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A series of regulations proposed at Thursday’s City Council meeting were meant to tame the beast dubbed “super-duplex,” but they weren’t the right combination for Council members, who delayed action on the ordinance until April 10.

Friday, April 4, 2003 by

“I’m uncomfortable with virtually everything I’ve seen so far,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who added that what seemed to be a simple issue had become quite complicated.

At issue is how to deal with large duplexes built in older central city neighborhoods, where residents say an inordinate number of occupants—and the cars and trash that accompany them—are not in character with existing single family homes. Additionally, developers are destroying older homes and cramming the larger structures on the lots to maximize their profit potential.

“They are extremely inappropriate,” said Ann Graham, a resident of Hyde Park, which has seen a plethora of super-duplexes spring up in the past year. “They are only being built to increase rent income of developers.” Graham said the developers know that the more occupants they have, the more they can charge for rent.

The city currently defines these super-duplexes as structures with two units that are 2,800 square feet or more and having six or more bedrooms. The units fall under Single Family 3 (SF-3) zoning, even though neighborhood leaders often find them more akin to multi-family housing with up to a dozen adult residents in some cases. To address neighborhood concerns, the City Council on Feb. 27 enacted a moratorium on new super-duplexes for 90 days so that staff could draft an ordinance to make them more compatible with single family homes. The ordinance presented Thursday listed restrictions on height, building coverage, impervious cover and parking.

However, several neighborhood activists pleaded for occupancy limits at the Council’s public hearing yesterday, claiming that such limits were the only way to stop proliferation of “monstrosities” that are out of character with older single family neighborhoods.

Anna Carroll, a West 35th Street resident whose home faces a super-duplex, told the Council that limiting occupancy to a total of six unrelated adults would be the best route to address the problem. Several other speakers echoed her comments, which mirrored a Planning Commission recommendation last month for an ordinance that limits occupancy to three non-related adults per unit.

City staff, worried about how to enforce occupancy limits, declined to include them in their recommendations. And Council Members Daryl Slusher and Goodman and also said they were troubled by regulating numbers on unrelated adults. In addition to privacy concerns, Goodman said that enforcement of city code violations often is based on citizen complaints, which could prompt neighbors with grudges to report super-duplex residents. She also doubted the feasibility of enforcement measures. “What are we going to do, go over and card them and make sure they're related?” she asked.

However, neighborhood activists stressed that dozens of cities, some the size and diversity of Austin, have occupancy limits for different types of housing. They added that the idea was meant to address duplexes in the planning and development phase, so that structures didn’t have numerous bedrooms just to attract large numbers of tenants.

Only one developer addressed the Council. Dan Day, a self described builder of “big duplexes,” objected to the new size definition of super duplexes in the proposed ordinance. “The 3,200 square-foot-limit would prohibit responsible (duplexes) like I do,” he said. “I do ones with 1,800 to 2,200 (square feet) per side…But I think you need to look at the end use…compared to what the super-duplex guys are doing.”

Day said, for example, that a large duplex he built on Duval Street in Hyde Park had two small families, one in each unit, something that fits the traditional idea of single family housing.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley said she felt it was important to address both occupancy and regulatory concerns such as height and impervious cover. Council Member Raul Alvarez chimed in that he felt the 3,200 square-foot limit for super-duplexes might even be too large, that 2,800 might be more appropriate. Some speakers and Council members suggested a different classification for the structures, apart from either SF-3 or multi-family zoning.

The only thing that everyone seemed to agree on was a limit to two stories on super-duplexes, and with so many unknowns and conflicting directions offered, the Council unanimously approved the delay, most likely for consideration at next week’s meeting. Goodman asked City staff to present comparisons of ordinances from other cities, along with any legal challenges those laws have faced, while Council Member Will Wynn requested possible language for an occupancy limit regulation.

City Council candidates were required to turn in or mail campaign contribution and expenditure reports yesterday showing money collected and spent between January 1 and March 24. Mayoral candidate Will Wynn reported having collected a total of more than $113,000 and spending about $78,000. The man who appears to be his most serious competitor for the top spot on the Council, Marc Katz, reported bringing in $3,050 and spending a total of a little more than $33,300. The owner of Katz’ Deli loaned his campaign $31,000. Perennial candidate Jennifer Gale collected and spent $219.31. In Fact Daily was not able to locate reports from the other mayoral candidates.

Meanwhile, candidate Max Nofziger, the only mayoral candidate to have openly declared his opposition to the war in Iraq, put out a press release expressing “deep concern (over) the continuing erosion of civil liberties and the bills now being introduced in many state capitals—including Texas—that will restrict personal freedoms. ‘Our rights to freedom of speech and assembly must be defended at the grassroots level. This is especially true in time of war. We must always fight to protect our Bill of Rights .’ Nofziger added that, “In this time of crisis, we must remember that dissent is a cherished American tradition. The right to speak out, even criticize our president, has been fought for and defended at great cost for more than two hundred years.” (See Whispers below for comments from Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman on a related matter.) Nofziger added that he supports US troops, but not the decision to send them to war.

Benihana Restaurant owner and mayoral candidate Brad Meltzer earlier this week had some harsh words for city management concerning claims by the American-Statesman about at Barton Springs Pool . After publishing a rebuttal of those claims based on an interview with TCEQ toxicologist Michael Honeycutt, In Fact Daily asked what Meltzer’s reaction would be if the Statesman’s allegations were untrue. (See In Fact Daily, March 31, 2003 and April 2, 2003 ). Meltzer responded by email yesterday: “I'm taking a wait-and-see approach. However, the Statesman has too much to lose to be too far off target in their reporting.”

Council wants to know what research AISD has done

The City Council Thursday delayed final approval of an ordinance that would define how close new developments can be built to hazardous pipelines, if those development serve “mobility impaired” persons or schoolchildren.

