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Decide Lowe's case todayCity negotiating over related case it lost in district court Travis County Commissioners seem poised to comply with the terms of the newly enacted HB1204, the law tailor-made to allow Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse in far Southwest Travis County, to build under county regulations only. That matter is scheduled to come up this morning. Attorneys for Travis County have explained to their clients that the new law does not give them a lot of options. Environmentalists and Sunset Valley residents are planning to attend today’s meeting to protest Lowe’s plans. Behind the scenes, the City of Austin is negotiating with the lawyers for landowners whose properties adjoin the Lowe’s tract, as well as with Lowe’s representatives. The city is appealing a case that owners of property in the Garza Ranch subdivision won this spring. Like most such cases, the complex matter revolves around which rules should apply to the property. Attorneys Terry Irion and Dan Wheelis are representing the plaintiffs in that lawsuit. Irion is also representing Lowe’s. Irion says of Judge Pete Lowry’s decision on the Garza subdivision, “It was a strong written judgment slamming the city.” He feels confident that his clients can prevail on appeal, but the city has hired Casey Dobson, a seasoned litigator who has helped the city out of various rough spots. Dobson is also well known to the community for negotiating the Stratus agreement, among others. Irion said, “We want to settle all issues with Garza in one global settlement,” as well as the issues between Lowe’s and the city. Lowe’s sued the city in late February, before HB1204 had been filed. The City of Austin was the second city to reject a site plan for the 31 acres over the Edwards Aquifer. Before that, Sunset Valley had rejected Lowe’s application. At the time of the Sunset Valley application, the land was in Sunset Valley’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. Sunset Valley released the property and it came into Austin’s jurisdiction—or not—depending on whose legal argument one believes. At any rate, Austin rejected the application and Lowe’s filed suit. Irion now argues that Austin did not take the necessary steps to bring the land into its ETJ. Dobson adamantly disagrees with Irion, saying the land is in Austin’s ETJ. But that point will be moot once the county approves the site plan and Lowe’s could just dismiss its suit against the city. On the other hand, both cases could drag on and Irion knows that. “Their only club is they could engage in litigation ad nauseum. They could litigate the interpretation of this brand new law.” Lowe’s, on the other hand, could agree to limit its impervious cover to 40 percent—which Irion says is allowed under the only water quality rules Lowe’s is required to obey. Those rules, administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, are called a Water Pollution Abatement Plan under the Edwards Aquifer Rules. Those rules do not come close to what is prescribed by the SOS Ordinance, which would cut the impervious cover to less than half that amount. What neither the city nor Lowe’s representatives will say—at least in public—is that an attack on the Legislature’s newly minted law might lead to repercussions during the special session that begins next week. The city’s lobbyists have been feeling relieved that legislators approved nothing more sweeping than HB1204 in terms of land regulation. Dobson said both sides in the dispute want to settle both the Lowe’s matter and the other lawsuit through negotiation and that both are negotiating in good faith. Irion adds that Sunset Valley leaders may be unhappy now that they released the land from their ETJ. “Now, they’re figuring out they made a really dumb move . . . They’re not going to get any sales tax.” Austin, on the other hand, might be able to collect some of that sales tax money through a successful negotiation. HLC begins historic zoning On 26th Street home, apartment Developer wants to replace houses with multi-family housing The Historic Landmark Commission’ s decision to initiate a historic zoning case on two structures on West 26th Street was probably no surprise to the neighborhood or to would-be developers. It’s hard to throw a stone within a 10-block permit of the University of Texas and not hit a house with some kind of historic tie. Early heads of state agencies built some houses; famous professors lived in others. Even rental properties generally have ties to well-known Austinites from one era or another. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky could identify five historic landmark criteria met by the house at 711 W. 26th Street and the garage apartment at 713 W. 26th Street. The Delta Chi fraternity currently occupies both buildings. Developer John Lairsen would like to replace the buildings with multi-family housing, which has begun to encroach on the university from the north. Lairsen wants to combine three lots into one for multi-family development. In a brief presentation, Lairsen pointed out that the garage apartment was “in bad shape,” and added that he would have been willing to move the house, but that the additions and remodeling made it difficult. The house and garage apartment, once constituting a single lot, do have their own history. The house was built in 1905 and bought by grocer Paul Goldmann and his wife Mamie in 1913. Goldmann, who eventually established a grocery store on Congress Avenue with his brother Alfred, ironically died of indigestion in June 1913. His widow, possibly the state curator in either the 1920s or 1930s, went on to build the garage apartment next door as a rental unit. Neither of the Goldmann daughters ever married and both lived in the house until their deaths in the 1990s. Daughter Mary Earnestine was a renowned professor of home economics. Pauline was a junior high teacher. The garage apartment was occupied by a series of university professors, most of them a year at a time. Sadowsky described the properties owned by the Goldmann daughters as a place where intellectuals frequently gathered. According to Sadowsky’s recommendation, “Based on preliminary research and evaluation, the house and associated garage apartment appear to meet historic landmark designation criteria . . . for its exemplification of the