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Panel likes incentives for refurbishing historic homes

Thursday, March 4, 2004 by

Appraisal values would be frozen for 5 to 7 years

The Historic Preservation Task Force has agreed to raise the bar on incentives in historic districts in order to encourage rehabilitation.

The task force, charged with revamping the city’s historic preservation ordinance, has started to meet weekly to review portions of the ordinance. Last night, the task force revisited the incentives for residential and commercial structures in proposed historic districts at the urging of former Historic Landmark Commissioner Tere O’Connell.

Task force members originally considered a straight incentive for structures in historic districts, whether those structures were contributing or not. The idea was to preserve communities. The incentives were separate from those offered for structures with historic landmark designation by the city. Theoretically, the owner of a historic house in a historic district could have chosen one of the two incentives offered by the city.

Last night, task force members hammered out a revised proposal to encourage rehabilitation in historic districts. Under the proposal approved by the task force, residential structures in a historic district would be offered a freeze on appraised value if the owner agreed to provide a rehabilitation valued at 25 percent of the appraised value of the structure. The improvements to the exterior of the structure would have to be equal to at least 5 percent of the appraised value of the building.

If the owner met those requirements—which also would mean improvements that qualified under a list provided by the city—the appraised value of the property and land would be frozen for five years. If the house and land were appraised at $200,000 when the improvements occurred, for example, taxes would be based on that $200,000 for 5 years.

The types of improvements would not just be carpet and chandeliers, said former City Attorney Jerry Harris, who sits on the task force. The goal of the incentive would be to encourage maintaining the historical integrity of the structure and community.

The incentives would apply to all structures in the district and not just contributing structures. The task force, however, has yet to define what qualifies as a historic district. O’Connell said she would prefer not to give current National Register Historic Districts an automatic local designation because the requirements of the revised preservation ordinance would place additional burdens on neighborhoods. Each neighborhood would have to consider whether it wanted to meet the standards for historic districts set out by the revised historic preservation ordinance, O’Connell said.

Commercial properties would be held to a similar standard as residential property under the incentive proposal, although improvements would have to equal 40 percent of the appraised value. Exterior improvements would have to be equal to 5 percent of the appraised value. If those criteria are met, then the value of the structure and land would be frozen for 7 years.

The task force also discussed a proposal from Commissioner John Donisi on membership requirements for the Historic Landmark Commission. Last week, Chair Betty Baker had suggested cutting the number of commissioners to nine members, two at-large—one appointed by each Council member—in order to give more accountability to the board.

Other members on the task force, like O’Connell and Donisi, saw the value in keeping some of the current requirements, which include the appointment of members from various relevant institutions such as the Travis County Historic Commission and Heritage Society of Austin, as well as a member of the faculty of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas. Baker questioned those requirements, to some extent, because the City Council so readily accepts the appointees suggested by those groups or institutions.

The task force debated and finally decided to continue the membership discussion at next week’s meeting. Task force members also agreed to discuss a proposal from Commissioner Joseph Martinez to offer additional incentives for historic structures in lower income neighborhoods.

Group asks for commitment on small contracts

MBE/WBE advisors ask for information from departments

The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee wants to see the city recommit itself to a policy of awarding city contracts under $5,000 to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The city had a program to increase minority participation in place, introduced by former Mayor Lee Cooke back in 1986. But at this week’s MBE/WBE Advisory Committee meeting, Purchasing Officer Diana Granger and Urcha Dunbar-Crespo of DSMBR were unable to confirm that city departments still participated in the program or that minority- and women-owned businesses were being sought out to bid on contracts.

Carol Hadnot of the Austin Black Contractors Association (ABCA) said she remembers the year and the way in which the program was implemented. Cooke sat down with ABCA leaders in 1986 to discuss ways the city could increase minority participation on contracts, Hadnot said. The target was modest contracts for city departments that were under $5,000.

Documentation indicated that those smaller contracts added up, Hadnot said. One printing contractor earned a $400,000 from the various smaller contracts. At the time, Cooke announced, and department heads agreed, to implement a rotation list of certified minority- and women-owned business vendors for various contracts.

“We got results,” Hadnot said. “Sometimes the contracts were $2,500. Sometimes it was $300. Sometimes it was $1,5000. But our members were getting those small contracts.”

Initially, the ABCA received regular tracking information on the program, as well as confirmations from members that city departments had contacted them to bid on contracts, Hadnot said. But then the Office of Minority Affairs was folded into the Department of Small and Minority Business Resources. Staff members left and communication deteriorated. No one was quite certain what happened, Hadnot said.

Over the last couple of months, the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee has tried to track down just how the city used minority vendors on smaller contracts. The commission wanted to know exactly how much money was going to MBE/WBE contractors.

Granger and Dunbar-Crespo brought an overview of the city’s solicitation procedure. What the two couldn’t do was break down the figures on how many minority- and women-owned vendors were sought to bid on contracts. To be fair, Granger was not asked to provide the breakdown on the MBE/WBE participation. Nor is Granger a member of the DSMBR staff charged with tracking minority participation.

