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Wednesday, February 19, 2003 by

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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2003

McCracken organization in place for crowded Place 5 contest

Filing for the May 3 City Council election began at a leisurely pace Tuesday. Attorney Brewster McCracken took the opportunity to file for Place 5, while restaurateur Marc Katz joined perennial candidates Jennifer Gale and Leslie Cochran in filing for Mayor. McCracken is seeking the seat being vacated by Council Member Will Wynn as he runs for Mayor. McCracken, who ran last year for the Place 4 seat, already has a campaign organization in place, as well as supporters who joined him for a brief rally at City Hall.

Katz surprised some observers who thought he might have announced simply to get more publicity for his 6th Street eatery. Peck Young of Emory & Young confirmed that his firm has been hired to give the novice politico advice on the race. Young said Katz is excited about bringing his management ability to City Hall. Katz is particularly interested in business promotion and economic development for the city, Young said.

“He thinks as Mayor he can bring fresh ideas and solid practical business experience . . . he would be a good sales representative for Austin,” said Young, noting that Katz left town to finish some business in another state before returning to begin the campaign this weekend. He also explained that the address Katz used on his filing form—98 San Jacinto—is the Four Seasons Hotel, where the candidate and his wife have been staying until their new condominium is ready.

Young said he believes Wynn will spend a considerable amount of his own money on the race, but that Katz was not planning to do so. On the other hand, being the owner of ‘Katz’s Never Closes’ restaurant means he already has name identification. He said Katz likes to run a new commercial for his restaurant every month. “This is a guy who understands the concepts of promotion and advertising,” he added. Young said the candidate wants his race to be “creatively different from standard campaigns.”

The longtime political consultant has advised Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and a host of other City Council members over the years, including former Mayor Bruce Todd.

Although the mayoral race may be the most entertaining, the Place 5 seat is drawing the most announced contenders. In addition to McCracken, Environmental Board Chairman Lee Leffingwell and Urban Transportation Commission member Carl Tepper have also said they would join the race. Both men have set up campaign web sites ( http://www.leeleffingwell.com and http://www.carltepper.com ). McCracken too has a web site ( http://www.brewstermccracken.com ), and having put together a campaign less than one year ago means he has an established list of supporters and donors. The city’s economy will likely play a key role in his platform. “It’s not just the city’s budget that’s hurting. It’s family budgets that are hurting too,” he said. “We need to do the long-range economic planning and transportation planning that will improve people’s lives for the next twenty years.”

Biscoe plan to study source of odors criticized

County Judge Sam Biscoe proposed a plan to officially investigate odor problems at Northeast Travis County landfills, but his gesture neither pleased nor appeased neighbors when he presented it to them yesterday.

In an email to fellow commissioners, Biscoe urged Travis County to address the odor issues at Browning-Ferris Industries and Waste Management Inc. landfills once and for all. Biscoe urged more testing to definitively locate the source of odors. He further recommended the court examine what other communities have done in similar situations. The goal would be to eliminate, or at least minimize, the odors at the landfills, Biscoe wrote.

Area neighbors seemed more frustrated than pleased that Biscoe had finally consented to do formal testing of the odors at the landfills. Joyce Best said he was a year too late. She also said landfill operators would find a way to thwart the county and circumvent its findings.

“This is a proposal for more talk before any action,” Best said. “It is too late for that. We have already endured enough. The citizens are the victims here. Do not ask us to spend more of our time or energy for a problem we did not cause and companies that only care about profits.”

Biscoe—who referred tongue-in-check to his efforts as “The Biscoe Plan”—was left wondering what residents would have the county do instead. For the last 15 months, Travis County leaders have heard a chorus of complaints, primarily about the odor of the landfills. Biscoe said now was the time to finally address this problem at the county level.

Residents who took the microphone offered their own solutions to Biscoe. Some opposed expansion of the landfills. Others, like Mark McAfee, suggested closing the landfill altogether, saying it’s too close to the Capitol.

Long-time activist Trek English was more conciliatory, even admitting that landfill operators were trying to address odor problems. But she asked Biscoe how the county thought it could succeed where two giants of the landfill industry had failed.

“We don’t mean to be angry and to not want this study of the odors,” English said. “But we were here for almost a year on a monthly basis, asking you to do something, and you told us you had no authority to do anything on the odor problems . . . So frankly, for you to wait 15 months later and come up with this idea of studying the odors now, especially in view of what happened last month . . . with the violations of the county . . . I personally feel you are no longer neutral in this matter.”