standard of living of a small businessman and his family at the turn of the twentieth century, their construction of a garage apartment to rent out to visiting professors, its association with the Goldmann family and its place in the context of the physical and cultural development of West Campus.” Sadowsky said the two structures had a “high degree of architectural merit as a hybrid of styles and elements popular in the first decades of the twentieth century.” The two structures are one of a diminishing number of turn-of-the-century houses in the West Campus area. In an interesting twist, Mike McHone served as the primary speaker in opposition to the demolition permit. As a developer, McHone has stood before the Historic Landmark Commission asking for demolition permits on University area properties. But as the vice president of the University Partners Association, McHone asked the commission to initiate a historic zoning in this particular case. McHone pointed out that a number of the other historic homes in the University area are within blocks of the Goldmann house. “Tonight we feel this case requires further study of the full facts to decide if it meets historical merits,” McHone told the commission. “Demolition is premature without the full investigation and the full understanding of what we have in front of us.” McHone added that the neighborhood was prepared to be flexible on the property, perhaps allowing the addition of a building or some type of remodeling. Rick Iverson, president of the North University Neighborhood Association, which shares a boundary with the University Area Partners, also spoke in favor of the initiation of a historic hearing. Commissioner Julie Hooper made the motion to initiate a historic zoning case, which will send Sadowsky out to gather further historic information on the property. Capital Metro voices support For infill project on Sixth Street Rent-restricted units near downtown core The developers of the Villas on Sixth in downtown Austin got a letter of support from the board of Capital Metro on Monday. The developers are seeking tax credits worth $1.2 million from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to help build rent-restricted apartments for families earning up to 50 percent of the area’s median family income. While Capital Metro does not have any direct authority over whether the state grants the tax credits, developers Campbell-Hogue and Associates wanted to add the transit agency to a long list of governmental bodies and elected officials supporting the project. Other officials in support include former Mayor Gus Garcia, former Senator Phil Gramm, State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and State Representative Todd Baxter. “We’re excited about the Villas project, and we think it’s going to fit in well with the transportation system you are working on,” Terry Campbell of Campbell-Hogue told Capital Metro Board members. “It’s an infill project that’s going to be the first and maybe the last of its kind that will come anywhere close to serving the downtown core.” Plans call for a 160-unit complex in the 1900 block of East 6th Street, with the rental rates on 85 percent of those units restricted. While there are several other residential projects in development downtown, most of those are targeted primarily at tenants in higher income brackets. Staff members of the TDHCA are scheduled to present a recommendation to their board this week about whether the agency should provide tax credits for the project. The TDHCA board should make its decision next month. ©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved. American City Vista opening today . . . American City Vista (ACV), the city's Austin Housing Finance Corporation and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are hosting a ribbon-cutting event at 10:30am today to show off two new housing projects in Southeast Austin. Los Arboles is a community of 326 homes at Nuckols Crossing Road and Viewpoint Drive. The smaller Los Jardines, a 136-home subdivision, is at Bluff Springs Road and Blue Meadow Drive, south of William Cannon Drive. ACV, headed by former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, hopes to help area renters in this largely Hispanic area of town to become homeowners. ACV has been working with the leadership of the Southeast Corner Alliance of Neighborhoods (SCAN), a consortium of 8 neighborhood associations in South and Southeast Austin. ACV also plans a block party for tonight . . . Downtown Commission to tackle Rainey Street . . . The commission will meet at Waller Creek Plaza at 6pm to talk about the future of Rainey Street . . . Zoning and Platting Commission meets too . . . Several South Austin zoning cases and several site plans are on the agenda . . . RMMA meets with Seton . . . Neighborhood representatives will discuss the planned PUD at Mueller with officials from Seton Healthcare Network and Catellus Development Corporation. The meeting begins at 6pm at Promise Land Church Fellowship Hall, 1504 E. 51st Street . . . Parks and Recreation Board . . . The board will be making recommendations regarding three boat docks and two city sites for water facilities . . . Light load for HLC . . . The Violet Crown at 1504 West Lynn in Old Enfield won an easy case for historic zoning last night at the Historic Landmark Commission. The million-dollar house, built in 1925, has a quirky history. The Austin-American Statesman commissioned the construction of the house, which was designed by architect Hugo Kuehne. The stucco Tudor revival was touted as the “ideal home.” Owner Carol Reifsnyder described the house as a place full of “humor, beauty and delight.” The name—The Violet Crown—is a reference to O Henry’s name for Austin. . . Bikeway discussion . . . Cyclists and downtown residents gathered for a meeting to discuss the Lance Armstrong Bikeway last night at Metz Elementary in East Austin. “It was a pretty good turnout,” said project manager David Magana with the City of Austin’s Public Works Department. “It’s a very good sign that people are interested in this project.” Some work on the project is already being done under I-35 at Fourth Street to connect the downtown section to the eastern section. Groundbreaking on the rest of the bikeway is tentatively scheduled for December of 2004.
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