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Planners hope to make 2nd Street identity as unique as 6th Street

Tuesday, March 2, 2004 by

Design will use Texas rivers themes

Planner Pollyanne Melton, who has spearheaded the city’s Great Streets Program, presented an early conceptual design of Second Street to the Design Commission last night. Melton described the concept as creating an identity for Second Street, so that Second Street has as clear an identity as Sixth Street.

Melton divided Second Street into three zones along the corridor: one zone is the AMLI development, CSC buildings and City Hall; a second zone on the eastern end would be devoted more to tourists and retail; and a third zone in the middle of the street would include two major office buildings. The street will terminate on the west side at the Seaholm Project and at the Convention Center on the east.

The design chosen by consultant Copley Wolff Design Group of Boston capitalizes on rivers, in tandem with the north-south streets along Second Street that all have river names, with the exception of Congress Avenue.

Melton said design elements would likely be tile or block glass or lights inlaid into the pavement, taking the form of a possible wavy river element. She described the design elements as a strong unifying theme without being too “Disney-ish.”

The street may also include three actual water elements. Melton noted that fountains might be placed between the Cedar Door and Hampton Inn Garage, as well as on Block 22. Melton said the Lower Colorado River Authority has been asked to consider placing a water fountain at the intersection where the Children’s Museum is located.

“Let’s do something that visually reinforces and thematically reinterprets the river street crossings, at intervals along with the streetscapes,” Melton said, describing the design concept.

Commissioner Girard Kinney thanked Melton for bringing the Second Street project to the Design Commission in a timely fashion, while the commission could still make comments. At least a half dozen other city projects had failed to make it to the commission at a time when the commissioners could still be involved.

The plan will also include trees and foliage. At some locations, trees can be planted easily, such as on the blocks between San Antonio, Guadalupe and Lavaca. On the block between Colorado and Congress, however, the size of water lines will hamper planting trees. On those blocks, the city will consider placing trellises with vines.

Those trellises could be lightweight and draw on design elements of the light poles or be sturdier with stone and earthy elements, while incorporating other functions such as seating. In addition, the trellises could introduce a whole family of architectural elements that could be used in other items such as parking meter pay stations, telephones or meter boxes.

Melton also presented the concept of simple icons that would stress ownership of the number “2,” evoking a special theme for Second Street. The street signage would use a certain pallet of materials and colors that would be mounted on light poles, used in brochures and maps and in all signage to point out directions.

Those icons will be coordinated with both the retail developer and Capital Metro.

The design team is also considering a spanner across Congress Avenue. The spanner, still in its earliest conceptual form, would use light through cloth on wires as a way to emphasize a gateway to the east and west of the intersection of Congress Avenue and Second Street. The element would form a gateway to the street.

Second Street is hampered somewhat by two blocks that still include wide expanses of parking lots and a bank building just off Congress, which has a large empty corner, Melton said. The design team is still working to address those issues.

The Design Commission appointed a three-member panel to review the city project. Melton said the conceptual design is being taken to boards and commissions right now. Comments will be returned to the design team; the design should be completed by fall. The city should be ready to break ground on the project a year from now, Melton said.

Battle of consultants shaping up over small tract

Crocker and Suttle team up against Whellan

There’s a battle brewing over a small strip of land at US 290 West and RR 1825 that pits consultant Sarah Crocker and attorney Richard Suttle against another high-dollar development lawyer, Michael Whellan. The issue, in its simplest form, is whether the city should change the zoning on a tract owned by the Speedy Stop in order to accommodate the West Park Planned Unit Development (PUD), which has a driveway easement across the Speedy Stop property. On the surface, the question seems simple enough.

Whellan, of Graves Daugherty Hearon & Moody, told In Fact Daily that his client, Buffalo Equities, has been ready to build a driveway across the Speedy Stop tract but cannot get permission from the city to do so because the convenience store’s property is zoned IRR (interim rural residential). The property is all in the contributing zone of the Edwards Aquifer, but the store and gas station came into the city as a nonconforming use.

Whellan said, “The staff said you cannot have a driveway or other commercial uses over a tract that’s zoned residential. So we asked Speedy Stop if they would allow us to initiate a zoning case only on the driveway issue—and they said no.” Whellan calls Speedy Stop’s position, “pretty weird.” He says the PUD’s owner is willing to count impervious cover from the driveway on the PUD property, even though not required to do so under the terms of the easement.

