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Goodman asks Lowe's to up the ante

Thursday, December 11, 2003 by

Money could be used to buy more land close to site

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said late Wednesday that she has asked Lowe’s Home Center’s representatives to sweeten their offer by giving the city about $38,000 more for mitigation land and to provide engineering services for a tract that city is hoping to purchase. Goodman is the swing vote on a Council split 3-3 over the issue of whether to settle a lawsuit with the home improvement giant.

Goodman noted that the extra funding would allow the city to purchase more of the Lloyd property in Hays County—as well as the Lundelius tract, which is much closer to the Sunset Valley acreage where Lowe’s wants to build—than other available open space. The purchase of those two pieces of land, she said, would bring impervious cover on the Lowe’s site down to 15 percent, similar to the impervious cover in the Stratus agreement. She said the Lundelius tract currently has a detention pond that could be retrofitted to become a water quality pond for Lowe’s, as well as for a large area of homes built in the 1970s. Goodman said she thinks the two requests should not total more than $100,000 and that a “giant corporation” such as Lowe’s should not have difficulty fulfilling her requests.

Lowe’s representative Bruce Todd said last night, “We received the communication and we’re still considering it.”

The Mayor Pro Tem said that today’s vote is not just about whether one Lowe’s store is built in one spot over the aquifer. “The issues that surround this case are so far beyond that,” she said, and included “a maze of overlapping trap doors—such as SB 1445 and HB 1204—and the intent and impact and results will come out of that. Part of just dealing with Lowe’s in a vacuum is trying to shore up Austin’s authority in its ETJ. There are direct and indirect impacts—so you’re talking about a whole lot of things,” when considering this case.

Goodman was referring to the Lowe’s lobbyists who were instrumental in securing legislation that forces the city to work with the county on a single set of development regulations for new development in the ETJ. She said, “Senator ( Jeff) Wentworth is the author. Some of his constituents are making waves at Commissioners Court.” (See In Fact Daily, December 10, 2003.)

The City Council is set to consider the consolidated rules at today’s meeting—the final one of the year. If either the city or the county fails to approve the consolidated regulations before Jan. 1, 2004, the matter will go to binding arbitration under HB 1204. Another section of the legislation seems to specifically exempt the Lowe’s/Eli Garza tract from city regulation—including the SOS Ordinance.

Lowe’s attorney Terry Irion noted, “Lowe’s and Garza are not asking for a variance from the SOS Ordinance. Under HB 1204, we are subject only to Travis County rules for plat permits and related permits, and obviously a related permit is the subdivision plan permit (the site development plan permit). We’re quite confident that we’re not subject to Austin’s ETJ (rules).” But the settlement means that the city won’t object to the county approving the site plan without the city’s signature and review.

The Save Our Springs Alliance has consistently argued that the ordinance does apply and the group can be expected to sue the city if the matter is approved with only four votes. The ordinance prescribes that variances must be approved by at least six Council members. The Council has voted 4-3 on two prior occasions. It seems unlikely that the numbers will change, although Goodman could join those rejecting the settlement, making the final vote 4-3 for opponents. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled to start at 6pm tonight.

Boat race promoter still hearing "No"

Parks board opposes Auditorium Shores venue

The Parks and Recreation Board this week gave a tepid “no” to proposed boat races on Auditorium Shores next August after hearing complaints from nearby neighborhoods.

Promoter William Archer could not shake the ghost of boat-racing past when he presented his River City Fiesta to the Parks Board. After a firm “no” to races at Fiesta Gardens, he also got a “no” for boat races on Auditorium Shores.

Archer gave a quick, and somewhat nervous, presentation to the board Tuesday night. He was backed by about a half dozen people in the audience from the International Hot Boaters Association. He outlined an event that would be run by professionals, employ about 100 people and bring $4.7 million to town with 6,000 out-of-town visitors the third weekend of August.

Neighborhood leader Jeff Jack, however, spoke in opposition to the event, questioning the economic gain and raising environmental issues. Jack also questioned whether the 1,200-space parking garage at Palmer Events Center would be sufficient to handle the weekend’s traffic.

Jack said the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association had passed a resolution against the races, as had Travis Heights and the South River City Citizens. The Zilker Neighborhood Association executive board was also scheduled to take up the issue and would likely oppose the event, Jack said.

The former Council aide ended his speech by saying that while the Austin City Limits Music Festival reflected the spirit of Austin, he could not say the same thing about the boat races. He questioned whether public assets should be used for private gain and urged the Parks Board to send the River City Fiesta down to Decker Lake.

Before the meeting, Jack said Archer might be well meaning, but he clearly did not understand the serious neighborhood opposition that had started with prior boat races. Archer met with the South Central Coalition last weekend.

“I can say without equivocation that everybody there told him it was a bad idea and he needed to focus on another venue, (such as) Decker Lake, not Auditorium Shores,” Jack said. “I think he’s been somewhat surprised at the opposition. I don’t think he’s very well versed on the history.”

But Jack’s reference to the Austin City Limits’ Music Festival led Navigation subcommittee chair Clint Small to ask how different the boat races would be from the music festival. Asked whether the neighborhoods had passed resolutions to oppose the festival on Auditorium Shores prior to the event, Jack said the neighborhoods had worked with Executive Director Jesus Olivares on a list of suggestions on how the festival should be handled.

Small pointed out that the River City Fiesta would have a contract—just like the ACL event—that would spell out requirements for parking, trash and security. But aware of the mood of the other board members, Small pulled the recommendation by the Navigation subcommittee to approve the festival and let Commissioner Jeb Boyt make a motion to oppose the event.

The final vote was 4-0-2, with Small and Commissioner Marilyn Bostick abstaining from the vote. As the small crowd cleared, one boat race supporter tried to ask the board how the noise from the boat races could be any different from the noise of the music festival. No one addressed the question.

Archer told the Parks Board that he didn’t want special treatment, but simply a fair chance, since the city ordinance does give him the right to petition the City Council for the boat racing event. The promoter is still waiting on a response from the Downtown Commission, which asked for additional information last week about the noise the event would create.

Asked why he didn’t move the event to Decker Lake this year, Archer said he needed a high-profile location like Town Lake to generate buzz about the event. The Town Lake location would be for only two years, Archer said, until a larger venue could be set up out at Decker Lake.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Simon to partner with Endeavor on Domain . . . Representatives of Endeavor Real Estate were jumping from one City Hall office to another yesterday spreading the word: Simon Properties, Inc., the largest mall operator in the country, has agreed to join with Endeavor in developing the Domain. Simon had been considering purchasing some property owned by the University of Texas that might have competed with the Domain. There was no word on whether Simon would walk away from that deal or develop a different type of mall at the location. Endeavor’s representatives were in a jovial mood as they left City Hall, declining to give any details of the deal. Simon reportedly has signed on as a “capital partner” for the project, which walked off with some very lucrative tax breaks from the city and the county last summer . . . Marching for justice. . . Forty-odd singing Democrats marched from the Capitol to the plaza next door to the Homer Thornberry Federal Building last night to express their hopes for a positive outcome to the redistricting trial that starts today. Leading the marchers were former Mayor Gus Garcia and County Commissioner Ron Davis. The group had help raising their voices from some experienced singers when they sang “We Shall Overcome,” “America the Beautiful” and “This Little Light of Mine.” The trial opens at 9:30am today and is expected to last about a week . . . No task force. . . The task force on historic preservation cancelled last night’s meeting. The group is scheduled to meet next Wednesday.

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