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Council sees possible link between Seaholm, Music Hall of Fame

Friday, April 2, 2004 by

Block 21 another possible location for hall of fame

The Austin City Council turned its attention to the southwestern corner of downtown on Thursday, putting out a Request for Proposals soliciting ideas to redevelop the Seaholm Power Plant and endorsing the creation of a Texas Music Hall of Fame. Backers of the proposed museum want it to be located in Austin, and one possible location is Block 21, just across the street from the new City Hall building.

The resolution approved by the Council directing the City Manager to show support for the museum does not promise any financial assistance from the city, nor does it guarantee that Block 21 would be reserved for the museum. But it does instruct the City Manager’s office to consider opportunities to place the museum on Block 21 or at the Seaholm Power Plant as the RFP’s for those two sites are reviewed.

“My intent was to expand in a positive way the calculus the City Manager is going to use as she tries to build as much synergy as practical,” said Mayor Will Wynn, who co-sponsored the resolution on the Texas Music Hall of Fame. City Manager Toby Futrell stressed that other major non-profit or public uses, such as a new downtown library or new facilities for KLRU-TV, would not be removed from consideration for Block 21. “We have the chance on a public-private partnership on the redevelopment of Seaholm and the development of Block 21 to leverage private dollars, because there will be revenue-generating uses going up on these blocks that can help us leverage space made available for these other uses,” said Futrell. “We have a unique opportunity here to create the spaces.”

Backers of the Texas Music Hall of Fame say that it could be a major tourist draw for Austin, capitalizing on the city’s reputation as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and the popularity of the “Austin City Limits” TV series and music festival. “We have had discussions with other cities. To be honest with you, I’ve always thought Austin was the right place to do this. It has always been my hope and goal that this end up in Austin for all the obvious reasons,” said Wayne Miller, Chairman of the Texas Music Hall of Fame Foundation. “No one in Virginia or Montana or any other place in the country is likely to get on a plane and fly to Houston or Dallas to see a Texas Music Hall of Fame. They are very likely to come to Austin…because not only are they coming here to see the Hall of Fame, they want to come here and experience music on a very live basis and experience all the different cultural things Austin offers.”

The Council put out a Request for Proposals for Block 21 a few weeks ago, stipulating that the project include retail space to help increase pedestrian traffic in the area. In its Request for Proposals for the old Seaholm Power Plant, the Council stressed the need to leave space on the site for a commuter rail station. The plant lies at the intersection of two rail lines, one of which is used by Union Pacific for freight traffic. “I think it would be very imprudent for us to go forward with a plan for Seaholm that doesn’t have a passenger rail component,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher, who modified the RFP resolution to explicitly include the language addressing passenger rail. “I personally would like to see something that brings a lot more people downtown and helps our sales tax base as well.”

Key members of the Texas congressional delegation this week offered their endorsement of the idea for commuter rail connecting Austin and San Antonio, which would likely use tracks currently used by Union Pacific if the railroad can transfer that traffic to another line (see In Fact Daily, Jan. 29th, 2004). “I personally feel we will be successful with this,” said Sid Covington, who serves on the board of the Austin-San Antonio Inter-Municipal Commuter Rail District. “That gives us the ability to then use this MoPac corridor for rail, and that’s the target that we’re shooting for and that’s the goal of the rail district.” Some preliminary work is already being done to identify potential sites for rail stations along the corridor, with special attention being paid to those locations where passengers could connect to other mass transit services such as Capital Metro.

Council rejects zoning change for Dessau Road

Members of the North Growth Corridor Allianc e won a unanimous vote yesterday as the Council rejected the request of a landowner who wanted to increase the density—and the amount of traffic generated—by his Dessau Road property. Laura Toups of Urban Design Group told the Council her client, Wayne Harwell, had purchased the 19.6 acres with MF-3 zoning and a conditional overlay limiting trips per day to 1,675. Harwell purchased the property in August 2000, she said.

Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department Director Alice Glasco reported that staff recommended lifting the conditional overlay, which would allow Harwell to build 348 apartment units and generate about 525 trips per day more than the current zoning. The Zoning and Platting Commission also recommended the change.

