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New economic development

Friday, June 13, 2003 by

Policy approved by Council

Slusher amendment adds environmental criteria

It was a Kumbaya moment at the City Council yesterday until Tim Taylor, president of the Real Estate Council of Austin, stepped to the podium to question Council Member Daryl Slusher’ s amendments to the new city economic development policy. Before Taylor, representatives of each of Austin’s chambers of commerce had stepped up to say they support the tax abatements and other proposals brought forward by the Mayor’s task force on the economy this spring.

Wade Cooper, chair of the Downtown Austin Alliance, was among those telling the Council his group strongly supports the policies brought forward by the task force and city staff. Even Harry Savio of the Homebuilders Association, who usually attends Council meetings to protest or complain about some Council action perceived as hostile to his members, signed up in support.

Slusher had already announced that he wanted to amend the ordinance so that those receiving city tax abatements and other benefits would be required to comply with “current water quality regulations on all their projects.” Slusher said since certain property still has grandfather rights the city cannot require developers to comply with current law on those sites. “But we don’t have to hand out incentives . . . if somebody is not being a good environmental steward.” Although he did not mention the Domain or the proposed Wal-Mart at MoPac and Slaughter, it was clear that he was talking about preventing the situation that Endeavor Real Estate created when the company asked for tax abatements on its Domain proposal. Because of a 1996 lawsuit settlement agreement, the site is not required to comply with the SOS water quality rules and could be developed with much higher levels of impervious cover. Slusher was the only Council member to vote no on that deal. (See In Fact Daily, May 16, 2003.)

Taylor told the Council, “I would encourage you to focus on whether or not (applicants) are complying with ordinances that exist in the city or with applicable permits. The whole idea of this is to encourage economic development.”

Slusher said, “How would not giving incentives . . . damage the economy?” Taylor responded, “We’re all talking around it. The issue is, I think, the Wal-Mart deal and the incentives for the Domain . . . Endeavor . . . RECA doesn’t take positions on it. I don’t represent those guys. I don’t care. But the issue is, were they legally entitled to build the Wal-Mart. And if they are, then that is their legal entitlement . . . Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Slusher said, “If you read through this (economic development) report, it talks about the importance of natural resources . . . if we destroy Barton Springs or our waterways, that wouldn’t be too good for our economy.”

Mayor-elect Will Wynn, who made the motion to adopt the economic development ordinance, accepted Slusher’s amendments as friendly, as did Council Member Betty Dunkerley, who provided the second. However, Wynn said the Council would have some challenges when deciding about specific projects in the future, “recognizing that we all have our history,” and also recognizing the potential that a developer can change his behavior.

Wynn noted that much of the new policy relates to suggested changes to the Land Development Code. Those changes will come back to the Council for review and approval. Many of them have to do with streamlining the development process to lessen the burden on small businesses as they attempt to start up or expand. For example, the Land Development Code would exempt projects of up to 1,000 square feet of new impervious cover or up to 3,000 square feet of disturbed area from the requirement to submit a site review plan for city review. The code would also be amended to standardize parking requirements to allow flexibility and reduce the number of required spaces for most land uses. Another amendment would allow the director of Watershed Protection and Review Department to administratively authorize variances in the 25-year flood plain. The idea of expanding the city’s Desired Development Zone was also approved in concept and the City Manager will bring back those changes at a subsequent work session.

The policy was adopted, but much work remains to be done. This matter will likely spark numerous more Council discussions as the city tries to pull itself back onto the road to prosperity.

Council approves final round

Of Smart Growth incentives

Convention Center Hilton receives largest amount

The City Council adopted a new economic development policy at yesterday’s meeting, focusing on incentives like tax abatements that will not take money out of city coffers immediately, but will reward job creation and new sources of sales tax revenues. But first, the Council approved the final group of fee waivers for projects qualifying under the Smart Growth matrix. Austan Librach, director of the Transportation Planning & Sustainability Department, confirmed that these downtown projects were the last in line to seek Smart Growth waivers and reimbursements.

Among those projects is the Pedernales Live-Work project at 2401 E. 6th St., which received a total of $273,600 in waivers and reimbursements. The developer is Urban Digs Austin, Ltd. a partnership of Perry Lorenz, Larry Warshaw and architect Richard deVarga. PPC Sage Austin Powers, L.P. was granted more than $56,000 in estimated waivers and reimbursements, but payment of those funds is contingent on support from the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA). If DANA does not indicate support for the project within 60 days, the project at 701 W. 5th St. will not receive enough Smart Growth points to be awarded the waivers. Austin City Lofts at 800 W. 5th St. will receive at total of $342,747.

The Council also approved waivers and reimbursements for San Jacinto Hotel Partners, L.P. for development of the Hampton Inn and Suites at 200 San Jacinto St. The total amount approved for the hotel is $181,275. The Landmark Organization, which is building the Convention Center Hotel project at 401 Neches, received the largest amount in Smart Growth waivers and reimbursements—$646,276. The hotel, which will be will receive an additional $250,000 from the Great Streets Parking Meter Fund for streetscape improvements.

The Council also approved reallocating $729,818 of previously approved fee waivers under the Great Streets Master Plan for construction of streetscape and infrastructure surrounding the AMLI residential development at 201 Lavaca.

