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Item will be scheduled for action next week

Friday, May 9, 2003 by

The City Council Thursday night put off a decision on public assistance for The Domain, a proposed mixed-use retail and residential development on MoPac at Braker in northwest Austin. The delay will likely only be for one week, since developers are seeking a definite answer from the city before a major retailer’s convention during which they hope to secure an anchor tenant. That convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers begins May 18th in Las Vegas ( http://www.icsc.org /).

Representatives of Endeavor Real Estate Group, which is seeking sales tax breaks under Chapter 380 of the Local Government Code, told Council members the project would generate significant property and sales tax revenues for the city and said they need an answer about the public participation soon. “We have been working all year to set up these meetings at this convention to sign letters of intent and close deals, and it’s difficult to do because the people we’re dealing with don’t know if we have a viable project,” said Kirk Rudy. “Therefore, it’s critical that we know whether the city will support this investment in a very short amount of time.”

Environmental groups and some South Austin residents are urging the city to use the request by Endeavor as leverage over the company on a separate project. The company has a contract to buy land at the northeast corner of MoPac and Slaughter, which it would then sell to Wal-Mart for development as a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Because of a grandfathered development agreement, the company would not have to comply with the the SOS Ordinance. “We’re here to oppose the massive subsidy package to a development company that is proposing to pave 50 percent of a tract that is over the Barton Springs recharge zone,” said Colin Clark of the Save Our Springs Alliance. “They’re different projects, but the same company.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher agreed that it was fair to link the two projects. “I do think it’s legitimate to talk about these two projects being participated in by the same company, because if we’re going to provide tax incentives for one project….which is in an area where we want growth…but the other one is out over the aquifer,” said Slusher. “It’s going to pollute the aquifer. I would encourage you to do more than just provide some mitigation funds,” he said, directing his comments at Endeavor officials. “Maybe you can talk to Wal-Mart. Before, we’ve linked things up, and that’s how we’ve moved forward in this city.”

City staffers told Council members that because of the settlement of a lawsuit, the tract could be developed with up to 65% impervious cover—which is more than the approximately 50% being planned by Wal-Mart. In addition, the company is offering to buy up to 125 acres elsewhere over the aquifer to help mitigate the effects of development—which it is not required to do. “As far as the site itself, if they were to submit the Wal-Mart tract to the city, administratively we would be required to approve the plan…if it complied with the Williamson Creek Watershed regulations,” said Environmental Officer Pat Murphy .

Some prominent community members agree with Slusher that the city should attempt to influence Endeavor’s business dealings with the world’s largest retailer. “There’s a lot to like about the Domain,” Robin Rather told In Fact Daily. Rather stressed that she was speaking as an individual, not as a representative of any of the organizations of which she is a member. “I think if you took it on a stand-alone basis you could really get happy about it. The concern I have is, concurrent with the Domain, Endeavor is engaged in bringing Wal-Mart to a site that is right on top of the aquifer and I have a huge problem with that. So, I want to ask the Council to try really hard to find a way to move forward with the Domain but discourage Wal-Mart from coming to the aquifer. What I think is important is that we not get so desperate for assets that we turn a blind eve to something that will damage our environment or hurt our quality of life.”

But not everyone is convinced linking the projects is the way to go. Place 5 candidate Brewster McCracken sent out a press release Thursday announcing his opposition to the Wal-Mart at its proposed location. However, in response to a question he told In Fact Daily he believes the Domain and the Wal-Mart “are separate issues and should be judged separately.”

At the request of both Slusher and Council Member Will Wynn, city staff members will conduct additional research about the economic impact of the proposed new urban development over the next week. The item will be on next week’s agenda for action by the Council.

After hearing hours of testimony about public health, the rights of business owners, and the role of government, the Austin City Council voted 4-3 in favor of tough new rules against smoking in most public places.

The first round approval of the ordinance included several amendments to the near-total ban supported by Mayor Gus Garcia. Council Member Betty Dunkerley proposed exempting bingo halls, certain adults-only billiard parlors, and “fraternal organizations” such as the Elks Club or the Knights of Columbus. Dunkerley provided the second and added friendly amendments to the motion to pass the stricter version of the ordinance proposed by Mayor Garcia.

