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Buda, Kyle to elect new Council members

Wednesday, April 21, 2004 by

Both cities dealing with growth issues

By Cody Garrett

On May 15 voters in two of the state’s fastest growing small towns, Buda and Kyle, will have the opportunity to select new city fathers and perhaps affect growth policies in their communities. Buda residents will choose two council members and a mayor, while Kyle voters will fill two seats and decide whether or not to allow the sale of alcohol in restaurants. Both Hays County cities have experienced turbulent times in their respective city halls this year.

The Buda City Council consists of five at-large seats and a mayor. Two incumbents, Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Lane, 52, and Council Member Hutch White, 51, will join a former council member, Duke Greenholtz, in a three-way fight for two slots. Greenholtz, 55, owns the Main Street Café. Buda’s incumbent mayor, movie producer John Trube, 38, faces a challenge from Ralph Rice, 71, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Both Rice and Greenholtz are regular attendees at Buda City Council meetings. Both have the support of certain community activists who are unimpressed by the Buda council’s response to growth and its policies on raising and spending money.

The Buda council raised $2.7 million last September by issuing Certificates of Obligation (COs). COs are municipal debt instruments that usually do not require a vote, since the city must have anticipated streams of revenue in order to pay them off without raising taxes. The funds must go toward capital improvement projects listed in a public notice announcing the city’s intent to issue COs.

The council tried again to raise $1.5 million through COs in January but was thwarted by a petition circulated by activists. That CO proposal was supposed to have been thrown to a vote by the petition, but instead, the council decided not to hold an election, and to consider issuing a revenue bond sometime later this year. The council then funded drainage improvements with $900,000 in “emergency” COs in March.

Rice said that somewhere down the line, the repeated issuance of COs would result in higher taxes. His campaign literature criticizes the current council for being too cozy with pro-growth forces. Rice said, “City hall has been leaning more toward the developers and truly does not have the best interest in keeping Buda the town we have loved so well.” He also characterized himself as a “dyed-in-the-wool Republican.”

Greenholtz said he supports the use of COs as long as the council funds the projects designated. He added that he does not like the way things are going at city hall.

Incumbent Council Members White and Lane both expressed some frustration with the petitioners, but argued that the city is moving in the right direction. “The city’s running very smoothly,” White said. “We’ve had some really tough issues this year.”

Lane at first replied, “no comment,” when asked if he was running for re-election. He said he was unsure the council had enough support. Lane made up his mind fairly quickly, however, saying he wanted to see his two terms of work pay off for Buda. “You plant seeds and watch them grow,” he said.

Mayor Trube said growth is inevitable given Buda’s proximity to Austin. He said he has tried to manage the kind of growth the city will experience. He has trumpeted the council’s success in courting Cabela's, an outdoor sporting goods retailer that is negotiating to build a 180,000 square foot mega-store just south of the Buda H.E.B. along IH-35.

At the Kyle City Council, debate also centers on the problems and opportunities rapid growth brings. In fact, most of the candidates for council cannot say what the population of Kyle is. The city secretary estimates the actual population to be between 14,000 and 15,000. But there are large subdivisions being built now outside the city limits that will probably be annexed.

Kyle’s council has three at-large seats and three single-member districts. This May, seven candidates are competing for two at-large seats, districts one and three. In the race for district one, the incumbent, Council Member Mike Moore, has chosen not to run, saying he wants to spend more time coaching t-ball. Moore endorsed cultural resources manager Lila Knight.

Knight, 48, said that while growth issues are important, the fact that some of the candidates supported the recall last year of Mayor James Adkins was significant and should be considered. Kyle residents voted by a large margin to keep the mayor in office. “We need a unified council who understands what the priorities should be,” he said.

Knight faces two relative unknowns in Kyle politics: Linda Tenorio, who is self-employed, and Ben Ablon. Ablon, 37, moved to Kyle last year. He is listed as the director of enforcement for the State Board of Dental Examiners on the agency’s web site.

