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Designers express concern about Saltillo District process

Tuesday, June 8, 2004 by

Architects' role put them in sticky situation

Members of the Design Commission have expressed concern about the Saltillo District planning process, but only hesitantly because of the possibility of conflict of interest.

The Saltillo District is 11 acres around Plaza Saltillo in East Austin that Capital Metro purchased in 1987 and now intends to redevelop as a transit-oriented mixed-use community. The Capital Metro board has expressed its strong commitment to drive the redevelopment plan from community input and has put a Community Advisory Group, or CAG, in place to help develop a plan for the Saltillo District.

Capital Metro picked Jim Adams of the ROMA Design Group to guide the plan’s development. The City of Austin’s Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department is also a partner in the process. Project managers are Sam Archer of Capital Metro and George Adams of TPSD.

Cotera + Reed are subcontractors on the design guidelines for the Saltillo District—not unexpected since architect Juan Cotera was the architect on Saltillo Plaza. Specialized skills in design are a prerequisite for members of the commission. All of the commissioners deal in development and most are architects. It’s natural that many of them have, or will have, some type of contract with a project tied to the city.

Commissioner Girard Kinney designed the Pfluger Bridge. Cotera and Phillip Reed worked with Antoine Predock on City Hall. Most members of the commission have been involved with at least one project at one time or another.

In the case of a project as large as Plaza Saltillo, at least four members of the Design Commission have to recuse themselves because of vested interest in the project. That’s probably not unusual, given the heavy bent of the commission toward urban design.

In this case, though, Cotera and Reed wanted to share some of their observations with their fellow commissioners on the process for the Saltillo District’s plan. Both were concerned with the limited scope of input on the project, worried that the Design Commission should be represented at the table to present broader community concerns.

That Reed and Cotera would speak at all probably indicated the depth of their concern that the Saltillo District project needed to reflect more of the downtown vision the Design Commission had developed and supported through the Smart Growth matrix. That matrix encouraged high-density mixed-use development projects.

High-density, mixed-use, transit-oriented development that would eventually push the envelope of downtown past Rainey Street and into East Austin is the vision of both the Downtown and Design commissions. However, it is not necessarily the vision of East Austin residents, whose biggest concern is preserving the historic integrity of their neighborhoods and affordable housing for their many poorer and frequently elderly residents.

It still remains to be seen how stakeholder balance will be achieved.

Reed opened the subject, indicating that he was on the Saltillo District project but that he wanted to offer some insight into a recent meeting with the Citizens Advisory Group.

Cotera echoed his comments, saying that Cotera + Reed was involved, but that the firm did not have any real ability to guide the project. Reed added that the firm gained nothing financially from discussing the Saltillo planning process. Both said they had the strongest respect for the staff members of both agencies working on the project.

Chair John Patterson said he had no problem with the Design Commission being involved in the Saltillo District. Liaison Pollyanne Melton cautioned, however, that the Citizen Advisory Group had already been constituted and that any role the Design Commission would take on the project would be peripheral.

Commissioners agreed that there clearly needed to be a broader design perspective but wanted to make sure that the appearance of a conflict of interest would be avoided. At the least, a commissioner not involved in the Saltillo District project will attend future meetings. The Design Commission will take up the Saltillo District again on July 12.

Music channel generates another stormy hearing

Staff cites many problems with ACTV proposal

Austin Music Network General ManagerLouis Meyers

turned in what he characterized as “hopefully, our last proposal” to continue to run the network to the members of the Austin Music Commission ( AMC) last night. The AMC was able to glean some new information about the competing plans for the music channel, but did not come to a conclusion during a somewhat raucous meeting regarding a recommendation to the City Council.

Meyers told commissioners that his updated proposal, which was being sent to city management and Council members, was essentially the same as the last document he had presented. (See In Fact Daily, May 27, 2004.) It calls for folding the network into the umbrella of the Austin Community Access Center (still referred to as ACTV, for Austin Community Television). “This proposal does not request any funding that Access currently receives,” said Meyers. “It does request moving under the Access umbrella from a management standpoint, sharing staff, sharing resources, sharing relationships. Most of what’s in here, you’ve seen before.” The outside alliance of private investors offering to take over the channel, the Austin Music Partners (AMP), did not have new documentation to present at the meeting, but did have two representatives attend to answer questions.

