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Planning Commission OKs parking for church expansion

Monday, October 27, 2003 by

Panel recommends a number of historic zoning changes too

Last week’s Planning Commission was a quiet one, due to the lack of microphones wrought by budget cuts for Channel 6. It was also a short meeting, with most items approved on consent.

The first major item under discussion involved postponing the Commission’s decision on rezoning property at 1001 E. 3rd Street from SF-3-NP to GR in order to accommodate an auto repair shop. Commissioners also had to consider whether to act on a related agenda item, an amendment to the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan that would reflect the change. Speaking on behalf of the Barrios Unidos neighborhood association, Gavino Fernandez Jr. of El Concilio asked commissioners not to wait on considering the proposed rezoning and amendment since the staff has recommended against both proposed changes. Joining Fernandez were fellow El Concilio activist Paul Hernandez, Francis Martinez of Barrios Unidos and Ramon Maldonado.

Hernandez, who lives in the Bouldin neighborhood but owns property near East Cesar Chavez, gave the most impassioned plea for the commission not to postpone, meanwhile making his oft-heard complaint that the city applies double standards when dealing with East Austin. City staff weren’t recognizing Barrios Unidos or its members’ opposition to the rezoning, he said; the postponement was called in order to give El Concilio’s foes on the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team an opportunity to express their opinions. “It seems to me that staff has decided to dictate who should be the representatives of East Austin,” said Hernandez, referring bitterly to the Planning Team.

But commissioners acknowledged Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department planner Annick Beaudet’s argument that the City Council would want East Cesar Chavez’s input on the matter, as well as an opportunity for staff to build consensus among the concerned neighborhood associations, and unanimously voted for postponement until Nov. 11. Despite the delay, the Council may still address the rezoning at its Nov. 20 meeting.

The other point of discussion and controversy, if it could be called that, was a rezoning request to CS-MU/MF-6-CO made by St. Austin’s Catholic Parish at 500 W. MLK. Staff has recommended the change, which would enable the church to expand its facility and build a six-floor parking garage at the corner of MLK and San Antonio that would accommodate 240 cars. The top floor of the garage will serve as the residence of the Paulist Fathers, and the first floor is planned for retail that will initially be used for parish offices and meeting rooms.

The church expects to be at 170 percent of capacity by 2015. According to literature given to commissioners by real estate agent Mike McHone, the Diocese of Austin expects the area’s Catholic population to double in the next 20-25 years, from 400,000 to 800,000. St. Austin’s also plans to build a new church building at 21st and Guadalupe that will seat approximately 1,000 worshipers, and an education/administrative/activity center that will include programs for children in grades K-8.

Commissioners, particularly Chris Riley, focused their questions for McHone on the parking garage. McHone has already participated in giving the University area one new parking garage in recent months: the 495-car garage that is part of the Villas on Guadalupe residential complex. Though cognizant of the high costs associated with underground parking, Riley questioned the long-term effects of building aboveground parking, which could limit future opportunities for livable city type development. Riley also has been the most vocal opponent of the Convention Center’s planned parking garage. Nevertheless, he joined other commissioners in approving the zoning request. The City Council will consider the matter this week.

The last major business of the night didn’t even merit discussion: Approval of historic zoning requests on four properties located in central Austin—the Suehs, Adkins-Tharp, and Nixon-Harper Houses and the Buddington-Benedict-Sheffield Compound. Steve Sadowsky of the city’s Historic Preservation Office recommended rezoning the properties from SF-3 to SF-3-H.

The Suehs House, at 600 Bellevue Place in the Eastwoods neighborhood, is a two-and-a-half story frame house built for German ophthalmologist Paul Suehs in 1914. It was one of the first homes built in College Court, just north of UT. Suehs was a charter member of the First English Lutheran Church, helping develop it into the city’s first English-speaking Lutheran congregation.

Adkins-Tharp, at 506 Bellevue, is also located in College Court. Built around 1918, the house is named after UT botany professor Benjamin Carroll Tharp (the leading authority on Texas flora in his time) and exemplifies the Arts and Crafts bungalow style that became typical for middle-class homeowners of the early 20th century.

Tucked away in nearby North University, the Buddington-Benedict-Sheffield Compound includes a set of residential buildings, the main house built in 1860 by butcher and merchant Albert G. Buddington on what had been the western tributary to Waller Creek and a popular camping spot. In 1948 and 1950, subsequent owner and realtor Wilhelmine Sheffield made additions to the house and added two small stone cottages on the site. All of the structures complement the original house, a prime example of pioneer architecture that features 20-inch limestone walls and red cedar hauled form Bastrop in ox-team wagons.

The final home under consideration for historic zoning was the Nixon-Harper House, located at 604 Harthan Street in Old West Austin next to Las Ventanas, a city-designated historic landmark. Built in 1913 on a hillside, the house epitomizes the Classical Revival bungalows built on subdivided lots in West Austin in the early 20th century. The first owners were Marion Nixon, who founded the Nixon Business College, and his wife Ora Belle. The Nixons sold their house in 1919 to a man who transferred ownership to his daughter Esther and her husband, W.O. Harper, a well-known plumber and electrician. Harper’s business remains in operation at 410 W. 18th St. The Commission approved the rezoning requests on consent.