Crocker and Suttle argue that the driveway will cut the property in half and make redevelopment of their client’s site more difficult. Suttle said he is not sure that the SOS Ordinance would even allow the PUD to count impervious cover from another site—at least not without a variance. The Speedy Stop site already has 50 percent impervious cover and would have to lower that amount to 25 percent if the site were redeveloped, according to City Environmental Officer Pat Murphy. He says the best option for the PUD and Speedy Stop would be to incorporate the Speedy Stop into the PUD.

“I’m not saying it would be successful from a Council perspective,” he said, “but I don’t think it would be a huge problem to incorporate it into the PUD.” He said he did not understand the smaller property owner’s objections. “For some reason they’re not interested in being in a contractual obligation with the owner of the PUD.” The matter is on tonight’s Zoning and Platting Commission agenda for initiation of the zoning change by the city.

Billboard proposal moves to Planning Commission

Committee to consider changes today

The Codes and Ordinances Committee of the Planning Commission is meeting at noon today to consider changes to the city’s rules for billboards. Council Member Betty Dunkerley is soliciting the full commission’s input on new language for the ordinance that would allow billboard owners to move their signs out of low-traffic, residential neighborhoods and into areas more appropriate for billboards. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 10, 2004.) Many of those higher-traffic, commercial areas would also likely be more profitable for both billboard and property owners.

“I’m not here to increase the number of billboards in Austin,” Dunkerley told Commissioners at their most recent meeting. “I’m not here to put any billboards along any scenic roadways. I am here because I feel that the current ordinance omits a tool that I believe this community needs.” Billboards in residential areas, she said, have had a negative impact on the quality of life of nearby residents, but since state law allows billboard companies to maintain their signs they were not likely to go away through attrition. “In effect, what you have is that the billboards you have now will probably be here forever,” she said. A policy allowing billboard owners to move their signs into commercial areas targeted for development, she predicted, would provide an economic incentive to remove them from residential areas. “I really would appreciate your thoughts, given the economic value of even these low-performing billboards, on how to get some of these things moved into areas that would be more reasonable locations.” she said.

Some commissioners had reservations about the idea. “At a certain point in time, the city made off-premises signs illegal . . . so the only signs that exist are those in older neighborhoods that were grandfathered,” said Commissioner Maggie Armstrong. “I would be concerned that if we allow them to start moving elsewhere in the city . . . that most of those signs would pull up and go to other areas . . . and it just seems like not fulfilling our long-term goal.” Commissioner Chris Riley, who was concerned about concentrating too many billboards in one area, agreed with Armstrong. “I’m just concerned about the worst-case scenario,” he said. “Suppose everyone decides to move their signs into one particular area and it really becomes a nightmare in that place? If we had some process where the Sign Review Board could serve as a check on that sort of a problem, then I would feel more comfortable.”

Members of Scenic Austin also questioned the concept of billboard relocation. The president of the group, Girard Kinney, said he was confident that Council Members Dunkerley and Brewster McCracken had both sponsored the item with the goal of beautifying the city. “I know that they have brought it forward out of the best intentions. But I think that to go forward with this idea would be a very serious error,” he said. “The idea of moving billboards to another location as a method of dealing with a problem has been tried many, many times . . . and everyone that has ever tried it will tell you ‘please, don’t do that.’ Because all it does is push the problem away. You will develop another constituency somewhere else. They will be dealing with a billboard with a new lease, built out of stronger materials . . . and it will be of longer duration.”

Kinney also predicted that a rush of billboard owners would move their signs from lower-performing areas to spots along highways, which he said serve as gateways to Austin. Instead of relocating billboards, he offered four options for reducing their total number within the city limits: buying them from the owner (which he admitted would not be financially viable), refusing to allow them to be rebuilt when destroyed by fire or accident, amortizing the value of a billboard (which is currently not allowed by state law in Austin) and through attrition. While attrition is the most effective means of reducing the number of billboards, Kinney said, it would take time. “You have to wait . . . Number one, you have to not give the opportunity for that billboard to ever go anywhere else,” he said. “As property becomes more and more valuable, it becomes the site for a bank or an apartment project . . . or some other project that will not want that billboard there. They will buy down the billboard.”

Scenic Austin board member Roy Mann also urged the commission to ask the Council to reject the proposal. “If we adopt this proposed amendment to the regulations, we will be dropping a greasy problem from the frying pan right into the fire,” he said. “Every billboard company . . . the day after this is approved by the Council . . . will rush to remove their low-performing billboards into downtown or into gateway areas.”

