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Council to vote on changes

Thursday, June 5, 2003 by

Final Smart Growth projects would go to Council next week

Smart Growth is about to become a thing of the past, as the city implements new policies for retaining jobs and creating new ones. Members of the city’s economic development staff hope Council will adopt incentives such as tax abatements, which was awarded to the Domain last month. They are also recommending use of performance measures as a way to guarantee that the businesses actually do what they promised in return for the incentives.

The recommendation for Austin to adopt that option came during a staff report on the suggestions already provided by the Mayor’s Task Force on the Economy. “There are three main reasons why the city should consider creating a shared investment with a company or project,” said Sue Edwards, director of the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office . “One is to secure the expansion or relocation of a desired company. Two, to foster the creation of a significant level of public benefits associated with a project. And three, to preserve the existing city tax base.” The local government code allows cities to craft their own criteria to determine which companies or projects will be eligible for grants or loans. Those criteria, said Edwards, would allow the city to offer the benefits only after a project has proven its value and also to screen out those companies with business practices that run counter to local community values.

Elements of the existing Smart Growth plan will likely be included in the new criteria matrix. “We can be incorporating things like public space, narrow streets, wide sidewalks, mixed use, corner stores, first floor retail and all those kinds of things that are now in the Smart Growth criteria,” according to Austan Librach, director of the Transportation Planning & Sustainability Department. But adopting them as elements of the new comprehensive plan would mean the elimination of the Smart Growth program as a separate entity. “Our proposal to you is to bring the remaining Smart Growth projects that are in the pipeline to you on June 12, and for you to simply dispose of, if you will, those last remaining projects. We’re no longer accepting any projects for Smart Growth consideration under the old system and would transition into this system,” Librach said. “This is what we think will work.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher had several questions about how the city could consistently determine if a company’s business practices were in line with locally held values. And Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman wanted additional clarification on some of the staff’s recommendations related to changes in the Land Development Code. The general concepts of the economic development policy could be presented to the Council for approval on June 12, with room for further refinement of the different criteria over the summer.

Several development items also up today

A proposal by Council Member Daryl Slusher to hold an election this fall on the proposed no-smoking ordinance may be scrapped before it ever gets off the ground. Slusher, who has supported the tough new rules against smoking in public places, said yesterday he would be willing to put the matter up for a public vote—but was warned against that course of action by the city’s legal department.

“I feel like so many people have very strong opinions on this on both sides . . . It really has such a sweeping effect on a lot of folks that it was appropriate to put it up for an election,” Slusher told In Fact Daily. “But the city attorneys tell me you can’t do that.” Opponents of the measure, including bar and nightclub owners, have repeatedly called for a vote by the citizens. The City Charter provides for public votes on bond packages, the election of office-holders and in response to a petition drive, but it does not include a provision allowing the Council to call for a public referendum on its own to decide policy questions ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/law/lgchta4.htm) . While the public vote in 1993 to close Robert Mueller Airport was widely perceived as a referendum, it also included a provision allowing the city to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for new construction necessary to open the new airport at Bergstrom.

Without a financial component, it would take a citizen-sponsored petition drive to force the issue onto the ballot. Slusher said that could be a possibility regardless of how the Council votes today. The measure to eliminate smoking in most public places has passed by a vote of 4-3 on the first two readings, with exemptions being crafted for bingo parlors, pool halls and fraternal organizations. And while the measure before the Council today is significantly different than the one first proposed by Mayor Gus Garcia, there could be more proposals for exemptions today with the potential to attract Council Members Raul Alvarez, Jackie Goodman and Will Wynn to support the ordinance.

The Council will also decide whether to instruct City Manager Toby Futrell to negotiate a contract to sell 32 acres of the former Robert Mueller Airport (RMMA) site to Catellus Development Corp. to construct the new children’s hospital. In addition to that, the Council will consider a resolution declaring intent to reimburse $7,250,000 in costs related to the Catellus-Seton Site Development Project, plus a reimbursement agreement for a water main and related hardware. There is little likelihood that the Council will reject any of these proposals. There will also be a public hearing at 6:30pm on amending the city’s lease agreement with Seton to allow the healthcare provider to move the children’s hospital to RMMA.

