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Doggett brings in more Valley endorsements

Tuesday, January 13, 2004 by

US Rep. Patrick Kennedy to stump for Doggett today

Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett continues to rack up endorsements in the Rio Grande Valley in his drive to hold on to a congressional seat that Republicans hoped would go to a Hispanic candidate.

Doggett announced yesterday afternoon that Sullivan City Mayor Gumaro Flores, Palmview Mayor Jorge Garcia and his wife, Irene, a South Texas Community College trustee, would all back him against former Judge Leticia Hinojosa, the only other candidate to announce for the race. Flores is the father of State Rep. Kino Flores and the Garcias are the parents of his wife.

Flores, who announced early for the seat but then changed his mind, is reportedly still undecided about whether to endorse Doggett or Hinojosa. The legislator’s friend, Mayor Billy Leo of La Joya, told the Quorum Report yesterday that both he and Flores were leaning toward Doggett. Doggett made his announcement at Leo’s Food Mart, which is owned by the La Joya mayor. Both La Joya Mayor Pro Tem Angie Garcia and Councilmember Mari Gonzalez endorsed Doggett yesterday, as did Sullivan City Mayor Pro Tem Reynaldo Ruiz and Commissioner Froilan Ramirez.

Others jumping on the veteran congressman’s bandwagon yesterday include Palmview Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Perez, Alderman Fernando Esquivel, Alderwoman Graciela Salinas-Flores and Alderman Noe R. Munoz, as well as Penitas Mayor Servando Ramirez, Mayor Pro Tem Marcos Ochoa and Councilmembers Rey Mendoza and Velia Luna Rivera.

Doggett had already won the endorsements of the Mayors of McAllen, Alton, Palmhurst, Rio Grande City, Pharr and Hidalgo. Texas Republicans created District 25 in order to make up for splitting District 23, making the latter safe for Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla, who received only 8 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2002 congressional election. Two of three federal judges ruled that it was not unlawful to dissect District 23 in light of the creation of District 25. However, in his dissent, Judge John Ward criticized the majority opinion saying he did not read prior cases to mean that the state is permitted “to dismantle an existing opportunity district,” like District 23, “so long as the loss is made up somewhere else.”

A Doggett victory would not only ruin the Republican plan to end his tenure in Congress—along with fellow Democrats Martin Frost and Chet Edwards—it would prove that Democratic experts were correct when they told the court he could beat a Hispanic candidate. District 25 takes in the eastern portion of Travis County and snakes through Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes, Live Oak, Duval, Jim Hogg and Starr Counties as well as the southernmost portion of heavily-populated Hidalgo County.

Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island will be campaigning for Doggett today, with stops planned in McAllen this morning and Karnes City and Austin this afternoon. The Kennedy name may well bring in more endorsements. In a press release, Kennedy said, “I am eager to support the re-election efforts of my good friend and colleague, Lloyd Doggett, and I look forward to his return to Congress where together we can continue the Kennedy legacy—working to obtain economic opportunity, affordable healthcare and a secure retirement for all Americans families.”

Kennedy will attend the opening of Doggett’s Austin campaign headquarters at 2212 E. Martin Luther King from 4:30 to 5:30pm. The 36-year-old Congressman is the son of Senator Edward Kennedy. He and Doggett were both elected to Congress for the first time in 1994.

Dallas, Austin, face similar some issues with historic homes

Dallas ordinance offers options for preservation without tax abatement

The scene had all the elements of a classic Austin clash: a wealthy developer on one side wanting to tear down an 80-year-old house and equally stubborn neighbors on the other, willing to use their cars and the court system to block the impending bulldozers.

But this scene on Saturday wasn’t in Hyde Park. Instead, it was in the heart of Dallas, where upscale Swiss Avenue neighbors were willing to fight tooth and nail to preserve an 80-year-old house slated for demolition. A Plano investor wanted to replace the decades-old structure with a pseudo-1920s Tudor.

The hearts of preservationists beat as strongly in Dallas as they do in Austin, and the house at 6015 Bryan Parkway is only one example. In some ways the fight over demolition permits on historic houses is strikingly similar between the two cities.

In this case, the developer, Marsh Wyly Holdings of Plano, purchased the house at 6015 Bryan Parkway. The company pulled a demolition permit, which triggered a hearing on the permit before the Dallas Landmark Commission (DLC). The developer’s argument was that the two-story house, valued at just under $300,000, was structurally unsound and, under a criteria for consideration under the ordinance, “an imminent threat to public safety.”

In a unanimous decision after touring the property the DLC voted to deny the demolition permit. That decision was appealed to the City Plan Commission. And at 9:45pm last Thursday night, a split CPC voted 8-4 to grant the permit. By Friday afternoon, the permit was pulled and by Saturday morning the bulldozers were rolling.

Neighbors woke up, literally, just in time to stop the demolition. Dozens rushed to block the driveway and one neighbor ran to get a temporary restraining order. That restraining order is still in place, until either the case is reheard or neighbors file in District Court.

What makes the Swiss Avenue case different, however, is the presence of historic districts. A task force appointed by the Austin City Council is toying with the idea of recommending the creation of historic districts as one way to add predictability to the demolition process in Austin, giving an owner a “heads up” on a property’s intrinsic historic value before a permit is pulled.

