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Austin, Travis would have until Jan. 1 to reach agreement

Friday, April 25, 2003 by

The Texas House of Representatives yesterday approved an amended version of a bill intended to ease the subdivision process in the extra-territorial jurisdiction of cities such as Austin and to prod those entities into agreement.

Developers have been frustrated by incongruent city and county regulations, but each jurisdiction has its own rationale for rules governing drainage, road plans, water quality and utility regulations. Additionally, cities and counties frequently have different expiration times for plats. Last session, legislators approved SB 544, which was intended to make large urban cities work with counties to reach agreements on subdivision rules for the ETJ. Austin has reached agreements with Williamson County and Bastrop County, but is still struggling with finding the right solutions for an agreement with Travis County. John Hrncir, governmental relations officer for Austin, said a floor amendment to the bill would give the city and Travis County until Jan. 1, 2004 to comply with last session’s law. If they cannot reach agreement by then, the parties would be required to go into binding arbitration.

County and city officials have been working to come into compliance with the existing law, also known as HB 1445, for several months. It requires complex and detailed negotiations over provisions in each governing body’s development rules. This past week, Travis County Commissioners sent their latest proposal to the city for review. Council Members went over the document Thursday night and made their own set of revisions for consideration by the county next Tuesday.

The largest outstanding issue is still which roadway plan will be used when setting the requirements for subdivisions within the ETJ. City officials prefer using the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan, while county officials prefer the CAMPO plan. What sets those two plans apart is SH 45. The CAMPO plan calls for construction of a six-lane parkway running east and west between I-35 and FM 1626, while the city plan does not. City officials are opposed to that particular portion of SH 45 because it could spur development over the aquifer, while some southwest Travis County representatives have said the road would be a much-needed east-west artery. “I think we understand that the voters want good transportation and they want a clean environment,” said Joe Gieselman, executive manager of the Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources Department. “That is the nexus of HB 1445—making both of those happen.”

Staffs of both governments have been putting in plenty of hours to bridge the gaps between the two documents. “I’d be willing to say that the city and the county have put more effort into this than any other city and county in the state,” said Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd. The Council voted 6-0, with Mayor Gus Garcia absent, to approve a resolution giving additional direction to the City Manager and staff on negotiating with the county on the outstanding issues such as the roadway plans, expiration of preliminary plans, and variances for sidewalks. But some of those outstanding issues may require direct involvement from Council Members and County Commissioners. “If I could, I would recommend to the Council that we really kick this up to a very frank discussion among elected officials,” said Gieselman. Some of that discussion could come next Tuesday, since Council Member Daryl Slusher says he’s willing to attend the County Commissioners meeting. Slusher said he appreciates the efforts the county has made so far to reach a compromise with the city, specifically noting that county officials had agreed to remove a section of Frate Barker between Brodie and SH 45 from their plans. “From our point of view, that’s progress,” Slusher said. “It didn’t go unnoticed.”

Development draws praise from most corners

A mixed use development near the Samsung Semiconductor plant has added an 18-acre public golf course to its list of desired amenities, and the City Council Thursday gave initial approval to a zoning change necessary for the addition to the Pioneer Crossing Planned Unit Development (PUD).

The Council unanimously approved the first reading of a zoning change ordinance with Mayor Gus Garcia absent and Council Member Raul Alvarez off the dais. The PUD, planned for a tract near Gregg Lane, Cameron Road and Dessau Road, has been in the works since 1997. American Realty Trust, Inc. owns the land, and the primary agent for the development is Ralph Reed of Prime Strategies.

The change will add 138 acres to the approximately 1,500-acre PUD, which will feature more than 2,500 homes, in addition to commercial and retail space. Henry Gilmore, attorney for the applicant, told the Council that residents will now be able to “live, work and play” where they call home. He said the overall commercial square footage will actually decrease by 70,000 square feet with changes to the plan, resulting in lower impervious cover and 30,000 fewer trips per day generated by the development. However, residential density will increase by 1,035 units with new homes and multi-family units added near the golf course.

City staff and the Environmental Board tweaked the plan and recommended the change, as did the Zoning and Platting Commission. Additionally, the plans have received high marks from city staff for the developer’s agreement to use Green Builder specifications on all construction, along with dedication of green space and buffers along creeks. The subdivision is located within the city limits and in the Desired Development Zone. When completed, it will join with several other Pioneer Crossing subdivisions to form a ring around the Samsung plant. With the exception of a letter objecting to added development from the PUD as a whole, no one Thursday objected to the golf course.

