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Commission promises to replace $500,000 with fundraising

Wednesday, May 7, 2003 by

A revised plan for Republic Square Park is making its way through four key city commissions, even though the original funding source for the park has disappeared.

Janet Seibert, the city’s Civic Art and Design Coordinator, told the Design Commission this week that the Texas Commission on the Arts, which initially pledged $500,000 from its Cultural Trust Fund to the park, has pulled its promised seed money, pledging to replace it with fundraising. Republic Square Park is a partnership of the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA), the Austin Parks Foundation and the Downtown Austin Alliance. Seibert said the commission had promised the funds with the intention that Republic Square Park would become a crown jewel to promote TCA’s own cultural efforts. She said TCA took the action because so much of the state’s funding is in question this legislative session..

Seibert assured the Design Commission that the TCA would come up with funding for the downtown project, which she estimates will cost between $2 and $3 million. For some groups that amount is “just a drop in the bucket,” Seibert said.

“TCA isn’t real worried about their ability to put up the money,” Seibert told commissioners. “You have to remember they have the ability to fundraise across the state of Texas. With that component, they are going to raise those funds.”

The Downtown Austin Alliance and Austin Parks Foundation are currently developing a fundraising strategy for the downtown project, which has raised its profile with the announcement that the Intel building site next door could be the site for the new federal courthouse. The new Austin Museum of Art will be another neighbor.

The trio working on Republic Square is taking a revised plan back to the four key commissions before a trip to the Council: the Design Commission, Downtown Commission, Historic Landmark Commission and the Parks Board.

Seibert was not looking for action from the Design Commission as she laid out the compromise for the park. Within the next few months, a new elevation will be created for the various commissions and city leaders to approve.

In the compromise plan for Republic Square, the central plaza is larger; the area to the north of the water wall is larger to accommodate noontime seating; the plaza is extended to the southwestern corner; and each corner of the plaza includes historical elements, an aspect that was emphasized by the Historic Landmark Commission.

The site still includes a large amphitheater and a small amphitheater with adjusted seating. The setting should accommodate both noontime concerts and Movies in the Park, Seibert said. The entrances to the park may eventually include public art. A Capital Metro transit stop along Guadalupe will handle any increase in pedestrian traffic.

Commissioner Joan Hyde said she was pleased with the compromise, calling it a “nice blend” between an urban park and greenspace needs. Commissioner John Patterson stressed the need to keep a good line of sight for the park–one of the park’s issues, given that the elevation at Republic Square varies about 15 feet from its high to low points.

One problem the federal courthouse does present is the possible closure of San Antonio Street past the park. The new building would require 50 feet of setback to allow for increased security concerns. The thought that San Antonio Street could be closed was not well received by the Design Commission.

County still must reach accord with 19 small cities

The city and Travis County have come very close to a compromise on House Bill 1445, but the two sides hit one final snag at Commissioners Court yesterday.

HB 1445, intended to create a common subdivision platting ordinance between city and county, was mandated during the last legislative session. Yesterday, TNR Executive Director Joe Gieselman and Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols presented an agreement that included a number of issues, as well as a commitment to writing a common code.

The biggest point of contention – the roadway plan – is off the table. As Nuckols told commissioners, county and city officials were unable to come to an agreement. The bottom line is that new legislation this session could make any negotiation moot.

“We are sort of resigned to letting the Legislature say what the city and county should do in this case,” Nuckols admitted. “We really haven’t been able to come to any agreement.”

County officials were walking through the document that will go to the Council tomorrow when city Environmental Officer Pat Murphy recognized a conflict. The city – faced with extended life of subdivision plats under the compromise – wants a say in phasing agreements.

That was not met with universal approval from county commissioners. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner objected to the city signing off on what is essentially a private agreement between the county and developer for the phasing of infrastructure development in a larger subdivision. Murphy tried to narrow the concerns of city staff.

The city does not need to be involved in the basic core of the phasing agreements, but the city is likely to have questions if a plat remains in play for a number of years, grandfathered from any new requirements from the city, Murphy said. Under the agreement, the city has already agreed to preliminary plan expiration date of four years in the Drinking Water Protection Zone and 10 years in the desired development zone.

Two additional administrative extensions, of two years apiece, can be granted on a subdivision plat, as long as that preliminary plan has not changed significantly.

The two sides agreed to disagree until they can bring a compromise on the issue. Other points under the agreement included:

• The county shall amend its subdivision regulations in the extra-territorial jurisdiction to incorporate the substance of the city’s stance on parkland dedication.

