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The Capital Metro Board of Directors broke protocol Wednesday during a work session to hear citizens’ comments on a controversial request for proposal (RFP) for a master plan of a large part of East Austin. (See In Fact Daily December 20, 2002.) With a full agenda for the work session, Chair Lee Walker asked the numerous speakers for a verbal “handshake” agreement to keep their comments short.

Monday, January 13, 2003 by

Thus the meeting began with leaders of various East Austin community groups telling the board why they thought the RFP should or should not move forward. Most expressed enthusiasm for moving it forward as soon as possible. But Lori Renteria of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood said she was “very concerned Capital Metro has created a process that will undo the East Cesar Chavez and Holly neighborhood plans.”

She accused the board of trying to push the plan through in haste, skirting what she said was a normal 90-day process for firms to submit bids. “We want a normal process,” she said, insisting on 90 days instead of 60. Walker explained that the process would take as long as necessary. Staff clarified that a 30-day process is normal, though it sometimes may take up to 90 days.

Concerned East Austin Hispanics leader Gus Peña complained that his group was not included in the long process of crafting the proposal. “It’s not a total, inclusive process,” Peña said. “It needs to be a broader, more inclusive process.”

Cap Metro held at least eight meetings from September through December with various East Austin groups to solicit comments and explain the RFP, which begins with master planning of an area bounded by 4th Street, 7th Street, I-35 and Pleasant Valley.

“We are in support of the RFP,” said Gavino Fernandez of El Concilio political group. He joined other East Austin groups to urge the transit agency to move forward with the RFP. “That property hasn’t been developed since the 1920s,” he said, adding it was past due for development.

“We want to see Capital Metro and the City of Austin invest money in this section of town,” he said, pointing out that during the tech boom years of the late 1990s all the money went into development west of IH-35.

Cathy Vasquez-Revilla, a small business owner, praised Capital Metro for working to create an open and fair process. “A new and different working relationship built on trust began to emerge between Capital Metro and the generations-old families and neighborhood groups that wasn’t visible before this process on the RFP began,” she said. “This process has been inclusive and fair,” she noted.

Susana Almanza, executive director of PODER, said, “This land has been vacant for such a long time . . . it’s an eyesore.” The time for action is now, she said. “We’ve been waiting for such a long time . . . I ask that you move forward.”

Board Member John Treviño, a proponent of the RFP, said the process thus far has been historic because of the amount of input from varied community groups. “Capital Metro needs to be making investments in this community,” he said, so it’s time for the agency to “step up to the plate.”

Commissioner Margaret Gomez said she was pleased to see the outpouring of community involvement and support with the RFP process. “I’m really glad to see that everyone got together and worked out the problems,” she said.

“I want us—Capital Metro—to be very open,” she noted. “There is going to be plenty of sunlight, as far as I'm concerned . . . I certainly don’t want the FBI visiting us ever again.”

Council Member Danny Thomas said that he, having grown up in East Austin, was a product of that community. “The citizens of East Austin want a good quality of life like everyone else,” he said. “When sunlight is beaming, things grow.”

Sam Archer, Capital Metro assistant director for community involvement, said, “We’re committed to keeping light in the process.”

“We’re hoping to provide a variety of ways to keep people involved,” he said. “A contract would probably be awarded in April or May,” he added. “We’re probably talking about May or June for the beginning of the work.” Capital Metro staff had initially wanted to release the RFP in the fall and then rescheduled it for the end of December. However, questions raised by Chavez and other East Cesar Chavez representatives caused the board to ask for the presentation last week.

Renteria told In Fact Daily after the meeting that she was pleased with how the board had responded to citizen input. “I think all the work that our team did over the last three months really paid off,” she said. “The only remaining issue was the bidding time frame,” she noted, and the board assured her it would not be restricted unfairly.

She said her major concern was that the scope of the project was too big. But major changes in the language of the RFP stated clearly that the land affected would be restricted to that owned by Capital Metro, thus limiting the scope of the project, she said.

Another major concern was solved “by lifting the arbitrary cap of $200,000” on the consultant’s compensation package, she said, thereby opening the process to more and better applicants.

She said there was still “a little battle to be fought” over the consultation committee. The team will discuss the issue today during its regular monthly meeting.

Design Commission favors mix Of rules, incentives for guidelines

Market forces only reliable to force some changes, panel says

The Design Commission will probably be among the last—but perhaps most vocal—of the city’s commissions on the codification of 13 design guidelines for Downtown Austin.

The 13 amendments to the city’s Land Development Code came directly from the Design Commission’s recommendations to make downtown more “user friendly.” But as the Design Commission outlined in a draft letter to Mayor Gus Garcia and the Austin City Council, codification isn’t the answer for every guideline.

