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Council approves spending for HOV study, bicycle improvements

Monday, November 10, 2003 by

City finally purchases long-sought Union Pacific property near Seaholm

The Council passed $371,740 in Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) funding for the Austin Bicycle Commuting Project This project will fund bicycle stations at city work sites as well as showers, changing rooms, clothing storage, and bike parking for city employees. Bike education programs will be included, as well as data collection to show if the bike amenities effectively increase bike usage. Council also approved $92,500 in matching funds from the TPSD budget.

The Council also approved spending $160,000 in federal grant money from the Texas Dept. of Transportation to analyze the feasibility of HOV (High Occupancy Vehicles) lanes on major city arterials. About $40,000 in city funds had already been set aside for the project. Close to $3 million was invested in traffic signalization, street and sidewalk reconstruction, and ramp projects. A Regional HOV Task Force has already identified several potential corridor HOV lanes, which are intended to reduce Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) travel. The funding for the HOV analysis comes from the Federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) 4C funds. The city provided $40,000 in matching funds. Funding for signalization and other projects comes from the TPSD budget and Capitol Metro.

Council Member Daryl Slusher pulled from the consent agenda an item appropriating $23 million in Capital Metro Transit Authority funding for a variety of bike, sidewalk, roadway improvements, and traffic signalization projects across central Austin. Council members discussed the item in executive session. Upon their return to the dais the item passed unanimously. Council Member Raul Alvarez attached an amendment setting aside $50,000 of a $1 million sum for improvements to the East Seventh Street Corridor transit stop and the southeastern corner of Seventh and Pleasant Valley, adjacent to the Cepeda Library. This money will be used for beautification and improved pedestrian access to the library.

Land near Seaholm power plant

The Council unanimously approved the purchase of nearly 3.7 acres of land from Union Pacific Railroad near the retired Seaholm Power Plant after city staff had indicated that the existing Seaholm site was too small to allow parking, loading, and other functions necessary for successful development. The land, situated west of West Ave. and south of West Third St., includes one tract adjacent to the abandoned power plant, and three tracts located along the southwest crescent-shaped area adjoining the railroad’s right-of-way. The purchase also provides for an environmental study to determine levels of potential contamination on the site. Funding for the deal comes from Austin Energy ($1.5 million) and Transportation, Planning, and Sustainability Department (TPSD) ($1.457 million).

Neighborhood advocate Jeff Jack asked the Council to postpone approval of the purchase except for a triangular piece, questioning why the city was spending money to “buy property to facilitate private development” during a budget slump. Jack also expressed the concern that this purchase would affect nearby Pfluger Bridge and Bowie Street. Slusher, who pulled the purchase item for discussion, in return pointed out “we have four very distinguished ladies in this community” – including longtime critics of Lumbermen’s Shudde Fath, Rebecca Crenshaw and Mary Arnold– “that stay on top of what happens” on Sand Beach, and none of them have opposed the purchase. “Not a single one of them is out [in the audience],” Slusher observed. “If any of those distinguished ladies thought we were helping private development, they’d be here.” Slusher supported the deal as a key to making Seaholm redevelopment possible, citing its potential use as a retail center. Perhaps Seaholm could become an attraction that would generate sales tax revenues, a concern that city officials have emphasized all year, he said.

TPSD Director Austan Librach pointed out that the city’s ownership of the 3.655 acres would ease development of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. The site would also be very likely become a future stop for commuter rail.

One historic zoning case to remain in limbo until April

Council splits 4-3 on Hancock neighborhood request

The owner of four cottages north of the University of Texas on Hampton Road will have to wait until April before finding out if he will be able to move the buildings. The City Council voted 4-3 to wait until a task force formed to study historic zoning completes its work before deciding whether to designate the cottages historic. A developer is seeking to relocate the four homes in the 3400 block of Hampton Road to make room for the construction of new 5-bedroom single-family houses; the Historic Landmark Commission has recommended that the cottages be designated historic and therefore have to be preserved.

The cottages were built by the Calcasieu Lumber Company and moved to the Hampton road location in 1948. The city’s Historic Preservation Officer, Steve Sadowsky, has recommended against historic zoning, saying they were not the best example of the types of homes built by the company. The Historic Landmark Committee disagreed, ruling that the homes met at least six of the criteria for historic zoning.