In Kyle’s district three, Travis County Health and Human Services employee David Salazar, realtor Mike Gonzales and tax examiner Dan Ekakiadis are looking to replace Council Member Chris Martinez, 55. Salazar is 41; Gonzales is 27.

Ekakiadis, 62, helped lead the move to recall Mayor Adkins. “I got involved in a recall of the mayor that wasn’t successful,” he said. Ekakiadis said the mayor was inept, particularly in dealing with the city’s problem with pumping too much water from the aquifer. In 2003 Kyle cut a check for $129,124.71 to the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District to pay fines associated with overpumping.

Salazar opposed the recall. “I was an anti-recall person,” he said. Salazar works to prepare data to present to the Travis County Commissioners Court and serves on the Kyle Board of Adjustment and the Water Advisory Committee.

Gonzales said he saw no need to question the mayor’s term either. Prior to going into the real estate business, Gonzales worked as a financial examiner for the Texas Department of Banking..

Retail rules, no ban, says Mueller advisory group

Big box retail an option for I-35 at 51st Street

The advisory commission guiding the redevelopment of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site won’t rule out big box retail, but if it comes, the board plans to lay down rules that will make sure it’s the kind of Wal-Mart or Lowe’s it wants on the site.

Robert Singleton of Keep the Land raised the specter of big box retail at last night’s meeting of the RMMA Advisory Commission. Chair Jim Walker placed a discussion of regional retail on the agenda in order to discuss the matter, including specific retail options for a large parcel zoned “EC-1” at I- 35 and East 51st Street.

Walker told Singleton he expected, and even welcomed, neighborhood feedback on possible retailers in the neighborhood. But it was clear from discussion that the advisory commission was far more inclined to regulate, rather than exclude, big box retail. And Walker put some faith in Catellus Development, which has been faithfully meeting with the community on various issues.

“I fully expect the community to say, ‘We don’t want this retailer.’ My neighbors are going to say, ‘I don’t want this retailer,’” Walker said. “Whatever happens, at the end of the day, Catellus is not going to shoot themselves in the foot by putting up a particular retailer.”

During an earlier discussion of Mueller zoning, staff liaison Pam Hefner said she was open to a Lowe’s Home Improvement or Home Depot in the “EC-1” zoning category on the site. If the home improvement retailers weren’t allowed, Hefner said she would amend the zoning category to include the retail option.

Walker asked Singleton if his issue was a particular tenant, like Wal-Mart, or the general use of the property for a big box retailer. Singleton dodged the question initially, saying he was simply trying to gather information, but Save the Land members Singleton and Mary Lehmann were later critical of Wal-Mart’s pay standards and business practices.

Contacted after the meeting, attorney Richard Suttle, who represents Wal-Mart, said the company has no current plans to locate at the site. He said I-35 at 51st Street is an attractive area but pointed out that Wal-Mart already has a store close to that location.

Singleton offered three basic arguments against big box retail. First, he raised objections to the traffic the store would create and expressed a general mistrust of the Traffic Impact Analysis on the site, completed last August. He also questioned the impact a big box retailer has on small business, and specifically the small businesses in the Mueller Town Center.

And Singleton said the regional retail was a major departure from the existing business plan on the property. The actual business plan – the specific plan Catellus submitted to the city with its proprietary plans to develop the property – has not been shared with the public. Instead, the advisory commission has talked about retail in general terms.

Singleton’s argument against big box retail circled back to his real concern, which was whether the 700-acre Mueller parcel would be leased or sold. Singleton argued that the phasing of the property, which will roll out in a fashion that starts with Seton, then moves on to retail and then to the neighborhoods.

The activist argued that the city needed to protect its interests, especially when it came to when and where master developer Catellus would pull profits out of the property. The interests of government and business don’t always intersect, Singleton said.

So while the city may want Catellus to be a responsible steward and make smart choices on retail so that profits can be rolled into goals like affordable housing, Catellus might be more interested in the quick profit. What would stop Catellus from “cherry picking” the property, putting the best and most profitable development on the property at the front of development? Singleton asked the advisory board.

