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Doggett promises $2 million for East 7th Street improvements

Wednesday, February 18, 2004 by

Money would be used for safety, beautification

U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett promised to secure $2 million in federal funding for improvements along East 7th Street on Tuesday. Doggett said he would use his ability to earmark funds in a transportation bill making its way through both houses of Congress to supplement $1 million for the project already allocated by lawmakers.

Doggett made the announcement in front of El Azteca restaurant, flanked by local business owners and Council Member Raul Alvarez. “I think that all of these improvements will benefit businesses that are already prospering here, will help expand development to some of the areas that are less developed at present, add to the East Austin community and generate additional jobs,” Doggett said. The planned improvements include new sidewalks with curb-cuts, more trees, new lighting and new medians in the roadway.

“The beauty of this additional funding is that the design work is very far along and the funds for that part of the work on this roadway is pretty much already there,” said Alvarez. “These dollars are actual dollars that are going to help us put improvements on the ground.” He estimated that just over $3 million had been allocated for improvements along East 7th over the past three years, with the focus on the segment of the road between Chicon and Pleasant Valley.

“The main thing we’re trying to do is improve safety along the corridor and beautify the corridor to the benefit of everybody,” he said, “whether you’re using the street because you’re a neighbor, or you’re a business owner or you’re going to the airport. There’s much need for improvement along this corridor and this is going to make it a much more attractive place to live and to do business.”

Doggett expects the transportation bill to clear Congress in either March or April. He told the crowd of business owners he planned to request funding for other projects in the East Austin area as part of the bill.

County to oppose sludge operations

No doubt Travis County Commissioners felt a bit of déjà vu as they once more agreed to oppose permits on two sludge site applications.

New rules set out in the last legislative session mean new standards for sludge sites, including the requirement of a permit for a sludge application. This raises the bar for sludge sites, which had once only needed to register with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in order to begin operations.

The two sites—both of which are well known to commissioners—will have hearings in the coming month. One is a permit application for Magna-Flow International for land application of sludge on Taylor Lane one mile north of FM 969. The second is a hearing on a registration for Cap-Tex to apply sludge on Skog Road 7.2 miles northeast of the intersection of FM 1100 at Highway 290.

Magna-Flow’s permit hearing is set for Feb. 26. Magna-Flow already operates a 127-acre sludge site under a current registration. There will be a hearing at 6pm next Thursday, at the Manor Middle School cafeteria, to consider a permit. TCEQ’s executive director has made a preliminary decision that the permit, if issued, meets all regulatory requirements.

County commissioners submitted comments back in August, said Environmental Officer John Kuhl. In the next three days, those comments will be compared to the latest version of the permit and possibly amended, if Kuhl finds shortcomings.

The Cap-Tex permit is a bit more complicated because Cap-Tex has yet to secure a registration, much less reached the higher standard of a permit. TCEQ granted motions to overturn and set aside the registration. In its ruling, however, TCEQ sent one aspect of the application to the State Office of Administrative Hearings for further review: whether Cap-Tex’s compliance history even warrants the issuance of a registration.

Cap-Tex’s compliance history came into question after the Travis County Attorney filed criminal cases against Cap-Tex and its owner Cary Juby, in 2002. Under a negotiated agreement with the county, charges against Juby and Cap-Tex were dismissed. Juby pleaded no contest and agreed to pay a combined fine of $112,000.

A judge with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) will consider the narrow compliance aspect of the application, as well as the registration for the 157-acre Cap-Tex site on March 11. The judge also could take up the permit on the site, since the evidence is similar in both the registration and permit process. The hearing on the Cap-Tex application will be held at 10 am on the fourth floor of the William P. Clements Building, 300 West 15th Street.

Yesterday, county commissioners agreed to seek party status in the hearing, a process Kuhl estimated could take up to 6 months.

Attorney John Carlson, who is representing both adjacent landowners and the Blackland Prairie Foundation, said that he would be acting as lead attorney against the permit. He urged county commissioners to seek formal party status in the hearing. The paperwork for formal party status must be filed with the SOAH by Friday.

