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Slow day means Gay Pride parade gets more attention

Friday, May 28, 2004 by

Austin Energy rebate program wins approval

It was a slow day at the City Council yesterday. Since Mayor Will Wynn is out of town items that might have been scheduled—such as an update on budget projections—have been put off until June 10. The Council will not meet next week.

Most of the morning portion of Thursday’s Council meeting was occupied by a discussion over fee waivers and security costs for the June 5 Gay Pride Parade and accompanying festival at Fiesta Gardens. No Council members were opposed to the parade, but several were concerned about the cost to the city during a difficult budget period. Waived fees for set up and take down, electrical hookup, building reservations and other items will total $4,475. After much discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman offered to have those funds come from the budgets of the Council members who sponsored the item on the agenda. However, money to pay off-duty police officers to provide extra security for the parade will not come from those individual accounts. “It’s a sad statement, but there are going to be some increased security needs,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken.

The Council unanimously approved a rebate program for Austin Energy customers who install their own renewable energy system, such as solar power. Those customers will continue to receive electricity from Austin Energy, but will receive a credit during those months when their system provides more power to the city utility than they receive. Customers choosing take part in the program will be required to participate for at least one year and will also be responsible for the expense of connecting to the city’s electric grid.

Council postpones action on historic zoning question

The owner of a potentially historic home in Travis Heights will have to wait two more weeks before a decision from the City Council on whether he will be allowed to move the Driver-Metcalfe House from his lot at 1204 Travis Heights Boulevard and replace it with two new structures. Property owner Rusty Bannerman is protesting the recommendation from the Historic Landmark Commission that the house receive the historic designation and has filed a valid petition against that proposed rezoning. (See In Fact Daily, April 23, 2004.) But that valid petition in opposition to the zoning change also means the decision will have to wait for a meeting at which all seven Council members are present, since Mayor Will Wynn is traveling overseas this week.

Bannerman told Council members he thought their instructions were for him to meet with representatives of the South River City Citizens, which he had done. “I presented the plan, I showed it to them . . . no one contacted me ever until yesterday afternoon at 3:30pm,” he said. “I think we’re at an impasse.” He urged the Council to waive their normal policy of requiring cases with valid petitions to be heard by the full seven members. “I ask that you please make a vote on this tonight. I can’t sleep at night. I’m the one that has all the money out on this property and this is tearing me up,” he said. “This is just not right. The facts are so simple and easy to decide . . . and I’m begging you please vote this thing tonight.”

But Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman stood firm on the Council’s long-standing policy, warning of the consequences of even one deviation. “There is a precedent we would set by not waiting for a full Council,” she cautioned. “We would leave something open to politicizing . . . we have always made a good solid policy to always go to full Council when there’s a valid petition.”

The item will come back to the Council on June 10. In the meantime, Bannerman and the SRCC were instructed again to go to mediation in an attempt to resolve their differences. Although the city no longer has a full-time professional mediator on staff, the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department will work to arrange the meeting between the two sides and invite staff to help them work through the various issues. “We do have staff internally that have been taking dispute resolution courses,” said Alice Glasgo, “and we’ll certainly use their talents to help facilitate this meeting.” .

Planning Commission OKs Mueller zoning

Revitalized site captures urban planners' dreams

Beyond the lingering controversies—big-box retail or no big-box retail, sale or lease, local or out-of-state development team—the Mueller vision is a dazzling site to behold.

The 711-acre former airport is the city’s testament to New Urbanism and last week’s presentation at the Planning Commission by ROMA Design’s Jim Adams demonstrated the magnitude that can go into a redevelopment project 20 years in the making.

Mueller will be the embodiment of many of the design principles that planning staff and city commissions have held up as the model over the last six years, one that uses buzz words like “live-work space,” “pedestrian friendly,” “transit oriented” and “high-density mixed-use.”

Mueller takes every ideal praised by the Design Commission or Downtown Commission in a single project and multiplies it 700 times over onto one single piece of land.

Only a handful of people remained in the audience after the zoning cases for the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood District plan took three hours to resolve. That was unfortunate because, as Chair Chris Riley noted after the presentation, Mueller will stand as the most significant case of planning and zoning in the city’s history.

The possibility of a Lowe’s or a Home Depot at the northwest corner of the site was the big issue at the meeting, as Mueller needs an economic engine to pay for the site’s infrastructure. Robert Singleton of Keep the Land, however, protested that the addition of a “construction trade and sales” was a last-minute addition to the list of potential uses for the site, one that he had suggested in passing.