The 4-3 split vote means both supporters and opponents of the new rules emerged from the meeting with some hope that their position will eventually prevail. “I look at it as a success,” said Bob Woody of the East Sixth Street Community Association, which is opposed to the new ordinance. “We’ve broken the ice and gotten the deal rolling.” Getting all seven Council members on the record, Woody added, would help them focus their efforts before the final reading. “We’ve identified the people that we need to visit with,” he said. “We had three votes not to pass it and four votes to pass it. So we need to identify the vote that we need to get. It’s not any secret.”

On the other side, public health advocates also say they won’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the passage on first reading. “We were happy with the four-three vote,” said Willy Snell of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, “although we’re not sure that we can’t get one more vote.”

The three amendments proposed by Dunkerley, while intended as a compromise, may wind up satisfying neither supporters nor opponents of the ordinance. “Honestly, if you’re going to go smoke-free, then push that agenda,” said Woody. The various exemptions, according to Woody, would prove problematic and were essentially unfair. “It is better for it not to work and get rolled back than it is for it to be in place and unlevel the playing field for businesses.” On the other side, anti-smoking activists had some of the same questions asked by Council members about the exemptions. “What defines a pool hall? We weren’t happy with that amendment at all,” said Snell. Working out those definitions will be one of the jobs facing staff in the next two weeks before the ordinance comes back for second reading on May 22nd.

Voting in favor of the measure late Thursday were Mayor Gus Garcia and Council Members Daryl Slusher, Danny Thomas and Dunkerley. Council Members Will Wynn, Jackie Goodman, and Raul Alvarez were all opposed. After the long night of testimony and statistics, Garcia tried one more time to win over the doubters. He downplayed the dire predictions made by some bar and nightclub owners that a ban on smoking in their establishments would drive them out of business. Similar claims, he noted, were made when the Council passed the current ordinance which prohibits smoking in restaurants. “I think that I would want the community to adopt the attitude that this is good for us as a city, and do more global thinking than just what they perceive to be the immediate impact,” said Garcia.

Council approves Holly

Neighborhood Plan rezonings

Balcones Recycling unhappy about conditions placed on property

A finished product for the Holly Neighborhood Plan—including rezoning of 31 tracts—got an initial nod from the City Council Thursday, despite worries from a recycling company over its future with several more restrictions on business at the site.

The Council voted 7-0 to approve neighborhood plan amendments and zoning changes on first reading for most of the properties. However, Council Member Will Wynn cast the lone no vote on a separate issue, the rezoning of the Balcones Recycling on 2416 E. Sixth Street. The company had filed a valid petition against the rezoning. Council Members Daryl Slusher and Danny Thomas also openly indicated that they would like to take a closer look at the business’s case, which calls for adding more conditions on uses to a zoning designation of LI-CO-NP . City staff recommended three allowed uses for the site—light manufacturing and arts and crafts studio and recycling. Council Member Raul Alvarez pushed for the more restrictive overlay that would prohibit recycling uses. His proposal won initial approval.

The change will make Balcones Recycling a non-conforming use, which would disallow any changes in business operations or continuation of the business if there was a gap in operation for 90 days.

“I’m not familiar with all the jargon,” said Balcones Recycling CEO Kerry Getter. “I just know what we do, and I don’t want to impede what we do in the future.” Getter said he is concerned that his company—which operates several other types of industrial business in other locations around the country—would be hindered if it tried to relocate an additional operation to the East Sixth Street location.

Getter said one operation in Arkansas, for instance, takes rejected baby wipes and repackages them for cow udder wipes at dairies, and the company could foresee a chance of putting unused building space at the site to use for the operation. “The material is sterile…I don’t know how you can get any cleaner,” he said.

However, city staff noted that the baby wipe to udder wipe operation would be allowed under the change, since it is merely a repackaging of materials considered as light manufacturing and not a new recycling venture.

Slusher said that when Balcones Recycling came to its home in East Austin in 1996, there were predictions that it would be a “horrible,” detrimental business, which he said proved wrong. “I think they actually have proven to be good neighbor,” he said.

Alvarez, however, said he was looking at a longer range prospect, one that showed a mixed use neighborhood with new residential and educational uses moving in. Such an area wouldn’t be suitable for a recycling center, he said. Additionally, Alvarez maintained that the Holly plan needs to be consistent with the final Govalle/Johnston Terrace Combined Neighborhood Plan, approved on final reading Thursday.

