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Wednesday, March 26, 2003 by

Wynn has received all mayoral endorsements

The South Austin Democrats, Environmental Democrats of Austin and Capital Area Progressive Democrats made endorsements after a candidate forum at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center on Tuesday. All three groups selected incumbents Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez, along with Brewster McCracken for Place 5 and Will Wynn for Mayor.

It was an active day for the four candidates, who earlier had received the endorsement of union leaders from the Capitol Area Labor Council, which includes AFSCME. At a separate endorsement meeting last night, all except Thomas were endorsed by the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus, which did not issue an endorsement in the Place 6 race.

Smart Growth, regional planning and transportation were among the issues the Democratic groups asked candidates to address in their written questionnaires. During the forum, they were also queried about the proposed Central Texas Health Care District. Legislation to allow voters to create a special district to fund health care is pending at the state legislature. Should the customized legislation fail, Probate Judge Guy Herman has pledged to get a hospital district proposal on the ballot this fall using standard ballot language allowed by the state.

Mayoral candidate Mark Katz said he would not support the proposal in its current form. “I’m against it,” he said. “It allows for our taxes to be raised, and I don’t know where that money goes.” The city, Katz said, could not produce a profit/loss statement like businesses do, and it was difficult to find out basic financial information.

Most of the Place 5 candidates support the proposal, with some reservations. Steven Swanson offered a qualified “yes,” as did Jason Pate. McCracken also supports the plan, offering his rationale on his web site at Carl Tepper also indicated he liked the general idea, with some modifications. “We need to make sure it brings in income from other surrounding communities,” he said. “I’m also concerned that the people running it would not be elected officials.”

All the candidates responded affirmatively to a question from Jeff Jack on the issue of property taxes. Noting the increase in property tax payments for most homeowners over the past several years, he asked each candidate if they would support a City Council resolution “directing the City Manager to perform an analysis of what kind and what amount of property tax base we need to create to stabilize property taxes for existing residents?” Some were more enthusiastic than others, but all agreed that more information about the city’s tax base would be desirable.

On the written questionnaire from the Texas Environmental Democrats of Austin, candidates were asked who they voted for in the last presidential election. While some of the candidates stressed their activities within the Democratic party—and freely offered that information in their written response—others were reluctant to inject partisan politics in to the officially non-partisan race. “I feel strongly about the right to a secret ballot, and don’t publicly discuss who I personally vote for in any race,” wrote Will Wynn. It is perhaps the only thing he has in common with Leslie Cochran, who responded with a question of his own. “What business is it of yours? You cheapened the process with this question,” he wrote. Max Nofziger and Robert Singleton voted for Ralph Nader, while both Margot Clarke and McCracken supported Al Gore. Clarke wrote that she voted for Gore, “like most Americans.”

Commission rejects multi-bedroom duplexes

The action at Monday night’s Historic Landmark Commission meeting was a reminder of how difficult it can be to separate the designation of historic landmarks from land use guidelines and neighborhood planning.

The commission considered two cases, both involving the highly sensitive super-duplex issue. One case from the North University neighborhood involved moving a 1920s duplex off a lot on 38th Street in order to build a super-duplex. A second case in the Hyde Park neighborhood dealt with the addition of a super-duplex behind a 1940s bungalow on Duval Street. Both owners argued that they had filed their building permits before the city enacted its 90-day moratorium.

The duplex at 303 East 38th Street was built in the mid-‘20s and occupied for many years by Deputy County Tax Assessor-Collector Herbert Studer before it was used as a rental property. The one-story frame house was converted into a duplex around 1958. A 1984 City of Austin historical survey found the property, which sits with similar properties on either side, to be a low priority for preservation.

Most of the testimony presented by the North University Neighborhood Association revolved around the desire to maintain the integrity of the existing housing stock in the North University neighborhood, especially on its perimeter. NUNA President Rick Iverson argued that the neighborhood is committed to affordable housing, with Alori, Amarro and Byler management companies offering a number of multi-family properties.