Residents of the Hancock and North University neighborhoods have been active in supporting that recommendation, citing the damage that could be done to the historical fabric of the area if new residential units that are constructed on the site are out of character with the rest of the neighborhood. Both neighborhood groups have been well organized and contain a number of influential residents, including attorney and lobbyist Shannon Ratliff, who lives next door.

The neighborhood groups and property owner were requested to go into mediation by the Council, but those discussions reached an impasse. The situation is complicated by the fact that the owner of the land is not the same person seeking to move the houses. Developer Chris Pezold, the proposed new owner, told Council members he wanted to move the homes to a lot on Lake Travis as part of a transaction involving payment to his company for demolition services. “I’ve come in; I’ve done my work; and these houses are mine,” he said. The delay after the question of historic designation was raised by the Historic Landmark Commission, he said, had proven to be financial stressful. “I’ve struggled through the year trying to take on a $10,000 hit at the inception of this job. I’m suffering a lot. Are they historical or not? Let me go . . . Let me be as whole as I can at this point.”

The repeated delays in the case were a concern for Council Member Daryl Slusher, who felt both the property owner and Pezold had waited long enough for a decision on the historic merits of the property. “This is just a local small business person, I think, and he’s gotten caught up in this situation,” Slusher said. “It sounds to me like it’s causing really serious hardship for his family. I think that the City of Austin would be doing him a great disservice and causing him serious financial damage when he’s not even the applicant here.”

Neighbors told Council members they had spoken with Pezold about making some type of financial compensation to enable him to walk away from the deal unharmed, but had not reached a deal. Council members appeared uncomfortable with those negotiations being included in the discussion of the historic zoning case, and the remarks also sparked an objection from the representative of the property owner. “It disturbs me greatly that this $10,000 buyout issue has come to the table because we have never been notified about that,” said Nikelle Meade. “I represent the property owner who has an existing contract with Mr. Pezold that this offer interferes with. We should have been notified about that and I don’t think it’s appropriate for that to be the topic of discussion tonight. The topic of discussion is the historic zoning case.”

Council Member Brewster McCracken indicated he was not convinced the delays in the project had provided any substantial harm to Pezold. He questioned Pezold about the number of properties he owned within Travis County and his business operations. But Pezold protested that he was suffering because of the time required to reach a decision. “I have those properties, but right now they are not generating,” he told the Council. “They are essentially breaking even. I’m out every day. I work 70, 80 hours a week. I’m not trying to better myself in society, I’m trying to pay my bills.”

McCracken, who moved to postpone the case until the historic zoning task force finished its work, said the case was different from several other historic-zoning cases the Council had heard in recent weeks in which the owner had protested the designation. “This neighborhood is particularly unchanged. There are not apartments in this neighborhood. This is an historic neighborhood,” he said. “It’s at least worth (a) look at what the task force comes up with to view whether this neighborhood, based on the totality of these attributes, would qualify for a (historic) district.” He was against any action that could change the historic characteristic of the neighborhood before hearing from the task force.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who also wanted to make sure the area was not irrevocably damaged before the task force completes its work, agreed. “As it is, if we go one way or the other now, still without hearing what the task force has talked about and maybe even tentatively ready to recommend, then I think we ignore the very reason that we put the task force together,” she said.

The vote to postpone the vote on historic zoning until after hearing from the task force was 4-3, with Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Slusher and Danny Thomas opposed. The task force has held two meetings so far, and is scheduled to present its findings in March 2004. The historic zoning for 3403 and 3407 Hampton Road will likely be posted on the agenda for the Council’s first meeting in April.

Eckerd wins final approval after making more concessions

After about an hour of discussion, the City Council gave final approval last week to zoning that would allow an Eckerd Drug Store to locate at the intersection of RR 620 and El Salido Parkway. Most the conversation was between Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez and city staff. They were responding to concerns from neighbors that the drug store—the first of many commercial users for the now-vacant tract—would generate traffic into their neighborhood.