City staff had recommended limiting new developments such as schools, retirement centers and hospitals (places that need “evacuation assistance”) to no less than 500 feet from a pipeline, unless the developments met Austin Fire Department “safety certification,” at which point they could be built as close as 200 feet. Such certification would include examinations of building materials, accessibility for emergency personnel and other factors to be determined by the Fire Department, said Fire Chief Gary Warren.

Developers had pushed for the exception to the 500-foot limit, saying that the risks to buildings in a possible pipeline explosion were dependent on numerous factors, not just distance from the pipeline.

The Council unanimously approved the ordinance on second reading, but didn’t give it a final nod. Instead, Council members directed staff to request that the Austin Independent School District—which supported city staff’s distance limits and safety certification— supply detailed information on why it deemed the shorter distance safe for children. No one from the district was available to comment on the plan at the meeting. “Let them document what would be the concerns for children,” said Council Member Betty Dunkerley, who added that she assumed those considerations were taken into account by district officials.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman made it clear that she was only supporting the second reading to move discussion along and hear from AISD, since the absolute 500-foot limit provides a much clearer definition for new development that requires evacuation assistance. She wouldn’t be likely to vote for final approval on third reading at this point, she said.

Another contested item on the ordinance, how to grandfather developments already planned, passed unanimously. The Council also approved a 120-day grace period in which developers will have to obtain a building permit to avoid complying with the new ordinance. Under the language approved yesterday, the ordinance would not go into effect until four months after final approval.

The Council also unanimously approved a provision that limited expansion for existing developments not conforming to the new ordinance. A hospital within 200-feet of a hazardous pipeline, for example, would not conform to the new ordinance, so it would be limited to a one-time expansion and other regulations on parking and uses.

Program likely necessary under voluntary Clean Air plan

Downtown parking meters will cost a full buck per hour instead of the going rate of 75 cents after the City Council approved a rate increase Thursday evening.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman was the lone dissenter for the plan, which will put about a half million dollars more per year into city coffers. City staff had suggested the increase after a review of rates in other cities showed Austin to be lagging behind in average costs per hour of meter use. The State of Texas, which owns meters near the Capitol and State offices, also charges $1 per hour.

Additionally, Austan Librach, director of Transportation, Planning and Sustainability for the city, said rates hadn’t gone up since 1998. Council Member Will Wynn clarified the point, saying that the rates were actually unified in 1998 to make all meters consistent, so that only some rates were raised at that time.

Thomas Butler, transportation program director for the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), said the group formed a task force to study the increase. Both the task force and the DAA board recommended its approval, he said.

Also approved with the increase is a new agreement to share funds with the DAA’s Great Streets Program, a project devoted to infrastructure improvements downtown. Previously, the program received anything over $1.68 million in revenue generated. Under the new plan, 70 percent of all revenue from downtown meters will go to the city’s General Fund with 30 percent going to Great Streets.

With a start date of May, the increase is expected to generate an additional $220,932 for 2003, and an additional $526,528 for 2004. The total generated in 2004 would be $2.3 million for the City and $659,494 for Great Streets.

The figures didn’t sway Goodman, who said people facing dwindling income in a tough economy don’t need an added burden or obstacle to come downtown. “Although we need extra revenue, it seems like an odd time…to raise the cost of parking,” she said.

Flying emails . . . City Council members have been receiving numerous messages this week about public support for the Long Performing Arts Center. The Downtown Austin Alliance, among others, has been urging the support but professes no inside knowledge about what kind of support the Long Center may be seeking. Bruce Todd, who is on the Long Center board of directors, said, “Everybody’s talking about a deal, but I know of no specific proposal” . . . Rights in jeopardy . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman is concerned about our constitutional rights. She said the USA Patriot Act, which has received little publicity except on the Internet, could be applied to everyone, not just to the terrorists it was intended to capture. “We don’t live in America anymore,” Goodman said. She said for more information on the act and its successor, which is currently being proposed, visit http://www.lchr.org . . . Appointments . . . The City Council appointed Becky Morris to the Environmental Board. She will represent the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. The Council also appointed Alfreda Loving from the Colony Park Neighborhood to the Community Development Commission. Phil Moncada was appointed as the Environmental Board’s representative on the Bond Oversight Committee. All were appointed by consensus . . . Weekend events . . . Keep Austin Beautiful . . . Volunteers are invited to take part in the 18th annual Clean Sweep on Saturday at Festival Beach on Town Lake. April is officially designated as “Keep Austin Beautiful Month”, and Saturday’s cleanup of litter in the Town Lake area is part of the statewide event known as Don’t Mess with Texas Trash-Off. Volunteers will receive a free lunch, t-shirts, entertainment and a chance to win door prizes. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes. For more information or to register, contact Keep Austin Beautiful at 974-2533 or register on-line at www.keepaustinbeautiful.org. . . . Austin Interfaith will be having one of its infamous accountability sessions—which are often very trying for elected officials—with City Council candidates at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 1010 E. 10th Street at 3pm Sunday . . . Greg Weaver, vice president of Catellus Development Corporation, will be the guest speaker at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin’s public affairs forum on Sunday at 11:30am. He will discuss the progress of redeveloping Mueller into a multi-use planned neighborhood. For more information call 452-6168 or visit http://www.austinuu.org . . . More international flights from Austin . . . For the fifth consecutive year, Funjet Vacations is offering non-stop flights from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Cozumel and Cancun between May 23 and Aug. 10 on charter carriers Transmeridian and Allegro Airlines . . . Postponed . . . City staff requested and was granted a postponement of consideration of an amendment to the Holly Neighborhood plan at yesterday’s meeting. The remainder of the zoning agenda was approved on consent.

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