“NUNA currently offers a wide selection of truly affordable housing,” Iverson said. “Tearing down old homes to build super-duplexes or super-houses that rent for $4,000 per month per dwelling unit does not make sense in our neighborhood.”

Architect Robert Kaler said he could not support new development in the North University neighborhood on the scale of the super-duplex on Speedway at 35th Street. Developers are stretching the definition of single-family housing, Kaler said. He added that North University, in the middle of its neighborhood planning process, was more than willing to consider alternative uses for bungalows if they are too small for families, such as restaurants, bookstores or community service storefronts. Instead, he said, NUNA has been seeing its neighborhood history removed, house-by-house and permit-by-permit.

“We’re not even getting the chance to present this plan to the city,” Kaler said. “The owners of these properties are jerking these things out from under us before we have a chance to present our plan to the city. These are predator developers who are trying to destroy it right before our eyes.”

Paul and Susan Glover, who are in the process of buying the duplex property, insisted that the design of the new construction on the property would be compatible with the North University neighborhood. Paul Glover said the building would be two rather than three stories, like the super-duplex on Speedway, and parking would be alongside it. Susan Glover added that the design was intended to preserve trees and blend in with the neighborhood.

Eight bedrooms means 8 parking spaces

When pressed by commissioners the Glovers admitted that each floor of the proposed structure would be 2,000 square feet and each of two proposed duplexes would contain four bedrooms. City code would require 8 parking spaces, one for each bedroom, for the structure.

This left commissioners grappling with questions they are not normally charged to consider: Would this building qualify as a super-duplex and was the application filed before the moratorium was called? Would this structure be appropriate on what is primarily a residential street? And would the removal of the house be removing a bit of the character of the North University community?

However, the HLC is primarily charged with gauging the historic value of the property, and the commissioners were split on that issue. Chair Lisa Laky said the property met two of the city’s 13 historic preservation criteria. She suggested that it might also meet an additional three criteria on the list and said a vote would only initiate the historic zoning process.

To Commissioner Jim Fowler, the duplex was a fine example of the craftsman-style bungalow that was the building block of blue-collar Austin. Commissioner Julia Bunton, on the other hand, was sympathetic to the neighbors, but said she didn’t think the duplex met enough historic criteria.

Commissioner Laurie Limbacher said the problem of this bungalow raised the much broader issue of historic preservation of an entire neighborhood. She called on Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky to try to jumpstart the move for a Historic District Ordinance. Neighborhoods must have more tools to protect the historic fabric of their community, Limbacher told her colleagues.

Commissioner David West feared what he considered to be a slippery slope, setting a precedent to label all of the bungalows along 38th Street as historic, regardless of quality.

“I absolutely agree that we need a Historic District Ordinance, and maybe this is the appropriate time to goose the Council about getting it going again,” West said. “But I don’t believe this specific structure meets the criteria of a historic landmark. This is the wrong place to keep super-duplexes out of that neighborhood.”

Sadowsky’s recommendation was to allow the removal of the house from the property. In the end, the commission voted to deny the permit to remove the house and initiate historic zoning. The vote was split, 6-3, with West, Bunton and Commissioner Frank Ivy voting against historic zoning. Sadowsky will bring back more research on the property and, at that time, the HLC will determine whether it is historic.

Duplexe s already a sore subject in Hyde Park

Commissioners were more united on a proposal to construct an addition in back of 3804 Duval Street in the Shadow Lawn National Register Historic District. Owner Patrick Terry proposed a rather sketchy 10-bedroom structure, attached to the original bungalow with a deck. The structure would require an additional 10 parking spaces, to be placed under the 3-story structure.

Terry, clearly angered by Sadowsky’s recommendation to deny his permit, said Sadowsky’s presentation on his permit was “full of inaccuracies.” Terry said he had pulled his super-duplex permit before the moratorium was put in place. City officials dispute that claim. He also criticized Sadowsky for offering a revised construction date of 1940. For years, the city said the duplex had been built in 1950, but a local historian at the hearing confirmed that Sadowsky’s new figure was correct.