Neighborhood advocate Janet Klotz told the Council that she did not challenge the zoning request at the ZAP because she had been attending to her hospitalized mother. She explained that the North Growth Corridor Alliance had reached an agreement with the previous owner of the property when the zoning was changed from DR (development reserve) to MF-3. At that time, she said, neighbors thought that the designation was too dense because of a tributary of Walnut Creek that takes up a good portion of the property and because the roadway is already quite crowded. The alliance agreed to MF-3, she said, with the conditional overlay limiting traffic, in order to give the owner more flexibility when planning development.

Toups pointed out that the agreement was signed in 1999, but her client was not a party to it. Glasco told the Council that her staff had found the agreement in their files and explained that several conditions within it were not appropriate for a restrictive covenant or an ordinance. The only part of the agreement that made it into the zoning ordinance was the trip limitation. With the overlay, she said, the owner could only build 265 units. Other parts of the agreement address detention and submitting the site plan to the neighborhood.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “ It seems like they have an agreement, and we try to honor the agreements because usually they’re part of lengthy deliberations between the applicants and our citizens.” Noting that the neighbors had agreed to the multi-family zoning as well as to the apartments across the street from the subject property, he added, “I also don’t feel like this is just a case of the neighborhood not wanting apartments.” Slusher said he had visited the property at rush hour and observed the traffic problem first-hand.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley said, “I can see why the owner would have been confused. I was just wondering if there was something in between that would protect the neighborhood and still kind of deal with this unusual way of dealing with the zoning.”

Council Member Brewster McCracken also suggested that he was looking for “some middle ground.”

Klotz explained that she and other neighbors had agreed to 265 units “as a compromise with the agent in 1999 because the alliance felt that single-family-6 density would have been appropriate for this site.” Under the single-family scenario, the developer would have been allowed to build 12-13 units per acre, she said, or less than 250.

Slusher moved to deny the change and Council Member Raul Alvarez seconded. The vote was 6-0 with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman off the dais. She had left early due to illness.

Task force report due to Council today

Historic Preservation Task Force Chair Betty Baker presented a brief overview of the task force’s recommendations to the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) Monday night. The task force, charged with overhauling the current historic preservation ordinance, finished its work last week. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told Council members last night that the report should be delivered to their offices today.

Monday night’s meeting could have been awkward. Council members formed the Historic Preservation Task Force because of a general concern that the HLC was granting too many tax abatements.

The meeting, however, was fairly calm and cordial, with commissioners praising Baker’s work. Baker’s presentation was brief, and most questions centered on whether the HLC would be disbanded once the ordinance was approved. Baker said she could not guess how the City Council would respond to the report and was not certain the report would require disbanding the current commission.

The task force desired more accountability when choosing HLC members. The number of members, under the recommendation, would be cut from 11 to 9. The ordinance also specified that a registered architect and a member of the Heritage Society of Austin should be among them. Baker originally lobbied for seven members so that each Council member would be directly responsible for an appointee.

One reason Baker’s presentation was so brief was that the work had yet to be committed to a final written draft. But Baker said she had agreed to present the findings to the HLC before the draft report went to the City Council.

An HLC subcommittee had already taken a run at rewriting the historic preservation ordinance. Baker said the ordinance rewrite was a good guide for the task force’s work. Much of the ordinance remained intact.

Baker did a quick rundown of some of the major points in the new ordinance. Current exemptions would be maintained for properties already designated historic. Once ownership of the house changes, however, the exemption would be dropped. The tax exemption on income-bearing properties would be maintained at current rates.

Criteria would be tightened up for future historic designations. Properties would have to be at least 75 years old. The property tax would be capped up to $2,000. For those properties with city tax bills over $2,000, the tax rate would be 50 percent of the total. The tax abatement would apply to 50 percent of the land and 100 percent of the building.

The ordinance included the creation of local historic preservation districts, with guidelines to be set by the HLC. The task force also recommended sending all building permits through city staff rather than the HLC. Eventually, many of those permits would go through local historic district boards.