While the city staff is still reviewing options for the network, Jim Butler of Redevelopment Services and Economic Development told commissioners that ACTV board members were not interested in devoting programming time on the existing public-access channels to AMN. “We did have a meeting with Louis and some of the ACTV board members and staff, looking into the option of having some programming with the same kinds of stuff that AMN now provides on one of the access channels,” said Butler. “The discussion quickly went to ‘we’d rather look at options where we don’t have to give up any time on the three channels.’” And Butler advised that any attempt to merge AMN with ACTV would run into significant difficulties, since Channel 15 is governed by significantly different rules and procedures than Channels 10, 11 and 16. “You’d have to keep the books separate, you’d have to have something that was very carefully structured,” he said. AMN, if it retained its current ability to solicit funds and have specific programming goals, could not be considered a public-access channel. “There is a legal difference, it’s a different legal entity from the three access channels,” said Butler, who advised that the city was not allowed to set programming goals for Channels 10, 11 and 16 as it does for Channel 15. “All of those performance goals would be difficult, if not impossible, to do under an arrangement with ACTV. And then there’s a whole lot of legal issues with the franchise agreement.”

Austin Music Partners representative Connie Wodlinger said that because of the unique status of Channel 15, not being able to utilize that channel would be a deal-breaker for AMP. However, she stressed that AMP was not adverse to the continuation of the Austin Music Network on some other channel. Furthermore, she added that the Austin Music Partners would not require the use of the “Austin Music Network” brand name if the city should decide to retain that label for some other incarnation of the network after September 30th.

A few supporters of the current AMN management attended the meeting, using the citizens communications portion to voice their enthusiasm. Lee Duffy, co-president of the Austin Songwriters Group, which has a program on AMN, arrived late and stopped the discussion to express her dismay at the proposal being offered by the Austin Music Partners. “When I try to get funding for my show, I have people who are interested in funding, but it seems like since the beginning about every two months there would be an attack from the city or some kind of publicity that said the music network was just about to be off the air, and it makes it hard for anybody to put money into it,” she said. “That’s continually been my problem. It seems to me that it’s been like a little conspiracy . . . I mean that in the nicest way.”

Wodlinger attempted to address those concerns, and a number of others, when given the opportunity to speak. “I’m here because the city of Austin has asked me to be here, because they don’t have funding to continue the Austin Music Network beyond September 30th. Period. It is being totally misrepresented by everyone involved,” she explained. “There isn’t funding to take the music network past September 30th.” But another member of the audience interrupted, shouting down Wodliner with the accusation that “Your group has wrecked the funding for the Austin Music Network with its horrible media campaign . . . I object!!!” Board Chair Teresa Ferguson offered an apology to Wodlinger before continuing on with her questions.

One concern of AMC members was a reference in the literature provided by AMP touting the support of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The ACVB is all over this,” Ferguson said, holding the documentation from AMP. “It’s interesting to me. John Stephens at the Telecommunications Committee meeting said that he’s on the board of ACVB . . . and not implying that there’s a conflict. But we’ve got to ask that question.”

Wodlinger explained that it was her belief that the ACVB was acting to support the local music scene. “I met with Bob Lander, I met with the chairman of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. The point is, they see what we are offering to do as something that would be very, very good for the city of Austin, for the musicians of Austin and for the music and arts community of Austin,” she said. “They see it would bring a level of professionalism that has not been there due to funding availability. The whole concept is to take all the goals of the Austin Music Network to promote local music, local arts and drive economic development, and take that on a larger scale with more funding and allow it to grow into a very professional network that could represent Austin very well. No one is trying to destroy anything. I admire what Louis has done with the funding he’s had.”

The loudest outburst of the evening came after Ferguson asked whether any additional information would be forthcoming from AMP. Ferguson hinted that the PowerPoint presentation and the two-page outline offered by the group might not be sufficient. Wodlinger responded that her group had responded to all requests from the City for information and would continue to do so, as long as the information was not proprietary, such as documents related to AMP’s proposed agreement with Time Warner Cable regarding distribution of the channel.

