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Warehouse district merchants continue to oppose plan

Friday, February 28, 2003 by

After months of debate over the proper route through downtown for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, the City Council last night unanimously approved the staff-recommended plan to route cyclists along 4th Street and through the Warehouse District. The decision is a crucial step in the development of the bikeway and in maintaining federal funding for the project.

Cycling activists pushed for the 4th Street route over the alternate proposal, 3rd Street. “It would have been a lot easier to go for 3rd Street,” said Robin Stallings with the Friends of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. “That was the path of least resistance. We were not looking for a fight. Unfortunately, it was so compelling to go for 4th Street, and so dangerous to be on 3rd, that many of us think we should consider de-naming it from the Lance Armstrong Bikeway if you were to choose the 3rd Street option.” The bikeway, Stallings argued, would be a boon to 4th Street businesses and a national attraction for Austin. “On 4th Street there are parks, shops and places to spend money,” he said. “We believe that this would generate more business.”

But business owners in the Warehouse District were not convinced. They pointed to the loss of valuable parking spaces and the possible conflict with light rail. The city has designated 4th Street as an east-west corridor for light rail, should that option ever be approved by the voters. They also pointed to the number of active loading docks on 4th Street serving bars and restaurants. The frequent trips by delivery trucks, they said, could pose a hazard to cyclists. “We are supporters of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, albeit on 3rd Street,” said Buckner Hightower of the Austin Warehouse District Association. “We are unanimous . . . it is our neighborhood, we are stakeholders, we were told that our input was crucial. As stakeholders, we once again ask that the bikeway go to 3rd Street.”

Charles Betts of the Downtown Austin Alliance and architect Sinclair Black agreed with Warehouse District members and business owners, and offered a blunt assessment of the hazards of the 4th Street route. “There are eight businesses in one block alone that get daily deliveries,” Black said. “4th Street is not safe for bicyclists. I don’t care what the city staff says.” Black’s office is on 4th Street.

Council Member Daryl Slusher moved to support the staff recommendation. “There are good points on both sides,” he said. “But I believe the safety is best on 4th Street.” The vote was 7-0. Before the vote, Council Member Will Wynn had several questions for city staff about the 4th Street proposal. Wynn had previously argued for the 3rd Street option, but this time went along with the 4th Street proposal—somewhat to the surprise of other Council members. When Wynn did not vote no, Mayor Gus Garcia asked if he was abstaining. Wynn responded, “I’m ‘aye.’”

Staff directed to come back with revisions to code next month

The City Council approved a 90-day moratorium on high-residency duplexes on Thursday. Since the Council declared the situation involving the “super duplexes” an emergency, the ordinance takes effect immediately.

The ordinance will prohibit city officials from approving a building permit to construct a new high-residency duplex or remodel any existing duplex to create a high-residency structure. High-residency structures are defined as those over 30 feet tall with more than 45-percent impervious cover. Hyde Park residents first complained to the Council several weeks ago about the impact of structures being built under the duplex rules that did not meet the traditional definition. Those structures, they said, could contain up to six bedrooms with a total of twelve occupants. In the areas around UT, such occupants could easily be twelve unrelated residents, each with his or her own car.

Kathy Lawrence, who lives near the intersection of 35th and Duval, said she has lovingly restored her home. She said she recently discovered “to my horror, a super duplex is being erected” at the intersection and another is planned nearby. The large duplex, she said, would cause crowded streets, parking problems and noise in the single-family neighborhood.

Architect Jeff Jack, a leader in the Zilker Neighborhood Association, urged the Council to enact the moratorium. Even though the moratorium and subsequent change in land use regulations could impact two projects he is currently designing, Jack said the Council needed to take action “to help neighborhoods deal with this very difficult problem.”

