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Doggett stresses shared values within district

Wednesday, January 14, 2004 by

Fight is with DeLay, not with Democratic opponent

Congressman Lloyd Doggett came home last night to a cheering crowd of about 300 supporters behind a little house in East Austin that serves as his local campaign headquarters. The Austin congressman emphasized his commitment to the ongoing battle with Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, never mentioning former Judge Leticia Hinojosa, his opponent in the Democratic Primary race to represent the new District 25.

Some of those listening to Doggett—like Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who introduced him, and Commissioner Margaret Gomez, who has stood by his side both in Austin and in the Rio Grande Valley—live in the newly created district. But many of those gathered at the headquarters do not.He told those who are no longer in his district that they can still vote for him—with their volunteer efforts and their checkbooks.

He told the crowd, “I’m so glad to be home and I love this community. Tom DeLay can draw all the lines and crisscross our community, but he can’t divide us.”

Doggett described his tireless campaign in the Valley and the success he has had in lining up South Texas leaders to support him. (See In Fact Daily, January 13, 2004.) He said the number of people who have been willing to come out early for him “says to Tom DeLay, ‘You can try to pit one region against another; you can try to pit one race against another; you can try to pit one sex against another, but that’s a Republican tactic, and we’ll have none of it. That’s not what this race is about. It’s about delivering for people.”

Many longtime supporters, including Emma Long, Liz Carpenter and Willie Mae Kirk, and a bevy of local officials and candidates were in the crowd that packed close together to hear Doggett and his friend, Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. Kennedy called Doggett, “one of the true liberals of our time.” They toured South Texas together yesterday, stumping on the steps of the Karnes County Courthouse and in Kenedy—misspelled, Kennedy noted—as well as Nixon, Texas.

Although he will be challenged in trying to represent a district spread over 350 miles, Doggett has selected a theme that unites the disparate parts of the gerrymandered district. The theme is in essence, “Our values are the same and our problems are the same.” He told his audience that he would continue to work for those things that everyone in the district wants—affordable education for those willing to work for it and affordable health care so that “mothers are not forced to decide whether they can take a child to the doctor or put food on the table.”

He criticized Republicans as “this group that hates government, that doesn’t understand the productive role that a government can play, a responsive government. They are a problem for all of this strange and diverse district across Texas. And our values unite us, from one end of this district to another—they are values that center on the notion that good democratic government doesn’t come trickling down from the top, from the chosen few. It comes gushing up from the people.”

Doggett has hired the political consulting firm of Archer & Nathan. Christian Archer has been designated campaign manager and Mark Nathan is communications director. Hector Ortiz, who has worked with Archer and Nathan since the Tony Sanchez Campaign, is Travis County field director and Mary Armesto is the Travis County volunteer coordinator. The primary is 59 days from today on March 9.

Parkside school, Casa de Luz get one more month

Rules seem to point against granting of variance

The owners of the Parkside Community School and Casa de Luz restaurant on Toomey Road will have 30 more days to secure additional parking. The Board of Adjustment granted yet another postponement in the long-running case to give the school one final opportunity to lease enough parking spaces in the surrounding neighborhood to get them close enough to the amount required by City Code that board members can justify granting a parking variance.

Representatives of the school have been working since November to lease off-site parking in the neighborhood, and thought they had already succeeded. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 17, 2003.) “Considering the holiday period, we have put in a tremendous amount of effort in this time . . . and I think we’ve come a remarkably long way in attaining what we have to present you today,” said Kent Butler, who represented the school. The proposal Butler presented called for the school to continue using a parking area owned by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department under an informal verbal agreement, leasing 20 spaces from the Carpenter’s Union Local 1266 and leasing another 20 spaces from a nearby glass company. The lease with the union hall needed a few last-minute changes, said Butler, while the lease with the glass company could be executed by the end of the week.

However, one of those lots is farther away than 1,000 feet, which means it would normally not be considered suitable for off-site parking. “We have attempted to lease everything that we could possibly lease,” said Butler. “There was one property we were not able to get . . . in the timeframe available, but which perhaps has spaces available. Other than that, we feel we’ve exhausted . . . in the time we had . . . all possibilities.” Those 40 spaces, combined with the two parking spaces on-site at the school and those available at the park, would have brought the school much closer to the 68 necessary spaces listed on the application.

