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Travis County leads opposition to Perry plan

Monday, April 12, 2004 by

Counties already face too many unfunded mandates says CUC

Travis County Commissioners are leading the charge against Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to cap property appraisal increases at 3 percent per year.

Both the Texas Association of Counties and the Conference of Urban Counties have come out against the Perry Plan, which would also limit the amount of revenue local entities could raise each year. According to the Perry Plan, tax dollars would be limited to the amount raised the previous year, plus a factor for inflation and population growth.

Travis County has presented the Conference of Urban Counties (CUC) with a list of unfunded mandates from the state, concerning indigent care, indigent defense and much of the criminal justice system. CUC has scheduled a luncheon, anticipating the need to find a strategy for a possible special session on school finance.

Last week, North Texas leaders came out against the Perry Plan. Collin County Judge Ron Harris said the proposal was more camouflage than a solution to the problems facing taxpayers. “What the Governor’s plan has done is united local governments across Texas because he’s indicted us,” Harris said. “He’s said we’re not doing our job handling our tax dollars properly, and a lot of us feel that we are.”

Travis County Commissioners also opposed the plan, even finding a surprising ally in Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, a frequent critic of government spending. Daugherty, a Republican, said the state is facing “an unbelievable amount of pressure” to cut taxes but that limiting tax dollars was not the answer. “What we’re trying to say is that we don’t want to make the Governor mad, but I think we need to be forthright enough to say, ‘This isn’t sound for us,’“ Daugherty told county lobbyist Bob Kamm. “There are just too many things that we fear will happen to us.”

State law already limits county spending, Daugherty pointed out. Putting caps on revenues simply makes it more difficult to handle the unfunded mandates the state is putting on Texas counties. An estimated 68 percent of Travis County’s budget comes from property taxes.

Already, county clerks have come out against the Perry proposal, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told commissioners. County auditors and treasurers are also expected to pass resolutions against the Perry Plan.

Perry’s proposal gives the impression that counties are suffering from unrestrained spending, Auditor Susan Spataro told the court. That’s just not true, she said; and now, counties are being dragged into the school finance fight. Spataro said that somehow the message is, as soon as property taxes are reduced for schools, counties will see the opening “to go insane and start raising their taxes.”

“We have no indication that’s what’s going to happen. That’s not the way counties have behaved in the past,” Spataro told commissioners. “It’s an unrealistic expectation.”.

Developer seeks approval of revamped PUD

Environmental group to hear about plans tonight

Cardinal Paragon, Inc., a Dallas development company, has a new plan for the tract known as the Forum PUD (Planned Unit Development) that they say will reduce the amount of impervious cover, improve the aesthetics of the proposal and address traffic concerns of nearby neighborhoods.

In 1999, the City Council approved a proposal and zoning change for the tract, which is over the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer at the intersection of MoPac and William Cannon. Changing the configuration of the development would require another zoning change, with the accompanying hearings and votes at the Zoning and Platting Commission and the City Council. Cardinal Paragon has hired attorney Steve Drenner to represent them in winning approval for the project, to be called Southwest Marketplace, from the community and the City of Austin.

Drenner, who has already won support for the project, anchored by a 153,000-square-foot Costco Warehouse, from the Western Oaks Neighborhood Association and the Westcreek Neighborhood Association, will lay out the proposal for the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) tonight. SBCA members should hear much that will please them: impervious cover reduced from 42.3 acres to 33.8 acres, about 20 percent less than the original. In order to reduce impervious cover on the Forum PUD, landowners purchased two conservation tracts and dedicated them to the city. With those purchases, the Forum had 15-percent impervious cover. According to Drenner, the Southwest Marketplace configuration will reduce that amount to 12 percent.

Cardinal Paragon is also promising to build a wet pond to capture runoff from about five acres of surrounding roadway, in addition to the runoff from the tract itself. That pond, Drenner said, would be an amenity like the one at the Arboretum, not just an engineering feature.

In addition, he said, the new design, which includes only one large store and no offices, would generate fewer trips to the site than the Forum PUD, which was planned for a Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse. Drenner said the site would feature preservation of large trees, meandering paths for area residents to walk to the various stores and restaurants, tasteful building materials that fit the surrounding landscape and Green Builder components that match those at Circle C.

With all those concessions, there appears to be just one big stumbling block—the Council-approved ban on new big box stores over the aquifer. The old PUD is exempt from the rule, but only up to 100,000 square feet. Drenner figures there could be three to five big users under the old design, but promises just one—Costco—and smaller retailers and restaurants under the new plan. This is one case that could see environmentalists in disagreement with one another, or environmentalists might stick to their guns on the big box ban but find themselves at odds with nearby neighbors who have already signed agreements with Cardinal Paragon.

It’s almost summer in Austin and time for another development duel.

ZAP approves traditional plan for northeast site

Staff praises DR Horton Homes' TND plan

Last week, the Zoning and Platting Commission approved TND zoning for a 277-acre site in northeast Austin. TND, or Traditional Neighborhood District, is a zoning category designed to promote development of compact neighborhoods with a mixture of housing types, land uses and transit options instead of the suburban sprawl which can occur when standard suburban development guidelines are followed. (See http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/tnd for more information on the guidelines for the TND category.)

Developer D.R. Horton Homes requested the zoning change from I-RR to TND for acreage off Dessau Road near Applegate Drive. The site will be used for a mixture of single-family homes, apartments, townhomes and triplexes, with a projected total of 1230 residential units. The subdivision will also contain 99 acres preserved for open space and parkland. The Northeast Austin location places the new neighborhood in proximity to major employers, including Samsung and Applied Materials, and the site would also include non-residential zoning classifications to allow employment opportunities within the neighborhood.

