course. That means there will be open space instead of 100,000 square feet of impervious cover, he said.

The proposed amendments call for significant environmental benefits and reduced overall impervious cover for the PUD. Gilmore noted a new parkland tract of 7.64 acres had also been added.

Vice-chair Tim Jones said he was pleased that the plan included measures for headwater protection and that the golf course would be public.

Chair Lee Leffingwell said this proposed development was a superior product and that it was “state-of-the-art.” He said the 64-foot setbacks in the plan were admirable. “We’d like to see that citywide sometime in the future.”

Board Member Mary Gay Maxwel l said she had visited the site. “I think it’s an improvement over what would have been out there . . . I think it’s a good thing.”

The vote was 6-0-1, with Board Member Phil Moncada abstaining and Board Members Matt Watson and David Anderson absent.

The Avery Ranch PUD, near Cedar Park, approved by the City Council in early 2000, is also slated for an amendment recommended by staff.

Gilmore also represents applicant Robert D. Wunsch Development on that case. “ Avery Ranch is probably the number one selling subdivision in Austin right now,” he told the board.

“We already have a pretty good handle on how this development is being built out,” he said, noting that the project was coming along at a good clip.

The proposed amendment is to remove an item that had been included two years ago as an additional safeguard to prevent excessive impervious cover, Gilmore said. But since the development is 95 percent single family, with almost no commercial, “We have a very good handle on how much impervious cover is left,” he said, and the safeguard is no longer necessary. “We’re very confident that the tracking tables are working and will continue to work.”

Leffingwell said the item to be removed “was like an insurance policy” or “a fudge factor.” He said the project was 65 to 70 percent built out now and he could see no need for the additional stipulation. Leffingwell authored the item when the ordinance was written two years ago, he pointed out, and as the project has progressed, he’s developed an “increased comfort level with the tracking tables” used to determine impervious cover.

“I was very much impressed with the quality they’re putting into that development,” he said, noting the use of numerous wet ponds and native grasses. “It’s a very nice development out there.” The vote was 7-0 to recommend the PUD amendment.

Members of the city’s Downtown Commission last week gained an unexpected glimpse into the proposed three-phase $43 million Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC) through a plan to vacate two city streets.

Designed by prominent Mexican architect Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon, the MACC has been on the back burner since the design was unveiled in late 2000. The Downtown Commission was the first—and thus far the only—city panel to have seen the proposal, although Public Works Project Manager Paul Medrano told commissioners the city’s current plans are to complete construction of the first $8 million phase by December 2004.

Bonds approved by Austin voters back in 1998 will underwrite the first phase of the center. At full build out, the Mexican-American Cultural Center would be a facility on the scale of City Hall, with two theaters, a plaza and classrooms. The design, with strong Mexican influences, includes a crescent-shaped set of rooms for office space, as well as two theaters with pyramidal roofs.

The entire design is for about 200,000-square-feet of public-use space, which would belong to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The space set aside for the MACC is located between Rainey Street and the north shore of Town Lake.

The Downtown Commission was only asked to consider the vacation of River and Red River streets to place the first phase of construction. But Chair Chris Riley said he was concerned that the design had not been taken to the Design Commission. Medrano had to admit, “We did get pretty far down the line before we came here.”

“I am concerned that there hasn’t been much public review of this,” Riley told his fellow commissioners. “I would feel much better if this did go to the Design Commission.”

Members of the Design Commission have expressed their own misgivings that City of Austin projects have not been presented to city commissions. Some members of the commission had serious concerns about the Convention Center garage and the garage design at the Long Performing Arts Center.

Gonzalez de Leon’s design will be executed by a partnership of Austin-based CasaBella Architects and Del Campo & Marze Architects of San Francisco. The first phase is for about 40,000-square-feet of office, gallery, classrooms and multipurpose space. The option includes an $800,000 alternate plan for overhead cover. About 160 spaces of surface parking are included in the design of the building, which faces Town Lake.

The second phase would include the first, smaller 300-seat theater, plus additional office space, at a cost of approximately $16 million. The third phase would install an 800-seat theater and a parking garage, at a cost of approximately $17 million.

Commissioners expressed some additional concerns about screening, noise abatement and cut-through traffic, as well as public restrooms. The vote to vacate the streets, however, passed unanimously. Neither street is being used for through traffic at this time. Construction is set to begin on Phase 1 in October.,

, Thursday, Friday.

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

Another restaurant owner entering the race . . . Marc Katz, the high-profile owner of Katz’s Deli and Bar, may be getting into politics. The word is that Katz will announce he's joining the Austin mayoral race next week. Brad Meltzer, owner of Benihana Restaurant, announced his campaign last week . . . Vassallo joins TateAustin . . . Kristen Vassallo, who served as chief of staff under former Mayor Kirk Watson, has joined the TateAustin public relations firm. She is the director of the firm’s public affairs section. Current clients of that section include Capital Metro and Catellus, developer of the Robert Mueller project. Vassallo said she would initially concentrate on client development . . . Meetings tonight on 6th and Lamar development . . . Representatives of Schlosser Development will be at the Design Commission tonight to explain the redesign of the Whole Foods Market block at 6th and Lamar. Schlosser spokesman Gregory Kallenberg said the new design, which includes the company’s 200,000 square foot corporate headquarters plus an 80,000 square foot grocery store, would feature Austin-centered cultural elements, from the Zilker Botanical Gardens to a mural by a well-known Hispanic artist. Schlosser will be asking for a positive recommendation on Smart Growth incentives—which owners of BookPeople and Waterloo Records have protested because of the developer’s plans to bring in a Borders Books and Music store on an adjacent block. According to information at the developer’s web site, the new Whole Foods Market will open during the last quarter of 2004. The Borders block, which includes 250,000 square feet of retail space, is scheduled to open during the first quarter of 2005 . . . Meanwhile, the Liveable City organization is going to be hosting a community forum “to discuss the new development plans for 6th and Lamar.” The focal point of that forum is likely to be the Borders bookstore. Kallenberg said the group had invited Schlosser representatives to attend, but that they needed to present at the Design Commission meeting. Liveable City’s discussion will begin at 5:30pm at La Zona Rosa. The commission meeting begins at 5:45pm . . . Airport Commission meets tonight . . . The Airport Advisory Commission will meet at 5pm. Agenda items include a report on highways affecting ABIA and continuation of discussion of parking fees. CAMPO will continue to hear from the public—if any members of the public show up—tonight at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, 808 Nile Street. The purpose of the meetings is to get public input on the 2004-2008 Transportation Improvement Program . . . AMN available in San Antonio . . . Cable subscribers of Grande Communications in northern San Antonio can now watch the Austin Music Network. AMN President and General Manager Woody Roberts says it’s a great opportunity to market Austin clubs and musicians in San Antonio. In addition, he predicts it will be an opportunity for cultural exchange. “It’s been a long-time goal of mine and the network to unite the two musical communities,” said Roberts.

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

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