Consultant Sarah Crocker told the Council that her client had reduced the amount of property to be rezoned from LO-CO (office) to LR-CO (retail) to cover only the footprint of the store. In addition, during the three weeks between first reading approval and last week, Eckerd had agreed to execute a private restrictive covenant with members of the neighborhood to limit intrusive effects of the development. Eckerd agreed to construct a new privacy fence for the neighborhood, put in a pedestrian crossing and erect a monument style sign on the El Salido side of the lot. The zoning request is only for the footprint, not for the entire tract.

However, neighbor Elizabeth Ellison was not quite satisfied. She told Goodman, who called her to the podium, that she and others were concerned about the traffic impact from a driveway that would connect the Eckerd store to El Salido Parkway. She wanted to know if there was a way to prevent other users of the property from accessing El Salido from that driveway. Finally, she said if that could not be done perhaps the driveway could be a meandering route that would discourage some from using that exit. Crocker said she would work with the neighborhood on that, but could not ask her client to accept a further delay since a closing had been scheduled in less than two weeks.

After Goodman was satisfied, she made a motion to approve the zoning on second and third readings. The rest of the Council said nothing and Goodman finally said, “You guys are going to let me go through all that and not second it?” Mayor Will Wynn responded, “We didn’t realize you were through.” McCracken offered a second and the motion was approved unanimously.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Redistricting suit update . . . Even though the American-Statesman failed to mention it, the City Council voted very early Friday morning to intervene in the federal lawsuit challenging redistricting of the state’s congressional districts. (See In Fact Daily, November 7, 2003.) Travis County had voted to intervene earlier in the week. Both city and county officials argued that splitting Travis County and Austin into three districts anchored in other areas—effectively eliminating the metropolitan area’s voice in Congress—would be bad for the area economically. On Friday, the final day to intervene, former Mayor Gus Garcia joined Travis County Commissioners Ron Davis and Margaret Gomez and former State Rep. Wilhelmina Delco as individual plaintiffs. Political consultant David Butts, Clint Smith of the Gray Panthers, Democratic activist Alfred Stanley, Louis Simms and Ana Yañez Correa also joined as plaintiffs. Correa is Policy Director of the League of Latin of United Latin American Citizens of Texas. The trial, which is scheduled to begin December 8, will be in Austin . . . Austin’s Congressman to speak . . . There is little dispute over the fact that Republican leader Tom DeLay made sure that the map was drawn to make it difficult for Congressman Lloyd Doggett to win District 10, which he currently represents, or any other. Doggett is scheduled to address the South Austin Democrats tomorrow night at their meeting. His topic: Dealing with Delay. Socializing begins at 5:30pm, with the meeting beginning at 6pm at Rosie’s Tamale House at Oltorf and South Congress . . . Veterans Day holiday. . . All city offices will be closed tomorrow for Veterans Day and In Fact Daily will not be published. The Planning Commission will meet at 6pm Tuesday . . . Traffic changes tomorrow . . . Tuesday’s Veterans Day Parade will close the Congress Avenue Bridge beginning at 6:30am for staging purposes. The parade itself will begin at 9am and proceed from the bridge to the Capitol. No east-west traffic will be allowed on 11th Street throughout the parade and streets from Lavaca to Brazos will be closed for eastbound traffic the duration. This year’s Parade Marshal is retired Army Col. Ralph Hockley, president of the Second Infantry Division, Korean War Veterans. There will be a special ceremony honoring Korean War Veterans at the Capitol after the parade . . . Commissioners Court to meet Wednesday . . . Travis County will take Tuesday off also and the Commissioners Court has rescheduled its meeting for Wednesday at 9am . . . Winner . . . The Texas Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies has announced that Rosemont at Oak Valley is the winner of a Special Achievement Award. The new complex was financed with bonds through the Austin Housing Finance Corporation. Both the AHFC and developer Southwest Housing received the special award for the second time in two years. Rosemont at Oak Valley is located near Oltorf and Pleasant Valley Drive. The two, three and four-bedroom units are reserved for families earning at or below 60 percent of the Median Family Income, or about $42,650 for a family of four. The company will celebrate the grand opening on December 9.

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