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Commission to study affordable housing for Mueller

Wednesday, June 9, 2004 by

Percentage of rental, homes for sale still unknown

The Mueller Advisory Commission has begun the formulation of a policy for affordable housing at Mueller, a task that should take the group at least two months to complete.

Affordable housing was one of the top goals for Mueller among the neighborhoods around the former airport site. Last night, Paul Hilgers presented an overview of the affordable housing tools the Austin Housing Finance Corporation had used to get development off the ground, such as tax credits, special needs housing grants, down payment assistance, mortgage credit certificates and housing trust funds.

The baseline level of affordable housing for Mueller is set out in the master developer agreement between Catellus and the city. Financial modeling indicated that a reasonable expectation of affordable housing would be 25 percent. That would be a combination of home ownership at 80 percent median income and rental property at 60 percent of median income. The number of units in each category is even under initial estimates.

That total translates into an affordable housing category that includes 626 apartments, 206 mansion houses, 109 row houses, 10 shop houses and 195 yard houses.

Commissioner Claire Morris questioned whether the mix of affordable housing should be 50-50, or whether it might shift in a lone direction. Catellus Project Manager Greg Weaver said that shift clearly could happen. When Morris suggested that the affordable housing could end up 100 percent rental property, Hilgers said that that was not his expectation.

“I would be really disappointed if that was the case,” Hilgers said of a substantial shift to rental property. “Unless something really dramatically changes in the market, I would be surprised if we didn’t achieve better results than that.”

The one goal Weaver and Hilgers did agree on was the need to scatter the affordable housing across the property. Affordable units will be targeted throughout the development, rather than clustered in one area or in one multi-family property.

Input at the recent Mueller 101 workshop indicated that many participants wanted to increase the number of affordable housing units and decrease the median income on some units. Redevelopment Services Director Sue Edwards said the city is committed to offering the resources of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation to meet that goal.

Edwards recently reviewed some of the options with the Council in executive session. While Catellus is only required to meet the 25-percent goal, the city is capable of using its own resources and the resources provided under various programs to increase the goal, Edwards said. Both Hilgers and Edwards are confident more can be done.

Edwards and Hilgers are looking to the advisory commission for policy suggestions, although both suggested that figures that are too prescriptive might be limited by financial viability. All suggestions must be viewed in terms of the specifics of the project, such as the agreement of the builders to participate and the availability of grants, loans and tax credits at the time of development.

One suggestion made at the Mueller 101 meeting was 30 percent affordable housing, with equal amounts dedicated to residents between 90 and 60 percent median income, 30 and 60 percent median income and 30 percent or below median income.

“Those variables are so prescriptive that it would lock us into something that may not be achievable,” Edwards said. “These need to be goals we can support as a city.” Edwards would prefer to see more flexibility, although she candidly admits she is not sure what form the final recommendation of the advisory commission would take.

During his presentation, Hilgers ran through some of the other high-profile affordable housing projects in the city. Many had used a combination of funding sources, from mortgage assistance to gap financing for the completion of projects.

During discussion, Commissioner Donna Carter said there were three areas the commission should pinpoint: how the AHFC “tools” could be applied to Mueller; a philosophy of maintaining an equitable range of housing at Mueller; and how to deal with the long-term affordability of the project.

The commission will also take up other more minor issues, such as whether a trust should be set aside to pay homeowner association deals, how to deal with the property tax hit and whether businesses could be encouraged to assist with downpayments on affordable housing. The Austin ISD currently is exploring the possibility of housing assistance for the district’s teachers. .

Buda asks court to move case to Hays County

Casey Dobson representing Buda in controversy over subdivision

A court battle is brewing over a northern Hays County city’s right to allow development over the aquifer, and it seems like anybody and everybody involved in development politics has a role to play.

Austin attorney Casey Dobson filed the city’s response to a lawsuit by the Save Our Springs Alliance(SOS) and the Buda Community Action Network (Buda CAN) Monday. Dobson’s filing denies the charges made by SOS and Buda CAN and also insists that the lawsuit, filed in Travis County, should have been filed in Hays. The response requests a change of venue.