While the idea may be sound, it’s certainly not easy in Dallas. Dallas Landmark Commissioner Danny Tapscott admits that the city’s historic preservation ordinance—cobbled together over the last 26 years—is often convoluted and unnecessarily complicated. It usually takes a new landmark commissioner more than a year to learn the process.

For example, districts are created by petition of a majority of homeowners in Dallas neighborhoods. A neighborhood can petition for a historic, conservation or planned development district. And they can petition the Dallas Landmark Commission, the City Plan Commission or Dallas City Council.

Dallas has about a dozen conservation districts. These districts, with less stringent rules than historic districts, are intended to preserve significant architectural or planning elements of a neighborhood. In Tapscott’s neighborhood of Vickery Meadows, for example, the neighborhood will petition the Dallas Landmark Commission to preserve the unusual 10-foot setbacks between the houses that were popular in the 1920s. They also want to prohibit attached garages that face the street in the neighborhood.

Greenland Hills’ conservation district—known as the “M Streets” in Dallas—preserves the material and height of properties. In the affluent Greenway Park, neighbors wanted to preserve the existing green space and architectural massing of the properties.

But conservation districts are simply overlays. Owning a home in a conservation district does not come with a tax abatement. Tax abatements require a local historic district, which may or may not overlap with a National Register District.

Dallas has 15 of these local historic districts, including Swiss Avenue and South Boulevard. Swiss Avenue was one of the first historic districts in the state. While an addition or renovation to a property under a conservation district requires city staff review in a conservation district, the same renovations in a historic district require the review of the full Dallas Landmark Commission or City Plan Commission.

The third option is the planned development district. The planned development district is an overlay of zoning and architectural standards. In some places, like Oak Lawn, the overlay has successfully facilitated development. In other areas, like Forest Hills, the results of such zoning controls have been mixed, Tapscott said.

Dallas’ ordinance closely resembles the historic preservation ordinances of Atlanta and Philadelphia. And even though the ordinance has been worked and reworked, it still has loopholes. The historic Dr Pepper building was torn down four years ago because the ordinance at that time gave the property owner the right to “wait out” a decision of the Dallas Landmark Commission—240 days, to be exact.

The loophole led to a reworking of the ordinance in 2000 to tighten demolition criteria.

Overall, though, the historic preservation ordinance in Dallas has worked well, says Tapscott, who has also served on the board of the Texas Historical Commission. He points to the case of the old Dallas High School, also known as Crozier Tech. In 2002, the developer claimed that the renovation of the 1908 school was not economically viable.

The city’s first high school, which closed in 1978 and sits on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit line at its Pearl Street station, was ripe for redevelopment. But the ordinance put in place a subcommittee—with representatives offered by the developer and Dallas Landmark Commission—to review the merits of the demolition permit.

The subcommittee heard 18 hours of testimony before making a recommendation to the Dallas Landmark Commission. After another eight hours of grueling testimony, the DLC decided that the developer had not met the burden of proof for the permit, Tapscott said. In fact, the developer had to admit he had no intention of renovating the building and had no experience in determining the viability of a possible renovation.

The developer appealed to District Court, where the case is still pending. Despite the legal battle, the fact issue is still open and the building still on the ground is a victory for preservationists like Tapscott. Anyone who has been to Boston and seen redevelopment like Samuel Hall knows that historic redevelopment can work, given time, effort and money. That knowledge is enough to help Dallas preservationists continue their fight.

Municipal court judges awaiting reappointment . . . Municipal court judges have been waiting since last month to hear whether they will be reappointed, a process they undergo every two years. Although the majority of Austin’s city judges are reappointed when their terms expire, from time to time a judge or two will get a rude awakening—in the form of a pink slip. In Fact Daily has heard that one or two judges have not been recommended for reappointment by the three-member committee of Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Jackie Goodman and Brewster McCracken for reappointment. The matter is on this week’s agenda . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Planning Commission will hear a request tonight for a change from Industrial zoning to Planned Unit Development for Colorado Crossing at 6800 Burleson Road. The commission is also scheduled to consider changes proposed for the Montopolis neighborhood and ponder whether to grant a compatibility waiver for some condo units on West 6th Street. Also, Chief Appraiser Art Cory will talk about property valuation issues. The commission meets at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center . . . RMMA meets . . . The Robert Mueller advisory commission is also scheduled to meet at 6pm at Waller Creek Center. The Airport Commission is scheduled to meet at 5pm at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and the Community Development Commission plans to meet at 6:30pm at the South Austin Multipurpose Center . . . New restaurant web site launched . . . Promoters announced creation of a new web site for those wondering what’s on the menu in Austin restaurants. They say http://www.AustinForDinner.com is the “only service where restaurant patrons looking for new quality Austin dining experiences can review over local 130 restaurant menus in one location online. Users can sort by name, cuisine or location. Other restaurants will be added regularly.” Bon appetit! . . . For fishermen and women only . . . Six pros in the fine art of bass fishing will be offering instruction for novice and expert fishermen alike at Bassmaster University, to be held at Austin Community College Feb. 14 and 15. Instruction covers mainstream techniques such as plastic worms, crankbaits, topwater, flipping and pitching and lesser-known techniques such as fishing the floating worm, finesse fishing and electronics. The program is presented by Country Line Magazine and “ The Texas Outdoor Zone” radio and TV shows. For more information, call T.J. Greaney at (512) 292-1113, or visit www.texasoutdoorzone.com. To register, call ACC at (512) 223-7542.

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