Hefner countered that the contract being negotiated between the city and Catellus set out clear guidelines on how and when the property would be developed. ROMA p lanner Jim Adams said city leaders agreed with Singleton’s idea that if the property is developed in phases, the property should be sold in phases.

Actually, driving the Catellus property with profits off the parcel on I- 35 at East 51st Street has always been the goal at Mueller, Walker told Singleton. As Commissioner Rick Krivoniak explained, as far back as 1984, the plan was to develop the high-profile freeway frontage first so profits could pay for infrastructure improvements on the property.

Back in 1984, the parcel was set aside as regional retail, Krivoniak said. At the height of the Austin market growth, the ROMA Design plan pegged the site as an office complex. With a tough office market, Catellus has shifted the focus back to regional retail of some kind.

Most advisory board members lined up behind Commissioner Donna Carter, who argued that the question was not whether regional retail would come to Mueller. That would happen. The real issue will be how the commission sets out regulations to control how any retailer might operate in the community, both logistically and ethically.

The advisory commission will take up the regional retail again next month. Walker also suggested it as a topic for discussion at Mueller 201. The Mueller 101 discussion drew well over 150 people to discuss the future of the airport site.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss options on the Mueller land in executive session on Thursday, with the possibility of deciding whether to lease, sell or a combination of sell-lease the land, Singleton said. Keep the Land has consistently opposed to sale of the property.

ACC candidates offer ideas, priorities

Candidates for the Austin Community College Board of Trustees explained their priorities on budget, staff benefits and recruitment of minority students at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters last night. If turnout for the event at ACC’s Highland Business Center is any indication, turnout for the election on May 15th could be extremely light.

Board Chair Rafael Quintanilla is running unopposed, but incumbents Beverly Silas and Beverly Watts Davis are not seeking re-election. Place 6, the seat held by Silas, has attracted four candidates: Rodney Ahart, governmental relations director for the American Cancer Society; attorney Marc Levin, attorney Veronica Rivera, and Southwood Neighborhood Association President Guadalupe Sosa.

Although still technically on the board, Watts Davis moved to Washington, D.C. last year when she was appointed director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Seeking to fill her Place 4 seat are UT professor Thomas Krueger and Jeffrey Richard, vice president of education at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

With a Performance Review of ACC by the Texas State Comptroller’s Office and two critical reports from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools as a backdrop, each candidate agreed that the future members of the Board should be held to high ethical standards and should avoid micro-managing or interfering with administrators.

The candidates also outlined their budget priorities. Place 6 candidate Levin offered to hold the line on the district’s tax rate while seeking ways to cut costs. “I believe that the current tax rate is sufficient. However, I also believe we also need to work to expand the tax base to bring more communities into the jurisdiction,” said Levin. “I’d like to make sure as much money as possible goes into the classroom. We obviously can’t fund everything. The areas where we need to focus on economizing are administrative and bureaucratic.”

Rivera pledged to focus her efforts on improving services for students and hiring more full-time faculty. Ahart also pointed to the needs of the students as a top priority, but said he would like to improve conditions for faculty and staff. That includes funding health care coverage for more of the college’s adjunct professors. “Our adjunct professors teach a significant amount of our courses, and I think our budget should reflect that we value the services that we give to the college,” said Ahart.

Providing more benefits for those adjunct professors was also listed as a priority by Place 4 candidate Jeffrey Richard. “We should find a way to fund health care for our faculty. We’re in the people business, and I think people should come first,” he said. Richard also outlined his other top priorities for the college, which include increasing enrollment in and graduation from ACC, developing specialized job training programs for adult workers, and lobbying to restore state funding cut from ACC.

UT professor Thomas Krueger pointed to higher pay and increased insurance for faculty as one way to keep employees from leaving the district, but warned that it may not be feasible to increase either salaries or benefits. “Increasing taxes is going to raise the ire of taxpayers,” he said. “We also have to consider where the money is going to go. There is only a finite amount.”