County commissioners agreed to seek party status at the hearing. County Judge Sam Biscoe asked that the county’s paperwork be submitted to the court next week for review. The paperwork will focus on the county’s right to regulate the site. The county must prove its party status by documenting how it has more interest in the Cap-Tex than a member of the general public.

Businesses try to block downzoning on W. 37th Street

Council votes to change office zoning to residential

In an unusual case of role-reversal, several business owners near the UT campus last week attempted to block a zoning change for a vacant lot on W. 37th Street. The owner of the lot, which had a commercial zoning of LO (limited office), wanted to downzone to SF-4A in order to subdivide the lot and build two small houses. Although the surrounding business owners argued that the addition of new residents in the area would aggravate existing parking problems, the Council approved the change by a vote of 6-1.

The lot at 609 W. 37th has been vacant for years. It is wedged in between apartments and single-family homes to the west and several businesses, including a bar and an auto repair shop, to the east. “It’s a very expensive piece of property,” said agent Amelia Lopez-Phelps, representing the owner of the lot, Lee Properties. Although it carried the commercial zoning LO, Lopez-Phelps said it would be difficult if not impossible to build office space on the site. “We have an SF-3 tract west of us, which triggers a 15-foot compatibility set back,” she said. “When you consider the square footage, it just was not feasible under LO.”

Surrounding neighborhood associations signed up in support of the downzoning. Representatives of the University Area Partners and the Heritage Neighborhood Association both told the Council that the area needed more residential zoning. “This is exactly where we want to see development and growth, especially residential growth,” said the UAP’s Richard Hardin.

But the possibility of new residents in the area troubled several nearby business owners, who used the same tools normally used by neighborhood organizations trying to stop commercial or multi-family development. They filed a valid petition in opposition to the zoning change. Jack Bloom, owner of a bar called Nasty’s, predicted the parking problems in the neighborhood would invariably lead to conflict. “With four bedrooms each you’re looking at eight cars, minimum,” he said of the proposed houses. “Should they each have a guest . . . or two . . . or six, you’re looking at sixteen-plus cars.”

Frank Hunt, who owns property on W. 37th and Maiden Lane, told the Council he believed the two homes allowed under SF-4A would attract too many tenants. “If you think a family is going to move in there with children, I would beg to differ with you,” he said. “It’s going to be student housing. 37th Street has too much parking on it right now. These houses have off-street parking; they have five places to sleep. If there’s students, there will be five cars there . . . two in the garage, three on the street, and we’ve got way too much parking on that street right now.” And Michel Issa pleaded with the Council to maintain the current zoning. “To place a mid-block small lot single-family development amongst the myriad of uses is inappropriate,” he said. “This plan is another method by which student housing can be achieved by sacrificing other area properties, just as the super-duplexes have done to other residential properties around them. This will have the same type of negative effect for business owners down on 37th Street.”

But the prospect of more housing within walking distance of UT swayed a majority of the Council. “Obviously, it’s kind of a naturally mixed-use area,” Council Member Raul Alvarez noted, “which is something we try to promote through some of our programs.” Council Member Brewster McCracken predicted the addition of potential new customers would actually be a benefit to the nearby businesses. “I think it’s going to be a great deal for Mangia’s Pizza, Nasty’s, Flamingo Auto Rental, Amy’s Ice Cream. You will have a captive audience right there,” he said. “And I think that it’s good urban planning for the area.” Council Member Daryl Slusher described the request as reasonable, although he was somewhat surprised at the opposition from the owner of Nasty’s to the zoning change. “Usually, it’s a house complaining about the bar,” he said.

The vote in favor of the downzoning from LO to SF-4A was 6-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman opposed. Goodman did not elaborate on the reasons for her vote on the dais, but in the past she has had a strong track record of supporting valid petitions..

County receives hospital district petition

The long-awaited petition to create a county hospital district was presented, and accepted, by Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday morning.

County Judge Sam Biscoe, reading from the State Election Code, said it is now the county’s job to validate the signatures on the petition. The petition to call the election was signed by 200 qualified tax-paying property owners, according to the petition. Only 100 are required for the election.

