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Huntsman granted credit for open space gift

Monday, April 19, 2004 by

Huntsman Petrochemical will receive credit from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for its agreement to allow the Northwest Optimist Club to use 17.5 acres of land the company owns for ball fields. The Council voted 7-0 on Thursday to approve the arrangement as part of a vote on some of the outstanding tracts within the Crestview-Wooten Combined Neighborhood Plan. (See In Fact Daily, April 05, 2004.)

The Optimists have used the property for several decades for their youth sports leagues, and have an agreement with Huntsman to continue use of the company’s land for another 20 years. Representatives of the company had sought assurances from the city that the land would count as open space when the property is eventually redeveloped. City rules would have required 12 acres of open space or parkland. And while the company’s arrangement with the Optimists would normally mean that only 50 percent of the acreage in question would count toward the open space requirement, the Council voted to give the company credit for 80 percent of the land because of its long-term arrangement with the Optimists.

“It has been used for recreational purposes for over 55 years,” said Council Member Betty Dunkerley. “There is another 20-year lease. I know normally we don’t give credit for more than 50 percent towards this parkland dedication fee, but I know of no instance where there’s been this particular set of circumstances.” Huntsman’s agent for the zoning case, attorney Michael Whellan, agreed with Dunkerley’s assessment. “We think 80 percent is very generous and fair under these circumstances,” he said.

Under the zoning approved by the Council, the Huntsman tract in question will be split into two different tracts. One will be specifically reserved for recreational uses, while a smaller portion will be set aside for high-density residential. That tract is zoned SF-6 for condominiums. Nearby residents and members of the Optimists Club had not opposed the condo proposal, but had sought assurances that it would not cut into the amount of land reserved for ball fields.

The Council also added traffic limits on the portions of the Huntsman property that has access to Morrow Street. Council Member Daryl Slusher suggested a limit of 1,000 additional trips per day that could take access to the site from Morrow, since portions of it are still primarily residential. “If this tract is redeveloped–and it’s a prime tract for redevelopment—I think it’s an appropriate tract for some high density,” Slusher said, “especially since the rail track comes along there that Capital Metro already owns. There’s been a lot of effort go into reducing the traffic on that street, and I think right now it’s pretty well protected.”

The Council’s decision on the Huntsman Petrochemical tract leaves only one site outstanding within the Crestview-Wooten Neighborhood Planning area. The owner of Continental Collision at 7700 N. Lamar Boulevard is still trying to work out an agreement with nearby residents over permitted uses, parking, fencing and soundproofing. The vote on that tract was postponed until May 6.

Arts funding proposal approved

Alvarez' amendment rejected

The City Council approved new guidelines for funding the city’s Cultural Arts Programs by a vote of 6-1. The new policy, totaling more than 50 pages, is designed to improve the transparency of the application and ranking process and remove political considerations from the ultimate funding decisions.

“Review panels will be made up not only of local individuals but state and regional representatives,” said Cultural Arts Program Manager Vincent Kitch, describing the new rules for reviewing and grading funding requests. “This really provides a broader perspective for the review and reduces conflict of interest and provides an opportunity for non-local panelists to learn more about Austin’s arts and cultural industry.” He also outlined new guidelines for ensuring that funding requests meet the city’s deadline and a new system for classifying funding requests. “One of the key issues in the old process was the fact that smaller organizations and individuals had to compete with directly with major institutions,” he said. “In response to that, the proposed guidelines establish four funding programs crafted to suit different sizes of organizations and project activities.” The new guidelines also provide for a standardized appeal process for applicants dissatisfied with either their ranking or their funding.

Several artists and arts groups lined up to tell the Council what they thought about the new rules. Some favored the changes, such as Emily Cicchini with VSA arts of Texas. “It’s no secret to any of you that the process to date has been rife with controversy and conflict,” she told Council members. She outlined the funding difficulties her group had faced in the past. “The subjectivity and randomness of the allocation process has undermined our trust in the fairness of the process. We are all feeling burned.” However, other artists voiced complaints about the new rules, noting that the funding guidelines could hamper the growth of smaller arts groups.