Perhaps the most visible difference between candidates emerged when they were asked by a member of the audience how they would boost the number of African Americans enrolled at ACC. Levin, a frequent contributor to the Texas Education Review, The Austin Review ( http://www.austinreview.com/), and an officer in the Young Conservatives of Texas ( http://www.yct.org/officers.htm) said that should not be a priority for the college district. “I think all policies of ACC ought to be color blind and should treat everybody equally without regard to race, ethnicity, or gender, both in terms of hiring and recruiting students” he said. “I think we ought to serve, and we are through the Eastview Campus and other campuses, socio-economically disadvantaged areas. I certainly support that. I think that in terms of hiring faculty and staff, it’s essential that it be done without regard to race and that it be done only on merit. Discriminatory policies, whether in favor or against certain groups, promote resentment.”

In contrast, Rivera supported an effort to boost the college’s enrollment of African American and Hispanic students. “As a trustee of the college district, you’re an ambassador,” she said. “I would go out into the community to help change the perception of students. They look at ‘I need to make money now’, and changing the perception of those students to get them to loot to the future to see how much more they can make with an education is critical,” she said. And Ahart, also running for Place 6, agreed that recruiting minority students should be a goal. “It’s very important for us to have a very aggressive outreach into the African American community,” he said. “We have good policies on the books right now. We can have more aggressive efforts in our community, we can work very closely together.”

The League of Women Voters plans to have its voters guide for the May 15th election out in time for early voting, which starts on April 28. ACC has also posted candidate biographies on its web site at http://www.austincc.edu/gvtcr/Elections%20ACC/election051504.htm

McCracken on design standards . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken, sponsor of the idea that the city needs retail design standards, said Tuesday that the “stakeholders group,” which has been meeting to talk about what those standards might include, has now reached 45. He said anyone who wishes to may join. Next week, the group will break into smaller sections, with stakeholders identifying themselves as design professionals/architects (1pm-1:45pm); neighborhood representatives (2pm-2:45pm); landowners/real estate managers/developers/financiers (3pm-3:45pm); and merchants-both small and large (4pm-4:45pm). All of the meetings will be held at City Hall in room 300 next Monday . . . The survey . . . City staff members are still looking at the design survey that nearly 5500 Austinites completed online. McCracken said, “Eighty-five percent of those responding thought this issue was important or very important; 10 percent said it wasn’t. There was pretty strong distribution from throughout the city,” with the 78704 zip code giving the strongest response. “But it really was a very strong response from Northwest Austin down into South Austin,” he said. McCracken noted, “There’s a real strong aversion to the ocean of asphalt,” that includes most retail parking, “and there is a strong desire to have the parking broken up, whether it’s distributed throughout a site or broken up through landscaping, public spaces and pedestrian connections to neighborhoods” . . . Major annexation begins . . . The City Council is scheduled this week to set a public hearing on annexation of 6300 acres of land known as Robinson Ranch. The land, which will come into the city under limited purpose annexation, is between Parmer Lane and FM1325 in Travis and Williamson Counties. Attorney Richard Suttle, who represents the landowner, said he is confident his client will reach an agreement with the city on details of the annexation. The land would come into the city under a Planned Unit Development agreement . . . Beaudet moves to Planning Commission cases . . . Tuesday night’s meeting of the ZAP was likely be the last for NPZD staff planner Annick Beaudet. She’s not leaving the department, but her duties are changing. Her future chores will include cases before the Planning Commission and making presentations to the City Council . . . Board and Commission meetings . . . The Environmental Board will meet at 6pm tonight in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The Downtown Commission is scheduled to meet at 5:30pm at Waller Creek Center, Room 105 . . . Child protection survey released . . . The Center for Child Protection, previously known as the Children’s Advocacy Center, announced the 2003 Child Fatality Review Team annual findings yesterday. A total of 140 children died in Travis County in 2003, an increase of 8 compared to 2002. The average annual total since 1996 is 124 child deaths. They found teens driving while children were unrestrained and asphyxiation from overlays, such as blankets, to be the most common cause of death for children. For more information, visit their web site: http://www.centerforchildprotection.org

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