“We started supplying the city with information in January of this year,” Wodlinger said. “We were asked by city staff to provide a very brief outline of the basic terms of our proposal, and that’s what you have. That includes all of the elements . . . and then, in a further document which we have been working on with city staff, it takes each of those . . . all of those would be expanded. That is the basics . . . and it’s in that form and in that length because that’s what we were asked to provide.”

But Wodlinger’s comment about expanding their initial outline with cooperation from city staff sparked a rebuttal from Meyers. “Is that normal for city staff to work with a person to turn in a proposal?” he asked, directing his question to city staff member Jim Butler. “Is that normal that they would work with a third party?” After Butler attempted to respond, and other members of the audience chimed in with their comments, Wodlinger then tried to address the question directly.

“No one has helped us turn in anything,” said Wodlinger.

“That’s what you just said,” countered Meyer. “I was alarmed by the quote, ‘We’re working with city staff to turn in a proposal.’”

Amid shouting from other members of the audience, Wodlinger left her seat in the back of the room and came around to address Meyer directly. “That’s not what I said . . . what I said is . . . they asked me for an outline, I gave them an outline . . . now, they are drafting terms which would expand on each component of that outline that they would require from us.”

The exchange eventually ended when another member of the audience directed the conversation toward another topic. Ferguson used the opportunity to attempt to regain control of the meeting, noting that there would likely be a special called meeting before the Council takes any action on the AMP proposition. City staff indicated they could bring the matter to the Council as early as June 17, since they had been directed to prepare an analysis and present options as soon as possible.

Martin responds . . . Local PR man Don Martin, founder of Martin & Salinas Public Affairs, says reporter Mike Clark-Madison was 180 degrees off when he described Martin as a “right wing PR maven” in last week’s Austin Chronicle . Martin, who is as pro-road as anybody, is working with Pete Winstead to make sure everyone hears the positive side of toll roads. However, when asked to clarify his political affiliation, Martin wrote, “Hell, I’m a yellow dog Democrat if there ever was one! Don’t even get me started” . . . Mayor pays his own bills . . . For those who might be wondering: Mayor Will Wynn did not spend city funds for his sojourn to represent the city in Athens, Greece and in Bonn and Koblenz, Germany during the past two weeks. We’ll have more on the German portion of the trip later . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Council MBE/WBE committee will meet at 6pm tonight at City Hall Room 304. They are scheduled to look at Austin Energy’s use of minority and women contractors . . . Those interested in regional water quality planning may wish to attend a stakeholders’ meeting at 6pm tonight at the Austin Waldorf School (about a mile past the Y in Oak Hill, on the left across from Buddy’s). The Core/Executive Committee for regional water quality planning will meet at 7pm Wednesday at the Dripping Springs City Hall. Another stakeholders’ meeting is set for Saturday, June 26 at 9am at the Austin Waldorf School. All meetings are open to anyone wishing to attend . . . The City Council/AISD Board of Trustees Joint Subcommittees will meet today from 11:30am – 1:30pm at the AISD Board Auditorium. Their less than scintillating agenda includes the following goals: “to share information and review progress on identified matters of mutual interest, and to explore action steps to be taken to positively impact the academic success, health, safety and general well-being of all students” . . . Speaking of design . . . National retail consultant Robert Gibbs will be meeting with a variety of stakeholders at Austin Energy’s Town Lake Cente r this morning. Gibbs’ discussion of what he has heard will be aired live on Channel 6 at 12:30pm . . . The Design Commission has called a special meeting on June 22. Commissioners have rewritten the portion of the city ordinance dealing with the Design Commission’s mission and purpose. The Design Commission’s next regular meeting will be on July 12 and will include a discussion of the Plaza Saltillo planning process, as well as development on Seventh Street. Commission members unanimously approved a letter last night to send to Austan Librach. In the letter they ask Librach to include the Design Commission in the creation of the urban design criteria manual. The Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department will publish the manual.

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