Sections

About Us

 
Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism
 

Envision Central Texas leader expresses optimism

Monday, February 2, 2004 by

But Kocurek says the group cannot take sides for or against developments

The leaders of Envision Central Texas presented the final results of their survey to the Austin City Council on Thursday. Along with the data on which growth scenario was preferred by the more than 12,000 people who voted, they offered a promise to remind elected leaders and developers of the priorities outlined in the visioning statement. However, ECT Board Chairman Neal Kocurek told Council Members there were limits on the role that the group could play in endorsing or criticizing specific decisions or projects, since that could violate their desire to remain a non-political organization.

“Envision Central Texas will stay in existence,” said Kocurek. “We’ve got to scramble on how we’re going to fund it, but it will be.” Putting up the group’s final data on the internet and having people available to answer questions about the long-range growth scenario, Kocurek said, would enable developers and local land-use planning boards to easily check proposed projects against the priorities expressed by the community. And although compliance with the ECT vision would be voluntary, Kocurek noted, some projects or developments could be changed as a result.

Council Member Daryl Slusher praised the group for its efforts, adding that the priorities on guiding growth outlined in the final document were remarkably similar to the sentiments of previous planning efforts. “It’s about the same as the Austin Tomorrow Plan, which as put together in the 1970’s. It’s similar to the sentiments of the SOS Ordinance, the Desired Development Zone, the Drinking Water Protection Zone that the Council passed in 1997, which was based on the Austin Tomorrow Plan,” he concluded. “But we’ve seen these things continually not honored.”

Slusher sought some assurances that the priorities of the community, as outlined in the ECT results, would not fall by the wayside because of political or economic pressure. “We hear leaders of the business community say that if we don’t build over the aquifer—if we don’t expand businesses over the aquifer in violation of the SOS Ordinance—then we’re sending a message to the world we don’t want jobs and we don’t want economic development in Austin,” he said. “It seems to me citizens have been sending a very clear message,” he told Kocurek, referring to the consistency between the Austin Tomorrow Plan and ECT results. “How can you help us get this message to just some of the business leadership and business folks that continue to insist very loudly that if we follow this plan, we’re sending a message to the world: ‘Don’t send jobs, were not open for business.’ I read that in the paper all the time.”

Kocurek stopped short of vowing to lobby for the ECT model or put public pressure on business groups, noting that his organization had to build positive relations with all facets of the community, including those who opposed the regional visioning process and its results. “There will be people who can’t be comfortable with a vision, but a majority will be,” he said. “There are people who have concerns. I have, just in the last couple of weeks, visited with some of those folks.” By continuing the effort and facilitating communication, Kocurek predicted, ECT could help even those groups not satisfied with the results of the process become more familiar with them and perhaps to even consider those results when planning development projects. “We get some letters from people that want to interpret these results as being very supportive of some things they want to do. And when Envision Central Texas responds that we are honest brokers, that we’re providing information for everyone…we’re not siding with you on your position…other people feel comfortable about that. We have to remain an honest broker providing information to everyone.”

Kocurek did offer some hope to Council Members about the viability of implementing the ECT results. He pointed to the history of a similar project in Utah, where the state’s largest developer had opposed the project from the outset. After several years, Kocurek said, that developer was still opposed. But he said the company had also brought forward several projects that were in line with the priorities expressed by Envision Utah. In addition to his role at ECT, Kocurek is President/CEO of St. David’s Health Care System.

Downtown Commission splits on extra rules question

Commission would have more say on parking waivers, right-of-way vacations

Land Development Code amendments proposed by the Downtown Commission returned for approval last month, but they did not win a unanimous recommendation.

The commission represents a broad cross-section of downtown stakeholders, and not all of those stakeholders agreed the city needed more regulation. Architect Stan Haas, for one, thought the move to add more rules to the current code did nothing more than stifle possible development downtown. Developer Tim Finley agreed.

“We need to consider what we should be doing to encourage uses, not vacant space,” Haas told his colleagues on the board. “Any additional set of rules does nothing to encourage the ability to actually achieve some success downtown.”

Planner Katie Larsen presented four staff changes, two of which were slight modifications of the amendments requested by the Downtown Commission:

• The Director of Public Works will forward proposed right-of-way vacations in the downtown area for consideration by the Downtown Commission. The Downtown Commission also would be informed on the outcome of any vote on a vacation when it comes up at the Planning Commission or the Zoning and Platting Commission.

• The Downtown Commission would be notified of the request for waivers to the section of the Land Development Code that applies to downtown parking provisions and be offered a chance to provide a recommendation to the proper land use commission.

