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Dunkerley wants to re-examine billboard rules

Tuesday, February 10, 2004 by

Proposal would encourage signs to move out of residential areas

Council Members Betty Dunkerley and Brewster McCracken have placed an item on this week’s City Council agenda directing the staff to consider amendments to allow relocation of billboards.

Dunkerley said she is seeking a solution to a problem she has observed in areas such as the East 11th and 12th Street corridor—billboards intruding on residential areas. “We are pouring lots of money into redevelopment and it (a billboard) just ruins it.” The problem, she said, is with a city regulation that does not allow a billboard owner to put up a new sign even after taking down an old one. So, even if a billboard is not generating much revenue, Dunkerley said, the owner would not take it down. So she wants to see if city staff can write an amendment to the Land Development Code allowing a sign to be relocated to a tract that is:

• Located in a commercial or industrial district.

• Not in an urban renewal or redevelopment area.

• Not within 500 feet of a historic structure or district.

• The last time the non-conforming off-premise sign ordinance was amended, the Council voted to allow a sign to take the place of another sign at the same location if the surface area of the new sign was 20 percent smaller than the original. There is nothing in the current code that allows a sign to be moved. Dunkerley said she has been talking to representatives of Reagan Advertising, the largest billboard company in Austin. “They didn’t start it, but they owned a sign that I wanted moved,” she said.

The code change is her idea, not theirs. “Because of the ordinance,” she said, billboards are going to be in neighborhoods “forever.” She simply wants to move them to an area where they would be less intrusive. Dunkerley has suggested a provision that would allow the height of the new sign to be altered to take into account any changes in ground elevation from the old to the new location.

Truck lane restrictions on I-35 likely coming

18-wheelers might be limited to outside lanes

Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board will soon get to do its part in moving 18-wheelers out of the left lane of I-35.

The truck lane proposal—shifting commercial trucks into one lane of the freeway through the Williamson-Travis-Hays County region—has been on the table for a couple of years now, but stalled for lack of a regional approach. State lawmakers gave cities like Round Rock, Austin and San Marcos the right to restrict traffic, but transportation planners couldn’t decide what to do with the “no man’s land” between cities.

The original law, passed in 1997, limited the power of implementation to cities, Texas Department of Transportation Planner Joseph Carrizales told the CAMPO board. Recent tweaking of that law, however, broadened that power to counties and the state. Hence, when an individual city says no to the truck lane, the county or state could step in to enforce the truck lane requirement, Carrizales said.

TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh said the public had offered a lot of support for the concept of a heavy truck lane, and state transportation officials had urged the region to move forward with the concept as quickly as possible.

The lanes could be implemented almost immediately, Daigh said. “Once the public hearings are held, there’s no hold up in us making this provision if the public states their willingness for us to do that,” Daigh told the board.

The amendment to the CAMPO Transportation Improvement Plan would not cover the enforcement of the policy. It would simply provide the $750,000 necessary to erect signs from the Comal County line to the Bell County line. CAMPO will accept testimony on the proposal next month.

Truck lanes could be implemented under a number of options. Trucks could be limited to the inside, or fast, lanes. Trucks could also be excluded from those same lanes. Or those limited lanes could be restricted to certain hours of the day.

CAMPO, like the City of Houston, intends to propose a ban on heavy trucks in the inside, or “fast” lanes, through the three county region. That ban would be limited to areas that have three lanes in both directions. Much of Williamson and Travis County would be covered, but portions of Hays would have to wait until road construction is completed.

The trucking industry has expressed some concern about how truck lanes are implemented. Limiting heavy trucks to the fast lane is especially difficult given the increase in “short haul” traffic for various trucking companies.

Williamson County Commissioners already have adopted a resolution supporting the proposed truck lanes. According to a report from the Texas Transportation Institute in 2002, the restriction of trucks to a particular lane improves traffic operation and decreases maintenance costs on impacted stretches of freeway. Houston saw a significant reduction in accidents when it implemented truck lanes on Interstate 10 in 2000.

Other TIP amendments will be presented at the March CAMPO meeting. Most are clarifications of the scope of existing road projects.

Capital Metro also has proposed shuffling and adjusting five of its projects on the TIP. Under the list, the Leander Park & Ride facility will displace the Oak Hill Park & Ride due to a “higher priority.” The Manchaca/Slaughter Transit Center will be removed because the project is deferred for another couple of years. And the allotment to the north and south Interstate 35 Park and Ride facilities are being adjusted due to changes in cost.

Davis facing strong opponent

Davis, Israel split endorsements from Democratic clubs

Commissioner Ron Davis faces three challengers in the Democratic Primary, but only Celia Israel appears to be presenting a serious threat to his incumbency. Last week, the Davis campaign stressed the incumbent’s environmental record and raised questions about Israel’s past activities in that area as the candidates sought endorsements in Democratic clubs around town.

The four Democratic candidates spoke to the Austin Progressive Coalition on the University of Texas campus Wednesday night. At the event, the Texas League of Conservation Voters passed out a flyer pointing out Israel’s history as a lobbyist, primarily for the Association of Electric Companies of Texas (AECT).

The flyer outlined many of the bills that Israel supported as AECT’s lobbyist, most of which the Conservation League considered anti-environmental. Israel opposed other legislation supported by the organization, the flyer said. Asked directly about her record, Israel said she worked on behalf of a client to make contact with Hispanic lawmakers. Israel then steered the conversation back to her own campaign, saying she had given much to her community and her party.