Developer representatives urged the Council not to punish all developers for the actions of a few. “I’m not in favor of these super duplexes, but the bullet that’s being shot to cure the problem misses the mark,” said Mike McHone. “This particular draft ordinance has a couple of problems in it . . . I think it needs to be carefully looked at so we fix the problem and not create a problem for the industry as a whole.” McHone noted that the structures drawing so much opposition from neighbors complied with current rules, and were the result of market forces in areas with a high demand for housing.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said there would be plenty of opportunities for public input as the city works on rewriting the rules. “In the short period of time the Land Development Code will be looked at, any other person or group who would like to be involved in that is extended a very genial welcome by the Council, Planning Commission and Zoning and Platting Commission,” she said. The City Manager is scheduled to present to the Council a set of recommendations for new rules on high-residency duplexes on March 27th. The moratorium is scheduled to run until May 29th. While the moratorium is in place, developers can request a waiver based on certain criteria. Those requests will go to the director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, who will make a recommendation to the full Council.

Rules for neighborhood plan amendment moving slowly . . . The Council made it more than half-way through a series of changes to the proposed rules for amending neighborhood plans Thursday night, but decided to postpone final consideration of the ordinance after spending several hours on the item. Plans for the Brentwood and Highland neighborhoods will be the next ones sent to the Planning Commission for consideration . . . Election news . . . Council Member Will Wynn filed the documents needed to run for Mayor on the May 3rd ballot yesterday. That election will cost the city an estimated $1,060,121. The city will contract with Travis County for the use of its new E-Slate electronic voting system, which was tested in the 2002 general election . . . Council blesses BFI agreement with neighbors . . . The City Council yesterday blessed an agreement between BFI Waste Systems and the North Austin Civic Association concerning the terms under which a recycling facility can operate. BFI operates the city’s largest recycling facility at 10420 Metric Blvd. BFI moved recycling operations to the Metric site from Bolm Road, a location too close to neighborhoods for the comfort of either the neighbors or BFI itself. BFI agreed to participate in the Keep Austin Beautiful by adopting a stretch of Metric from Braker Lane to US Hwy. 183, among other things. BFI also agreed to operate residential bulky collection services twice a year to augment city services. The company recycles more than 5000 tons of paper, cardboard, plastic and glass each month . . . Appointments . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher appointed Perla Cavazos to the Commission for Women and Council Member Betty Dunkerley appointed Kalpana Sutaria to the Human Rights Commission . . . Mueller airport party . . . The Catellus team is hosting a kickoff party from 2 to 4pm Saturday at the Austin Film Society’s movie hangar at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. The team is inviting the public to learn more about plans for the redevelopment of the old airport, meet Catellus team members, visit the old airport, view plans for the new project and ask questions . . . County postpones hiring . . . County officials have put off the hiring of an Executive Manager for Justice and Public Safety. After interviewing five candidates, two options have been put on the agenda: choose an applicant or cover the functions with other county personnel. County Judge Sam Biscoe encouraged court members to put their suggestions in writing to him by Monday, with the intention of making a final decision on Tuesday . . . Team appointed to negotiate with landowners . . . County officials hope to avoid litigation over the boundaries of Selma Hughes Park. Judge Biscoe appointed the three-member team of Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols and Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joe Gieselman after yesterday’s executive session to try to negotiate with unnamed landowners in the area . . . War worries push county . . . County officials are rushing to issue Certificates of Obligation before the impending possibility of war, which could drive interest rates up. The county’s current obligations total $15.7 million, under the original $17.1 million estimate because of cost savings from the Precinct 4 building. Commissioners will set a ceiling on the amount of Certificates of Obligation next week. That total could include the lease of additional county office space. Dueling demonstrations . . . Republicans will gather on the south steps of the State Capitol at 2pm Saturday to express support for President Bush and his plans for war against Iraq. Local Democrats are being urged to join the antiwar rally sponsored by Austin Against War at 1pm Saturday at Republic Square Park, 4th and Guadalupe. The group already plans to march from the Capitol down Congress Avenue on any day that war is declared . . . Peace and quiet . . . The Buddhist Peace Fellowship Hill Country Chapter will conduct a silent walking meditation from 5:30 to 6:30pm today on the Congress Avenue Bridge. Others are free to join, but the fellowship asks that no signs be used at their event.

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2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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