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Wednesday, May 21, 2003 by

WEDNESDAY, MAY 21, 2003

Proponents to discuss lease, changes for Children's hospital

Today, the City Council will hear about the Seton Healthcare Network’s plans to move the Children’s Hospital from Brackenridge to the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site. Last night, the city’s Mueller advisory panel indicated conditional support for the proposed Seton Planned Unit Development (PUD). Seton representatives and city staff will also talk about the current Brackenridge lease agreement.

The Seton PUD will go to the Planning Commission on May 28 and is scheduled for a City Council decision on June 5. In an initial presentation last night, Bob Moroz and Bob Bonar of Seton outlined the scope of the 32-acre campus project, which will include Children’s Hospital.

The Seton campus will as also incorporate medical offices, university facilities and the Ronald McDonald House, as well as a heliport for use by the hospital.

Seton will be the first major employer to commit to the 700-acre Mueller redevelopment project. The RMMA Advisory Committee’ s subcommittee on major employers, headed by Committee Chair Jim Walker, intends to draft a letter of support on the project to present to the full committee. The letter will convey that the Seton campus appears to comply with the spirit of the master plan but encourages the developer to engage in discussions with community about its plans.

While positive about the overall project, Walker had some concerns about “spill over” issues that would be created by the site, such as a need for traffic calming devices on nearby streets and the protection of zoning beyond the fenceline so future medical office buildings don’t encroach on surrounding neighborhoods.

Subcommittee member Rick Krivoniac, a civic leader in Windsor Park, reiterated his continued objection to any development at Mueller before the serious traffic issues of 51st Street are addressed. Major traffic issues in the area must be solved, he said.

Walker pushed hard last night for continued neighborhood input into the project. While Walker didn’t want neighbors “dictating the color of the shutters” on the building, he said he does want the local community to feel comfortable with the placement of buildings and amenities for the urban campus in relationship to the existing neighborhoods.

“The point is to bring the community along, so that we’re all hand-in-hand on June 5,” Walker said. “People are going to come with the cynical sense that you’re going to get what you need and then you’re going to go. We need to address that.” Moroz, who is leading the development team at Seton, assured the subcommittee that Seton was ready to negotiate with the neighborhood and address any outstanding issues.

The Seton urban campus presents a broad mix of zoning allowances: group housing for the Ronald McDonald’s House; business or trade school for the School of Allied Health training; a cocktail lounge for a doctor’s club; fast food for a possible fast food franchise inside the hospital facility; and even campground use, for the possible accommodation of a handful of RV hook-ups for out-of-town patients requiring lengthy stays at the hospital.

Sue Edwards, director of Redevelopment Services, said the agreement between Seton and Catellus would only be one step in the process. The Seton project would also be subject to site plan review and architectural design controls set out by Catellus.

Once the PUD is approved, two transactions will occur: Seton will close the sale on the Mueller land and Catellus and Seton will sign a purchase and sales agreement to ensure Seton adheres to the Mueller master plan, according to attorney Jim Cousar.

The smaller Seton PUD would eventually be incorporated into the larger 700-acre PUD being developed by Catellus. Seton also will sign a covenant of conditions and restrictions, or CCR, that will set specific development standards. Edwards expects the negotiations between Seton and Catellus to be completed by next spring.

Clarke backs smoking ban; McCracken is opposed to changes

Early voting begins today for the final empty spot on the City Council . Austin voters must choose between Margot Clarke and Brewster McCracken for the Place 5 Council seat being vacated by Mayor-elect Will Wynn. Even though McCracken had 43 percent of the vote as compared to Clarke’s 38 percent, he cannot take the election for granted. Clarke can count on environmental fervor to pull out some Central City voters, but she does not have the corner on that segment of the voting public with Robin Rather and Brigid Shea backing McCracken.

Both candidates for Place 5 are attempting to energize their supporters, who may be less motivated to vote than they were with a full roster of City Council spots to fill and because neither represents what might be considered a threat to central city voters. Both are Democrats with support from different Democratic organizations, but neither one could promise to always support a valid petition in zoning cases. That is the litmus test the Austin Neighborhoods Together PAC, the endorsing arm of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, used to make its decision. The group did not make any endorsements this year and thus eliminated itself as a factor in the elections.