The Holly Plan, originally approved in 2001, didn’t include a large number of rezonings, because the Council directed that the Govalle/Johnston Terrace area, with much more intensive industry, should be used as a test case for how to rezone other Central East Austin areas. The Holly rezonings would then follow. Alvarez said the Council needs to adhere to that course and apply the same conditions on uses for properties that need to remain industrial. “I’m trying to apply the same principals here,” he said.

Throughout the city process and before the Planning Commission, Balcones Recycling representatives maintained that there’s no reason to apply the same conditions to an entire area and that individual businesses should receive consideration on a case by case basis. Additionally, Getter said the company had always been an integral part of the Holly Neighborhood Planning team and process and that the original consensus reached before discussions on rezonings did not add additional restrictions to uses.

Susanna Almanza of People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources told the council she objected to keeping industrial zoning for several parcels near residences, and maintaining industrial zoning for the future site of the UT charter elementary school. However, city staff countered that the parcels in question were buffered by other businesses with less intensive industry.

Balcones Recycling is on the receiving end of an effort to rid much of East Austin of a disproportionate share of industrial uses in the urban core area. To that degree, the Holly process represents a success for neighborhood planners. The percentage of total acreage for industrial uses started at 17.1 percent when the planning process started, dropped to 10.2 percent currently, and plummets to 3.5 percent with changes approved on first reading by Council. Most of the rezoning under consideration now changes the uses from light industrial to commercial services, mixed use, with conditional overlays (CS-MU-CO-NP).

Take that, Raleigh-Durham . . . Forbes’ Magazine has listed Austin as the Number 1 place for business and careers in its yearly ranking of major metropolitan areas. Austin came in first based on low costs, high quality of life and availability of an educated labor pool in the June issue, which should be on newsstands today. Boise, Idaho came in second and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina was third. Atlanta came in fourth. Dallas, the only other Texas city in the top 10, was number 9 . . . Zoning approved for Smart Housing subdivision. . . The Council unanimously approved new zoning for 517 single-family homes and a 250 unit multi-family development in a newly annexed area at the intersection of Colton Bluff Springs Road and McKinney Falls Pkwy yesterday. The zoning had the approval of the Southeast Corner Alliance of Neighborhoods. . . Hays County wins, loses appeal. . . The Texas Third Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by Hays County in connection with a lawsuit filed by the Hays County Water Planning Partnership (HCWPP) over a map submitted by the county to the Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). HCWPP sued the county, alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act and seeking reinstatement of a map that was approved in open court. The 2025 Transportation Plan map was altered between its approval at the meeting and before it was submitted to the Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). The appeals court ruling stated, “The change made by Commissioner (Bill) Burnett is an incorrect interpretation of the Commissioners May 16th action . . . We hold that because the ‘staff altered’ map that Commissioner Burnett delivered to CAMPO is not an accurate interpretation of the commissioners court’s May 16 action, it is invalid and may not be utilized for any purpose.” However, the court also ruled that the county did not violate the Open Meetings Act or the Open Courts Act. An injunction against the county regarding use of the invalid map was dissolved. The appeals court said it was not necessary to maintain the injunction since the altered map is invalid . . . Appointments . . . Council appointed Mimi McKay to the Bond Oversight Committee, Carol Marie Haynes to the Child Care Council, Firoj B. Vahora to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs and John Mayo to the Federally Qualified Health Center Board. Julie Hooper, who is the executive director for the Austin Heritage Society, was appointed to the Historic Landmark Commission . Council Member Betty Dunkerley appointed Andrew T. Clements to the Urban Transportation Commission. . . Moving on . . . Wendy Morgan is leaving her job as director of music marketing for the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau to become executive director for the Texas Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. . . Saturday morning street closure . . . The March of Dimes Walk America will cause traffic delays on Cesar Chavez Street, between the South First Bridge and MoPac, the Lamar Boulevard Bridge and the South First Street Bridge beginning around 9:30am Saturday. No streets north of Cesar Chavez will be affected, and all traffic is expected to return to normal before noon. Walk America is the biggest fundraiser for the March of Dimes, which raises money for research to help prevent premature births, birth defects and other infant help problems. For more information or to sign up for the event, visit the web site: http://www.walkamerica.org/wd_regp01.asp

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc.

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