However, Robert Basil, a resident of the nearby Woodcliff subdivision, objected to the development team’s contractors on another subdivision planned by the company. Home builders in the Pioneer Crossing West subdivision near Braker Lane and Dessau Road are polluting Walnut Creek, he said. The problem stems from a lack of sediment controls, Basil said, adding that repeated visits from city inspectors have not resolved the problem. Pollution to Walnut Creek was an initial concern with the Pioneer Crossing PUD when it first was proposed in 1997. “We honestly don’t trust these people anymore,” said Basil.

Gilmore said he would contact the homebuilders to remedy the problem. He also addressed another concern, access to a historic Methodist Episcopal Church of Mount Salem Cemetery. He said the cemetery is actually across Walnut Creek and another developer who is building Pioneer Hills will ensure the public has access to the cemetery.

Austin Community College bond election may be the reason

As of last night, 10, 262 voters had cast ballots to decide who will be Mayor and who shall sit in Places 2, 5 and 6 on the City Council for the next three years. A lot of those voters were probably just as interested in the outcome of the Austin Community College bond election. City Clerk Shirley Brown noted that polls at the five ACC campuses were attracting voters. Those who have voted already make up 1.85 percent of the city’s registered voters. Brown said she expects 15,000 or more Austinites to vote early this year.

As of Thursday, Northcross Mall was the number one early voting spot, with 894 voters; the ACC Rio Grande Campus was second, with 701 voters, and Barton Creek Mall had registered opinions from 688 voters. The mobile voting booths had received 1,224 voters. The mobile booths will be at St. David’s Hospital, Seton Northwest and the North Austin Medical Center today. On Saturday, BookPeople, Home Depot North and Home Depot on Brodie will host the mobile voting locations. Early Voting continues through Tuesday. Election Day is next Saturday. During the 2002 city election, only nine percent of those eligible—42,431 persons—bothered to vote.

Controversies postponed . . . With Mayor Gus Garcia out of town, the Council postponed numerous items, reducing what could have been a long meeting to a reasonably short one. There will not be a Council meeting next Thursday, two days before the election. Consideration of an amendment to the zoning code relating to multi-bedroom duplexes, dubbed “super-duplexes,” was put off until May 8.The Council did approve an ordinance relating to infill and redevelopment options in Neighborhood Planning Combining Districts. All of the rezonings proposed in the Holly Neighborhood Plan area were also postponed. The Planning Commission discussed the Holly plan until after 11pm Wednesday night . . . LWV election forum on News 8 . . . The League of Women Voters and News 8 have teamed up to broadcast forums featuring City Council candidates answering questions from the league. The station’s news director, Kevin Benz, said, “We decided this year that we were ready to begin doing candidate forums. We felt that it was an important information source we could make available to the public.” Benz said all candidates running for Place 5, the most crowded contest, have been invited to participate in Sunday night’s forum, which is scheduled to begin at 7pm. Candidates for Place 2, currently held by Council Member Raul Alvarez and Place 6, held by Council Member Danny Thomas, will participate in Monday night’s forum. Mayoral candidates have been invited to discuss their views on Wednesday night, just three days before the election. Benz said in addition to the live forums, each beginning at 7pm and running approximately an hour and a half; News 8 will rebroadcast the interviews at 10:15pm the night following the live forum. For those who have digital cable, the forums will be available on Channel 1301 at any time. Those wishing to attend the forums, which will be held at the LCRA, 3700 Lake Austin Boulevard, should call 451-6710 to reserve a seat . . . Common Cause speaker to give overview . . . Suzy Woodford, executive director of Common Cause Texas, will give her assessment of events at the current legislative session at the First Unitarian Universalist Church’s Public Affairs Forum on Sunday at 11:30am. A veteran legislative observer, she will discuss the current status of issues such as budget cuts, healthcare, education, legislative ethics and campaign finance. The church is at 4700 Grover Avenue. For more information call (512) 452-6168 or visit the web site at http/www.austinuu.org . . . Eight day reports due . . . City Council candidates are required to file a report today detailing their contributions and expenditures so far. Colorful mayoral candidate Leslie Cochran got the jump on his fellow candidates by filing the report on Wednesday. Of course it was easy, since Cochran has no contributions and no expenses. But he has been sporting a new look at forums. Instead of his usual thigh-baring skirts, Cochran has selected a sensible blue suit with a skirt to the knee . . . Grass carp suit settled . . . The City of Austin and bass fishermen who sued over release of sterile grass carp into Lake Austin to kill hydrilla have reached agreement and the suit has been dismissed. David Frederick, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients feel confident next month’s survey of the lake will show that no more carp are required to control the noxious weed. “However, there is also a longer-range strategy here, to pour money into more cost-effective (than that particular state district court suit) lawyering.” He said the fishermen are now looking at some rulemaking options that may address the question better than a lawsuit.

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

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