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Mayor says stop all Wal-Mart zoning until aquifer matter settled

Tuesday, September 23, 2003 by

Wal-Mart opponents: City should negotiate with landowner, Endeavor

Mayor Will Wynn announced yesterday that he would ask his City Council colleagues to delay consideration of all Wal-Mart zoning cases while the city negotiates with the national retailer over water quality protection at a proposed superstore site over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

In addition to the proposed store at Slaughter and MoPac, Wal-Mart is requesting zoning changes for planned stores at Slaughter and I-35 and at Ben White and I-35. Neighbors close to the I-35 site have been working with company representatives and members of the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP) to arrive at a resolution of concerns expressed by members of the neighborhood. The matter is on tonight’s ZAP agenda, but is likely to be postponed.

A spokesman for the coalition of neighborhoods opposing the MoPac superstore said last night that the city is negotiating with the wrong people. Mike Blizzard told In Fact Daily, “I have spoken to many of the neighborhood and environmental leaders who are in the anti Wal-Mart over the aquifer movement and we are glad that the Mayor is calling for these other Wal-Marts to be delayed until there is some kind of resolution on the aquifer site. But we vehemently disagree that Wal-Mart is the appropriate entity to be negotiating with. Wal-Mart is not the owner of this tract. Monahan is the owner—and Endeavor has the option on the property.” The city should be negotiating with the property owner and Endeavor Real Estate, he said. “Negotiating with Wal-Mart presupposes that there’s going to be a Wal-Mart there, and it totally ignores the rest of the tract that Endeavor is developing at three-and-a-half times the impervious cover allowed under the SOS Ordinance and at an intensity that the surrounding neighborhoods do not support.”

In his press release, the Mayor said Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Betty Dunkerley were joining him in the announcement.

The MoPac site is exempted from compliance with the SOS Ordinance—although attorney Richard Suttle, who represents Wal-Mart, said, “We are looking at ways to get to SOS water quality standards.” That would mean the runoff from the site would have to go through a filtration process designed to prevent pollutants from entering the aquifer. However, environmentalists are concerned about the amount of impervious cover as well as the water quality in the sensitive recharge area.

In the written statement, Goodman said, “The intensity of development that Wal-Mart has proposed on this land presents an unacceptable risk to the waters that flow into Barton Creek and Barton Springs Pool. I hope that Wal-Mart will negotiate in good faith with us to eliminate that risk and also be willing to discuss other design-related issues.”

Dunkerley added, “We should want Wal-Mart to succeed in Austin, because their success will help our local economy grow and help expand our tax base at a critical time. But that success cannot come at the price of jeopardizing our environment.”

Wynn said he would ask for Wal-Mart’s cooperation in postponing the other two zoning cases, but if the company would not agree he would ask the rest of the Council to join him in his decision to put the other cases on hold.

Suttle, said, “We welcome the continued discussion with the Mayor and City Council on the Wal-Mart site and we have always recognized the uniqueness of the aquifer site. While those discussions are going on we would not oppose a reasonable postponement of the other zoning cases.”

Slusher issues statement on Patriot Act resolution

As the swing vote on a resolution regarding the USA Patriot Act, Council Member Daryl Slusher has received a considerable number of emails and phone calls from citizens urging him to join his three colleagues who oppose the act and vote in favor of their proposed resolution. He has also received advice from citizens who think the City Council should stick with local issues, a position taken by Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Betty Dunkerley and Brewster McCracken. The matter was postponed last month and is scheduled for 6pm on this week’s agenda

Slusher has made it clear that he joins many Americans in opposition to much of the federal legislation, but has also said he is troubled by the wording of the resolution as presented by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez. According to a web site devoted to the subject, 168 local governments and three states—Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont—had approved resolutions opposing the act. But the only Texas city listed as taking a stand so far is Sunset Valley. http://www.bordc.org/Alphalist.pdf

While acknowledging that he generally agrees with the Mayor, Dunkerley and McCracken that the Council should stick with matters over which it has jurisdiction, Slusher said there are good reasons to take a stand. He wrote, “(M)any Americans today feel alienated from their national government. They feel that the national government is not hearing their concerns, or perhaps hears them but does not respect them. Arguably I think this is more the case now than at any point during my lifetime. As a consequence, more and more Americans are turning to local governments to petition the national government on their behalf. This is happening throughout the nation and is in within the great democratic traditions of our country.”

“I share with many Americans the view that the federal administration is capitalizing on legitimate fears of terrorism to roll back fundamental civil liberties on which this country was founded. I believe that every government at every level should reserve the right to petition the federal government on such fundamental issues as the preservation of civil liberties.” Slusher added, “The resolution must also be of the most absolute clarity possible. Every Council member who votes for it should be able to defend every word of it.”

