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Planner outlines ambitious work plan for 2004

Monday, January 12, 2004 by

Downtown design, historic preservation, mobility study to get attention

A new year means a new business plan for most city departments, and Urban Design Officer Jana McCann outlined some of the goals of the Transportation, Planning & Sustainability Department to the Design Commission last week.

The commission has scheduled a retreat later this month to draft a new mission statement and work plan. Part of the preparation included an overview of the work of the Urban Design/Historic Preservation subgroup (UDHP) at the meeting.

McCann’s presentation provided a glimpse at what goals will drive this year’s activities in the UDHP. Despite deep cuts in the department budget, the subgroup of eight has set out an ambitious spreadsheet of projects this year. Those projects include:

• Great Streets – A Great Streets Master Plan, with an awards program, should be taken to the Council by the end of this month, McCann said. The program also includes new lighting for downtown and funding for emerging projects. The city has already bankrolled about $1.2 million from parking meter revenues to fund both private and public ventures that will implement the new Great Street standards. Major projects under the program will include retail along Second Street, the proposed Downtown Marriott, the new Frost Bank building and the Federal Courthouse.

• The Seaholm Project – While the Council never adopted the Seaholm Master Plan, various elements of that plan are being implemented this year, McCann said. Those include the extension and improvement of West Avenue and the extension of the Pfluger Bridge to points north of Cesar Chavez. A consultant for the Pfluger Bridge extension should be on board next month. Existing Capital Improvement Project funds underwrite both projects.

The overall Seaholm redevelopment project is on hold until the city learns the outcome of development in the area, including Block 21, directly north of City Hall, McCann said. It’s important to understand how the “puzzle pieces” in the area fit together, including the placement of the new Central Library, McCann said. She confirmed that the city had closed on the “Y” property at the Seaholm site. The 2.5 acres, owned by Union Pacific, were considered imperative if the city wanted to consider redevelopment that would require significant parking, such as a museum.

• The Saltillo Master Plan – The city should have a recommended framework for the development of the Saltillo site by this spring, McCann said. The city and Capital Metro are working with stakeholders with a goal of selecting a master developer by summer, or fall at the latest. McCann confirmed Capital Metro’s initial plan for the rail line next to Saltillo is commuter rail, although the site is expected to eventually support a spoke of light rail should voters eventually approve it.

• I- 35 Air Rights –Nothing is on a firm schedule this year, but the UDHP is still exploring the possibility of buying air rights from the Texas Department of Transportation once I-35 is depressed. Land Design Studio has already submitted a thick report to the city on the topic, McCann said. The goal would be to put development across the depressed freeway, a bridge that could be as wide as four blocks. McCann said such plans would make the most sense near the core of downtown or even in the 12th Street area that the Austin Revitalization Authority is developing.

McCann said city staff wants to sit down with TxDOT over the next couple of months to discuss the transportation department’s plans for the freeway project.

• Second Street and South Congress – Both projects include significant streetscape improvements and some CIP funding. Second Street will incorporate significant retail development and public art. South Congress has coordinated projects with businesses and residents along the street, including the Texas School for the Deaf.

• Historic Preservation – Goals on the list this year include a citywide preservation plan, McCann said. To date, the city has had nothing more than the 1984 historical inventory, a windshield survey of what was considered significant to preserve, she said. The survey offered no significant background research. The proposed citywide preservation plan would incorporate the work of others, such as the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association and the Central East Austin Neighborhood, and use the low-cost manpower of the University of Texas for assistance.

McCann estimates the survey could take three years to complete, at a cost of at least $100,000. The city would like to see the Austin Heritage Society assist in funding the work, McCann said. Right now, the UDHP is trying to develop a scope of work to take to the Council this spring.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky is working with a Council-appointed task force to make recommendations on the city’s historic preservation program, with a due date of March 25. McCann said one of the prime goals of the task force would be to consider the creation of local historical districts to increase the predictability of the city’s historic preservation process. The city’s current process is often more reactive than proactive, McCann said.

• Rapid Transit Projects, the East/West Mobility Study and the North Burnet/Gateway Neighborhood Plan – The UDHP has a number of projects focused on transportation. The Rapid Transit Project, undertaken with funding from Capital Metro and manpower from the city, was exploring a central core light rail line. Now the group is studying a Leander-Downtown commuter rail line.

The long-awaited East/West Mobility Study is designed to see what the city can do to increase the traffic capacity of east-west streets between MoPac and I-35. The project, coordinated with traffic engineering subsection, is designed to consider different alternatives. A consulting traffic engineer will be brought on board. Urban Design will provide visual scenarios for various options, McCann said. The goal would be to negotiate tradeoffs that can win property owner and homeowner support.

The North Burnet/Gateway Neighborhood Plan will focus primarily on a transportation plan for the 1,000 acres that includes the JJ Pickle Campus, the Arboretum and The Domain. The area also includes the San Antonio-Austin and Giddings-Llano rail lines.

The goal is to unsnarl and anticipate traffic congestion, giving a new focus of development and redevelopment in the area, McCann said. The traffic study would be paid for out of Capital Metro funds returned to the city. Stakeholders in the area have already signed on to the planning project, McCann said. The Request for Qualifications is out on a consulting team for the project.

The UDHP will oversee code amendments for Big Box, Historic Preservation and Compatibility Standards, as well as some suggestions made by the Downtown Commission. In addition, the group will start work on an Urban Design Criteria Manual. The manual would tie together all the various standards for the department, from how to plant a tree to the requirements for the Great Streets program.

