Tuesday, February 4, 2003 by

The Design Commission shaved Smart Growth points off its recommendation on the Whole Foods market project last night, but it probably won’t be enough to express the commission’s displeasure with the final design plans on the combination grocery store/corporate headquarters.

The crux of the issue has been Whole Foods’ plans to put a surface parking lot facing Lamar Boulevard. Even though Schlosser Development has brought revised plans to the board twice—and cut surface parking spaces from 275 down to 110—some commission members were still dissatisfied.

Those commissioners thus began whittling away at scores. They cut a point from “Building Out to the Street” two points from “Provide Multi-Tenant, Pedestrian-Oriented Development at Street Level” and 2 points from “Control On-Site Construction.” The group then agreed to grant the office-retail development only 3 out of a possible 10 discretionary points.

The project still earned almost 40 out of 50 possible points. Commissioners were really of two minds on the project. Chair Perry Lorenz thought the developers had done the best they could, given the demands of the Old West Austin neighborhood and the wishes of the client. Commissioner Richard Weiss felt that the developer had put “considerable effort” into addressing the concerns of a board that had no real power to stop them.

“This project is not perfect, but they did a pretty good job,” Lorenz told his colleagues, admitting he’d rather run into Randalls than park in an underground parking garage if he had to pick up something on the way home. “The spirit of this is that they had an impossible situation, and they’ve done pretty well to meet it.”

No one on the Design Commission likes the idea of the surface parking lot, Lorenz said. But he said he would swallow hard and accept it if it meant getting a much-needed grocer downtown. Whole Foods agreed to cut surface parking down to even fewer spaces than the current store has to put in underground parking at tremendous expense, Lorenz said.

Commissioner Joan Hyde said she was not opposed to some surface parking for the Whole Foods development, but she was disappointed the final designs put those spaces on Lamar.

Commissioner Girard Kinney, on the other hand, thought the serious opposition to the surface parking should be recognized as a “fatal flaw” in the project. Simply cutting a few points from an already high score would not send a strong enough message to the developer. The project just doesn’t work hard enough to meet guidelines, he said.

Commissioner Juan Cotera thought shaving points off the score made sense, but he was deeply dismayed the project would take a block out of the long-term plans to turn Lamar Boulevard into a retail corridor, “at least in my lifetime,” Cotera said. He also labeled the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association as “insular, selfish and arrogant” for failing to negotiate on issues with Whole Foods that could create a much more livable downtown for everyone.

Commissioners were also somewhat frustrated that Whole Foods has developed the urban grocery store concept in other cities without surface parking. Some, like Kinney, felt the company would have negotiated further with the city if the Design Commission had taken a stronger stand on parking. The grocer has already agreed to put 700 parking spaces in an underground parking garage.

Public involved in helping determine landscaping, design

The pot of money may be smaller than some would want, but the contractors on State Highway 130 are giving serious consideration to the aesthetics of the $1.5 billion project.

Lone Star Infrastructure has only $15 million to cover the aesthetics and landscaping along the 49-mile toll project that will run from I-35 just north of Georgetown down to US 183. The project—four segments in all—will include seven major interchanges and 18 tollbooths. Construction of the first half of the SH 130 corridor should be completed by December 2007.

Joint venture partners Fluor Daniel, TJ Lambrecht and Balfour Beatty, known as LSI, will be presenting an initial aesthetics plan to the Texas Department of Transportation within the next month, said LSI spokesman Justin Keener. The plan will cover the design of bridges and signs, as well as the landscaping at major intersections. Texas Turnpike Authority staff will have the option to either accept or reject the plans presented by the contractors.

Travis County officials are firmly opposed to billboards along the corridor. Other recommendations are examples of public preference articulated at a number of meetings held by LSI: the rounded shape of bridge columns, the concentration of landscaping at the five major intersections along the route and the use of Blackland Prairie grasses.