Trying to set the stage for a discussion on super-duplexes, Sadowsky estimated the impervious cover at 47 percent—within the super-duplex range—but admitted he was not an expert on impervious cover and was simply doing rough calculations. Terry replied that Sadowsky shouldn’t offer a guess if he didn’t know how to calculate the figure. He countered that he had 44 percent impervious cover. Terry also said staff members in the permit office met with his architect three times before they told him the design of the new addition would need to meet the specific neighborhood design criteria.

Terry said he had no idea that his house was in a historic district. The comment – about the most vocal historic district in the city – drew hoots from the audience. While Terry did appear to have pulled some kind of building permit number in February, no one in the permit office had signed off on the building permit or site plan, according to an email from city officials.

Building criteria in the Hyde Park NCCD include matching the massing, scale and character of the neighborhood; using simple roofs and wood siding as the primary exterior; and constructing additions that complement the form and integrity of the existing house. Architect Karen McGraw of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, who helped draw up the design guidelines, said the addition clearly violated the guidelines. She added that she and building officials even had questions whether the driveway layout was workable.

Limbacher said she did not consider what Terry submitted to be an acceptable application, calling the drawings “confusing and inconsistent.” Commissioners agreed that approval of the addition’s design was premature. A vote to deny the application until more complete plans are submitted was approved unanimously.

A few other nuggets from the South Austin Democrats meeting . . . Leslie Cochran promised to be a full-time Mayor, opening up a “mobile Mayor’s” office and spending time in coffee shops to meet with citizens. “I don’t have another corporation to run,” he said. Mayoral candidate Herman Luckett, who described himself as a “liberal Democrat from Austin,” said he’s running to promote civil and human rights. “I don’t trust the Austin Police Association and Mike Sheffield,” he said. “They’re part of the vast right wing conspiracy. I don’t like the idea of Will Wynn and how he’s being anointed by the APA.” And the normally casual Robert Singleton got some laughter by pointing out how he dressed up for the meeting, which was held in a courtroom at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Complex. “I’m just glad to be in a suit and in a courtroom and not be in trouble,” he quipped . . . Worksession . . . The Council is scheduled to hear updates from members of the Austin Energy staff in public and executive sessions this morning. The Commission on Immigrant Affairs is also set to report on their goals and accomplishments. At 3pm, the Council committee on telecommunication infrastructure will discuss whether the committee should become the Council oversight contact for Austin Music Network, as well as the dispute between Time Warner and Univision . . . Pipeline stakeholders invited . . . The City of Austin is inviting those interested in the proposed hazardous pipeline ordinance to a meeting at 10:30am today in Room 304 of City Hall. Two issues remain in contention: how the ordinance would affect existing structures or projects and whether there should be flexibility in what could be located in the area 200 to 500 feet from a hazardous pipeline. The Council is scheduled to consider the ordinance at next week’s meeting . . . New method under consideration . . . The City of Round Rock will consider a resolution stating that Construction-Manager-at-Risk is the best method for construction of soccer, restroom, concession and storage facilities at the Old Settlers Park at this Thursday’s meeting . . . Tonight's forum . . . Central Austin Democrats will hold a City Council candidate forum tonight at 6:30 pm, at UT at the University Teaching Center in Room 4.112 . . . Planning Commission meets tonight . . . The Commission will consider a number of number of changes to the Holly Neighborhood Plan. Commissioners are also scheduled to consider a staff proposal for new duplex regulations to address the super-duplex issue. The Council is also scheduled to consider those changes at Thursday’s meeting . . . Slusher still working on Barton Springs report . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher said Tuesday he is close to completing a preliminary report on the health of Barton Springs Pool, which remains closed. Slusher said he may issue the report as early as today, but cautioned that he would not be able to write a final report until the various state and federal agencies studying samples from the pool and surrounding terrain have issued their final analysis.

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

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