At the end of the meeting, Commission Chair Lydia Ortiz, who is pregnant, announced that her doctor recently predicted Nov. 20 as the due date. While she’s on leave, Riley, who is vice-chair, will take her place.

Archer Western's low bid wins Council approval

Thomas dissents after move to delay contract fails

Racial and environmental issues intersected at Thursday’s City Council meeting over a contract with Archer Western Ltd., an Arlington-based firm that had submitted the lowest bid to the city for expansion of the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant in West Austin. Ullrich is one of the city’s three treatment plants, serving all of the neighborhoods south of Town Lake. The city’s proposed $60 million in improvements include modifying existing filters, piping, sludge, handling facilities and basins; installing new chemical feed systems and altering existing ones; and constructing a new main electrical substation. The Water and Wastewater Commission recommended going with Archer Western’s bid—one of three the city received.

The city hopes to increase the daily processing load at Ullrich from 100 to 160 million gallons by May 2005, in order to keep up with demands, said Water and Wastewater Utility Director Chris Lippe. Lippe said the city faces a 50-50 chance of hitting mandatory conservation measures in the summer of 2005. “That’s why we want to get this started before the summer starts,” he told the Council. The utility plans to begin construction next month.

While acknowledging management’s desire to adhere to its schedule, Council Member Danny Thomas opposed awarding the contract to Archer Western out of concern that the company, as determined by the Dept. Of Small and Minority Business Resources, hadn’t satisfied requirements stipulated in the city’s MBE/WBE ordinance. Thomas also disagreed with City Manager Toby Futrell’s decision to grant a waiver to Archer Western, despite the DSMBR’s conclusion, on the basis that the company’s offer was more than $3 million lower than that made by the second-lowest bidder, Fru-Con Construction Company.

Representatives from Archer Western argued that their offer actually exceeded Fru-Con’s MBE/WBE business involvement in aggregate, as opposed to item-by-item. They also stressed that their contract presented a better break for the city financially. Attorney Jim Nias represented Archer Western. After a lengthy conversation between city staff and Council members about what constitutes a “good faith” effort to comply with the ordinance, Thomas pressed for a delay in awarding the contract so the city could reopen the bidding process to other companies. He also suggested that the city could award the work to Fru-Con. But Council members instead decided to meet in executive session, and later that afternoon voted 5-1 to approve the contract with Thomas dissenting.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Not on the agenda . . . Last week, the City Council placed a moratorium on new big-box projects over the Edwards Aquifer within the city limits. They were expected to discuss and vote on a proposal from Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers this week, but the matter is not yet on the Council agenda. That could change today, but there’s no indication that Lowe’s has won over enough votes to push the matter through. Council Member Daryl Slusher, who supported agreements with Stratus Development and Gary Bradley, says the Lowe’s proposal—which has not changed during recent weeks of negotiating—does not have his vote. He told In Fact Daily that corporations may pick one of three good examples to follow: HEB, Stratus Bradley and Wal-Mart. HEB, for example, found a tract they could build on in compliance with the SOS ordinance. “Stratus had grandfathered tracts and they negotiated SOS-level development with SOS-level quality controls—except for clustering on contiguous tracts in the immediate area. Wal-Mart simply said they were not going to build a big box over the aquifer. That’s three examples of solid corporate citizenship and I would like to see Lowe’s pick one of those. I think it is critical to the future of clean water in the Edwards Aquifer that corporations acknowledge long held community values in their location decisions. Whatever one thinks of the Stratus and Bradley agreements, few would argue that the level of environmental protection proposed here reaches that of those agreements. Both, for example, had big box prohibitions and mitigation land was either contiguous or in the immediate vicinity,” Slusher said. Lowe’s had set a deadline for Council approval at the end of October, but Lowe’s representative Bruce Todd said yesterday, “That wasn’t really a deadline as much as a target . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Cap Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to meet at 4pm. The Historic Landmark Commission will meet at 7pm to consider a number of requests for demolition permits and certificates of appropriateness for various buildings . . . Davis motion on hold . . . Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis’ plan to have the county intervene in the Congressional redistricting case was delayed for a week and will be heard on Tuesday. Davis’ concern is that Travis County is divided into three congressional districts, with the majority of the population in each district living outside Travis County. Hidalgo County would likely dominate the district in which he lives. Congressman Lloyd Doggett announced for that seat last week. Davis and former Mayor Gus Garcia are also considering intervening as individual voters . . . Yeller Dawg Democrats party . . . The South Austin Democrats will be having their 16th annual Yeller Dawg event from 5:30-8:30pm Tuesday night at the AFL-CIO auditorium at 11th and Lavaca. The group will be honoring Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and longtime activist Anne McAfee this year. For more information, contact Elizabeth Yevich at 462-2859.

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