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Commission OKs Walgreen's, Taco Xpress zoning

Wednesday, June 16, 2004 by

The developers of a Walgreen's Drugstore on South Lamar made enough compromises with nearby neighborhoods to win the endorsement of the Zoning and Platting Commission last night on what will likely be a rather unusual co-existence of Walgreen's and Maria’s Taco Xpress.

ZAP commissioners gave the zoning changes a unanimous but tentative endorsement. Vice Chair Joseph Martinez said he was uncertain he had made the right decision to recommend approval. His second, Commissioner John Philip Donisi, admitted he was happy the case could go on to Council, where a less-than-perfect case could be improved.

The applicant asked for LR zoning for the Walgreen's footprint, considered the first tract. A second tract, consisting of the surrounding parking and driveways, is proposed for limited office zoning. Developer David Darr agreed to pay to widen Bluebonnet, providing access onto the property from Lamar Boulevard and Bluebonnet.

Walgreen's main concession was to agree to provide a home for the Taco Xpress on the property. That won the support of many local residents. The developer also agreed to limit lighting and fewer than 2,000 trips per day on and off the property.

That still wasn't enough to win the support of the Zilker Neighborhood Association and South Lamar Neighborhood Association. Despite some of the compromises, the neighborhood associations were concerned about impacts such as traffic.

SLNA President Kevin Lewis, who has been participating in Council Member Brewster McCracken's design standards meetings, said he would have preferred dense mixed-use development on Lamar. That confused commissioners a bit, but Lewis said the point was that such a development would use Lamar, rather than Bluebonnet, as a primary artery.

Lewis was quick to add that the decision to oppose the development had nothing to do with Taco Xpress. The restaurant, with its South Austin Mexican style, is part of the 'Keep Austin Weird' movement, a cultural icon.

Commissioner Melissa Whaley Hawthorne expressed regret that the land couldn't be zoned GR-MU-CO, a zoning category that was more compatible with Lamar Boulevard. A portion of the 2-acre property still remains SF-3.

"We can zone it, but we can't make them build it," Hawthorne said. "I see a lot of compromise and a lot of things that are good here on the table. I'm really torn about it."

Another plan for the Walgreen's was presented, and denied, a year ago. In the intervening year, the 2-acre tract on South Lamar at Bluebonnet has remained on the market. The front end of the property is Taco Xpress. The back end is a mobile home park. The site is surrounded by commercial uses on Lamar on the west, single-family development on the north, and multifamily and limited office use on the south and east.

Attorney Steve Drenner has negotiated with the neighborhood and said the developer had come up with the best solution possible to satisfy both the neighborhood and the developer. Everyone commended Drenner, who negotiated with the neighborhoods on the compromise. When all the talking was done, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the staff recommendation on the property.

Panel supports current management of music network

The Austin Music Commission crafted a resolution Monday night supporting the continued operation of the Austin Music Network by the current management, even if the City Council decides to allow the commercial venture Austin Music Partners to operate a music and culture network on cable Channel 15. While several members of the commission said they believed the proposal from AMP to privatize the network had the potential to help the local music scene and bring in more tax dollars from tourism, they were wary of the lack of specifics and paperwork offered by the group to support its claims.

"I would say that while the AMP proposal has lots of potential, it would be premature for the city to vote in favor of granting AMP a contract at this time," said Commissioner Bradley Stein, who drafted the motion that won commission approval. "Definitely, I need to see more details," concurred Commission Chair Teresa Ferguson. The resolution states that while the commission does not support offering AMP a contract to run the music network, the commission also asks the City Council to direct AMP, the current operators of the Austin Music Network, and the board of directors for Austin Community Television to work together to find a way for AMN to continue to operate as a public forum for local musicians.

"I am very excited about the AMP proposal. I think it could be awesome for the community," said Commissioner Natalie Zoe. "But . . . I don't want to be responsible for the demise of AMN either. That doesn't feel good. That doesn't feel right. They have done an awesome job. It's very difficult to be pushed into a vote right now."

ACTV representatives told commissioners that talks so far with AMN had not resulted in an agreement, or even in a detailed proposal for sharing management or facilities between the two. And while it may be the commission's desire for AMN to find a new existence as a programming block on a community-access channel, ACTV's Eric Storm said that would not necessarily fit the group's mission. "ACTV is interested, as you are, in public access. And we feel like we are serving the community and we are doing our part by giving the community a voice and place to come forward, whatever their interest," he said. "If we are going to be merged with AMN onto our existing space . . . there's a scarcity of resources, and you're squeezing out a portion of the community. We would favor a position where channel 15 remains a separate entity and is not merged into us," he concluded. "We're not comfortable with yielding space on the three existing channels."

Commissioners had several questions for city staff members John Stephens, Jim Butler and Sonny Hood about other options allowed in the city's franchise agreement with Time Warner for securing another channel for the music network. The city could obtain one or more channels for public, educational or government programming. But activation of that clause in the agreement is subject to several conditions, and the channels would not have the specific goal of music or cultural programming.

Commission Chair Teresa Ferguson made it clear that she would like the current incarnation of AMN to continue, and asked AMP's Connie Wodlinger if her group would be able to contribute funding for the public entity. Commissioner Natalie Zoe also posed that question to Wodlinger. "If there's a problem with funding it, do you think AMP might be able to contribute some funds to it? It makes it an easier decision to support both ideas," she said. AMP is already arranging for approximately $8 million in start-up capital, while AMN is receiving approximately $150,000 in funding from the city during the current budget year. Wodlinger did not promise to come up with cash for AMN, although she has previously stated that the continued existence of AMN as a community outlet would not harm her commercial network. She did express a willingness to work on bringing AMN and ACTV together. "If there is a reasonable resolution to be had, we're all for it. We're definitely working toward that. We're talking to the ACTV people and if we can work something out, we certainly will," she told In Fact Daily . "But it's the same problem that there is with the perpetuation of AMN on Channel 15, and that's funding. It all comes down to public funding and city dollars and there just aren't a lot of those to go around."

