Sections

About Us

 
Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism
 

Council to consider part of agreement for subdivisions this week

Tuesday, March 4, 2003 by

Austin and Travis County still have several differences to work out as they attempt to comply with the provisions of HB 1445, which requires cities and counties to reach an agreement on development regulations for subdivisions in a city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction.

City staff presented an outline of eight points that still need resolution to members of the Joint City-County Subcommittee meeting on Monday. Some of those will require policy direction from Council members and county commissioners, while other areas could be reconciled by adopting staff recommendations.

First on the list is a discrepancy between the road plans used by the city and county for reviewing subdivision design. Travis County routinely follows the CAMPO Roadway Plan, while city regulations refer to the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan. Although those two documents are largely consistent in how they classify roads, there are some differences. Some roads included in the CAMPO plan are not in the AMATP, such as SH 45 South between RM 1626 and IH35 and Frate Barker Road between SH 45 and Brodie Lane. Other roads, such as FM 1826 between US 290 West and Slaughter Lane, are included in both plans but listed at different capacities. Those differences mean a subdivision could be required to meet one set of transportation standards by the city and another set by the county. So far, staff is only recommending that the differences between the two plans be resolved, without providing specific suggestions on which roadways should be reclassified or how.

The staff makes a similar recommendation for reconciling differences between the dates that preliminary plans filed with the city and county expire. Under current city rules, preliminary plans that are not acted upon expire after either three or five years. In the county, a preliminary plan does not expire provided a final plat application is filed within two years of the approval of that plan.

Staff does have specific recommendations for resolving differences between the two jurisdictions on requirements for sidewalks, variances for private streets and gated communities and on handling the consolidation of fees for reviews and inspections.

Attorney Alan Haywood, representing the development community, told committee members that some of the staff recommendations did not meet with the approval of developers. “It’s fundamental to 1445 that we have a single code, a single regulation and one review,” he said. While the city and county are working on a single office to review subdivision applications, staff from each entity will still go over the paperwork because the two political jurisdictions still have authority over different areas of development. Haywood said that defeated the whole concept of unified review espoused in HB 1445. “What is embedded in a lot of the staff proposals is the concept of dual review. It’s called a single office, but in practicality what happens is the application will come in, the county staff will look at it and the city staff will look at it . . . and you’ll have two potentially inconsistent results of those reviews. Dual reviews will inevitably lead to inconsistent results and disagreements.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman challenged Haywood’s characterization of the recommendations as divisive. “I thought the whole purpose of HB 1445 was for the convenience of a developer or property owner,” she said. “As long as we have two different kinds of authorities and two different kinds of review processes, how can you make that a single stop?” Haywood replied that there was more to the bill than just convenience. “The real issue is when the engineering community is designing a development, what do they design? What standard do they look to? Who’s going to make the determination of whether I comply?” Haywood and other stakeholders have submitted a proposal that would separate the review of subdivision proposals based on business functions. City staff would review for compliance with water quality and utility rules, while county staff would check whether the proposal meets roadway and drainage regulations. Exceptions to that division of labor would be made for areas within the city’s three-year annexation plan.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty urged a swift resolution to all of the lingering disputes. “Let’s cut to the chase . . . there is something that is very evident here. The city should have jurisdiction in an area and the county should have jurisdiction in an area . . . anything that is in the three-year annexation plan, it’s very clear to me, you all (City of Austin) make the call. If it’s outside the three-year annexation plan, other than water quality, then the county has the say in those areas,” he said. “For the life of me, I don’t understand why that’s difficult to understand . . . except that someone wants to control a whole lot more of the say than I think is fair . . . We have somehow got to move off of this thing.”

Council members are scheduled to get an update on HB 1445 at Wednesday’s work session, and there is an action item posted on Thursday’s agenda. Although the city and county are working toward an agreement, passage of SB544 —as proposed—would void any agreement under the prior legislation. ( See In Fact Daily Feb. 26, 2003 .)

Campbell Hogue and AHFC offer East Austin complex with YMCA on site

The Design Commission’ s biggest criticism of the initial plans for the Villas on Sixth is that the developer is trying to place a suburban apartment model in an urban neighborhood.

That comment, made in an initial review by the Design Commission, was offered with some hesitation. The Villas on Sixth is the first attempt at affordable housing in the downtown core. As Commissioner Girard Kinney told his colleagues, no one on the Design Commission wants to discourage affordable housing—but they did make a number of recommendations at last night’s meeting.

The 160-unit complex in the 1900 block of East Sixth Street is a joint partnership between Campbell Hogue & Associates and the Austin Housing Finance Corp. About 90 percent of the units will be set aside for low-income families, and a YMCA recreation facility will be located on-site.

The commissioners liked the idea of the partnership between the apartment complex and the YMCA, but they had problems with the site plan of the project, which straddles both Fifth and Sixth streets. A three-member panel of commissioners, headed by Eleanor McKinney, recommended that the developers relocate communal facilities such as the clubhouse, pool and playscape to the outer edges of the proper to create more interaction between the property and the public.

The subcommittee also recommended that fencing and gated access be removed from the plans and be replaced with a low, edge-defining element on the property borders. The property will be a candidate for Great Streets funding when the city kicks off the “pedestrian friendly” infrastructure program.