• Clarification in the same parking provisions section of the code is that permission from a land use commission—either the Planning Commission or Zoning and Platting Commission—is not required if the pedestrian-oriented uses are already permitted in the base zoning district. It also clarifies what the land use commission can decide on parking.

• Staff is authorized to establish standards for pedestrian-oriented uses through the rules posting process. Pedestrian-oriented uses are required in the Waterfront Overlay District and around parking garages in the CBD and DMU zoning districts.

While Haas believes the amendments hamstringing developers, Chris Riley saw the proposal as providing more clarity for them. Riley said decisions of the past had too often left downtown without retail options. Instead, downtown leaders were faced with wall after wall and block after block of blank space that can never be developed, Riley said.

The main comment of the R/UDAT team that reviewed Austin was that the city lacked proper downtown retail space. Yet developers continue to erect blank walls.

“It forever puts us in the position of being stuck with a dearth of retail,” said Riley, adding that every new project downtown should consider possible pedestrian-oriented space. “It ought to be generally applied in more cases than it has in the past.”

Chair Perry Lorenz said he considered the amendments to be aimed at making sure the architecture does not preclude possible future development of first-floor retail when the market for such retail is available. The goal is not to have blank walls and parking garages at ground level when downtown is fully developed.

“I don’t think that’s wrong-headed,” Lorenz said. “I think that’s a pretty good idea, and the important thing is that it gets it on the ground, rather than legislating uses.”

Haas countered that it was impossible to create one set of standards for every project. He pointed to the Elephant Room as one example. The project clearly would not meet proposed standards that were being set out by the recommendations.

“The bottom line is it’s a successful thing, and why is it successful?” Haas asked. “No thanks to any rules that we have in any ordinance that we have.”

Larsen said the amendments provided guidance but not hard-and-fast rules for developers. Riley said he trusted staff enough to make the proper exceptions.

The final vote on the recommendations was 8-4, with Haas, Finley, Bruce Willenzik and Michelle Brinkman voting against them. The Planning Commission was set to consider the changes last week, but the item was postponed to the Feb. 24 meeting.

In case you missed this weekend’s news reports . . . Representatives of the Austin Police Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas held a press conference Friday to denounce what they perceived as insufficient support for police officers by Chief Stan Knee and City Manager Toby Futrell. Futrell and Knee responded last week to the American-Statesman’s series on police shootings and use of force in the minority community. APA President Mike Sheffield said, “We’re not talking about a vote of no confidence. We’re not asking anybody to resign. We’re asking to do their job. Stand up and support the men and women that go out here day in and day out and put their lives on the line and do this job, and they did it right. We’re just asking for support, that’s all. We feel like we need support from our City Manager and our Chief of Police. In response to questions, Sheffield added that the police want “top of the line Tasers,” and cameras in every car. Next week, not at some point in the future. He also complained that the Statesman had run photos of officers that looked like jailhouse mug shots. “We have a fine police department. They had the ten officers profiled for no other reason that they did their job, but they made it look like they did something other than their job. How would you feel as a parent, a brother, a sister, a neighbor, the men and women of their church . . . these officers have to go out the next day and they’ve got to go face these people and explain. Those officers feel absolutely betrayed—because there was no reason for that. That was the most hurtful thing I’ve ever seen (a news publication) do” . .. Tonight’s meetings . . . The Austin Revitalization Authority board will meet at 5:30pm in Room 500 of One Texas Center. The Design Commission will meet at 5:45pm in the 8th Floor conference room at One Texas Center. The commission is scheduled to review a letter to the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment department regarding their possible involvement in review of “emerging large and urban scale projects.” In addition, city staff will make a presentation on planning efforts for rehabilitation of Brush Square . . . Democrats meet tonight . . . South Austin Democrats will host a candidate forum beginning at 6pm at the Gardner-Betts Center, 2512 South Congress. Joining them will be members of the Capital Area Progressive Democrats, Black Austin Democrats, Mexican-American Democrats and Texas Environmental Democrats. Each group will make separate endorsements of candidates in the March 9 primary . . . What you didn’t see on the Super Bowl . . . The liberal Internet organization MoveOn.org sponsored a contest and raised funds to put one spot on the Super Bowl. The ad, which featured children doing manual labor ends with the question, “Guess who’s going to pay off President Bush’ s $1 trillion deficit?” But CBS rejected the ad, along with one from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). For an interesting commentary on CBS’ refusal to air the ads, check out the Houston Chronicle online at: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.hts/editorial/outlook/2379934

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top