The county’s elections department now has until March 9 to declare the petition valid or invalid. On that date, the county will be obligated to call the hospital district election for the next uniform election date, which would be May 15.

Commissioner Ron Davis asked who would be paying for the election. According to state code, the obligation belongs to the county. The May 15 election date, however, includes other ballot initiatives, including the election of trustees in the Austin Independent School District and the Austin Community College District. The Del Valle School District is also likely to consider joining Austin Community College on that date.

County commissioners accepted the petition unanimously. If a hospital district is approved, a new taxing entity will be created to handle indigent health care in the county, picking up the obligations of both the city and Travis County.

Official announcement . . . About 50 Republicans, including Travis County GOP Chair Alan Sager and State Rep. Phil King, joined former PUC Chair Becky Armendariz Klein in launching her campaign for the 25th Congressional District. Although Armendariz Klein does have one opponent in the GOP primary, her support from party leaders and ties to the Bush administration make it likely that she will be on the ballot this fall. In her kick-off speech at the Doubletree Hotel, Klein touted her ties to both ends of the district and her ability to get things done in Washington, DC despite never having held elective office. “I am tired of career politicians who put partisan rhetoric over the interest of their constituents,” she said. “I am not a career politician. I am a public servant. I want to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I want to represent the people of the 25th District and use my experience, my skills and my access to key leaders to get things done for the people I represent.” She faces Regner A. Capener on the March 9 ballot . . . Inquiry into Owens’ death . . . The Austin Police Department announced yesterday it had been notified that the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice would be doing an independent review into the June, 2003 death of Jesse Owens at the hand of Officer Scott Glasgow. In addition, APD announced it would be releasing records from the Internal Affairs investigation of the incident to the Civil Service Commission. Any charges against Glasgow that were not sustained by the investigation would be excised from the complaint. Once the Civil Service Commission has the files they would be subject to Open Records requests. APD says the FBI agrees that the release to Civil Service will not interfere with the Justice Department’s investigation . . . Austin Energy offers free money-saving device . . . If the soda machine in your office does not have a VendingMiser, which can cut a business electric bill by as much as $100 a year, Austin Energy would be happy to provide one. It is attached to the machine with Velcro so it can be moved easily from one machine to another in case of replacement. AE guarantees installation by March 31 for those who call before March 15. For more information, call 974-3568 . . . So many rumors, so few facts . . . We heard from a friend whose neighbor said . . . For an interesting look at what the rumor mill at an unnamed state capitol is churning out, visit http://www.buzzflash.com/analysis/04/02/ana04003.html. . . Meetings tonight . . . The Environmental Board will meet at 6pm at One Texas Center . . . Democratic meet up. . . Charles Soechting, who recently took over as chair of the Texas Democratic Party will be hosting a party for Austin Democrats today, beginning at 7pm at B.D. Riley’s Pub, 204 East 6th Street . . . Conservatives blast Perry . . . The Young Conservatives of Texas yesterday criticized Governor Rick Perry for endorsing the opponent of conservative Republican Texas Supreme Court Justice Steven Wayne Smith. The group suggested Perry’s opposition to Smith might be “due to his own tacit support for racial preferences and quotas at the University of Texas.” Perry endorsed Judge Paul Green of San Antonio, who is running against Smith in the Republican Primary. “As Governor Perry has refused to take action to stop the reintroduction of racial discrimination in admissions at the University of Texas, we are concerned that the Governor has endorsed Justice Smith’s opponent because he disagrees with Smith’s work in the Hopwood case,” said YCT State Chairman David Rushing . . . Planning ahead for March music . . . The Austin Symphony Orchestra will host Norman Krieger playing contemporary classical favorites on March 19 and 20 at Bass Concert Hall. Krieger, a virtuoso pianist, will play Ravel’s “Concerto For The Left Hand In D Major,” Gershwin’s “Second Rhapsody” and Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring Suite.” For more information, visit http://www.austinsymphony.org to see interactive seating maps, price options and a wealth of concert information. Tickets are also available at the symphony box office, 11th and Red River, or call 476-6064..

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