Israel told the crowd of university students and campaign supporters that she was a “new generation of leadership” in East Austin. She told the group the Envision Central Texas process had inspired her to take a broader view of community involvement.

“You know, there is tremendous change going on in East Austin,” Israel said. “We live in a community at a crossroads, for a number of different reasons.”

Israel said she had been walking the block in Precinct 1 since Labor Day and had raised almost twice the money that Davis had raised in the current campaign.

The other challengers in the race, Arthur Sampson and Kathy Bedford Smith, both said they were running for County Commissioner because the voters in Precinct 1 considered Davis to be inaccessible. Hampton is a long-time East Austin resident and the lead inspector on the new City Hall project. He also is a certified peace officer. Smith has bachelor and master’s degrees in criminal justice and currently is the Judicial Services Manager for Travis County Juvenile Probation Department.

Davis focused much of his initial speech on the redistricting battle. He urged the students to support US Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). Davis pledged that he would do whatever he needed to reunite Travis County in one Congressional District. That won applause from audience members, who clearly considered redistricting a prime issue.

“We have fought tooth-and-nail on this redistricting issue,” Davis said. “Now we need to make sure that Lloyd Doggett gets re-elected.”

Davis stressed his life-long ties to the East Austin community. He said he had spent 20 years serving the community, defending families who could not defend themselves.

One member of the audience did stand up to question Israel on her upcoming high-dollar fundraiser at the Headliners Club on Wednesday. He asked how she would represent people’s interests on the State Highway 130 project when members of the Real Estate Council of Austin were hosting the event.

Israel said Precinct 1 was clearly a Democratic area, but Republicans were also looking for a voice at the table. Israel said the partisan infighting at the Capitol was a clear lesson that bipartisanship was important, and that leaders should reach out to everyone.

University Democrats endorsed Israel, but Central Austin Democrats deadlocked. Since the two groups together make up the Austin Progressive Coalition, the APC will not be able to feature any Precinct 1 candidate’s name on their door hangers. The West Austin Democrats and the Travis County Democratic Women’s Committee both endorsed Davis. South Austin Democrats endorsed Israel and the Texas Environmental Democrats opted for a dual endorsement of Davis and Israel. Neither Smith nor Sampson appear to have significant support.

Also last week, the Davis campaign sent out a fundraising letter signed by four environmental leaders— Mary Arnold, Shudde Fath, Brigid Shea and Robin Rather. In that letter, they wrote, “Ron has shown time and again that he is an East Austin leader who cares passionately about protecting Barton Springs. He voted with us and stopped the unnecessary Frate Barker highway from plowing through city-owned conservation land in the recharge zone. He was the only Commissioner who recently voted against Lowe’s big-box development over the aquifer. We need to keep him on the Commissioners Court.”

DAA presents expert on transportation and land use

. . . Norm Marshall, president of Smart Mobility, Inc. is the guest speaker at today’s Downtown Austin Alliance luncheon. The event is at the Capitol Marriott and begins at 11:30am. Lunch is at noon. Marshall will also lead a workshop at 4pm at the DAA on bus rapid transit and commuter congestion solutions . . . Police beat . . . Austin Police Chief Stan Knee announced Monday that he would suspend Officer Scott Glasgow for 90 days without pay. That suspension is for violating rules of the police department during his attempt to arrest Jesse Lee Owens last summer that ended with Glasgow shooting Owens. “Even though Owens was not an immediate threat to Glasgow or anyone else, Glasgow decided to affect the arrest by himself, rather than containing the situation and waiting for his backup to arrive,” wrote Chief Knee. While Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield criticized the 90-day suspension without pay as too harsh, the Owens family and the Office of the Police Monitor both said Glasgow should be dismissed from the force. A prepared statement from the Monitor’s office stated the belief of the members of the Police Review Panel that the fatal shooting could have been avoided if Glasgow had followed APD policies and training. “The decision to suspend Officer Glasgow for 90 days was inconsistent with the Citizen Review Panel’s recommendation that Officer Glasgow be terminated,” the statement read. “Upon hearing of Chief Knee’s decision today the Police Monitor and several members of the Citizen Review Panel expressed disappointment.” The Glasgow family is still planning to take its complaints to the U.S. Attorney’s Office . . . Job creation fund ahead of schedule . . . Opportunity Austin, the five-year, $11 million campaign to create 72,000 new jobs in the Central Texas region is ahead of schedule, with nearly $4.8 million in contributions from 57 investors. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce announced yesterday that the campaign has already set a record for fundraising. All of the contributions so far have come from businesses in the five counties. The economic impact of the program is estimated at 1,409 new businesses, $1.2 billion in new bank deposits, construction of 18,459 new housing units and $1.4 billion in commercial and industrial facilities. In addition, the chamber hopes to increase annual payrolls by $2.9 billion and increase consumer spending by $6.3 billion . . . KLRU presents ‘From Left to Right’. . . Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, co-hosts of CNN’s Crossfire, will offer their perspectives on the presidential race next Monday at 8pm at the LBJ Library Auditorium (2313 Red River). Call the Texas Box Office or 477-6060 for tickets . . . Tonight’s meetings. . . The Planning Commission will meet at 6pm at One Texas Center. The RMMA Plan Advisory Commission meets at the Waller Creek Center, also at 6pm. The Airport Advisory Commission meeting has been cancelled.

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