Council OKs zoning change for Bouldin property owners

Residents of the Bouldin Neighborhood failed to convince the City Council on Thursday that a requested zoning change for a lot on Bouldin Avenue violated their neighborhood plan. The Council voted 7-0 to allow the change from SF-3 to SF-4A and to create two lots out of the existing lot at 1505 Bouldin, which already has two homes on it.

One of those homes faces Bouldin Avenue on the west, while the other faces South Third Street on the east. The owners of the homes, Shannon Mayo and her husband, are attempting to secure financing to improve one of the existing structures. “He had talked to his lenders and his insurance agents, and they requested that the property be subdivided through the city of Austin and be ‘fee simple’ land,” said agent Vince Huebinger, who represented the family. “Two properties on one (lot) would be a lot more difficult to finance the improvements.”

The couple’s finances have been drained by the cost of repairs to the home facing Bouldin, said Shannon Mayo, who added that the home on South Third is in disrepair. She is not charging market-rate rent to the tenants in that house, she said, because of a promise she had made to her grandmother years ago. “The gentleman that lives in the house on South Third took care of my grandmother, first when she had her stroke and then when she had cancer . . . twice,” said Mayo. “Therefore, for ten years, we let them live there rent-free. The last few years, they have paid . . . so that it can help us pay property taxes . . . but we have let them do it at will.”

Both the Planning Commission and city staff supported the change, with staff saying that the change from SF-3 to SF-4A would still qualify as residential and would meet the goals outlined in the neighborhood plan. A city planner also pointed out that other lots in the area were zoned SF-4A and that the existing homes fit the overall character of the neighborhood. But several neighborhood representatives opposed the staff’s assessment, citing fears that the zoning change would encourage more development in the neighborhood.

“Our concern is the precedent of subdividing SF-3 residential into SF-4A, which is basically the equivalent of the urban lot infill option that was presented during the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood planning process, which the neighborhood resoundingly rejected,” Said Cory Walton, president of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association. “If the applicant is having a problem from a banker or insurer, I suggest that you talk to a different banker.”

Other neighbors objected to the potential for smaller homes on smaller lots that could come with other SF-4A zoning requests. “We took a zoning survey,” said Matt Caldwell. “Our survey was overwhelmingly to keep the lot size the same.” Changing the zoning at 1505 Bouldin, they argued, would be tantamount to violating the neighborhood plan. “If the Council grants the applicant’s request, I believe you will be setting the undesirable precedent of ignoring the overriding intent of the plan and the hard work of the citizens,” said Stewart Hampton.

But the Council sided with the property owners, noting that the existing structures were similar in size to others in the neighborhood and that denying the request could drive the owners to redevelop the lot. “It seems like the purpose of the neighborhood plan is to protect the existing integrity and character of this neighborhood, which includes these two homes,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. “If we were deny this application to allow these to lots to be subdivided, we will inadvertently create a substantial pressure for this lot to be sold and these homes to be torn down. I think Bouldin is one of our classic neighborhoods, and it would be a shame” to put in a “McMansion . . . that would be out of character with the neighborhood.”

The Council vote in favor of the change and subdivision was 7-0 on first reading, which is enough to overcome the valid petition filed by the neighborhood in opposition.

Lobby contracts up this week . . . Like all other city departments, the Government Relations Office, which watches events at the Capitol and in Washington, DC, has had to cut its budget. This week the Council will vote on recommendations for the city’s lobby team for the interim and special called sessions this year. The total amount this year is $811,000 as compared to $1.17 million for last year, says Government Relations Officer John Hrncir. The following is a list of the lobbyists recommended by Hrncir and the amounts they are expected to receive: Adams & Zottarelli ($189,000), Reggie Bashur ($90,000), Randy Erben($90,000), Cliff Johnson ($90,000), Clay Pope ($90,000), Carl Richie ($75,000), Susan Rocha ($72,000), Marta Greytok($65,000) and Barbara McCall ($50,000). Some lobbyists who have worked for the city in the past— Richard Hamner and Glenn Maxey in particular—have made other choices. Hamner has gone back to work for Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and Maxey is doing political consulting for five different campaigns. Hrncir said longtime lobbyist Dick Brown would not be working for the city this year by his own choice but may be a consultant to Austin in the future. Carl Parker and brothers Robert and Gordon Johnson will no longer be on the city team, he said . . . Casteñada not part of El Concilio . . . Last week, in describing the campaign announcement of Leticia Hinojosa for Congress, In Fact Daily noted that Hinojosa “gestured to a table near the podium where El Concilio leaders Gavino Fernandez and Paul Hernandez were seated with former ZAP Commissioner Diana Casteñada.” Casteñada called to stress that she is not a member of El Concilio and that she has not yet decided whether she will support Congressman Lloyd Doggett or the Rio Grande Valley judge in that race but is leaning toward hometown representative . . . Doggett hosts Kennedy at open house. . . The campaign is in full swing and Doggett has enlisted the aid of Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who will attend an open house and campaign kickoff at the Doggett HQ on Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30pm. The Travis County HQ is at 2212 E. MLK (corner of MLK and Chestnut) . . . Lawsuit settlement. . . The City Council agreed at last week’s meeting to settle a lawsuit regarding overtime pay for paramedics. They approved $221,104.54 from the liability reserve fund to go to the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit by some EMS employees. Another $301,237 from the liability reserve fund was approved to deal with future claims from paramedics who were not part of the original suit . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment has a full schedule this evening, beginning at 5:30pm at One Texas Center. The Police Monitor Citizen Review Panel is scheduled to meet in closed session from 6-7pm and will have a brief public meeting at 7pm in Room 304 of City Hall. One complainant has been given 10 minutes to speak and other members of the public may sign up before 7pm to address the panel for 3 minutes each.

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