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Garcia considering congressional race

Tuesday, January 6, 2004 by

If map does not change, former Mayor may run in Republican-leaning district

Former Mayor Gus Garcia is considering running for Congress if federal judges do not change the map drawn by the Legislature during last year’s final session on redistricting. Garcia is quoted in the Quorum Report as saying that he is giving the matter serious consideration. Although he will turn 70 this month, Garcia said that his age would not deter him from running. He said Democrats should not give up on the redrawn District 10 just because it will be dominated by Republicans. Incumbent Congressman Lloyd Doggett has filed for the seat and Garcia would only run if Doggett switches to District 25—which stretches from East Austin to the Mexican border.

Garcia’s former aide and longtime friend Paul Saldaña said, “Once it’s in your blood, sometimes it’s difficult to get it out of your system. Gus is one of those natural born leaders that people just naturally think of, so it doesn’t surprise me, but I have not talked to him.” Saldaña said he and Garcia had been trying to connect by phone but that the former mayor was on his way to Mexico last night.

Garcia, an accountant who served on the City Council for nine years, retired, and then served as Mayor from November 2001 to June 2003. When he left office last year, he said he might consider running for another position in the future, but did not specify which one.

Garcia has recently joined CAS Consulting and Services Inc. as senior vice president, Saldaña said.

East Austinites oppose change to neighborhood plan

Planning Commission agrees that single-family zoning should not change

East Austin residents turned out at the final Planning Commission meeting of 2003 to ask the group to recommend against a proposal to undo a zoning change originally made as part of the neighborhood planning process for the Central East Austin neighborhood. The owner of 2017 and 2101 E. 8th Street wants to change the zoning on those lots from SF-3-NP to MF-4 to allow for the construction of 10 apartment units.

That site was originally downzoned at the urging of surrounding residents over the objection of the property owner. “She desired the property to stay multi-family,” said Bernice Butler, the daughter of Louree Atkins, who owns the property.

Mike Clark-Madison, representing the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods (OCEAN), told commissioners there had not been any change in the desires of the neighborhood since the plan and future land-use map were approved. “We considered leaving MF zoning in place on 8th Street,” he said. “The neighborhood did not support that. We wanted to encourage more mixed-use multi-family development on the commercial corridors themselves. That’s why we put the mixed-use overlay on all the commercial property in the neighborhood.”

Clark-Madison argued that the overlay should be sufficient to allow for increased density in the area while preserving the single-family homes desired by the neighborhood. “After four years of working on the neighborhood plan and its implementation with OCEAN,” he said, “I’ve been hearing a consistent message from neighbors that they would like to see more opportunity for single-family development.” Nell Peterson of the Blackshear-Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association supported his contention. “We have worked very hard over the past four years in order to not only reach the single-family zoning but to maintain it and its integrity,” she said. “It has been approved and we’d like to continue it that way.”

But Butler told commissioners that multi-family development was desirable for the site. “The best alternative . . . the most financially feasible thing for us to do . . . would be to demolish the three structures there and replace (them) with new high-quality residential development,” she said. “We think the development we are proposing will help jump-start revitalization in this neighborhood; it will aid in the elimination of slum and blight. It will hold back the commercial intrusion that’s happening from 7th street and it will improve the quality of life for existing residents.” Single-family development along the street, she said, was not economically viable. “You’re looking at $100-125,000 to build a house there . . . if you are going to lease that house you’re talking about $1200 a month in rent. Right now, they’re paying $600 a month. That’s the imbalance you’re talking about,” she said. “We cannot afford to build a single-family house there and have it pay for itself.”

City staff and neighbors countered that the lots are ill suited for multi-family development because of their location. “This is spot zoning,” said Clark-Madison. “This is in the middle of a block . . . that is surrounded by single-family.” City staff agreed with that evaluation. “The site is surrounded on three sides by single-family uses and zoning,” said Annick Beaudet with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. “This request would create an isolated spot of increased density.”

