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Schlosser Development continues juggling the needs of its client, the desires of the Old West Austin neighborhood and the constraints of the site itself as it seeks Smart Growth points for its newest site plans for the Whole Foods Market and corporate headquarters.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003 by

Last night, Schlosser brought revised site plans for Sixth + Lamar to the Design Commission. Technically, it’s only one portion of the Sixth + Lamar project—the new 80,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market and accompanying six-story headquarters office tower—but it will anchor a wide swath of development fronting both Fifth and Sixth streets.

Even as the Design Commission considered the architectural aspects of the project, Livable City was at La Zona Rosa addressing whether the city should offer incentives to national tenants at Sixth + Lamar like Borders Books. Borders would directly compete with locally owned Book People and Waterloo Records, but the block where the chain store is planned was not included in the project presented to the commission.

Jim Walker stressed that Livable City understands that the two blocks on Sixth Street must be redeveloped. What they question is whether a non-locally owned bookstore should be offered an incentive to locate in Austin when locally owned businesses selling the exact same items are located across the street.

“These are complex, complicated issues,” Walker said. “We don’t have any silver bullet suggestion. All we are trying to do is slow this down a bit.”

Commissioner Girard Kinney said Livable City’s work should have no bearing on the commission’s decision. The Design Commission’s task is to look at the design issues, not the tenants who are going to occupy a property, Kinney said.

Walker said Livable City would provide a summary of its suggestions to both the developer and the Design Commission.

The commission was focused instead on the newest site plans and architectural renderings for the Whole Foods complex. While a formal Smart Growth evaluation won’t occur until early next month, the new plans appeared to meet with the general approval of the commission.

The plans come with a number of changes. Whole Foods, which will face Lamar, is being moved back from the corner to allow more pedestrian access and surface parking. The 200,000-square-foot office tower behind the two-story grocery store will be six stories, rather than seven. Numerous options for public art, community gathering areas and environmental education sites have also been incorporated.

Schlosser has backed down on initial surface parking projections, cutting the number of parking spaces in front of the store to 120. The two-story underground garage will include another 925 spaces.

Commissioner Joan Hyde raised the subject of surface parking, pointing out that the Whole Foods location in Portland has no surface parking. John Fry of Whole Foods agreed, but remarked that the Portland location is in a very different kind of setting. The 2,000 spaces for the 42,000-square-foot Whole Foods store in Portland also serve a brewery and a restaurant, Fry said. The setting is “clearly urban” and a different situation from the Austin site, he added.

Initial questions from the Design Commission asked for more input on transportation interfaces, building massing and the pedestrian-emphasis of the project. Commissioners appeared fairly satisfied by the answers from David Vitanza and his design team on issues such as pavers for pedestrian walkways, the location of Capital Metro bus stops and proper shading outside the market’s café.

Gregory Kallenberg, creative director of the project, stressed the common elements that would make Sixth + Lamar a destination spot. Activity nodes, public art, artistic murals and three plazas will dot the perimeter of the property. The market may hand over spots, or nodes, to places like the Wildflower Center to provide educational space. And signage at the Whole Foods Market will be consistent with signage at other locations in the Sixth + Lamar project.

Commissioner Phillip Reed encouraged Schlosser to add more retail space along Bowie Street, which runs along the east side of the property. Commissioner Eleanor McKinney asked for more specifics on promises such as proper shading on the property. Commissioner Girard Kinney said he could understand Whole Foods’ logic, but still would have preferred a market pushed up to the property line on Lamar, without the surface parking.

The developer appeared before the commission last year, when a committee was appointed to study the site. Many of the changes in design presented last night were a direct result of questions generated by the committee. (See In Fact Daily May 7, 2002.) Committee members acknowledged that Schlosser had made numerous changes to meet their objections and praised the developer for being willing to do so. It seems likely the committee will give the project a high score when the project is considered next month.

Liveable City gathering decries plan for Borders bookstore

A forum on development at the intersection of Sixth and Lamar sponsored by the group LiveableCity attracted nearly 100 people to La Zona Rosa Tuesday evening. Former KEYE-TV anchor Cile Spelce served as moderator for the discussion, which was attended by Council Members Will Wynn and Raul Alvarez, mayoral candidate Max Nofziger and Council candidate Brewster McCracken.

Sentiment at the meeting ran strongly against Borders Books and Music, one of the proposed tenants of the Sixth+Lamar development being put together by Brad Schlosser and David Vitanza. Speakers were nearly unanimous in their condemnation of chain stores. Last month, a study commissioned by LiveableCity showed that allowing a national-chain bookstore at the location would seriously damage nearby local favorites Waterloo Records and Book People. The authors of that study also concluded that a significantly greater portion of a locally owned store’s revenues remain in the community.