County commissioners are no longer neutral, English said, “because you are part of the problem.” She said simply testing for odors would be “too narrow,” pointing out that no other county in the state has to deal with three landfills in one location. Biscoe countered that the county ought to bring its resources to bear on the odor problem, even if a fix could not be found—because that too would provide valuable information.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty told English he supported a solution for the odors at the landfill and went on to say that he did not intend to support expansion plans should the odor problems prove intractable.

Neighborhood complaints have not fallen on deaf ears, Daugherty said. No one should tolerate what the neighbors of the BFI and WMI landfills have had to endure, he added. Another solution to the problem, Daugherty suggested, would be to raise trash fees for county residents in an effort to help the two landfills relocate somewhere else. County commissioners will discuss Biscoe’s proposal again next week. Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis was out of town this week for continuing education.

Neighbors said plan incompatible with area

The Board of Adjustment has denied a Lake Austin landowner permission to build a house on a lot considered too small for its zoning category. The property owner was seeking three variances for setback and lot size requirements to allow construction of a single-family home on a small lot created several years ago when the road was put through. Since that time, many of the neighborhood residents have used the under-sized lots for boat docks and lake access.

Agent Jim Bennett represented the owner of the property at 2418 Scenic Drive in West Austin. There is already a home on the original, larger lot, but the applicant was seeking permission to build another house on the separated portion. That lot is 1,908 square feet. The tract is zoned SF-3, although it is well below the current standard lot size.

While Bennett maintained that the homeowner should be allowed to build an additional single-family home on the lot, John Joseph Jr. represented neighbors who opposed it on the grounds that it would be incompatible with the rest of the neighborhood. The lot, Joseph said, was not appropriate for a home and would require too many unjustified variances. “To come to you and say, ‘Please take my small piece of property . . . that absolutely could not be developed in the way I want to develop (it) . . . and please create value for me,’ . . . I think that’s inappropriate,” he said.

But Bennett argued that the variances would be supported by the findings he had submitted, and the additional value for the lot should not be an issue. “This property is already high-value before we’re going to build this house on it,” he said. “There is no use you can put on this piece of property that would not require a variance, because you first must satisfy your primary-use requirement in an SF zone . . . it’s not a boat dock, it’s a residence.”

Board members focused their questions on the size of the lot, requesting definitions of several terms from Assistant City Attorney Martha Terry. Board Member Frank Fuentes and Joseph engaged in a spirited discussion of the reasonable use for the site and the difference between a substandard lot and a legal tract. “It’s already zoned, and it’s a legal tract, and yet the way I see it is that it does fall under the substandard lot,” Fuentes said. “It’s confusing at this point.”

After further discussion, Fuentes moved to approve the three requested variances to allow for construction of a home on the lot. The vote in favor of the variances was 3-2, with Board Member Barbara Aybar and Chair Herman Thun joining Fuentes. Commissioners Betty Edgemond and Laurie Virkstis were opposed. Since there must be at least four votes in favor of a motion for it to pass, it failed.,

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

Oops! . . . The Austin City Council budget retreat is at 10am Thursday, not Wednesday, as previously reported. It will be at the Zilker Garden Center on Barton Springs Road . . . Downtown Commission to hear about health care issues . . . The city’s Downtown Commission is scheduled to meet at Brackenridge Hospital at 5:30pm tonight. Pat Hayes of Seton will talk about the challenges facing Brackenridge and the panel will get a tour of the emergency room and neurological center . . . Garza presides over issues and eggs on health care district . . .The Downtown Austin Alliance has invited Brackenridge Hospital CEO Jesus Garza to discuss the proposed hospital district to alliance members at breakfast beginning at 8am Thursday. The event will be at the ACC Downtown Education Center, 211 East 7th Street, Room 111. Call 469-1766 to RSVP . . . Environmental Board meeting . . . Nancy McClintock, chief of the Environmental Resources Management Division of Watershed Protection, will address “alleged contamination of the Barton Creek area” tonight at the board meeting, set for 6pm at One Texas Center . . . Civil rights discussion planned . . . The Austin Human Rights Commission will host a town hall meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday to give Austin residents an opportunity to ask a panel of experts about citizens’ civil rights. The theme of the discussion is “Your Constitutional Rights: What are they now?” The panel will include representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Friends Service Committee, National Organization for Women and People Organized for the Defense of the Earth and Its Resources . The program will be at One Texas Center in Room 325.

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

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