But neighborhood representatives felt that Butler’s calculations were a bit too optimistic, since the union hall was too far away and the glass company did not have excess spaces to lease. “You cannot lease parking that is already required for another use,” said consultant Sarah Crocker, who represented a group of surrounding property owners opposed to the variance. There was a site suitable for parking within the 1,000-foot range, Crocker said, but she believed the school had not pursued it for financial reasons. “They can bring this site into compliance. They have to spend some money to do it and do it in a business-like fashion.” Crocker also provided a letter from current representatives of the Parks and Recreation department, which she said contradicted whatever verbal agreement the school might have reached with the South Austin Little League, which uses the parking area for its practices. “The bottom line is, they’re back again . . . they have nothing concrete,” she said. “They can bring this site into compliance. It’s a matter of money.”

Butler attempted to reassure board members that the school’s owners had taken all available steps to secure parking, including discussions with Susan Toomey Frost, the owner of the nearby Pecan Grove RV Park. “There’ve been some difficulties working with that property owner to attempt to find some leaseable terms,” he admitted. “There’s a lot of opposition between the two parties.”

Board Member Frank Fuentes spoke up in favor of granting the school a parking variance. He noted that the Board had previously granted variances for shared use of parking spaces, when the two tenants had drastically different hours of operation. “I don’t know what the exact situation is with the glass company or the Carpenter’s Union,” he said. “But I suspect that if they’re willing to lease spaces . . . they, more than anybody, know the situation with their parking needs. I’ve been looking at it since day one and I believe that there is reasonable hardship. The applicant, I think, has tried to do the right thing by going out there and looking for more spaces.”

Chairman Herman Thun, who was initially inclined to reject the variance, eventually suggested a postponement after questioning the exact number of parking spaces the school would be required to have. Although the application listed 68, school representatives and city staff said that number was not tied to a specific site plan. Butler told the board that with internal modifications to the school and restaurant, along with recent changes to the City Code regarding parking, the number may actually be 52. Thun offered a proposal to count the 2 on-site spaces at the school along with 18 potential spaces along Toomey Road, reducing the number of off-site spaces to 32. Those spaces, he said, could be located farther away than the 1,000 feet set out in the city code.

But Thun ran into difficulty crafting such a motion to the satisfaction of the city’s legal staff, since a variance on the maximum allowed distance had not been posted on the agenda. Crocker officially requested a 30-day delay, allowing the school to provide a site plan detailing the various uses contained within the building and the number of parking spaces associated with each one. While agreeing to the delay, Thun gave a strong suggestion for the owners of the school to return with signed contracts for off-site parking spaces. “The other side of me just abhors bringing this back another month, because we’ve been at this for a couple of years. I want to get this done and out of here.” The board voted 5-0 to postpone until its meeting in February.

ZAP blesses changes for UT area neighborhood

Judge's Hill Neighborhood Association agrees to change

Members of the Judge’s Hill Neighborhood Association have reached an agreement with developer Bill Hale on the future of property at 803 and 805 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The neighborhood is endorsing an MF-4 to MF-6-CO zoning change for the site, and the Zoning and Platting Commission is supporting that change. Developers had previously tried to get a zoning change for the lot at the southwest corner of MLK and West Avenue to allow construction of a parking garage, but were rejected by the Council on third reading due to stiff opposition from the neighborhood. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 10th, 2001.)

New plans call for the development of 53 condo units on the half-acre tract, with a maximum building height of 51 feet. Each unit will have two bedrooms and cover between 1,100 and 1,200 square feet. There will also be an underground parking garage with 106 spaces. The upper two stories of the building will be set back from the street. “We are building these condominiums at a price level that we would be surprised if a lot of students or students’ parents would buy them,” said Hale. “I am certainly counting on some students’ parents buying units for them because of the proximity to the university.” Hale has a contract to purchase the property from developer Bill Gurasich, and he told ZAP Commissioners the new condominiums would have a minimal impact on the surrounding area. “We went through about a seven-month period with the Judge’s Hill neighborhood group and with city staff, and we thought we had worked out a deal on MF-6-CO,” Hale said. “The appearance of the building fits with the Victorian character of the neighborhood . . . and we’re substantially over what the city would require for parking.”