City staff endorsed the change to TND zoning, which was proposed in the late 1990s for new development. “The project promotes the goals of a Traditional Neighborhood District by promoting mixed-use, compact development that is sensitive to the environmental characteristics of the land and facilities and facilitates the efficient use of services,” said Sherri Gager with Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. “A TND diversifies and integrates land uses within close proximity and provides for the daily recreational and shopping needs of the residents within the TND. A TND district is a sustainable long-term community that provides economic opportunity and environmental and social equity for the residents. Its design adopts the urban conventions which were the norm of the United States from Colonial times up until the 1940s.”

Commissioners heard from Northeast Austin activist Trek English, who had concerns about the impact that development might have on storm water runoff. “I am not opposed to the zoning on this TND. I like the idea of having a mixed use and having businesses, homes and parkland all in the same development. I also like the fact that I’m hearing we’re putting human beings in Northeast Travis County, versus warehouses and truck facilities. For that reason alone, I’m not opposing this project,” she said. “But for 20 years, I’ve been listening to city staff say, ‘This project isn’t going to effect you’ . . . but all I’ve seen is more and more water. All I know is that we’re losing big hunks of land. It’s no longer just erosion of creek banks. It’s way beyond that.”

Representatives of D.R. Horton Homes told commissioners they had worked closely with city staff, including representatives of the Parks and Recreation Department, to model the effects of runoff from the site and had designed detention ponds to handle that runoff appropriately.

The commission endorsed the TND zoning on a unanimous vote. “I would compliment them for all the work they’ve done, and I would sincerely hope it doesn’t make the situation worse as far as Walnut Creek or Ferguson Branch,” said Commission Chair Betty Baker.

Environmental groups, neighbors to oppose landfill expansion . . . Neighborhood leaders, environmental activists and local elected officials promise to rally outside the Travis County Stokes Administration Building at 10 am today to show their opposition to continued expansion of landfills in Northeast Travis County. Travis County Commissioners Ron Davis and Gerald Daugherty are expected to attend. Joining them will be neighborhood activists Joyce Thoreson and Trek English, Council Member Danny Thomas, Brigid Shea, former Council member, and other representatives of various environmental organizations. The Texas Campaign for the Environment is in charge of the rally . . . City wants help in prioritizing services . . . About 10,000 households will receive a survey from the City of Austin to solicit citizens’ viewpoints on how to improve city services. The National Center for Civic Innovation provided a $30,000 grant to assist the city in doing the survey. Volunteers are needed to serve as focus group participants this summer. For more information, contact the Budget Office at 974-2610 . . . Recharge zone boundaries still under review . . . The staff of the BSEACD is still working with staff members at the TCEQ to finalize new boundaries for the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. If areas are added to the recharge zone, they could face new limits on development. BSEACD staff says there are still several areas in which the two agencies have differing opinions, with the biggest dispute centering on the land surrounding Garlic Creek. The board of the BSEACD is also asking staff to draft a letter to the TCEQ questioning the timetable for revising the boundaries. The state agency is conducting a review of the overall boundaries of the Edwards Aquifer, and is holding up consideration of BSEACD boundaries until the overall boundaries for the Edwards Aquifer in Hays and southern Comal Counties are determined . . . Aquifer district chooses lobby firm . . . The Board of Directors for the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District picked the law firm of Bickerstaff Heath Smiley Pollan Kever & McDaniel, LLP, to serve as the district’s lobbyists during the interim period before the next regularly-scheduled session of the Texas Legislature in 2005. The Board also heard proposals from lobbyists Mike Kelly and Sabrina Brown. Attorney John Donisi represented Bickerstaff, Heath. While Board President Jim Camp and Board Member David Carpenter indicated they would have preferred to hire Sabrina Brown, who received the endorsement of BSEACD General Manager Veva McCaig, the other three board members opted to go with Bickerstaff, Heath. They cited the firm’s long-time affiliation with the district and its familiarity with groundwater issues. Although Brown had previously done lobbying work for the district, Board Member Craig Smith said was troubled by the lack of contact between Brown and the board during that period. “She may have met me, but I don’t think I met her,” he said, “and I was the Board President during that year” . . . CTRMA starts the meeting round today . . . There are two governmental meetings involving transportation today, beginning at 10am with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. The board will meet at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center, room 1.110 . . . The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board will meet at 6pm in the usual location, Joe C. Thompson Conference Center, Room 2.102. They will conduct a public hearing on proposed amendments to the 2004-2008 Transportation Improvement Program and to the 2025 Transportation Plan . . . BOA meets tonight . . . The Sign Review Board and Board of Adjustment are scheduled to meet at 5:30pm at One Texas Center. Returning to the agenda for the umpteenth time is the question of whether the Casa de Luz Restaurant and Parkside School on Toomey Road should have a parking variance. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 14, 2004.) Feelings are strong on both sides . . . Health Department plans strategic summit on AIDS . . . The Austin Travis County Health and Human Services Department will hold a summit on HIV/AIDS on April 22-23. The goal of the summit is to give community-based organizations a chance to learn about grant opportunities and to offer management strategies. For more information, contact Margaret Ramirez at 972-5180 . . . Plans for Interfaith Arts Festival . . . The Downtown Cluster of Austin Area Interreligious Ministries has teamed up with Miller Blueprint for an art festival and bazaar on October 9. They festival will also feature live music, including a Sacred Music Concert at the Central Presbyterian Church at 5pm. Proceeds generated through the festival will be used to establish regular assistance programs for the poor and homeless. Sponsors are looking for artists to take part in an exhibition. For more information, call 926-9274 or visit their web site, www.interfaitharts.com

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