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County declares two properties a nuisance

Wednesday, March 31, 2004 by

After three years, health department has had enough

Yesterday County commissioners took the unusual step of declaring two properties in Southeast Travis County a public nuisance, clearing the way for demolition.

The two properties under consideration—12046 Twin Creek Park Drive and 0 Hickory Ridge Road—are home to high weeds, building debris and dilapidated mobile homes. Both are located in Twin Creek Park south of Manchaca. The county Health Department has spent three years trying to get each owner to clean up the properties.

County code gives the Travis County Health and Human Services Department the right to abate a public health hazard or public nuisance when the property owner fails to address the issue. Each year, a handful of properties are declared a public nuisance under state law in Travis County, Health and Human Services Executive Manager Stephen Williams told commissioners.

Both mobile homes have been empty for about a year, said Project Manager Dennis Rudder. While the owners of both properties had picked up notices, only one had thus far responded. The daughter of the owner at 12406 Twin Creek Park had agreed to clean up the property during the winter. However, Rudder said it appeared she had spent only one day on the property clearing debris before abandoning the work.

Declaring a legal nuisance started with a request via certified mail that the owner clean up the property. A notice was also posted in the local newspaper. That was followed by another inspection and Class C Misdemeanor charges in Justice of the Peace Court. With no response from the owners, the formal abatement process began in November. Following that was a hearing by the Health Authority for Travis County in January on the site of the two properties.

Health Authority Interim Director Edward Sherwood declared both properties to be a nuisance and a threat to public health. He reaffirmed that assessment to county commissioners yesterday, saying he would not want his children to grow up next to either property, and that each of them is clearly a threat to public health.

Travis County will spend about $6,000 apiece on the clearing of the weeds and then demolish the mobile homes on the property. When the work is completed, Travis County will file a lien on the two properties.

The property at 12406 Twin Creek Park Drive is valued at $16,770 on the appraisal roll. The appraisal on 0 Hickory Ridge was $8,080. The Hickory Ridge property also has $763 due in back taxes.

Commissioners unanimously approved the demolition of the mobile homes and the clearing of the property. Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Gerald Daugherty were absent from the meeting; they are in Washington to lobby for transportation funding.

Champion tracts take small step forward

On a vote of 4-3, the City Council last week approved changes to zoning regulations for two tracts owned by Josie Champion and her sisters, Alma Meier and Mary Roberson. The changes, which won only first-round approval, would allow each of the tracts to generate 2000 trips per day and effectively undo the limitation put on all of the sisters’ property at RM 2222 and City Park Road in March 2000.

Only two members of the current Council, Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman, were serving at the time the zoning was approved. That zoning gave them 6500 trips per day for three of the tracts and 782 adjusted trips per day for a portion of another tract. Council Member Raul Alvarez joined Goodman and Slusher in opposing the change.

Attorney Michael Whellan represents the Champions in and out of the courthouse. He explained that the sisters filed suit over the matter because he was unable to reach an agreement with City Attorney David Smith that would have preserved his clients’ right to sue if the Council does not provide the changes his clients are seeking. The Champions filed suit against the city in 1994 and settled it in 1996. The property owners believe that the city has violated the agreement by limiting the traffic and impervious cover they can put on the property. (See In Fact Daily, March 23, 2004.) He told the Council that the Champions could have gotten 12000 trips per day on a total of six tracts if they had requested them one at a time. But he felt they had been punished for bringing all of the property in at one time, with a global traffic impact analysis.

Earlier Thursday, the Council approved a limit of 1000 trips per day for another property on RM 2222—a highly unusual action. Slusher authored the restriction. However, Whellan pointed out that a number of other properties had won their requests for 2000 trips per day within the past few months. Any development that will generate 2000 trips per day or fewer is not required to provide a traffic impact analysis.

Neighborhood advocates in the coalition known as 2222 CONA came out to support the previous restrictions and ask the Council not to change what was put in place four years ago. Charles Farmer of the River Place Neighborhood Association said the previous Council decision was “unanimous for a good reason. Those reasons are even more evident today.” He said there already are 10 collision accidents per month at the intersection, with more commercial developments still coming on line that will add more traffic. Any increase in traffic to what has already been approved he said, will only increase the dangerousness of the intersection.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley made a motion to grant the change and Council Member Danny Thomas seconded her motion. She said she would like the staff and the applicant to try to work together to come up with a solution to the problems posed by the crowded roadway.

Mayor Will Wynn said, “I would like to see a far more comprehensive analysis,” of the traffic situation at the intersections. “I don’t know how practical this would be as part of a zoning case, but the major issue is the entire stretch of the road.” Wynn asked Whellan if his clients could wait for such an analysis, including information the Council might be able to gather from CAMPO and the Regional Mobility Authority. Whellan said the Champions had already been waiting for four years, but that another two or three months of analysis would be acceptable. He said he thought he could agree to abate the lawsuit to see the outcome of the zoning case. However, he added that granting an additional 2000 trips per day on each of the tracts would not necessarily resolve the case.

The Big Three . . . City Manager Toby Futrell, Austin Independent School District Superintendent Pat Forgione and County Judge Sam Biscoe will talk about tax dollars at a Small Business Issues forum today at the Hyatt Regency, 208 Barton Springs, from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. The topic, “Who are the CEOs Who Control Billions of Your Tax Dollars,” will be hosted by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Capital City African-American Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. SBC is the sponsor for the event . . . Special Session briefing . . . Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos will host a briefing today for teacher’s groups and city officials to discuss the proposed special session. The briefing will focus on the impact of a possible special session on the city and school district. Representatives from the Governor and Lt. Governor’s Office will make presentations, followed by a closed-door session with Barrientos. . . Petition falls short . . . Round Rock City Secretary Christine Martinez announced that a petition to extend the hours of sale for mixed beverages and beer fell short. Petitioners needed 1,958 registered-voter signatures to put the issue on the ballot. Martinez certified that 1,526 signatures were valid, while 805 signatures were not . . . Out of the swim . . . Bids on the county’s work for the East Metro Park Pool were rejected yesterday. Not only were all the bids $300,000 higher than the price the county intended to pay, but DR Horton does not intend to move on the pool project for another year. Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes said the scope of work would be reconsidered for the project . . . Regional Mobility Authority meeting . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will meet at 9am this morning at the Lower Colorado River Authority, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. The meeting will include a discussion of conversion rules for toll roads . . . Racial profiling discussion . . . Dr. Lorie Fridell, with the Police Executive Research Forum, met with APD officials at City Hall Tuesday afternoon for a presentation entitled, “Racial Profiling: Collecting and Analyzing Data from Traffic Stops.” She presented a similar lecture during a community meeting last night at Waller Creek Center. She warned that collecting data should only be one aspect of a department’s attempts to address racial discrepancies in policing. “It was interesting to see that the default response to racially biased policing was data collection . . . which is something that if you’re a student of police history, you haven’t seen throughout the years,” she said. She stated that social scientists are concerned that the average citizen has very high expectations for data collection and believes that officers can somehow fill out a form and determine what factors they were using when they made prior decisions. She added that departments also needed to look at policies and training procedures—which APD is doing—in order to address any potential problems . . . City Council meeting . . . The Council will meet at noon this Thursday, instead of at the usual 10am, to allow Council members to attend the funeral of Dr. Neal Kocurek.

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