The proposal goes to the Codes and Ordinances Committee of the Planning Commission today and is tentatively set for a public hearing at the March 11 City Council’s meeting. Council Member Dunkerley told commissioners the Council could choose to hold the hearing, but delay the vote on any changes until after the commission had submitted its report. Commissioners specifically requested data on the number of signs that could be affected by the changes, a map of current billboards within the city limits and maps outlining the expressway corridor sign districts and commercial sign districts.

Tonight’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet at 6pm at One Texas Center, Room 325. The Codes and Ordinances Committee of the Planning Commission is scheduled to meet at noon in Room 500 of One Texas Center. The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet at 6pm at SMBR, 4100 Ed Bluestein . . . No longer at City Hall . . . Stephanie Beckett, who helped Council Member Betty Dunkerley get elected but found campaigning more rewarding than city business, has left her position at the city. Dunkerley said her former assistant had never intended to stay more than a year and has “several excellent prospects.” Josh Allen, previously with Mayor Will Wynn’s office, has also taken his leave . . . Last word on e-intrigue. . . On Friday we reported that the Jan Soifer campaign was prepared to file ethics violation charges against consultant Glenn Maxey’s employee, Rick Cofer. In Fact Daily also reported denials from Maxey and Cofer, consultants to the Gisela Triana campaign, regarding the web site http://janscrewedthedemocrats.com. The site came down the following day, but it had detailed work Soifer did for Republicans in the 2001 redistricting battle. We could not reach Judge Triana, one of Soifer’s two opponents for the open seat, for comment late Thursday. However, on Friday, Triana called to say, “I want to make sure that you know that neither I nor my campaign had anything to do with it.” Triana went on to opine that Soifer was threatening to file charges to give cover for her own negative attacks against Triana. A spokesman for the third candidate in the race, Associate Judge John Hathaway, had already denied involvement in the web site. On Saturday, the Soifer campaign put out yet another broadside, once again advertising that Triana was a Republican in 1990 and accusing her of voting for the first President Bush and Clayton Williams. Triana had acknowledged that fact on several occasions, but specifically denied that she had voted for Clayton Williams against Ann Richards, saying it was at that time that she began to realize that she was really a Democrat. Longtime Democratic activist Anne McAfee is backing Soifer. She has sent a lengthy email to her friends entitled, ‘Why I am voting for Jan Soifer for District Judge. In that email, she outlines the case against Maxey and accuses Triana of becoming a Democrat for convenience. She complains that Triana is frequently late for court, and concludes, “This is a 3-way race, we could elect someone who would make a good judge or we could elect someone who would make a great judge.” With all the attacks and counter-attacks between the two female candidates, In Fact Daily will not be surprised if Hathaway does not benefit on March 9 . . . Barton Springs workshop scheduled . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will hold a workshop on March 17 to discuss the district’s efforts to determine the amount of groundwater available in this segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The district recently completed a series of studies, which evaluated the potential impacts to water-supply wells and spring flow at Barton Springs due to extreme drought and increasing rates of pumping. The studies indicate that under these conditions many wells will cease to yield water and spring flow will cease—having a significant impact on the use of the springs for swimming and on the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. The research was guided with ongoing input from a core group of hydrogeologists and modelers who are Edwards Aquifer experts. Last week, In Fact Daily reported that Senator Jeff Wentworth and Rep. Patrick Rose had asked the district to “justify the need for and the accuracy of the proposed Edwards Aquifer Recharge boundary change; and explain to us the BSEACD Groundwater Availability Model. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 27, 2004) . . . New Democratic speaker program begins tonight . . . The Capital City Young Democrats will launch a monthly speaker series focusing on issues effecting local Texans. The first installment in the series is a discussion on the importance of getting out the vote by State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez. The meeting will be held at the Austin History Center at 9th and Guadalupe, tonight at 7:30pm . . . More Democratic meetings . . . Local supporters of presidential candidate Senator John Edwards will gather at 6pm tonight at Nuevo Leon to watch election returns from the Super Tuesday primaries. Supporter Karen Gross says everyone is welcome. Edwards will be in San Antonio on Wednesday, with an appearance scheduled for 2:30pm at University Center, Conference Room A at St. Mary’s University . . . Voting report . . . The Travis County Clerk’s Office reported that 15,348 voters had cast ballots as of last night. Republicans cast 4,608 votes and Democrats cast 10,776. The total combined is still less than 3 percent of registered voters. There was an upsurge in Democratic votes at the University of Texas yesterday, with 128 votes cast on the Democratic side and an additional 10 for Republicans.

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