In order to clarify the resolution, Slusher suggests breaking it into two different statements. Part of his concern centers on blanket statements that the act is unconstitutional. The City Council, he points out, does not have the standing to declare anything unconstitutional. In addition, he said he has some concerns about the section of the resolution directed at the Austin Police Department.

Part of the resolution directs the police department to “refrain from engaging in the surveillance of individuals or groups of individuals based on their participation in activities protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, such as political advocacy or the practice of a religion without reasonable and particularized suspicion of criminal conduct unrelated to the activity protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Slusher writes, “The Chief assures me that neither videotape nor pictures are being used to compile files on citizens for engaging in peaceful protest. He realizes that this was done during previous times in our country and does not intend for the department he heads to engage in such practices. He said the tapes are kept for a certain period of time and then destroyed. This is now being developed into a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). I realize that some will distrust these statements, but the issue should be discussed publicly and more specifically than as written in this draft.” Those interested in this item could be treated to an interesting debate on Thursday.

South Congress restaurant denied parking variance

The Board of Adjustment unanimously rejected a variance request from the owner of a restaurant on South Congress. The owner of Zen, located at 1303 S. Congress, was seeking permission to add more seats to the restaurant without adding more parking. The restaurant had previously received one variance on parking in the already-crowded neighborhood when it opened last year.

Members of the South River City Citizens Neighborhood Association told the board that allowing the restaurant to add rooftop seating and attract more patrons would aggravate the shortage of parking in the area. “I like this restaurant, but the only way I could support anything for this restaurant on the roof is if they would put a parking garage there,” said Claudette Lowe. Other neighbors agreed that the restaurant was a fine eating establishment, but that there was simply no room for additional cars. “I think the owner is a nice person, the restaurant is great, and a roof garden would be lovely, but to ask for a variance for more parking is a serious problem for the other retail merchants on the street,” said Jean Mather.

The owner of San Jose Hotel and Jo’s Coffee shop stressed that the growing popularity of that stretch of South Congress was leading to some problems. “We’ve enjoyed having them down there because we have more places to eat now,” said Liz Lambert, “but I have to speak in opposition because I have a parking lot across the street. We’ve had to hire a parking guard to control who comes in and out. We are already just slammed on parking. My concern is that if a variance is granted, we’ll have even more trouble with the parking lot.”

Board members spent little time discussing the variance request. “The plight of the South Congress area is similar to other streets, particularly those up in the university area, where there is a need for and desire for a pedestrian type of commercial activity,” said Chair Herman Thun. He noted that one variance for the restaurant had already been granted. “I frequent your place . . . I like your restaurant . . . but I’m opposed. I think we have to live with the spaces that are there right now and deal with them.” The vote to deny the request was 5-0. .

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

ACLU urges action . . . Just as Council Member Daryl Slusher was issuing his comments about the Patriot Act resolution, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sent out an appeal asking those who receive it to contact the City Council. The flyer is headlined, “Help Pass an Austin Resolution to Oppose the Patriot Act,” and lists the phone numbers of Council offices . . . Redistricting plan to be considered today. . . Democrats are urging supporters to sit in the Senate gallery this morning beginning around 10:30am. According to an email from MoveOn.org, “Our presence (in the gallery) has alarmed the Republican leadership and helped all Texans understand the bullying and anti-democratic nature of the Republican effort . . . We want to be respectful, but diligent in our effort to defend democracy. We expect the Senate will convene at 11am” . . . Bad ozone levels predicted . . . Forecasters say Austin could experience high levels of ozone today. As is customary, Capital Metro is providing free rides on all routes. For details about Capital Metro’s routes, call the customer service line at 474-1200 or visit the Web site at www.capmetro.org . . . A pat on the back . . . Capital Metro Board members congratulated the transit agency staff Monday for the hundreds of successful bus trips they made conveying people to and from the Austin City Limits Music Festival over the weekend. “Our three-day total for riders was 98,074,” said Director of Transportation Dan Peabody. “We count one-way travel patterns and multiply it by two for each day.” The biggest delay faced by riders occurred on Friday night, when performances by Dwight Yoakum and Al Green finished at the same time. But the delay getting from Zilker Park back to downtown Sunday night at the close of the festival was less than 30 minutes for most riders . . . Budget approved . . . The Capital Metro board approved the FY2003-2004 budget yesterday with little discussion. Sales tax revenue dropped four percent in July, a fact that concerned board members but not enough to change the budget they had earlier agreed upon. Commissioner Margaret Gomez suggested that the board get more regular reports on sales tax income, an idea welcomed by Board Chair Lee Walker. The agency funds 75 percent of its budget through sales taxes. This year Capital Metro is taking an additional $5.5 million from its reserve fund to give employees raises and ensure no service cuts . . . Austin Tejano Democrats . . . The Tejano Democrats say they expect at least half of the Texas 10 to attend their new member reception today from 6- 8pm at El Mercado Restaurant South, 1302 South First Street.

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