The City Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure is holding a special meeting at 12:30pm today to discuss the competing proposals from the Austin Music Network and Austin Music Partners. The item is tentatively scheduled to go to the full City Council on June 24.

SOS declares victory . . . Late yesterday, Judge Lora Livingston issued a letter ruling granting a summary judgement in favor of the Save Our Springs Alliance in a lawsuit against Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers and the City of Austin, according to Brad Rockwell, attorney and assistant executive director of SOS. The lawsuit followed a complex series of legal maneuvers and legislative actions, as well as a 4-3 vote by the City Council to settle a lawsuit and give Lowe’s water service on the property on Brodie Lane . . . Air quality conversation continues . . . County Judge Sam Biscoe and county staff were scheduled to meet with officials of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality yesterday afternoon. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Central Texas Air Quality Plan . . . Juneteenth celebration announced . . . County commissioners approved a proclamation yesterday to commemorate Juneteenth on June 19. County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Ron Davis are hosting the county's annual Juneteenth celebration in Wooldridge Park this Friday, from 11am to 2pm. Everyone is invited to attend the event, which will include crafts booths, food and entertainment, Chair Cheryl Brown told commissioners. Proceeds from the event will go to non-profit agencies . . . Subdivision creates angst . . . A homeowner's plan to subdivide his 6-acre lot in the Apple Springs subdivision stirred up a hornet's nest at Commissioners Court yesterday. The homeowner wanted to subdivide his lot into a five-acre lot and a one-acre lot for his parents. The subdivision was necessary because his parents wanted to secure their own home loan and pay their own property taxes. Other homeowners were concerned about the density issue. In the end, county commissioners approved the subdivision of the lot, with a plat note that the lots cannot be subdivided again, nor can a second house be added on the 5-acre lot . . . End in sight . . .At last week’s Council meeting, Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman reported that the city-county subcommittee on HB 1445 was close to completion of its work. She said each piece of property that goes through the subdivision review process within the city’s ETJ would have a case manager. For property that will be annexed in the near future, she said the city would provide the case manager in the Drinking Water Protection Zone. The county will provide the case manager in the Desired Development Zone. Drainage issues will be within the city’s purview where there is a regional storm water management program. Where there is no such program, the county will manage the review. The city will take the lead on environmental reviews, as well as utility reviews. “ The last shoe to fall,” Huffman said involves fee assessments. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman told In Fact Daily that she is hoping today’s meeting, which will be at 10:30am at City Hall Room 304, with County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty would be the final one for the city-county subcommittee. Goodman and Council Member Daryl Slusher have been meeting with the county representatives for several months. County Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joe Gieselman said Tuesday he would have a fee schedule to present to the joint the committee. That fee schedule is based on a number of assumptions on cost recovery and the partial payment of the director of the single office, Gieselman told commissioners yesterday. Those assumptions will be discussed with the full court next Tuesday. Gieselman is recommending the new effort be codified, which would require a new public hearing process before the city's boards and commissions, as well as Council and Commissioners . . . Fireworks set off trouble . . . Berdoll Farms is a war zone during the Fourth of July, residents told the Commissioners Court on Tuesday. One resident brought bottle rockets and missiles that had landed on roofs in the Del Valle subdivision. The smoke from the fireworks is so thick it sets off smoke detectors in the subdivision. Since the comments were made during Citizens Communications, commissioners could not respond, but County Judge Sam Biscoe took the name and phone number of the speaker to try to address the issue . . . Another touchy subject . . . Business owner Bob Barstow made an angry speech before Commissioners Court on Tuesday morning. Barstow, who owns Windy Point Park, said county park rangers continued to harass him, charging him over the weekend with evading arrest and resisting arrest. Barstow said the LCRA had granted him an easement to his own public park and jet ski rental business, which the county had fought for 20 years. Barstow said the county had two choices—either to condemn the land for its own use or to sell the county's land in the area to Barstow. County Judge Sam Biscoe agreed to put Barstow's issue on the agenda over the objection of Commissioner Karen Sonleitner . . . Other meetings . . . The Council committee on telecommunication infrastructure is scheduled to meet at 12:30pm in Room 304 of City Hall. At this special called meeting, the three-member committee will work on a recommendation for disposition of the Austin Music Network. (See above) The Environmental Board is scheduled to meet at 6:00pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The panel will make recommendations on two proposed subdivisions and hear two reports from city staff. The ongoing search for a policy regarding mitigation of the negative impacts of development in the Barton Springs Zone could generate a considerable amount of discussion. In addition, the board will hear the results of study by independent consultants on the Rancho Pipeline, operated by Kinder Morgan Texas Pipelines. The consultants have concluded that the pipeline to deliver natural gas to Austin Energy’s Sand Hill power plant is in good structural condition. Consultants also have said that Kinder Morgan’s operating procedures and policies generally go beyond regulatory minimums and current industry practices . . . County officials were toiling away on the application for the Board of Managers for the Travis County Hospital District has late as 6 p.m. last night. A packet of information will be available to applicants as early as this morning. An electronic version will be available online by Friday. Applications can e-mail, fax or mail applications, but a signed final page of the application must be to the county by 6 p.m. on July 1.

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