Most of the speakers at the meeting condemned what they perceived as a city subsidy for a giant corporation, although the city’s waiver of fees applies to the developer and not the individual tenants. “The thing that makes Austin livable, to me, is the local businesses,” said OWANA member Jake Billingsley. Business owner Wes Benedict agreed that chain stores should not be subsidized, but extended that statement to other businesses as well. “I think that it’s wrong to subsidize national chains or small businesses that are local,” he said. “To me, it’s the role of the small businesses to serve the community. It’s not the role of the community to provide charity to small businesses that provide products that are too similar to the national chains.”

While others focused their anger on the developers of the site, or on anchor tenant Whole Foods, Melissa Gonzales of the West End Austin Alliance defended Schlosser and Vitanza, pointing to their willingness to work with the neighborhood group on design issues. “It’s not like these are bad people who want to do bad things here,” she said. “They’ve been at the table . . . it’s been seven or eight years that I’ve been talking to them.”

LiveableCity Board Member Robin Rather took the pair to task for missing the meeting. “One of the things that scares me is if the good guys are doing this, what are we going to about the ones that don’t understand Austin?” she asked. “The reason they’re not here tonight is because they’re across town working on their incentives . . . I think the best way we can help them is help them get in touch with their consciences.”

Several of the solutions offered at the meeting pertained to altering the city’s Smart Growth matrix to favor locally owned businesses. That could include altering the design criteria to provide additional points for multiple smaller retail spaces as opposed to the “big box” design common among national chains. “There’s two lessons the city can learn from this,” said Robin Cravey. “One is to financially qualify, up front, people that you’re going to give development money to. The other is to learn when to cut your losses.”

LiveableCity Board Chair Bill Spelman said he was satisfied with the turnout. “We filled the room . . . and we filled the room with ideas,” he said. “We had a lot of clear-headed original thinking, and a lot of stuff surfaced that I hadn’t heard before.” Spelman said the group would continue its activism on the issue, promoting community discussion before it goes before the City Council later this spring. “What we’re trying to do is create that public hearing in advance, when there’s enough time for the developer, the tenants and the city to get ready and actually do something about it,” Spelman said. “This is early enough where all the parties have an opportunity to move things around, and maybe we can come up with a solution that’s going to work better for everybody.”

A last-minute plea from local neighborhoods did not deter the Travis County Commissioners Court from completing the deal on a trash-hauling contract with Waste Management, Inc (WMI).

For County Judge Sam Biscoe, the contract was already a done deal. Commissioners had signaled their intent last week to give a $104,000 contract to WMI—or more specifically, subsidiary Longhorn Disposal Co.—to collect the county’s refuse. Longhorn’s bid was roughly $47,000 under that of the only other bidder on the contract, Texas Disposal Systems.

Today’s final action was to craft a modification to the contract allowing Travis County to cancel the trash-hauling agreement with WMI should the company be cited for a violation by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and fail to adequately address that violation. A refusal to follow through on any remediation effort would be considered grounds for terminating the contract. WMI officials agreed to the contract amendment.

To commissioners, the modification was a safe middle ground between the requirements to follow the state’s Purchasing Act and a willingness to acknowledge the frequent problems at the Austin Community Landfill. Neighborhood activists, however, were still hoping for a last-minute reprieve.

Trek English of the Northeast Action Coalition brought a thick sheaf of papers outlining WMI’s violations at its sites both inside and outside Texas. English said the WMI bid should have been discarded when the company neglected to properly fill out the safety questionnaire. She also mentioned an incident in which a WMI truck dumped its waste on a freeway overpass.

“You’re going to tell me that nobody gave them a ticket? There has got to be a record of some type of violation on these trucks,” English said. “I don’t believe all the violations were listed, as you requested in your bid. That really discourages me because here you’re asking all these questions and then discarding them.”

English and Robin Schneider of the Texas Campaign for the Environment labeled the modified contract language weaker because the company had to “respond” to TCEQ citations. They argued that the response could be as little as saying they disagreed with the state agency. But Assistant Attorney Tom Nuckols insisted that the final contract language required that they respond in the way TCEQ intended.

Schneider was clearly angry at the decision. The county’s willingness to sign such a contract “is beyond my understanding,” Schneider said, citing the landfill’s frequent problems. She said, “There is a stark difference between right and wrong in this situation,” and she called on the commissioners to “stand up for your constituents.”