Seton wins approval to buy Mueller land, build hospital

Seton CEO promises world class children's hospital for a century The Seton Healthcare Network won final approval from the City Council on Thursday to purchase land at Robert Mueller Airport and construct a new Children’s Hospital. That facility will be owned by Seton, which will continue to provide charity care as part of its long-term lease with the city to operate Brackenridge Hospital.

That lease runs for another 53 years, with an option to renew for another 30 years at the end. But Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman was concerned about the city’s options at the end of that contract. “In essence, we’re saying ‘go ahead, Seton, take Children’s.’ It is a regional children’s medical care facility, and it will no longer be part of the public hospital system,” Goodman said. “And even though we are tied together by this contract, the care is what we are counting on Seton to provide. We will no longer have a tie to that, control over that. And if for any reason Seton and the city came to a parting of the ways, and the system came back to us to operate, Children’s would not be there.” Retaining ownership of the land, she said, would ensure the city has a children’s healthcare facility at the end of the lease. However, officials with Seton have said they could not secure financing for the project without outright ownership.

Goodman voted against one of the five agenda items related to the creation of the new, privately owned hospital. Item number 6 on the agenda related to amending the lease agreement between the city and Seton. “A public hospital system is only as good as the broad range of services it provides and we’re taking out one of the most acclaimed parts of the system,” she said. “So even though I want to acknowledge the excellence that will be that hospital, it is no longer the public system and I can’t vote for that.” That measure passed on a vote of 6-1. The other measures, including a zoning change for 32 acres at Mueller from aviation services (AV) to planned unit development (PUD), were approved without dissent.

“It’s a very important decision. We are ecstatic for the children of our community. It does pave the way for creating a world-class regional children’s medical center here in Austin,” said Seton President and CEO Charles Barnett. Seton could break ground on the new facility in approximately nine months with the goal of completing construction in 2007. Children’s Hospital will continue to operate at the Brackenridge campus until the new facility is open.

Barnett said he hoped the long-term lease, along with Seton’s obligation to provide capital improvements at Brackenridge, would alleviate concerns about the network’s commitment to remaining in Austin. “We’ve been here for over 100 years. We came here in 1902 at the request of the community to provide service for our citizens. When we think about our commitment, we think about it in terms of centuries,” he said. “So we see this as a community asset. We see the kinds of services we provide as community services . . . and we are absolutely committed to providing care for our children, all our children, regardless of their ability to pay. Not just next year and in the next ten years, but over the next century.”

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

Saying good-bye . . . Upon his retirement, Mayor Gus Garcia received numerous gifts, one from each city department. He also received a humorous tribute by Mayor-elect Will Wynn, who presented a slide show of future American-Statesman headlines about Garcia, including: Former Mayor joins KVET: Sam, Bob and Gus show debuts (subhead: Garcia retracts “Sam and Bob can kiss my ass” statement). A brilliant career follows, with Garcia winning the Tour De France, taking over Martha Stewart’s company and joining the Dixie Chicks. Garcia said his favorite headline was: Antonio Banderas set to star in Spielberg’s Gus Garcia story . . . Appointments . . . The Council reappointed three commission members on consent: Patti Hall to the Historic Landmark Commission, Jeb Boyt to the Parks and Recreation Board and Phillip Haught to the Building and Fire Code Board of Appeals . . . Free admission . . . Swim by moonlight at Barton Springs Saturday night. The Save Our Springs Alliance is having a potluck party that starts at 8 pm. Swimming will be free after 9pm, as it is every night at the Springs . . . No raise . . . Like most city employees, City Manager Toby Futrell won’t be getting a raise next year. It’s part of an effort to hold the line on costs as the city deals with the projected budget shortfall for the 2003-04 fiscal year . . . No more cab permits . . . The city is putting a freeze on new permits for taxicabs. The City Council voted to change the formula for allocating new permits at the recommendation of the Urban Transportation Commission. Cab drivers had complained that the old formula, which based the number of available permits on the city’s total population, had been skewed by rapid population growth and annexations. The city won’t revoke any of the existing 565 permits, but will set the new target number at 515. The new formula will factor in annual population growth and the number of cab trips from ABIA . . . Saved by Early Action Compact . . . The director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is recommending that Travis County be declared a non-attainment area for the new EPA 8-hour ozone standard. However, since Travis County and surrounding counties are already part of an Early Action Compact to address air-quality issues, any non-attainment designation would be deferred. Bexar and Gregg counties can expect to be deferred for similar reasons. However, the counties that make up the metropolitan areas of Dallas, Houston, Galveston and Beaumont are not recommended for deferral. The TCEQ will hold a public hearing on the recommendation on Friday, June 20. The commissioners of the agency will then make a recommendation to the governor, who will send his recommendation on to the EPA. Dallas and surrounding counties, as well as Harris, Galveston and other Gulf coast counties are on the non-attainment list. The counties of the Golden Triangle, Jefferson, Hardin and Orange are also in non attainment . . . Note to Archives users . . . Our search engine has been experiencing technical difficulties. Every attempt is being made to correct the problem. In the meantime, we appreciate your patience.

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