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Doggett files for old seat, awaiting court ruling

Monday, January 5, 2004 by

Federal judges' decision could reopen filing period

Republicans, Democrats and those who follow their activities are wondering if today will be the day a three-judge court issues a ruling on congressional redistricting. If the two Republicans and one Democrat who heard the case were going to simply confirm the new map in its entirety, it seems likely they would have done so last week—since Friday was the filing deadline.

Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett just filed for re-election to his 10th District seat. Doggett, who has been campaigning in the Rio Grande Valley, said, “In accord with a federal court order, today I have filed for re-election under the only valid congressional districting map. With the support of our neighbors, I will continue working for economic opportunity, affordable health care, quality schools and retirement security for all Americans.” An earlier court order established that the old districts would be valid until a court either confirmed the new map or rejected it.

After filing, Doggett went to speak at a dinner of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party. Should the court approve the legislative districts, he said he would be “prepared to accept the challenge” of running in a district stretching from East Austin to the Mexican border. “I have visited every county in the proposed new District 25, and have supporters already working in each. I particularly appreciate the public endorsements of the mayors of McAllen, Pharr, Hidalgo, Palmhurst and Rio Grande City,” he said.

According to the Democratic Party web site, if the lines are changed, only those congressional candidates who filed by Friday’s deadline will be eligible to change the district in which they are running during an extended filing period between January 11 and January 16. Doggett will not face an opponent in the primary if he remains in the 10th District.

Republicans Dave Phillips, John Kelley, Ben Streusand and Michael T. McCaul will battle in their primary to see who will run against Doggett in November. If Doggett switches over to District 25, of course, the winner of the Republican primary would have a walk in November.

Travis County voters of both major parties will also have plenty of candidates to choose from in the primaries as they decide who will be on the fall ballot for the position of Sheriff. Current Sheriff Margo Frasier’s decision not to run for re-election has lead to four Republicans and four Democrats each seeking their party’s stamp of approval.

Democrats will choose from former Sheriff Raymond Frank, Todd Radford, Kyle Kincaid and Greg Hamilton. Frasier endorsed Hamilton—who is with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission—when she announced her decision not to seek re-election. Members of the GOP will choose from Precinct 3 Constable Drew Mc Angus, Joe Martinez, A.J. Johnson and Duane McNeill. McNeill is a Commander with the APD and has been with the department for 24 years.

The race for Sheriff is only one of many crowded fields. Among Democrats, three people signed up to challenge Precinct One Commissioner Ron Davis for his party’s nomination. They are Kathy Elaine Smith, Arthur Lee Sampson and Celia Marie Israel. Davis is seeking re-election. The position will be decided by Democratic primary election as no Republican filed to run in that precinct.

As usual, Mike Hanson is running for Constable in Precinct 4. He filed as a Democrat this time. Several other Democrats are also seeking the position, including incumbent Maria Canchola. Flynn Lee, an employee of the Police Monitor’s office, is running for the Democratic nomination for Constable in Precinct 1. The incumbent in that spot, Luke Mercer, is also running for re-election. Incumbents Bob Vann in Precinct 2 and Bruce Elfant in Precinct 5 are also seeking re-election. In Precinct 3, three Republicans will battle for their party’s nomination to replace Drew McAngus. The winner will face the one Democrat who filed for the post.

The next chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party will likely be attorney Christopher Lee Elliott, since he’s the only one who filed to run for the position. Republicans will once again have Alan Sager as their chairman, as he was also the only candidate. The party’s web site states that Kirk Overbey, who had previously announced his intention to challenge Sager, withdrew his name from consideration. Overbey’s campaign web site is still active, but now includes a link to a candidate for Congress in District 10.