A representative of the Judge’s Hill Neighborhood Association told ZAP Commissioners the restrictions placed on the project made it acceptable to their organization. “We would prefer not to have the precedent set of M-F4 zoning disappearing in our neighborhood and going to MF-6,” said Gail Brown. “We were assured that the only way this property could be developed, given the cost that was reasonable to ask for downtown property, was to increase the occupancy.” The requirement that units be for sale only, that the owners join the neighborhood association and that the upper floors be set back from the street, she said, helped convince them that the project would not harm the character of the neighborhood. “We wouldn’t want it to turn into north of MLK,” she added. “Based on our investigations and the character that these gentlemen have demonstrated in their other projects, we feel that a restrictive covenant would give us the protection that we need. Our alternatives are that someone could buy that property and renovate the wreck that is there now . . . and we’d be worse off.”

Two Commissioners opposed the change on the grounds that it could set a precedent for bringing the high-density residential development associated with the University of Texas into the historic Judge’s Hill area. “I’ve had a couple of calls from people in the neighborhood who are adamantly opposed,” said Chair Betty Baker. “My concern is the introduction of MF-6 south of MLK. That’s not something for which I can vote.”

But Commissioner John-Michael Cortez moved to support the staff’s recommendation to grant the zoning change. “I’ll have to defer to the neighborhood here. They seem to have worked in good faith with the developer,” he said. “They’ve put in adequate restrictions that would keep this from becoming student housing. Knowing how expensive it already is to live in the University area . . . if these are substantially more expensive, I would highly doubt that any students would be able to afford them.” The Commission voted 7-2 to recommend the change, with Baker and Commissioner Melissa Whaley opposed.

New officers for firefighters group . . . Mike Martinez was sworn in last night as president of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters Local 975. Warren Wiedler, William Brooks and Scott Garland were inducted as vice presidents of the organization . . . Stop the presses! Edgemond agrees with Crocker . . . Monday night’s Board of Adjustment meeting put agent Sarah Crocker in the unusual, but not unprecedented, position of opposing a variance request. But even more unusual was that Board Member Betty Edgemond found herself siding with Crocker’s argument against the parking variance for the Parkside School. “I hate to say this, but I think I agree with Sarah,” Edgemond admitted during the discussion. “I know, Sarah, you’re going to clutch your heart on this one,” she quipped. As noted above, the vote on the variance has been postponed until next month . . . Bikes welcome at Mueller. . . The redeveloped Mueller Airport site will have a complete bicycle path, says Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Advisory Committee Chair Jim Walker. For some reason, a rumor has been going around that the site would not have a full bike path, Walker says. That’s just not true, although it is true that path will not cross one portion of 51st Street that is being reconfigured for better traffic flow. A map of the path should be up soon on the Mueller website at http://www.rmma.net. . . Name that former airport . . . Catellus, the master developer of the former Mueller Airport site, is looking for a name that will say it all. Over the next six weeks, the developer will be gathering names from the public to rename the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. Of course, a similar project in Denver for the city’s former airport led to the name Stapleton . . . Greg Weaver of Catellus says he hopes the community can have a little fun with the naming project. The deadline for submitting a name will be Feb. 10. For more information, go to the button at the top of the Mueller page at http://www.rmma.net. . . Lobbying on judges noted . . . Three judges, two Hispanic and one Anglo, are not being recommended for reappointment. Some members of the community are actively lobbying the City Council to disregard the recommendations of the three-member Council subcommittee and keep them . . . Sidewalk variance granted . . . The Planning Commission had only one discussion item on its agenda last night. Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve a variance to the rule requiring the developer to build a sidewalk along a lot on Crockett Street in the Dawson neighborhood. “I am Dr. Sidewalk,” said Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who has a long history of concern on bicycle and pedestrian issues. “I support sidewalks in almost all cases.” The only exceptions, Sullivan said, are in cases like the one on Crockett where there was an existing, short, dead-end street with no existing sidewalks and no possibility for connection to another street. “In that situation, the probability of a through street is nil, and the whole street itself serves as a sidewalk,” he said. “The predominant use on the street will be people coming and going who live on the street, and the children who play on that street” . . . Cap Metro retreat. . . The Capital Metro Board has scheduled a retreat starting at noon today at the Doubletree Hotel, 1617 N. IH-35. The board may hear about labor issues and plans for a commuter rail line.

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