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SOS Alliance sues Bee Cave

Tuesday, July 8, 2003 by

Over Galleria mall agreement

Aldermen set to vote on new proposal tonight

The Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) has sued the Village of Bee Cave to prevent it from implementing a development agreement that would facilitate construction of the Hill Country Galleria. In addition to suing the village, SOSA has named HCG Master Ground Lease, LP and Baldwin Properties, Ltd.

Chris Milam of HCG, which leased property owned by Robert Baldwin for 100 years to build the Galleria, has been negotiating with Bee Cave to amend the agreement, reducing the impervious cover on the Galleria property, on the north side of Highway 71, and adding another shopping center across the street. SOSA is especially alarmed about the new mall since it may become the site of a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, a magnet for traffic and accompanying pollution.

Milam’s attorney, David Armbrust, said his client is purchasing 88 acres from Spanish Oaks Commercial on the south side of the highway. “He is proposing to do another type of shopping center (with tenants) like Barnes & Noble and Petco.” Armbrust confirmed that Milam is talking to Lowe’s as a possible tenant, but added that the parties have not reached an agreement. The proposed center would be called the Shops at Galleria.

SOSA alleges in its suit that “One of the provisions discussed for the proposed expanded agreements is for HCG and/or Baldwin to pay for a new city hall with the developer being reimbursed with tax rebates over a period of decades at a 10 percent rate of return.” Armbrust said Milam is seeking a Chapter 380 Economic Development Agreement with Bee Cave, much like the one covering the Galleria. He said Bee Cave had agreed to 55 percent impervious cover for the Galleria, excluding roads, but now is asking that some office buildings be eliminated to reduce density. Overall density for the approximately 1,000 acres owned by Spanish Oaks is limited to 20 percent, Armbrust explained, under an agreement between Bee Cave and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. That land currently has some housing and a golf course, he said.

Armbrust said the Bee Cave board of aldermen is scheduled to vote on amending the Galleria agreement and adopting an agreement for the Shops at Galleria tonight.

In its suit, SOSA says that the Bee Cave board of aldermen is constitutionally prohibited from “barter(ing) away its legislative, budget and taxing authority,” and binding future city officials “to issue multimillion dollar tax rebates no matter what the concerns and priorities,” of future citizens. The lawsuit also states that the agreement violates Chapter 245 of the Local Government Code, which relates to grandfathering provisions for development of property, and because the tax agreement would give a special exemption to Nieman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale ’ s and Macy’s. In the agreement, Bee Cave promised to grant up to $30 million in tax rebates if HCG secured those stores as tenants for the Galleria.

SOSA released the following statement concerning the lawsuit: “The proposed mall would add pollution to Barton Springs, already too polluted for aquatic life that depends on clean water at the Springs. The mall is proposed for over 55% impervious cover, almost triple the impervious cover limits under Austin’s Save Our Springs Ordinance. ‘In addition to the excessive impervious cover on the site, if built, this regional mall would attract huge amounts of traffic to the most sensitive watershed in Texas. Increased vehicle traffic in the Barton Springs watershed is, in large part, what is causing the high PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) readings in the sediment in Barton Springs. A mall of this size would also spur the typical surge in all kinds of development that accompany new malls,’” said Brad Rockwell, attorney for the SOS Alliance.

Rainey Street subcommittee

Hoping to save historic houses

Quasi-TIF may be answer, group suggests

A Downtown Commission subcommittee is headed toward a recommendation to use economic incentives to provide commercial development and preserve historic homes in the Rainey Street neighborhood.

The subcommittee, headed by architect Stan Haas, met last night to brainstorm recommendations. By the end of the meeting, the committee of three had decided that the best way to address Rainey Street was to try to preserve the downtown neighborhood’s assets before those assets were lost. Specifically, the subcommittee wants to use the perceived value of property along its border to underwrite the renovation, rehabilitation and restoration of the historic and frequently dilapidated houses along Rainey Street itself.

“We need to address the problem that’s there. We can’t afford to not do that,” Haas said. “The homes in this area are being taxed at a very high rate. If no action is taken, I’m afraid the very fabric of that area will deteriorate even more, leaving nothing there to try to capitalize on.”

The plans for the Rainey Street neighborhood have generally fallen into the categories of complete historic preservation, rezoning for high-density commercial development or something in between. The subcommittee’s recommendation is a work in progress, but the goal would be to preserve that “in between,” with historic homes preserved on Rainey Street and commercial development along peripheral streets. The Rainey Street homes would be separated from development by existing alleys and setbacks.

The proposed recommendation for Rainey Street is still evolving, but the general plan would be to create a Neighborhood Conservation and Combining District overlay for the neighborhood. Properties in the district would be rezoned from SF-3 to other more flexible uses. Houses could be converted to such uses as sidewalk cafés or art galleries. Compatibility standards would be relaxed somewhat to allow residential and commercial property to coexist side by side. A developer could choose to buy property along the peripheral streets and create a Planned Unit Development.