English said the $40,000 difference between the contracts amounted to only 47 cents per person if the amount were divided among the number of people impacted by the landfill’s waste and odor problems.

Bob Gregory, CEO of Texas Disposal Systems, was on hand yesterday to insist that the county could bypass the state purchasing act because WMI had failed to properly fill out the safety questionnaire on the bid application. That didn’t stop approval of the bid modification, but it did raise a red flag with commissioners. Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Ron Davis called for further discussion of the safety questionnaire of bid awards and greater clarification of what the questionnaire entailed.

The court split, 4-1, with Davis voting against the contract modification. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who had voted against the WMI contract last week, voted for its modification this week. After the meeting, he declined to discuss his reasons for switching sides.

If WMI fails to meet the obligations of the contract, it will be awarded to TDS. A back-up contract could have been approved yesterday, but Commissioner Margaret Gomez asked for an additional week to study the specific language of the document. That contract will be back on the commissioners’ court agenda next week.

Mayor Gus Garcia has named Council Member Daryl Slusher to lead a City Council process for community dialogue on environmental issues related to Barton Springs, Barton Creek and other creeks in the city. The Council will officially consider a resolution on the matter at next week’s meeting.

Garcia said he wanted to “reassure the community that the City of Austin and the Council are committed to protecting the environmental integrity of Barton Springs. I firmly support the City Manager’s decision to close Barton Springs Pool pending additional environmental testing and to apply all necessary due diligence to ensure the public health and safety of our citizens.”

Slusher also released a statement accepting the Mayor’s assignment, saying that the discussion “should be based on science . . . A key focus will be attempting to reconcile differing conclusions of scientific experts who have already spoken on the matter. Independent experts will also be sought to broaden the discussion and provide more detailed information to our citizens.”

He said he would ask City Manager Toby Futrell to schedule a work session exclusively on questions raised about the safety of Barton Springs, adding that experts quoted by the American-Statesman would be invited to attend. “This is a very serious situation and I ask that everyone involved refrain from using this issue to simply push agendas and conclusions that they have already formulated,” Slusher said in a prepared statement.

“I have also said that I enter this with no preconceived notions about the situation. If I do have a preconceived notion it is that the city must continue its existing programs to prevent pollution as well as efforts to clean up existing pollution like the Grow Green/Native Plants program. I also believe that our work toward a regional plan for the aquifer is more necessary than ever.”

Council Member Will Wynn released a statement commending Futrell for reacting quickly to the newspaper report and supporting her decision to close the pool. “I do, however, think it is premature for city management to conclude with certainty that there is no human health risk association with this situation.”

Members of the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR) had a long day of meetings. One big area of concern is the hillside just below the Barton Hills Park Place Apartments, where recent testing has shown elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In response to an inquiry, Lynne Lightsey, spokesperson for WPDR, said the city had not yet received permission from the apartment complex to test on that property because the manager has been out of town.

In another matter related to Barton Springs, lawyers for the Save Our Springs Alliance will square off against attorneys for Stratus Properties and the City of Austin in state district court today. The issue is whether the city’s SOS Ordinance supercedes the state’s grandfather law, Chapter 245. SOSA filed suit last summer while the agreement with Stratus was pending. The matter is scheduled for a summary judgment hearing, with the city arguing that the court lacks jurisdiction over the case.

, Thursday, Friday.

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

Planning Commission tonight . . . The commission will be asked to decide whether to recommend historic zoning status to the A&P Grocery in Hyde Park, over the objection of the owner, Hyde Park Baptist Church . . . Save the Constitution . . . Frequent government critic Alex Jones and his companions presented a “Save the Bill of Rights” campaign to the Travis County Commissioners Court yesterday, referring to the need to address alleged government wiretaps and eavesdropping . . . Ordinance discussion postponed . . . Commissioners postponed a posted discussion of the landfill and solid waste ordinance. The issue will be back on the court’s agenda next week and will cover both operating agreements for existing landfills and a siting ordinance for new landfills . . . Getting laughs where he can . . . County Judge Sam Biscoe drew a laugh from the court yesterday with the approval of a mileage reimbursement for county employee Harvey Davis. With the approval of Davis’ modest sum for mileage on his own vehicle, Biscoe slipped in a comment of “thanks for not asking for an assigned county vehicle.” Use of county owned vehicles has been a sore spot with commissioners of late as they work to cut the budget . . . Mayor goes to bat on the Hill . . . Mayor Gus Garcia heads off to Washington, D.C. to seek federal funds for Austin’s planned water reclamation project. This week’s City Council meeting has been cancelled.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc.

All rights reserved.

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