Too many significant questions remained unanswered, Singleton said. The zoning plan for the Mueller site was “suddenly dumped on the Planning Commission.” With a vote scheduled for Council on June 10, the Planning Commission still had time to delay the vote. Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Advisory Commission Chair Jim Walker disputed that charge, saying that nothing was sudden about Mueller.

The Planning Commission eventually passed the recommended Mueller zoning plan, with the exception of the piece known as EC-1, or Employment Center 1. Riley suggested the commission offer “construction trade and sales” as a conditional use, but the suggestion was not a perfect fit. Conditional uses are recommended on land use issues such as compatibility and not concerns over the characteristics of a proposed tenant.

Other commissioners were more inclined to strike the “construction sales and services” provision altogether. The final vote on the zoning, without the “construction sales and services” on EC-1, passed 6-3. Those in support were Riley, John Michael Cortez, Niyanta Spelman, Cynthia Medlin, Jerome Newton and Dave Sullivan. Those against the motion were Maggie Armstrong, Matt Moore and Cid Galindo.

Galindo said the commission should not lose sight of the fact that the regional retail will generate the tax dollars that will underwrite the many goals of the Mueller project. “That’s the jewel in the crown,” Galindo said. “Let’s not get too sidetracked.”

The Planning Commission also urged the Mueller project to go beyond the 25-percent affordable housing level, if possible. If voters pass commuter rail or light rail, the commission asked the developer to increase density on the project.

If Catellus can make the plan work, Mueller will create a $1 billion tax base for the city and a population of up to 13,000, Adams told the Planning Commission. Under the latest plans, Mueller will be home to 4,600 homes in four neighborhoods with a goal of 25-percent affordable housing.

Residential products will range from live-work town homes to row and yard houses to condos within “mini-mansions.” Density will be up to 22 units per square acre. Apartment complexes up to 75 units will be scattered throughout the property. Design standards and covenants will control height, setback and materials limitations.

Mueller will have 145 acres of publicly accessible space. Every residential unit will be within 600 feet of a park, Adams said. Planning is intended to be multi-modal, with access to a rail station, bikeway paths and an HOV lane onto Interstate 35.

Appointed . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez yesterday appointed Teresa Rabago to fill a vacancy on the Zoning and Platting Commission. She has served on the Historic Landmark Commission since 1998 . . . No City Hall wedding bells . . . Gay and lesbian lobbyists have been asking Council members to support them in convincing the Texas Legislature to approve same sex marriages. The response from City Hall has been less than enthusiastic, with those who have been around for a while saying the Legislature would be even less likely to approve such legislation if Austin favored it. Just as important is the fact that the City Council has no jurisdiction in this area. Other states have given mayors the authority to marry people, but that is not the case in Texas. Finally, it seems unlikely that such a measure would win four votes this year . . . Oops . . . A few engineers noticed that yesterday’s story on the positive outlook for Central Texas toll roads was lacking a few zeros. Richard Ridings, the Central Texas RMA’s spokesman, said all those figures reported as thousands of dollars should have been millions. We regret the error, noting that math was not our favorite subject . . . Memorial Day . . . In Fact Daily is taking Monday off, but will return on Tuesday. The editor will be traveling to Bonn, Germany, with her husband, Roger Duncan, who will be speaking at two events in connection with the International Conference for Renewable Energies, as will Mayor Will Wynn. (See In Fact Daily May 27, 2004.) Wynn will be in Europe through the end of the next week. He attended the World Congress on Information Technology in Athens, Greece and spent some time with his family there and in Spain. Next week he will also speak at the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and attend the renewable energies conference before going to Koblenz, Germany, one of Austin’s sister cities . . . Email favors toll roads . . . Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the Central Texas RMA, said email to the regional transportation board is running 2-to-1 in favor of the Central Texas toll road plan. Heiligenstein said CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick was encouraged by the response. A vote on the plan will be taken on July 12 . . . Organizing for Veronica Rivera . . . Celia Israel is organizing a phone bank and block walking on behalf of ACC board candidate Veronica Rivera for June 1, 2 and 3. Israel, a leader of the Austin Women’s Political Caucus, was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Pct. 1. Commissioner this spring. For more information, you may contact her at 469-0350; 423-6503 or: celia@celiaisrael.com.

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