One issue on which Clarke and McCracken differ is the smoking ordinance, although that may have been difficult to discern from answers reported in last week’s Austin Chronicle. McCracken has been on the record since April as opposing the new ordinance. Clarke’s statement in the Chronicle indicated that she was reluctantly opposed also. However, she sent an email to In Fact Daily, which said: “In fairness, it is true that (the reporter’s) misunderstanding grew out of his reading of my reservations about the timing of the ban . . . I am in favor of a stronger smoking ordinance because of the health risks stemming from secondhand smoke . . . Yet, as a former bar manager, I understand very well club owners’ apprehension about what they think will be the effect on their businesses. In this depressed economy, it is difficult to accept a city action that some believe will hurt local businesses. I think it would have been preferable to have more time to educate the public, especially the business community, in order to allay those fears.”

One underlying theme in this race might be: Which candidate is a better Democrat? Leslie Ramsey, the Green Party candidate who is supporting Clarke, has sent out an email which says, “In the last election, her opponent, Brewster McCracken, donated to anti-choice Republicans including Corbin Van Arsdale and Jill Warren.” Warren, who ran against Kitchen in 2000, was a bridesmaid at the 1995 wedding of McCracken and his wife, Mindy, and is a close friend, McCracken said. He gave her $50 that year, while also contributing to Democrats Darlene Byrne ($75 -2000) and Ronnie Earle ($50- 2000). McCracken gave Kitchen $155 last year, to battle against Republican Todd Baxter . His other 2002 contributions were to David Bernsen ($75 -2002), Corbin Van Arsdale ($100-2002), Kirk Watson $550 (2002), Ron Kirk $75 (2002), John Sharp $135 (2002), Elisabeth Earle $100 (2002), Patrick Rose $250 (2002), Eddie Rodriguez $175 (2002) and Gonzalo Barrientos $100 (2002). The only Republican on the list is Van Arsdale, who, McCracken says, is an old law school friend. Van Arsdale “ran for state rep from Houston, and I and every other person from our group of friends in law school contributed to Corby in the primary (he was unopposed in the general election),” according to an email from McCracken.

Clarke says the email is “not from my campaign. We mentioned (the contributions) at some of the earlier Democratic endorsement meetings.”

Clarke’s kick-off party is tonight, beginning at 6:30pm at the Lazy Oak Inn, 211 West Live Oak. McCracken’s runoff rally is tomorrow from 5:30-8pm at B.D. Riley’s Pub, 204 E. 6th Street.

Slusher testifies improvements bring closer to supporting measure

One of the key bills of this session for Travis County and the City of Austin, which combines subdivision regulations, passed out of Senate Intergovernmental Relations on Tuesday.

House Bill 1204, authored by Rep. Todd Baxter (R-Austin), is intended to shore up last session’s House Bill 1445. That bill required a common set of subdivision platting regulations for cities and counties. Travis County and City of Austin officials—sometimes on different ends of the spectrum on issues such as environmental protection—struggled mightily to write consensus regulations, with only limited success.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) presented his committee substitute of House Bill 1204 on Tuesday morning, and Austin Council Member Daryl Slusher told the Senate IGR he could “almost support” the bill. That is, by far, the most positive reaction the city has had to the bill all session.

Cut out of the bill are requirements to default to county regulations during arbitration and a requirement to make authorities pay for maintenance of its infrastructure in the extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Yet what remains in the bill—and is of concern to the City of Austin—is the preference given to roadway plans set by the Metropolitan Planning Organization . The City of Austin has set a stricter and more environmentally conscious road plan than the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. That’s been the key sticking point in negotiations between Austin and Travis County on a common code.

Slusher told the Senate IGR he agreed with the principle of House Bill 1204. Its predecessor, House Bill 1445, was based on a “sound fundamental principle” that builders and developers should have a “one-stop” shop for the approval of subdivision plats. Developers should be able to go to one location and get approvals, without worrying about whether the county would approve one thing and the city would deny another. Slusher’s only objection was the road plan exception.