Assistant City Attorney Sally Henly said it was her understanding that department heads still followed the guidelines and were encouraged to seek out minority vendors first. According to the written city policy, “It is a stated policy that Minority and Women-owned businesses be contacted and given the opportunity to bid.”

That policy statement was followed by an extended procedure on how to solicit, log and measure MBE/WBE bids on smaller contracts—including noting that no response from a MBE/WBE contractor was not considered a bid and that the city department should seek out additional bidders or DSBMR assistance until three potential bids were secured. The department was charged with selecting the lowest bid that met requirements.

Advisory committee members want to get the program back on track. Chair Luis Ornelas asked Granger to return with a report on whether each individual department was following the program’s guidelines and how many MBE/WBE firms were being contacted to bid on the smaller contacts.

The five departments with the most $5,000-and-under contracts were Financial Services, with $92,000 in contracts; Water and Wastewater, with $58,000; Neighborhood Planning and Zoning, with $52,000; Austin Energy, with $51,000; and the Austin Convention Center, with $49,000.

Time certain . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman’ s office was notifying supporters of the Austin Music Network to come to the Council meeting by 11am today, when Goodman’s resolution is expected to come up. Goodman was working on her resolution yesterday, but it basically would direct City Manager Toby Futrell to find new ways of funding the network for the next fiscal year that do not include city funds. The network currently gets $12,000 a month from hotel-motel taxes and raises additional money to help run the channel. Mayor Will Wynn also has an item on the agenda “regarding the management services contract” of the network, directed at station manager Louis Meyers. Meyers has apologized to Futrell, the Mayor and the City Council via email, saying the public service announcements on voting that featured President Bush, Governor Perry, Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken were “never intended to harm or embarrass any elected official, nor were they in any way an endorsement of any particular party or candidate.” He said that although the ads aired on the network they were not made with city equipment on city time or with city money. Meyers acknowledged that the ads represented “severe lack of judgment. I can only hope that the 99.9 percent of the great programming we have created in the last few months will not be overshadowed by this ugly incident” . . . Later . . . At 2pm, the Council is scheduled to hear, as County Commissioners did on Tuesday, that the city is duplicating fees charged by the county for processing subdivision applications in the ETJ. After that, they will hear about terms proposed for the Meet and Confer agreement with the Austin Police Association . . . Jones to return to Environmental Board . . . Members of the Environmental Board voted to name Karin Ascot as the group’s Vice Chair last night. Tim Jones had held that position until he resigned earlier this year. Jones quit suddenly, declaring that he had “developed a profound lack of trust for the entire hierarchy of governmental organizations,” not even bothering to notify the man who has consistently reappointed him: Council Member Daryl Slusher. Then, Jones tried to recant his resignation. Slusher let him stew for a few weeks, but intends to reappoint Jones today. At its next meeting, the Environmental Board will choose a Secretary, the position Ascot held before being named Vice Chair . . . Early voting picks up . . . More than 2,400 Travis County voters cast ballots yesterday, bringing the total over the past 10 days to 15,276. Friday is the final day to cast a vote before the election, which is next Tuesday . . . MBE/WBE update . . . March 16 is the first date the proposed revisions to the MBE/WBE Procurement Program can be posted for City Council consideration. The city continues to take comments on the rule changes. On Tuesday, the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee approved the proposed revisions. In other news, general contractor Joel Stone joined the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee and attended his first meeting this week . . . Pastors respond to Slusher—indirectly . . . Yesterday, In Fact Daily reprinted excerpts from a letter that Council Member Daryl Slusher sent to the Union of Baptist Ministers. Pastor Ivie Rich, the group’s leader, wrote in a letter to Pastor Sterling Lands that Slusher’s letter was “encouraging on the one hand and yet very offensive and vexing on the other.” He accuses Slusher of playing to the Austin Police Association and attempting to divide the black community. “Why is Counclman Slusher only singling out the two high profile cases ( King and Owens) that was not the focus of our demands that was an APA claim? Why is he claiming or implying we are against the Austin Police Department . . . our focus was on the discipline for those officers intentionally and excessively violating department policies procedures.” Lands replied to Rich, “This is a great political letter but it does nothing to address the systemic issues that propagate the dilemma in Austin, Texas. It is obvious how our basic concerns are viewed and processed by this council person. Does healing mean that we must find a way to accept the reality of racial inequity in Austin, Texas? . . . No doubt some of our ministers will want to throw in the towel and quit. But, I sense that this is a new day and we are not buying the lie. Does this represent the response from the mayor and entire council? If this represents the sentiments of the mayor and entire council, things are a lot worse than even we thought and our work is in front of us.” The ministers forwarded their email conversations to the entire Council and to City Manager Toby Futrell and Police Chief Stan Knee. Slusher is apparently the only member of the Council to respond to their demands, which included the firing of both Futrell and Knee.

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