Agape Christian Ministries, which plans to build a new 1000-seat church on Peaceful Hill lane, is coming back for a third vote on a zoning change request. Neighbors have a valid petition against the change, but the Council unanimously approved the changes on first and second readings. The church has agreed to a conditional overlay as outlined by the Council, but the petition could still cause problems.

Other development-related topics include an item to zone the Hyde Park A&P Grocery at 3810 Speedway as historic.The Hyde Park Baptist Church owns the property and opposes the historic designation. The church had hoped to demolish the building to make way for other uses. Neighbors support the historic designation, not so much as a preservation technique but as a way to prevent church expansion. None of the bills considered by the Texas Legislature that would have changed the dynamics of the situation that won final approval.

The question of what to do about super-duplexes—the subject of an ongoing moratorium—is also on the agenda. One item calls for third reading on the new duplex ordinance and the other would extend the moratorium beyond its current expiration date, which is midnight tonight. The neighborhood plan amendment ordinance, which has put Goodman and Council Member Betty Dunkerley at odds, could finally be approved on third reading.

Slusher is sponsoring a resolution directing staff to evaluate and report back within 60 days on the usage and the environmental impact of parking lot sealants within the city and the possibility of regulation. By now, most in the city know that the parking lot sealant from an apartment complex—used commonly throughout the nation—is responsible for polluting the hillside above Barton Springs.

ZAP recommends variance

For Target PUD at 4 Points

Project offers more than required, not perfect, water quality protection

The issue of the Jollyville Salamander raised its head as the Zoning & Platting Commission considered a variance for the Target at Four Points Centre Tuesday night.

The proposed 125,000-square-foot Target is located in the Four Points Centre PUD, the land on which the Golden-cheeked warbler was initially found and which triggered the creation of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve. About 182 of the 333 acres of the site in the 11000 block of FM 2222 have already been set aside as preserve land.

Attorney Michael Whelan, who represented the owner of the property during the presentation, stressed that the Target project was intended to serve additional rooftops in the immediate area, people who were already driving into or out of town for retail. He also pointed out that the location is within the city limits of Austin.

“What we have here is a PUD from 1995,” Whelan told commissioners. “We’re ready to proceed with retail, now that homes have moved out into the area. What we’re doing is to do the best we can to exceed code and retain the tax base for the city.”

An HEB grocery store, McDonalds and a multi-family project are already on the site. Developers now want to carve out 14 acres for a Target store. The project will require a variance from Section 9-10-409 of the Lake Austin Watershed Ordinance to allow cut and fill in excess of four feet.

Most of the cut and fill, according to a letter from Bury + Partners, will be at the back of the Target site. The maximum required fill at the low point of the ravine beneath the fire lane on the property will be 23 feet, and the maximum required cut will be 19 feet, located at the northwest end of the Target site’s water quality pond.

In his presentation to the ZAP, Jim Knight of Bury + Partners told commissioners that the developer had been working with staff on a compromise for 15 months. Conditions set by staff include revegetation of the site with a native grass/wildflower mix, replacing all Class I trees, incorporating structurally contained fill and setting aside a minimum of 12 percent of the site as Hill County Natural Area—which exceeds the PUD requirements of 5 percent.

At a presentation before the Environmental Board, Vice Chair Tim Jones raised red flags on the project with his concern about downstream protection of the Jollyville Salamander. Jones also spoke at Tuesday night’s ZAP meeting and admitted mixed feelings about the development—feelings he has had since the development was first announced in 1989.

Jones praised Knight on his efforts to exceed the city’s water quality requirements. Knight told the ZAP board that the detention pond on the site, now the maximum allowed under the parameters of the property, would be big enough to handle an estimated 97 percent of the rain events in Austin.