The subcommittee, which includes Chris Riley of the Planning Commission and Dan Leary of the Historic Landmark Committee, would also like to put a quasi-Tax Increment Finance District in place to provide a pool of funds to renovate and restore houses along Rainey Street. A portion of the incremental increase in property taxes provided by new commercial development would be used to pay down property taxes on Rainey Street houses, which are likely to see even steeper increases in value. The fund could further be used to renovate properties. Under one proposed scenario, a homeowner could choose to apply for assistance to preserve a historic home through a quasi-TIFD.

“I think this is attractive to the Historic Landmark Commission and the Heritage Society because, for the first time, the city is actively promoting historic preservation,” Riley said. Leary agreed.

Haas added that the concept would be a historic district and not a historic building. By doing so, funds could be pooled “to try to rescue those things while the timbers are still alive.”

Leary also mentioned the option of air rights, which are more typical of New York City skyscrapers located next to existing residential properties. Under the proposal, a homeowner could sell the air rights over his property to the developer. If, for example, the developer was entitled to 60 feet under initial zoning, the air rights could give that same property owner the right to build to 120 feet.

The Downtown Commission is limited in what it can propose to the cash-strapped City Council. The plan, which would likely involve the approval of homeowners and the City Council, assumes that developers and homeowners will both buy into the plan. And it would be done without incentives provided by the city. The NCCD’s role would be to simply encourage the right kind of development.

The suggestions are attractive to subcommittee members because they provide a vehicle to share value across a neighborhood, without forcing people out of their homes. The suggestions could give Rainey Street a certain future and provide homeowners with an incentive for preserving property in exchange for options on new downtown development. The goal is “to search for the least bureaucratic method for giving economic values to the owner on Rainey Street,” Haas said.

Haas is going to hammer out a memo on the subcommittee’s proposal, which may be refined once the committee members talk to city staff. Riley added that the issue of additional affordable housing on Rainey Street—such as the requirements for downtown’s AMLI and Post apartment projects—should be explored. Affordable housing is expected to be a concern of Rainey Street residents.

Mayor talks 'liveability'

With downtown residents

Downtown population expected to grow rapidly Mayor Will Wynn held a poolside meeting with about 50 members of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) last night at the Towers of Town Lake to talk about issues facing downtown residents. Dozens of people gathered around the edge of the indoor pool at the condo, dipping their feet into the water and posing questions to the Mayor in a wide-ranging and friendly discussion.

Most of the issues related to the overall liveability of downtown, whether it took the form of public safety, homelessness or land usage. “We want downtown to be a place were people can feel comfortable living,” DANA President Cid Galindo said. “And that has a lot to do with the pedestrian experience: what you actually experience when you’re on the street outside of your home.” Wynn noted that many of the liveability issues would naturally be resolved as the number of people living downtown increased. “The best downtown would include more mixed-use density . . . with more eyes and ears on the street,” Wynn said. He also praised the group for its work so far with developers to shape various projects downtown. DANA’s ability to work with builders to provide practical, constructive criticism on projects instead of “being one of the groups that always just says ‘no,’” Wynn said, was a valuable service to the Council.

Galindo told In Fact Daily that having the Mayor’s ear in the informal setting was important to DANA, which anticipates significant growth over the next few months. “We’re going to have at least 500 new living units coming on line in the next 18 months, so that’s pretty exciting,” Galindo said. “Downtown population is going through a mini-boom. Over the last three years there’s been a lot of new construction.”

In Fact Daily was on vacation last week.

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

Judge Herman to address Democrats . . . Probate Judge Guy Herman will speak to South Austin Democrats on the proposed hospital district for Travis County. The group will also consider a resolution concerning the proposed Wal-Mart Super Store on MoPac over the Barton Springs Recharge Zone. The group meets for dinner at 5:30pm, with the business meeting beginning at 6pm at Rosie’s Tamale House, S. Congress at Oltorf . . . Design Commission plans . . . The Design Commission’ s list of items for its August meeting will include a recommendation on the Mexican-American Cultural Center, as well as a report on urban open space. In addition, commissioners want to revise the city ordinance that established the commission so that it more closely reflects the functions of the group. The commission may also hear a report on the Town Lake Park Civic Art Master Plan . . . Appointees . . . Travis County Commissioners have agreed to appoint former Commissioner Richard Moya to the board of the Travis County Housing Authority, replacing Joe Ramos. Commissioner Margaret Gomez, who once worked for Moya, submitted his name for consideration . . . Balcones conservation fees unchanged . . . Travis County will keep lower fees in place for those landowners participating in the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan. The fees for Participation Certificates, lowered five years ago, have quadrupled participation in the Preserve, mainly because the county has reaped the rewards of a Tax Increment Financing District in the area. The county still needs to acquire 4,000 acres to complete the preserve in Western Travis County and considers the lowered fees to be a way to maximize participation . . . Annexation committee named by county . . . Five local residents— Julia Johnson, Richard Willis, Mike Lee, Betty Barker and Lester Johnson—have been named to a committee on the Walnut Creek area annexation plan. Austin has expressed its intent to annex the area, which is located north of Braker Lane between Interstate 35 and Dessau Road. The city has already hosted two hearings in Walnut Creek. The area is currently in the city’s limited-purpose jurisdiction.

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