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Music Commission wants waivers for special events

Tuesday, April 6, 2004 by

Assistant Police Chief warns special rules could backfire

The Austin Music Commission is recommending some changes to the city’s noise ordinance. The suggestions come as Council Member Brewster McCracken is calling for revisions to the rules governing sound in the city’s entertainment district after three members of the band Ozomatli were arrested during the SXSW Music Festival.

McCracken is proposing lifting portions of the ordinance, including the rules governing outdoor performances and amplified sound, during major music events such as SXSW or the Austin City Limits music festival. A resolution passed by the Music Commission echoes that sentiment, asking he Council to consider special provisions for large events and festivals. But the main body of the resolution deals with recommendations for waivers for music venues the rest of the year. “We feel that there are areas in Austin that are going to want to open an outdoor venue that might be next to a neighborhood, and they should be allowed to do so. However, right now, there is no variance process for the sound ordinance. So when we heard that the Council was looking at establishing some special provisions for large events, we wanted to remind the Council that we feel that a variance process is also needed,” said Commission Chair Teresa Ferguson. “Another issue that was in the resolution we sent to Council last year was the fact that the entertainment district downtown is described in the ordinance in very small terms, smaller than is advertised on the city’s web site. So it excludes the Red River district, which is one of the up and coming live music hot spots downtown.”

The Commission also used the discussion time on the noise ordinance to hear from police department representatives regarding the arrest of the Ozomatli members. Assistant Chief Cathy Ellison and Commander Bobbie Oliver outlined the officer’s version of events, some of the department’s procedures, and the challenges facing officers on patrol in the entertainment district. Ellison also offered a caution about enacting special rules for special events, noting that the if special privileges were granted to one festival others would likely request the same treatment. “I think that once it’s on the books that there’s going to be a different set of rules for South by Southwest, there’s going to be other events…they’re going to be asking for the same leeway,” she said. “I think that’s what’s going to end up happening is that we’re going to have to let everybody have certain rules, or we’re just going to have to make different ones.”

The Commission also weighed in on another hot-button issue facing musicians and club owners. They discussed language in the new smoking ordinance, which goes into effect May 1st. Commission Member Angela Gillen, who owns the Flamingo Cantina on 6th street, told fellow Commissioners she feared the new ordinance would eliminate the ability of clubs that allow smoking to periodically hold non-smoking, all-ages shows featuring high-profile touring acts. The ability to attract younger, non-smoking customers, said Ferguson, would be essential to the growth of the music scene. “I believe very strongly that to maintain that cultural vitality we have to bring out the next generation, we have to get those folks, those kids excited about music,” she said. “The smoking ordinance as written kind of shuts out that whole market and that’s a concern to me, because I think we have to get beyond the whole thing about music being a club activity where the club activity rides on selling liquor.”

Several downtown music venues have been participating in the First Monday program, offering smoke-free shows on the first Monday night of the month, and Council Member Betty Dunkerley is trying to raise the awareness of those shows in hopes of attracting more business for those clubs. She visited several venues Monday night to talk with bar owners, musicians, and customers about the popularity of the smoke-free events. “After the second one,” in March, “club owners let me know that it wasn’t working. And I think it wasn’t working because we weren’t promoting it,” said Dunkerley, who vowed to work with club owners to improve the publicity for the event in future months. “We’re really working hard to try to get some people out to hear some music.” .

RMA looking at rules for converting roads to tollways

RMAs would have more authority, more flexibility on toll projects

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority plans to take careful steps in the adoption of policies for the conversion of tax roads into toll roads.

Rumors that the extension of US 183 would become a toll road left North Austin neighborhoods in an uproar. However, it was the Texas Department of Transportation floating the idea rather than the RMA. Attorney Brian Cassidy probably didn't need to tell the CTRMA board at last week’s meeting that TxDOT fielded more comments on the conversion rules than any others under House Bill 3588.

With the adoption of state rules, the CTRMA can now adopt its own rules. They will take public comment on May 5 and May 26. Written comments will be accepted through May 7. The board is set to adopt its own policy recommendation on May 26. The CTRMA website is

Commissioner Henry Gilmore urged caution in the process, given the controversy surrounding the issue. The CTRMA, he pointed out, had no plans to convert any tax roads at this time. Chair Bob Tesch, however, said he wanted to move forward rapidly and efficiently with the rules, just as the CTRMA had moved forward with other plans.

Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said he had no opposition to relaxing the timeline on the process, but wanted to make sure the CTRMA did not take too much time so the mobility authority could be ready for those projects that currently are in the design phase of development.

Cassidy outlined some of the RMA rule changes recently approved by the Texas Transportation Commission. Those rules put some “meat on the bones” of the outlines provided under House Bill 3588, Cassidy said.

Among the rules now outlined by the state:

• Road projects suggested by RMAs no longer have to be part of the state highway system, Cassidy said. That means that TxDOT will have far less oversight of projects, unless they connect with or intersect an existing state highway in some way. RMAs will be much more autonomous in the design and planning of projects, which means RMA projects will move more quickly through development.

• A process has been outlined for the conversion of tax roads to toll roads. That process will include a written request submitted by the county to TxDOT for the conversion of the road and a transfer to the RMA in one integrated transaction, Cassidy said.

• In the request, the county must outline the role of the project in the overall regional transportation plan, as well as the environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposed toll road. The county also must outline any opposition to the road conversion from the community.

• Once the information is submitted, the Texas Transportation Commission would schedule both a public hearing in the county and a more informal public meeting near the site of the project.

• The RMA also must meet certain criteria, such as picking up the responsibility of maintenance for the road and compliance with federal law. The Texas Transportation Commission must decide whether the transfer is in the public's interest. And HB 3588 specifies no toll road may exist without a “reasonable” non-tolled alternative.

Cassidy said it was the state transportation agency’s hope that regions would want to convert roads in order to speed up the expansion process. Critics say conversions are simply an easy way for TxDOT to pass the cost of maintenance off to counties.

The new rules also fleshed out conflict of interest requirements for the board and staff members of RMAs. The rules state that a member or his spouse cannot have an interest in those companies participating in RMA projects.

A change to another chapter of the transportation code now requires interoperability of toll roads between RMAs and state toll roads. In Central Texas, that means that the toll tags on US 183A must also be able to pass through the toll tag readers on SH 130.

Travis and Williamson counties will be important players to the process, Heiligenstein told the board.

Voting starts slowly . . . Monday marked the first day of Early Voting in runoffs for Republican races for sheriff and for the 10th Congressional District and for the Democratic nominee for Constable Precinct 4. Not surprisingly, the Republican turnout was far greater, with 767 GOP voters making it to the polls. Only 113 Democrats cast ballots yesterday . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission has a lengthy agenda. They will begin deliberations at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee will meet at DSMBR, 4100 Ed Bluestein at 6pm . . . BOA meets Wednesday. . . In an unusual session, the Board of Adjustment has scheduled a meeting for noon Wednesday in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The City Council does not have a meeting scheduled this week . . . CTRMA special meeting. . . The Central Texas RMA will hold a special meeting on April 12 at the Joe C Thompson Conference Center on the University of Texas campus. The CTRMA meeting, scheduled at 10am, will provide the board members with an overview of the CTRMA regional road plan. The plan, to be presented to the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board that night, will include possible toll road options for the region . . . Extra Design Commission meeting . . . The Design Commission has scheduled a special meeting on April 19. The meeting is scheduled to consider three items: a letter to the Austin Parks Foundation, a monograph on the city’s four historic squares and a review of proposed commercial design standards. The commission will take up the Second Street Retail project in May . . . Billboard Ord postponed . . . Commissioner Girard Kinney told his colleagues on the Design Commission last night that consideration of amendments to the billboard ordinance had been put off. Kinney said he, and Scenic Austin, probably didn’t have the votes to kill the “remove one and replace one” amendment Council Member Betty Dunkerley has proposed . . . New judge to take over . . . Nancy Hohengarten will be sworn in as Judge of County Court at Law Number 5 at 3:30pm Friday in the 331st District Court. Hohengarten won the Democratic Primary for the seat last month and county commissioners appointed her to finish out the year. Judge Gisela Triana resigned from the seat to run for District Court. Hohengarten will face Republican Angelita Mendoza-Waterhouse in the November election.

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