“I want to compliment Jim Knight for really going forward to increase the capture volume of this water quality pond,” Jones told Knight and the ZAP board.

That was followed by Jones’ explanation of why he wanted the city to go even further to protect water quality on the project. The tributary of Bull Creek on the property feeds into a plunge pond and grotto where the Jollyville salamander has been found. Jones pointed out that the Jollyville Salamander did not reach the level of an endangered species, but was a “species of concern” found in isolated areas of the region.

Other areas where the Jollyville Salamander has been sighted—Canyon Creek and Spicewood Springs—have already been developed. That’s why Jones called for the retention of at least 2.5 inches of capture volume, equal to a 3-hour rain event. He hoped the ZAP would at least ask the developer to consider rainwater harvesting.

The ZAP did not spend much time on the topic. Chair Betty Baker asked Chris Dolan of the city’s environmental staff whether he considered the Jollyville Salamander to be in danger from the Target project. Dolan hesitated briefly, calling it a “loaded question.” Dolan praised Jones’ presentation on the issue, but had to admit the developer had done “everything possible” to protect the species. The closest sighting by city staff has been 12,500 feet downstream.

With little discussion, the ZAP unanimously approved the variance. With the construction of the Target, the site will have reached 63 percent impervious cover. A maximum of 72 percent impervious cover is allowed on the site under the Four Points PUD agreement.,

Thursday, Friday.

Budget cuts and politics . . . The leaders of Austin firefighters, police and EMS associations will be holding a press conference at 11am this morning on the sidewalk in front of the Central Fire Station, 501 E. 5th Street. All of these groups have endorsed Brewster McCracken in his race against Place 5 opponent Margot Clarke. The press notification sent out by the groups says they are concerned about proposed cuts in public safety funding in the upcoming budget. City Manager Toby Futrell has not proposed cuts to any particular department, but every budget discussion starts with the fact that public safety departments have eaten more than 60 percent of the budget since 9-11. The city needs to reduce spending for the upcoming year by at least $54 million . . . So much to do, so little time . . . Besides voting, there will be much to occupy Austinites this Saturday. East Austin community leaders, Capital Metro and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department are sponsoring the first La Feria de Calle Cinco from 11am to 9:30pm at Plaza Saltillo . Organizers hope to bring more attention to Plaza Saltillo as a tourist attraction and community destination point. Capital Metro will be operating free shuttle service to Plaza Saltillo. For more information, visit the web site http://www.enaustin.com . . . At Republic Square . . . The Austin Farmer’s Market, from 8am to Noon at Republic Square Park, 4th and Guadalupe, offers fresh local produce and baked goods. Later in the day, from 3pm to 9pm, the Texas Craft Brewer’s Festival will offer barbecue and micro-brewed beers from across Texas. The event will close 4th Street between Guadalupe and San Antonio from noon to midnight . . . Also Saturday night . . . Grupo Fantasma, the Aztex and Ghandaia headline the 13th annual Soul of the City Concert at La Zona Rosa, beginning at 8pm. The event brings in funds for the Save Our Springs Alliance . For more information, contact Pat Brodnax at 477-2320 ext.18 . . . Gay Pride Parade . . . The 2nd Annual Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Pride Parade is scheduled from 8 to 9:30pm on Congress Avenue. No streets will be closed, but drivers could encounter significant delays on Congress and 5th Street west of Congress . . . Georgetown residents listen up . . . The US Army Corps of Engineers has announced a request from the City of Georgetown for lease of 21 acres downstream from Lake Georgetown dam. The Corps is soliciting public comment on the lease request, which is available at the Lake Georgetown Office, 500 Cedar Breaks Road in Georgetown . . . Breaker One-Nine . . . A 30-truck “ Convoy for Hunger” will be driving up Congress Avenue and onto East Eleventh Street between 10:45 a.m. and 11:15 am today. Expect some mid-morning delays in crossing Congress Avenue and East Eleventh Street.

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