The Buda City Council retained Dobson, who has also represented the City of Austin in litigation and settlement involving developers Gary Bradley and Stratus Properties, Inc. Those two cases set the standard for Austin’s negotiations with developers wishing to build over the aquifer within its jurisdiction.

The Buda council recently voted to set aside $100,000 for its defense, and council members said that in a suit like this, that figure could be the tip of the iceberg. The developers, Weber Properties, Inc. and B&W Properties, have hired their own defense counsel.

The central issue in the case revolves around the Giberson tract, located just west of Buda and the proposed Whispering Hollow subdivision (formerly known as Garlic Creek West) that borders both FM 1626 and FM 967 as well as the Oxbow section of Buda. The subdivision changed its name last month.

Buda Mayor John Trube said the plaintiffs attempted to serve the suit during Buda’s celebration of the completion of the deal with Cabela’s, a sporting goods retailer that plans a 175,000 square foot hunting and sporting goods retail center off southbound IH-35. Governor Rick Perry was at the event. Trube said, “they were turned away” and the papers were served later in the day. The timing of the lawsuit, coming just one day before municipal elections, caused some city officials to cast aspersions on the plaintiff’s motives.

The SOS and Buda CAN lawsuit’s main thrust is that there are sections of the Giberson tract that have recharge features—fissures, certain formations, caves and the like that easily conduct surface water into the aquifer. The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) says the property does involve recharge. Timothy Riley, water resource planner for the BSEACD, described the recharge features found by district hydrogeologists during a site inspection on April 2, 2002.

“That inspection revealed exposures of the Georgetown Formation (the Edwards Aquifer), with dissolution features, which were clearly visible within Garlic Creek and a tributary on the Giberson property.” Riley also noted that the district sent a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requesting that a new recharge boundary map be approved. Riley said, in a letter dated June 25, 2003, that the district “identified several significant features occurring on the 683-acre site, including faults, natural bedrock features . . . closed depressions, water wells (both drilled and hand-dug) and a man-made pit.”

Robert Giberson, a Buda lawyer and a principal owner of the tract did not return repeated phone calls, but one Buda council member said he had been told by property owners that there are no recharge features on the disputed land.

SOS staff attorney Sarah Baker said the lawsuit has as its basis the TCEQ rules adopted by the city in its water quality ordinance. The lawsuit charges that the city violated both its own ordinance and its Unified Development Code (UDC). “The thrust of our claim is that TCEQ has rules that define what is recharge,” Baker said. She said that includes “an area that has drainage back to a recharge zone,” which she added, the portion of the Giberson tract has, “definitely, under the TCEQ definition of recharge.”

Glenn Greenwood, a media relations spokesperson for the TCEQ, said the current map of the recharge zone does not include the portion of the Giberson property where the proposed 2,000 home subdivision is to be constructed. “We reviewed only the 22-acre portion that lies within the currently mapped recharge zone. Only that portion was walked for the geologic inspection and reviewed,” Greenwood wrote in an email response to questions. “The Garlic Creek West Subdivision includes area that is not currently designated as being in the recharge zone. For purposes of Edwards Aquifer rule changes relating to the official maps the Garlic Creek West Subdivision will be considered to be ‘a project in progress’” Greenwood added that the TCEQ would likely have a new map by the end of the fiscal year, August 31.

After a contentious hearing in September of last year where over 300 people showed up to testify, the Buda City Council approved the preliminary plat for the subdivision . According to opponents of the development, many were refused the right to speak,. Former mayoral candidate Ralph Rice said he was specifically told that he could not speak on the issue, something he says was a big part of his reason for running. Trube soundly defeated Rice on May 15.

City leaders said the council was faced with the decision of whether to take action once a developer has met all requirements or to wait for the TCEQ to make a decision on the new map.

Council member Hutch White said developers met their obligations under the city’s rules, and the city had to act based on the information at hand. “You’ve got to have a set of rules that everybody plays by. . . We are required by state statute to make a decision,” he said. “There was no (new) reliable map at the time.” White said former BSEACD President Jim Camp was “using the aquifer district as a political tool.”