Council Member Raul Alvarez offered some modifications from the dais after questioning whether the new funding guidelines would adversely affect smaller arts organizations that serve the needs of minority groups. “We’re looking at the idea behind this system,” said Alvarez, “and I think we all agree that it’s a good concept, but I haven’t run into too many folks who have actually looked at how is that going to impact the arts organizations that we work with . . . I think it’s going to be a difficult and chaotic situation when we actually find out how the allocations are falling.”

Alvarez proposed an amendment to the rules to increase funding limits in one category, and to put limits on the increase that any individual group could receive from one year to the next. However, that amendment was rejected on a vote of 3-4. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Danny Thomas sided with Alvarez, while Mayor Will Wynn, Council Members Daryl Slusher, Brewster McCracken and Betty Dunkerley were opposed. “I believe it would unintentionally have the effect of politicizing the whole process, and that’s what everyone has worked so hard to get away from,” said McCracken. Dunkerley’s primary concern was for the arts groups themselves. “I think many times when you’re trying to make a correction up here to protect somebody, the real effect will be just the opposite . . . you’ll be hurting the people you’re trying to help,” she said. The motion to approve the new guidelines passed with only Alvarez dissenting.

In a strange land . . . Rep. Todd Baxter spent part of Thursday afternoon at the LCRA watching the City Council. He was not lost, he said, but representing a client who had a zoning case. His client’s case was approved on consent so Baxter had no opportunity to speak. An attorney, Baxter now works with the firm of Minter Joseph & Thornhill. . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The City of Austin’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department is holding the second in a series of meetings on the city’s plans for revising its mitigation policy for land within the Barton Springs recharge zone. Tonight’s meeting is in room 104 of Waller Creek Center. The department is acting at the direction of the City Council, who asked for a policy that would establish guidelines for clustering development on some land with other land set aside for greenspace. They requested that staff report on the proposal on May 27, but Mayor Will Wynn will be out of town that week so the matter is likely to be postponed. In addition to tonight’s meeting, the department plans another public session on May 3 . . . Other meetings . . . The Arts Commission is scheduled to meet at 6:30pm in room 105 of Waller Creek Center. The Urban Transportation Commission is scheduled meet at 6pm in the 8th Floor conference room of One Texas Center, but the Design Commission is scheduled to meet at 5:45 pm in the same location, according to the city web site. If attendance at either of these meetings is important to you, it would be wise to contact the City Clerk’s Office . . . Crime Victims Week . . . This is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and local organizations have organized a myriad of events to call attention to crime victims and their advocates. Today there will be a crime victims’ compensation workshop from 9am to 4pm at the Robert E. Johnson State Office Building, 1501 N. Congress. The week will culminate with the 17th Annual SafePlace walk and a peace walk. For more information, visit . . Regional plan gets Executive Director . . . The regional water quality planning group has hired Terry Tull to be its executive eirector. Naismith Engineering is the consultant on the project . . . Landowners to speak up . . . Representatives of the Hamilton Pool Road Alliance will be available to members of the media today, they announced through Russ Rhea of TateAustin. The handful of Western Travis County landowners, who call themselves the Hamilton Pool Road Alliance, has requested water service from the LCRA. They have “agreed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service water quality protection measures,” according to their press release. However, environmentalists have voiced concerns that the line would invite an estimated 3300 new homes to the area and have asked the LCRA not to act until the regional planning process has been completed. Mike Blizzard representing the SOS Alliance said a group met with LCRA General Manager Joe Beal last week to reiterate the need to wait for the regional plan. Meanwhile, Rebecca Hudson of the Hamilton Pool Road Alliance sent an email out last week attacking SOSA and urging recipients to contact Beal to lobby immediately for extension of the line. Hudson’s email was headlined: “Your help is needed! SOS is waging war on landowners’ rights, again.” The LCRA Board of Directors is expected to take public comment on the proposed waterline at 1pm Wednesday.

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