State Representatives Dawnna Dukes, Terry Keel, Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez are all running unopposed. State Representative Jack Stick is facing three challengers in the Republican Party primary in District 50. The winner will face Democrat Thomas Mark Strama. If the federal courts eventually approve the legislatively drawn congressional map, Stick might take the opportunity to run for Congress. If the federal judges considering redistricting rule that new congressional candidates may file even if they did not do so by the Friday deadline, Stick could leap into that race. The decision of those three challengers makes sense in that context. They are Mike Davis, Michael Elkins and Don Zimmerman. In District 48, Democrat Kelly White was the only person to file as a Democrat. The incumbent, Todd Baxter, faces no challengers for the Republican Party’s nomination.

The decision by State District Judge Paul Davis not to run for another term on the bench has attracted three Democrats to seek their party’s nomination for that seat. Gisela Triana, Jan Soifer and John Ross Hathaway are all running for the position of Judge of the 200th District Court. No Republicans filed for that position. In the 345th District Court, Judge Patrick Keel, a Republican, will face one of two Democratic challengers in the fall general election. Attorneys Stephen Andrew Yelenosky and Richard Henry Anton both filed for the Democratic nomination. .

Nokonah retail problem stumps ZAP

First floor retail rule not working for condos on Lamar

The Zoning and Platting Commission will try again this month to come up with a recommendation for a zoning change requested by the operators of the Nokonah condominiums at 9th and Lamar. The Commission split 4-4 in December over whether to allow the first floor of the building to be used for office space instead of the retail use originally called for by the surrounding neighborhood.

Finding a taker for the 7300 square feet of space, said representatives for Nokonah Partners LTD., has been a nearly impossible task. “In 2001, Nokonah began to actively market the ground floor space,” said attorney Michael Whellan. “As of December 16 . . . the ground floor remains empty. It is a cold, dark box. There is nothing there and it will require a tenant finish-out, which will be significant.” Impending construction on Lamar Blvd., Whellan added, would make the space even less attractive for retail clients depending on either foot or automobile traffic. “Despite the active market, Nokonah has not filled any ground-floor space. They need the flexibility to occupy the space and create the street frontage everyone had hoped would be achieved by now.”

Whellan requested a change of the DMU-CURE zoning to allow pedestrian and office uses on the first floor. While that would not preclude retail, the Nokonah has a prospective office tenant lined up to occupy approximately 6,000 square feet of the floor if the zoning change is approved.

Some of the tower’s immediate neighbors supported the move, telling commissioners that an office use would be preferable to empty space. “We support this change to add flexibility to make the Nokonah project as successful and useful to the neighborhood as possible,” said Ted Siff of the Old Austin Neighborhood. The applicants also presented a letter from another nearby resident supporting the change.

Neighbors say condo promoters failed to keep promises

But members of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association (OWANA) protested. The developers of the Nokonah, they said, had failed to deliver on a long list of promises made to their group. One of those promises, according to Laura Morrison, was first-floor retail. “This really points to a difference in values that we have. We as neighbors value something besides the dollar,” she said. “We value the quality of life and what these things are bringing to our neighborhood. I believe that if the price is right, a tenant could be found . . . if it requires subsidizing tenants for a while until the economy picks up . . . that’s a part of doing business.”

A total of four OWANA members asked the Commission to hold the Nokonah to its original pledge to bring retail to the development. Linda McNeilich expressed concern about the longterm impact of office space at the location. As a resident for the past 36 years, she outlined a history of other projects that had promised retail only to convert to office use. “This was supposed to have been a transitional project between downtown and our neighborhood,” she said. “We would like to see retail. We believe that retail is viable. Apparently, the developers believed that retail was viable when they proposed this. We want this to be a pedestrian-friendly area and we believe it can be.”

With Commissioner Clarke Hammond absent, the Commission found itself in a 4-4 tie over whether to endorse the change. “In previous cases, I have tried to make a persuasive argument that it’s very important for us to fight for pedestrian-oriented uses downtown,” said Commissioner John Philip Donisi, who supported the change to allow office uses. “In doing that, there was a lot of opposition expressed because there is a lot of empty retail space downtown. We’re asking folks to provide this pedestrian-oriented use for the betterment of the community. And in my mind, in asking people to do that, I also feel an obligation to be reasonable when someone comes and has an opportunity . . . it’s important to me to take that seriously.”