Council member Cathy Chilcote said the developers had a right to a decision. “We covered all our bases,” Chilcote said. “The developers met every single requirement that we put in the code. The map at the time said it was not recharge,” she added. “To me this lawsuit doesn’t make sense . . . There has to be another agenda,” Chilcote suggested.

Dobson’s reply states that SOS apparently filed its suit in Travis County based on the place of business of Weber Properties, but points out that if a named municipality is located within a county of under 100,000—according to the latest census—the suit must be filed in that county. The 2000 federal decennial census held that Hays County had a population of 97,589.

Baker said today that she is researching the issue of venue. The reply also generally denies all allegations made in the original petition by SOS and Buda CAN, a move considered standard operating procedure in state court, where defendants are not required to provide a point-by-point rebuttal of the plaintiff’s charges. Dobson and others involved said the timeline for dealing with the suit is an unknown.

Resignation . . . Veva McCaig, general manager of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District tendered her resignation to the district’s board yesterday. The board held a special called meeting, accepting McCaig’s resignation by a unanimous vote. Dana Wilson, who has been administration program manager for the district, was appointed to take over as acting general manager. . . . What’s in a name . . . Yes, the name of the development on the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site will be . . . Mueller . . . Planner Pam Heflin said input indicated no other name really made sense. Participants in the contest to rename Mueller wanted a name that was not “too suburban” and one that can be part of other names, such as The Shops at Mueller or The Offices at Mueller. The name is on Thursday’s Council agenda for approval . . . More about Mueller . . . Catellus Development has met its first goal of 25 percent minority business participation at its first major construction project at Mueller, Project Manager Greg Weaver reported to the Mueller Advisory Commission last night. Weaver credited the city and State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who served as the M/WBE consultant on the project. Dukes owns DMB Consulting, which focuses on minority business participation. Catellus won’t disclose the total amount of the project, but it covers the construction of roads and infrastructure in the first phase of development around Seton Hospital. The project should be underway within the next two weeks. Construction will be completed by May 2005 . . . Robert Singleton says Keep the Land still wants to see how the city came to its figure on how much the sale of the former Mueller Airport site would be. More information on Keep the Land’s own figures is at Singleton also stressed the need, now that the city was committed to selling the land, to follow the design guidelines and the covenants on the Mueller property. He also passed out an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that was critical of Catellus’ success in bringing local retailers to Mission Bay, Catellus’ high-density, 30-acre development on the San Francisco Bay . . . Press conference . . . As noted above, the Save Our Springs Alliance, along with nine other environmental organizations from throughout the Edwards Aquifer region will host a press conference at noon today at Barton Springs Pool. The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance will release its first major educational publication, a large full-color map of the Edwards Aquifer and a Conservation Guide to the “Hidden Heart of Texas,” the Edwards Aquifer Ecosystem. They say the aquifer is “the most valuable, vulnerable, biologically diverse and mysterious water body in the State of Texas. The map guide is also a call to all concerned citizens, and public and private decision-makers, to take immediate action to save the Edwards Aquifer and its Hill Country watersheds from pollution and over-pumping” . . . Today’s meetings . . . An Environmental Board subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 9:30am today in Room 500 of One Texas Center to discuss the proposed Barton Springs mitigation policy. City staff pulled the policy from a City Council agenda after hearing a great deal of criticism of the original proposal. Those working on the policy are hoping the Environmental Board can help them find a superior model . . . The Telecommunications Commission will meet at 7:30 in Room 304 of City Hall . . . The Community Development Commission will meet at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center . . . Raising funds for abused kids. . . The Center for Child Protection, formerly the Children’s Advocacy Center, is hosting its annual fundraiser tonight at the State Theater at 8pm. Local songstress Sara Hickman will perform “playmusic” to support the center, which provides services to abused children in our community. VIP guests will enjoy a preview party at Roaring Fork. For more information and tickets, contact the Paramount Theatre box office, Star Ticket outlets or online at . .

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