“The Design Commission continues to believe that the most appropriate method of implementation for the various guidelines would include codification for some, incentives for some, and adoption of City policy for others,” Commissioner Phillip Reed wrote in a draft on behalf of the commission. “Because of this, it is incorrect to assume that the Commission prefers that the Guidelines be ‘codified’ in general, but that we see benefit in the codification of certain recommendations within the Guidelines.”

The commission will spend another month tinkering with its draft recommendation, in the meantime outlining some philosophical issues raised by the design guidelines. The primary example of which is that the guidelines should encourage a dense, pedestrian-friendly downtown, with the potential for mass transit. Having a different standard of development for downtown—instead of a “one size fits all” approach—is not necessarily a bad idea, commissioners decided. And the city cannot always rely on market forces to create the kind of dense transit-oriented development the city desires.

The commission also is committed to finding a separate funding source for increased incentives and stressed that the guidelines would not replace the Smart Growth matrix. Incentives should not strip funding away from city departments.

“Downtown development should be recognized as a great benefit to the city in future tax revenues, and should be encouraged through incentives,” Reed wrote in the commission’s letter. “An alternative source of funding should be developed that takes into account this potential.”

Representatives from the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin chapter of the American Institute of Architects were in the audience at Monday night’s meeting. On the specific list of recommendations, the Design Commission agreed to support codification of the following:

• Overhead pedestrian cover, waiving annual fee for license agreements associated with pedestrian cover over sidewalks.

• Screening of equipment and other items that can be seen from the street or other buildings.

• Requirements of a minimum one-star Green Building rating on any new downtown construction.

• Creation of street-level secondary spaces in all buildings, so that retail can be an option in future uses.

• Greater utilization of glass windows to street-level and second-floor frontage of new construction.

• The setting of a maximum front setback of 5 feet, although with some flexibility for design.

• Adding Wooldridge Square to the Downtown Parks Overlay District.

• Clarifying the term “clear and lightly tinted” for downtown windows.

Commissioners agreed that some requirements, such as the Green Building rating, should be applied across the city, not just to downtown Austin.

On two other code amendments—prohibiting drive-in services such as auto banks and gas stations—the commission agreed that market forces were likely to ensure that those uses were not going to be a problem on pricey downtown land.

On other amendments, the Design Commission supported screening for garages, but only to the extent of screening lights. The commission did not want to create screened boxes. And while they supported buffers for downtown parking lots when they are built, they were not in favor of surface parking downtown in general.

The commission did not consider orienting buildings to the city’s four historic public squares to be important enough to codify it into the city’s land code.

Chair Perry Lorenz believed the minimum Floor-to-Area Ratio of 3:1 to be the most important issue among the 13 amendments for codification. The commission considered that it places a disproportionate burden on developers who own partial blocks. While the commission supported density, it agreed that the minimum FAR should be an incentive rather than a requirement.

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

Agreeing to agree . . . The City Council, acting as the board of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, last week authorized staff to enter into a preliminary agreement with Campbell-Hogue & Associates to submit an application to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for tax credits for the proposed Villas on Sixth Street. The project, which is planned for the 1900 block of East 6th St., would provide 160 multifamily units for lower-income residents. The AHFC would have control of the property through a non-profit corporation, which was also approved, subject to the state’s award of tax credits for the project . . . New director named for Clean Air Force . . . The CAF has named attorney Deanna Altenhoff as Executive Director to replace Wade Thomason. She is the former executive director of the non-profit Fuel Cells Texas. The CAF Force is expected to be a major player in public outreach and stakeholder input programs associated with the Early Action Compact and Clean Air Plan currently being written by the Clean Air Coalition and the Early Action Compact Task Force . . . Meetings . . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors will meet at 4pm today. There are more than 20 speakers signed up to discuss “labor issues” during citizens communications at 6pm. The lead speaker is Jay Wyatt, president of the local transit workers union. The Sign Review Board and the Board of Adjustment are scheduled to meet at 5:30pm tonight. The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee will also meet to hear appeals from two companies on denial of their M/WBE certification . . . Democrats gather . . . The Texas Democratic Party holds a reception for Democratic members of the Texas Legislature, Tuesday 7-9pm at the Texas State History Museum, 1800 N. Congress Avenue. For more information, contact Tanya Vazquez at 512-478-9800 or tvazquez@txdemocrats.org . . . Racial profiling forums begin . . . The City of Austin will kick off a series of community discussions about racial profiling, beginning Tuesday night at 6 pm at the Millennium Youth Center, 1156 Hargrave Street.

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

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