Donisi, along with Commissioner Keith Jackson, argued in favor of the change. The shortage of prospective retail tenants, Jackson argued, was a convincing reason to amend the zoning for office. “One day we’re going to learn that the market dictates uses,” he said. “I have watched zoning commissions and planning commissions all over this state try to dictate the market. It doesn’t happen. That’s why I’m supporting this.” But an equal number of commissioners sided with John-Michael Cortez, who called on the developers to do more to recruit a shop for the available space.

“I understand the economic situation here,” said Cortez. “But I do think pedestrian uses, not office, was the intent of the original agreement.” He dismissed the argument from Whalley that office space was more desirable at the location than retail. “It’s been mentioned over and over again that there is ample retail space downtown . . . but there’s also ample office space. We’re about to have a giant office building open up at 4th and Congress. Adding the possibility of office space in this building will undoubtedly add to the profitability of the Nokonah development, but will definitely subtract from the existing quality of life for that neighborhood.”

The overall issue of retail downtown, Cortez noted, had been a difficult one for the Commission to handle. “This case really does frustrate me,” he said before launching into a description of the battles over retail trends downtown. “We’ve heard there’s no demand for this retail space . . . (and that) we failed to enforce pedestrian use requirements for Rainey. Their reasons were ‘no demand.’ My problem is . . . the city owns this beautiful piece of land downtown . . . Block 21 . . . that is the most perfect, most optimal site for a terribly needed new Central Library. Yet we want to give it away for retail use. We have all these cases where we have people saying, ‘We just can’t get rid of this retail space,’ but we want to give away a tremendous opportunity for our city. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The vote in favor of the Nokonah’s requested zoning change was 4-4, with Commissioners Jackson, Donisi, Melissa Whaley and Jay Gohil in favor. Commissioners Cortez, Janice Pinelli, Joseph Martinez and Chair Betty Baker were opposed. While not all of those who sided with Cortez agreed with his comments about the Rainey Street project, they did share a concern for the future of the neighborhood around the Nokonah. Commissioner Janice Pinelli noted that while the zoning would technically continue to allow retail, it would not be likely once the space was rented for office use. “It’s not going to be temporary; it’s going to be permanent,” she said.

Since the Commission could not get a majority vote to either accept or reject the zoning change, the case was set to go on to the City Council without a recommendation. But after a brief recess, Commissioners decided to re-post the case for their first meeting in January for another vote. Since the public hearing on the case has been closed, that posting will be for discussion and action only.

For news from last year:

LCRA lake action begins today . . . The LCRA will begin its annual lowering of Lake Austin today. This is the fourth year the agency has dropped the lake level at the request of the City of Austin in an effort to stop the spread of hydrilla. The LCRA will draw down the lake level by 12 feet over the next three weeks, then refill the lake beginning Feb. 17. If the hydroelectric units at Mansfield Dam are needed to provide power before that date, however, the LCRA could be forced to refill the lake ahead of schedule . . . Grand opening today . . . The new Hilton Hotel across from the Austin Convention Center is holding a grand-opening ceremony today. Guests have been staying at the hotel since its “soft opening” at the end of 2003. Mayor Will Wynn will join executives of the Hilton Hotels Corporation for the ceremonies at 11am . . . City meetings . . . The Design Commission, still struggling with a future mission, meets at 5:45pm today at a new location—the 8th Floor Conference Room of One Texas Center. The group will talk about the design of the Mexican American Cultural Center, awards for the Great Streets Program and a retreat they will hold later this month. The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet Tuesday night. The City Council will hold its first meeting of the year on Thursday.

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