• Either the city or county will grant variances and waivers from the subdivision regulations, based on how soon the area would be annexed into the city. The city would have exclusive variance rights in areas that are in the municipal annexation plan or those areas under limited purpose annexations that will eventually be annexed.

• The county would have jurisdiction in the extra-territorial jurisdiction in the Desired Development Zone. The city and county would have joint jurisdiction in the Drinking Water Protection Zone, with both entities having some say over the waivers and variances.

• The city and county will amend their subdivision regulations in the ETJ to protect the natural and traditional character of waterways.

• The county shall amend its subdivision regulations in the ETJ to require a variance or waiver from Commissioners Court to allow a subdivision to have private streets, to which access is controlled by a gate.

The county and city agreed to write a single set of regulations, as soon as the county is finished negotiating agreements with the 19 other cities in the county.

Getting those 19 agreements in place is a top priority, given the possibility that new legislation could send the county and small cities into mandated arbitration, Nuckols said. Gieselman said it took 18 months to find an agreement with the City of Austin.

”I don’t think the other 19 cities will be as difficult, but we have no idea until we sit down with those cities,” Gieselman said. “Given how much time and effort this will take is somewhat ironic . . . These (HB) 1445 agreements are probably going to take more time than the review of the one or two subdivision plats that we would get in those ETJs.”

Gieselman described the agreement between the city and the county as a marriage, one that includes future changes. Once the common ordinance is passed, the county will have to agree to any changes proposed by the city, including the city’s pipeline ordinance.

Redistricting fight continues . . . Democratic activist and fundraiser Alfred Stanley sent In Fact Daily the following message early this morning. “After about two hours of testimony, the Redistricting Committee adopted a new substitute HB 3398 dividing Travis County among four Congressional districts and turning Lloyd Doggett's District 10 into a 60 percent Republican district stretching from Travis County to Harris County.” Earlier in the evening, Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe told lawmakers that he was unconvinced the new districts would help African-Americans, despite Republican assurances that the new lines would actually create more districts where minorities would stand a strong chance of being elected to office. “We think that anything that would undermine individuals that have already shown they can work with the African-American community would be retrogression,” Bledsoe said. “We think that when you have attempts to remove individuals who have good scores on our report cards, that is problematic. It’s not the color of the skin of that individual. It’s not the party that an individual is associated with, it’s which way they vote.” It was a diverse crowd in the hearing room Tuesday night, with folks like Lee Leffingwell, Hannah Riddering, and Renea Hicks in the audience . . . Today’s work session no barn burner . . . The City Council will hear a report by the Ethics Review Commission on its goals and accomplishments and a briefing about process improvements and planning by the Electric Service Delivery division of Austin Energy . . . Lining up for Slusher . . . Talk show Radio host Bob Cole told his listening audience to visit Council Member Daryl Slusher Tuesday afternoon to plead against the anti-smoking ordinance. Cole, an owner of the Hill’s Café on South Congress and the Tavern at 12th and Lamar, signed up to speak to Slusher along with Bob Woody, owner of the Pecan Street Café on 6th Street. Slusher said he talked to a group of about 20 in opposition to the ordinance and about 10 persons on the pro-ordinance side during his afternoon drop-in period. Representatives from Endeavor Real Estate Group also signed up to help answer Slusher’s questions about the Domain, although he said his real questions are for city staff. In addition, the Tobacco-Free Coalition evidently had a phonebank calling citizens to see if they supported the proposal. When the answer was yes, the calls were routed to Slusher’s office or to the offices of Council Members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas . . . No smoking ads . . . The Tobacco Free Austin Coalition has launched its own series of radio ads to counter those sponsored by a coalition of nightclub and restaurant owners. The commercials feature Dr. Bill Howland explaining the dangers of second-hand smoke. Along with his work at the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin, Howland performs in a local band. With a possible vote by the City Council this week, the anti-smoking forces are mounting a full publicity campaign. Mayor Gus Garcia is also scheduled to appear on the Jeff Ward Show on KLBJ-AM today at 4pm to promote the proposed ordinance . . . Don’t ask for a drink . . . The Council is doing its own cost-cutting in individual offices. For Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, the cuts amounted to $6,500. Some of the small casualties include soft drinks and water in the office refrigerator, her pager and one phone line . . . Free movies . . . The Downtown Austin Alliance kicks off Movies in the Park every Wednesday evening in May, beginning tonight with “Grease” at Republic Square Park, 4th and Guadalupe.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc.

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