Charette participants agreed that landscaping should be uniform along the corridor. Given the small aesthetics budget, it was decided that special treatment of bridges and hardscapes should be limited to major intersections. And those treatments should be natural or historic in nature. Special treatment of signs was a lower priority for workshop participants. Bridges should be high enough to allow canoe traffic to pass underneath, and the use of wildflowers, prairie grasses and native plants was encouraged.

“Part of the process of designing a road is not just building ‘X’ road, but it’s taking into consideration what the public’s idea is for what that road will look like,” Keener said. “We’re looking at the aesthetics of the road: the bridges and landscaping treatments throughout the corridor.”

The charettes also considered how existing and future hike-and-bike trails would align with the road. Existing hike-and-bike trails in the area are located near the Northeast Metropolitan Service Center and McKinney Bluffs.

The charettes also considered mitigation of the toll road’s impact upon historic barns and houses. Sixteen are located along the first 49-mile section. Specific screening measures will be tailored for each property to minimize the effects of the road on the structures, Keener said.

LSI is offering local communities the chance to suggest treatments for interchanges that symbolize the importance or history of the community. For example, Georgetown might recommend its own symbol or representative icon for the interchange at I-35.

Interchanges for the roadway will include I-35, US 79, State Highway 45, US 290 and State Highway 71. The half-loop, when completed, will be 90 miles and meet up with State Highway 45 on the south, which will lead back to I-35.

Thursday, Friday.

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

Wynn campaign kicks off . . . Council Member Will Wynn promises to outline his priorities for Austin as he makes his official announcement of candidacy for Mayor at noon today. Supporters will gather at Miguel’s La Bodega, 415 Colorado . . . Barton Springs results coming soon . . . Representatives of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will present full results of the agency’s soil, sediment and water tests in and around Barton Springs at the Council work session on Wednesday. TCEQ spokesperson Adria Dawidcziq said toxicologist Michael Honeycutt and Mark Vickery, deputy director of the Office of Permitting, Remediation and Registration, would be making the presentation. Dawidcziq said she does not expect any further test results to be made public before that meeting. Representatives of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will join scientists from TCEQ and the Texas Department of Health at the work session . . . Email supports Iraq resolution . . . Staff of Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Betty Dunkerley both reported Monday that email to their offices has been running heavily in favor of a resolution on this week’s Council agenda. But Dominic Chavez of the Real Estate Council of Austin wrote an an email to a long list of recipients expressing another point of view: “This is the kind of crap that we need to get after this Council about! They have a $77 million shortfall and absolutely no plan to create jobs or fix the local economy . . . yet they have time to voice their opinions about a foreign policy issue they have absolutely no control or purview over . . . They need to get their heads screwed on straight.” (sic) . . . Doggett on Republican budget . . . Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett released the following statement Monday on President Bush’s budget proposal: “While packaged in a bright blue cover, this budget is actually written in red ink. The budget saddles our children with higher taxes tomorrow and robs Social Security today to ensure a select few enjoy further tax breaks. So much massive public debt, so little for public education and health care, so clever in omitting the many billions of dollars required for a costly invasion and occupation of Iraq” . . . Changes afoot at Republic Square . . . Plans for Republic Square have changed after a meeting between the architects and the Texas Commission on the Arts. At last night’s Design Commission meeting it was described as picking the “urban” option over a second choice selected through the public process. The Austin Parks Foundation has stepped aside and will allow the Texas Commission on the Arts to take the new plan through any future public input process. The Design Commission has asked for a second presentation on the new design plans . . . Council looking for changes to guidelines . . . Commissioner Juan Cotera told his fellow members of the Design Commission last night that at least three Council members had asked him for a draft of the commission’s recommendations on design guideline codification. The Design Commission is expected to finalize its recommendations on the 13 guidelines next month . . . One eastside evaluation postponed . . . The evaluation of The Pedernales Urban Digs, has been put off until next month’s Design Commission meeting. Cotera said the evaluation committee had presented questions to the developer that would require more time for a response.

© 2003 In Fact News,

Inc. All rights reserved.

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