The five members of the commission present at the Dec. 23 meeting voted unanimously to reject the requested zoning change. “I’m going to vote to just stick with the plan,” said acting Chair Chris Riley. To change that plan, Riley said, would require a significant change in conditions within the neighborhood. “I could see somebody making a reasonable argument that the statement made by the results of the Envision Central Texas process is such a change . . . that should lead us to question some of the results of our neighborhood planning,” Riley admitted, “and make us wonder whether we ought to be looking towards increased densities. I think the neighborhood in this case made a persuasive argument that the plan allows for additional density . . . and that those opportunities have not been fully explored. I don’t view these votes as being hostile in any way to additional density in this neighborhood. It’s just more of a statement that in planning where that density will go, we’re going to respect the wishes of the neighborhood as embodied in the neighborhood plan.”

Commissioners Cynthia Medlin, Matthew Moore, Niyanta Spelman and Michael Casias joined Riley in recommending against the zoning change. Commissioners Maggie Armstrong and Dave Sullivan, and Chair Lydia Ortiz were absent.

Park remediation project delayed by tests

Construction work on the environmental remediation project at Mabel Davis Park will likely be pushed back three or four months to allow for additional testing at the site. That soil testing is required to meet state guidelines as the city works on a plan to make sure pesticides and lead batteries buried at the site decades ago don’t pose any danger to humans.

“We’ve had to do some additional testing in one area of the park that has resulted in a delay of a few months,” said Chuck Lesniak, the city’s Environmental Program Manager with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. “We had hoped that we would be ready to begin construction in the April-May timeframe. Now, we’re probably looking more at the August-September-October timeframe because of this additional information that we’ve collected.”

While the new tests cover only a small geographical area, incorporating the data into a report required by the State of Texas is proving to be time consuming. “It’s all inter-connected, and changing one part requires that we change another part which requires that we change a third part,” said Lesniak. “But we have not found anything new at all. We’re still finding the exact same contaminants that we were seeing before. I would characterize the assessment as 95- to 97-percent complete.”

The design of the project still calls for placing a thick clay cap over the area contaminated by pesticides dumped there when the location was used as a landfill. Those pesticides, while legal at the time, have since been banned and the standards for acceptable levels of exposure to the chemicals have been revised.

The project will also include a leachate collection system and new topsoil for the park. “Once we’re done, the entire park will be open for use by the public, and the average park use would never know that there’s a landfill there,” said Lesniak. Construction on the project is estimated to take between 12 and 18 months.

For news from last year:

Acting Parks director named . . . The City Council of Eagle Pass approved the selection of Jesus Olivares as their new City Manager at the end of December. Olivares had previously announced his intention to resign as Director of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department to take the position. The department’s Operations Manager, Warren Struss, will serve as Acting Parks Director until a permanent replacement is selected . . . Hilton celebrates . . . Executives with the Hilton Hotels Corporation and officials with the City of Austin exchanged congratulations on Monday at the grand opening of the new Hilton adjacent to the Austin Convention Center. The city helped finance construction of the project with bonds, and in return the hotel will become city property when the bonds are paid off in 30 years. In the meantime, officials with the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Hilton are excited about the impact the hotel is already having on the city’s convention business. “This completes the upgrading of our tourism industry that’s been ongoing for many years, starting with the airport . . . then the Convention Center and the Palmer events center,” said Convention Center Director Bob Hodge. “This magnificent structure becomes the final piece in that upgrading to carry us in to the next 20 years in this industry that’s a very important one to the city.” Hodge had special thanks for Mayor Will Wynn and former Mayor Kirk Watson, who were both in attendance. The 31-story building also brings new possibilities for downtown residential development. “It’s really a mixed-use development that’s under one roof,” said hotel General Manager Andy Slater. “In addition to the 800-room hotel, there’s office space and 103 residential units that will be owned and developed by Faulkner USA” . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet at One Texas Center and the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee will meet at the Department of Small and Minority Business Resources, 4100 Ed Bluestein Blvd, Training Room 1. Both meetings begin at 6pm.

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