Mayor Terry Cowan of Sunset Valley had a stronger objection to House Bill 1204. He is concerned about plats defaulting to the less stringent restrictions of a county. Counties are rarely given the broad land code authority of cities. In the case of Sunset Valley, Lowe’s Home Improvement Store presented a plan for a development in Sunset Valley. Once the city evaluated the site plan and determined it could not provide proper fire protection, the land was de-annexed to the city and the city codes rewritten to provide stricter impervious cover requirements.

Sunset Valley anticipated that the development would be picked up by the City of Austin, which has even stricter regulations than Sunset Valley. The site is now in the City of Austin’s ETJ.

Cowan asked that the bill be left pending so Sunset Valley could discuss with Wentworth how jurisdiction over a piece of land would occur once it was de-annexed.

Not surprisingly, the developer had a far different take on the chain of events in Sunset Valley. Attorney Terry Irion, who represents Lowe’s, expressed his frustration to the Senate IGR. From his perspective, Lowe’s had filed three different subdivision plats in three different jurisdictions over the last nine months—Sunset Valley, the City of Austin and Travis County—and construction is still not underway.

Irion considers Sunset Valley’s rejection of the Lowe’s to be protecting the interests of an existing Home Depot. Cowan counters that the Home Depot had a piece of land with higher existing impervious cover restrictions and that the Lowe’s sits in a less desirable location, next to two neighborhoods. The two sides remain at an impasse over the development.

House Bill 1204 was initially held pending, then passed out of committee. Wentworth attached another two of his bills to HB 1204 as amendments. A long list of supporters of the bill—many of them developers on the local and state level—signed in to support the bill, but none of them spoke.

Increase blamed on nuclear plant outage,

natural gas prices

Repair work at the South Texas Nuclear Project is forcing Austin Energy officials to consider increasing customer fuel charges to help pay for increasingly more expensive natural gas supplies. AE General Manager Juan Garza reports that expenses for the STP are $5.2 million above what was budgeted. In addition, transmission of electricity is over budget by $1.6 million. However, because of savings in other areas, the utility’s operating expenses are only $1.5 million over budget.

If the nuclear plant were operating properly, he said, the utility would be operating at below budget levels. A coolant leak at STP Unit 1 forced operators to close the unit and repairs are not expected to be completed before August, according to utility spokesman Ed Clark.

Garza told the city’s Electric Utility Commission that staff is considering several small fuel charge increases so that most of it can be collected during winter months when customers’ bills are lower. Clark told In Fact Daily that utility customers who have opted for Austin Energy’s Green Power program will see no fuel charge increase until 2011. He said he expects the price of natural gas to continue to rise, with a resulting increase in power costs for all those utilities using it.

Thursday, Friday.

Early voting begins today . . . Malls, grocery stores and the Travis County Courthouse are the sites for early birds to cast their ballots. Mobile voting locations will be at the RBJ Retirement Tower on Waller Street, AmeriPark Retirement apartments and Englewood Estates today. Tomorrow the mobile booths will go to Brackenridge Hospital, Seton Centra l and Seton Southwest. Check the city’s web site for dates and times. Early vote locations will be closed this weekend for Memorial Day observances, but will reopen Monday and continue service through June 3 . . . Exemption for Mueller . . . A Senate committee has approved a bill by Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) that will exempt the former Mueller Airport site from the Capitol View Corridor. It has quite a way to go for final approval, however, and time is short. Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) included the former airport site in the Capitol corridor bill when it was first drafted. Now the former airport site is set for redevelopment . . . Juneteenth celebration planned . . . Travis County has set the 14th Annual Juneteenth Celebration for June 19th at Wooldridge Park. Hours for the event are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Ron Davis are co-sponsoring the event . . . Holding pattern on RMA agreement . . . Travis County Commissioners have decided to wait until after the Legislature adjourns to draft an interlocal agreement with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority . Travis and Williamson counties signed an interlocal to create the authority. Now Travis County will wait to see the final version of the transportation omnibus bill, House Bill 3588, to decide just how its interlocal with the RMA will be shaped.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights

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