The task force further recommended that a local appraisal district measure the appraisals of historic houses against other similar houses in the same geographic area. At this time, historic properties are measured against all other historic properties, regardless of price.

Finally, the task force recommended a review of the city’s historic survey and asked that the city’s ordinance be reviewed every 10 years. The current ordinance is 30 years old, and this is the first time the ordinance has been comprehensively reviewed.

Curtis moves to Mayor’s office . . . Mayor Will Wynn’s office announced late yesterday that Matt Curtis is joining Richard Arellano, Janice Kincheon, Thelma Barraza and Darlene Berghammer in the Mayor’s office. Curtis has been an executive assistant to Council Member Brewster McCracken since McCracken took office last year. He also played a leading role in McCracken’s campaign. Curtis has a long history of service to the City of Austin, as well 10 years of expertise in strategic communications, public relations, politics and government. “This is an exciting opportunity for Matt,” said McCracken. “He has been a great asset to the city while serving in my office, and I know he will continue to do great work for our community.” Karen Gross will continue as executive assistant to McCracken . . . In case you missed it . . . This week’s Austin Chronicle focuses on Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Betty Baker. Beginning with a cover that shows Baker as a queen standing in front of a cement mixer dumping concrete on a neighborhood, the weekly takes some sharp pokes at the city’s most knowledgeable land-use volunteer. But writer Amy Smith also balanced those negative comments with praise from Baker’s supporters, plus a story on Baker saving a house in the Hyde Park neighborhood from demolition twenty-some years ago. That story points out that Hyde Park neighbors now criticize Baker for siding with the Hyde Park Baptist Church in interpreting rules for the church’s well-publicized expansion plans. Baker characterized those stories as both good and bad, adding, “I’m not particularly upset or complimentary . . . it was factual” . . . Appointments . . . Mayor Will Wynn appointed businessman Cid Galindo to the Planning Commission. John Andrew Green was appointed by consensus to the Telecommunications Commission. Council Member Raul Alvarez reappointed Dan Garcia to the Child Care Council . . . Billboard hearing postponed. . . Yesterday’s promised City Council hearing and discussion on changes proposed by Council Member Betty Dunkerley to the city’s billboard ordinance was postponed to April 22. When Dunkerley made the motion to postpone, Council Member Daryl Slusher quipped “Could I make a friendly amendment to do that in December?” and Mayor Will Wynn chimed in, “I thought you might make it a year from April 22” . . . Police contract rules . . . The Council postponed until April 15 discussion and adoption of new procedural rules for negotiating with police officers and firefighters under Meet and Confer rules . . . Next week . . . The City Council will not meet next week, but several commissions are scheduled to meet . . . Plans for the weekend . . . The 54th Annual Fine Arts Festival is expected to draw thousands downtown Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm. The event will feature over 200 artists from around the nation, live music and hands-on children’s activities. The festival will be held on the city blocks surrounding Republic Square Park near the future home of the Austin Museum of Art. Entrances will be located at the intersections of 5th and Guadalupe and 5th and San Antonio Streets. For more information, visit the web site: http://www.austinfineartsfestival.org/index.html. . . Dancing in the streets . . . The SIMS Foundation will host a street party to raise money to help provide health services for Austin musicians. The party, featuring music by Cross Canadian Ragweed, Bob Schneider and Patrice Pike, will be held on the South First Street Bridge Sunday night. For more information, visit http://www.simsfoundation.org/events.html#dancing. . . Potted pork rules . . . Only Austin has a festival devoted to Spam. This year’s event will be from noon to 6pm Saturday in Waterloo Park. Go to http://www.spamarama.com/ to learn more . . . Swamp romp too . . . More music and dancing will be featured at the 10th Annual Swamp Romp from 11am – 9pm in the parking lot at 7th Street and Trinity. Bring 4 cans of food for the Capital Area Food Bank and get in for $6. Otherwise, tickets are $8. There is more information at http://www.roadstarproductions.com/

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