“We believe that gated communities are an inappropriate suburban model for resident urban in-fill projects in central East Austin,” the committee members wrote in the letter addressed to the City Council. “The area is rapidly transforming into a desirable downtown neighborhood with little need for an exclusionary, gated approach. Fencing becomes a barrier and not a community building element.”

Commissioners also were disturbed by initial plans that put surface parking along the backside of the property toward Fifth Street. The Design Commission recommended Hogue Campbell avoid a “front” and “back” to the property and create a more urban streetscape treatment along Sixth Street. The architect did agree in general, but protested that too little setback would put bedroom windows right on the street.

Commissioners initially leaned toward supporting reduced setback for the apartment units, but later settled on a recommendation to provide more “relationship” between the units and the street. The goal would be “building community rather than avoid community,” Commissioner John Patterson told his colleagues.

While commissioners struck a passage that recommended specific massing of buildings on the property, they decided that specifics of the property’s design should be left to the developers. However, that did not stop them from pointing out issues they had with the design.

“This is more of a suburban project, and we need to say, ‘Can you take another look at it?’ There’s nothing wrong with saying that,” Commissioner Juan Cotera said. “I think we need to say why it is that we’re uncomfortable with the model and see if there are some things they can do.”

Kinney was particularly concerned about the project’s placement on a rail corridor. Too many projects are ignoring the possibility of integrating access to the rail corridor into the development, given the possibility the line might one day serve light rail. The letter also recommended that Campbell Hogue create a long-term master plan for the space that could incorporate future development.

Commissioner Phillip Reed raised the question of whether the Design Commission should be offering pointers at all for the Villas on Sixth. He said that design guidelines created by the Design Commission were intended for higher-end development and some of the requirements might not be feasible for an affordable apartment project intended for families.

Some commissioners suggested asking the developer to share the apartment complex’s swimming pool with the general community, but the idea didn’t garner universal support. Commissioner Richard Weiss pointed out that public use of the pool could be a liability issue. Cotera added that the commission’s goal was to make decisions on whether a project meets design guidelines, not a social judgment on how the project should be developed or used.

City's attorney hopeful bill will be uncontroversial

City and county staff working with the members of the Central Texas legislative delegation have put the finishing touches on a bill that would authorize Austin and Travis County to create a health-care district. Rep. Elliott Naishtat is expected to file the legislation sometime this week. It is designed to be a local measure that would not have a fiscal impact on the state budget. For that reason, the measure should face little opposition, allowing voters in Travis County to go to the polls on the issue.

“We have now finished the drafting of the legislation, and it’s waiting to be filed,” said attorney David Hilgers, who’s working with the city on the proposal. While other counties call their special districts “hospital districts,” the Austin-Travis County measure is being called the Central Texas Health Care District. That means the district will not operate the hospital itself, but will instead contract that service out as the City of Austin has done with Brackenridge and the Seton Healthcare Network .

“We’re not going to go out and change the contracts and deal with anybody else . . . What we’re going to do is take the status quo and organize a good health care district that has a good vision, a good board, a good staff that can try to take the best of what we’ve got and expand it with the money that we have,” Hilgers explained to the joint committee of Council members and commissioners. “The problem is we don’t know how much money we’ll have at this point.” The City Council Health Care Subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 10:45am today and may discuss the legislation.

Wednesday, Thursday,

Friday.

Marc Katz emcees for Hollywood . . . Thomas Henderson celebrated his 50th birthday at the Omni Hotel Saturday night with hundreds of friends, including Drew Pearson, Beasley Reese, Marcus Wilkins and Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones from his football days. Katz took the mike as emcee, wishing Thomas a happy birthday, introducing the band and finishing with, “Maybe now Thomas will make a donation to my campaign for Mayor.” There were a smattering of politicians in attendance, including Commissioner Ron Davis, Council Member Danny Thomas and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson . . . Zoning and Platting Commission . . . The commission set a record last week. On that icy evening with city offices closed, commissioners met for six minutes to act on statutory disapprovals and postpone the rest of the cases. Commissioners will probably sit for considerably longer tonight, but neighbors have asked for a postponement on two of the most contentious cases . . . Nofziger fundraiser tonight . . . Mayoral candidate Max Nofziger will be hosting a fundraiser at the new Cedar Door downtown, 201 Brazos, from 5:30 to 7:30pm tonight . . . Council and school board to meet today . . . A joint meeting of members of the City Council and the AISD Board is scheduled from 11:30am to 1:30pm today at the AISD Board Auditorium. Council Member Will Wynn is scheduled to talk about joint financial benefits to taxpayers . . . Candidate withdraws . . . Clayton Stapleton, a 42-year-old information security analyst for the City of Austin, has withdrawn from the Place 5 race. His choices were to take a leave of absence or withdraw, since City Council candidates cannot maintain their city employment. That leaves Brewster McCracken the only citizen who has actually filed for the position. There are, of course, several other prospective Place 5 candidates . . . Round Rock water changing . . . The City of Round Rock is converting its water disinfection process from chlorine to chloramines. The change is intended to eliminate chlorine byproducts suspected of causing cancer and reduce the amount of chemicals needed for disinfection. City officials warn it may take several weeks before residents are totally used to the new taste of the water.

©

2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

WHO WE ARE

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top