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Wynn, Slusher release letters on toll road vote

Wednesday, July 14, 2004 by

Both Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Daryl Slusher—who were on opposite sides of Monday night’s CAMPO toll road vote—emailed letters to members of the public yesterday, explaining why they voted as they did. Wynn worked diligently to amend a plan criticized initially by Republican legislators whose constituents were the most vocal in opposition to the plan. He also worked with Democratic legislators and with Slusher to ameliorate some aspects of the plan, including an assurance that there would be free alternatives to all toll roads. Slusher worked on some of those amendments to reduce the impact more lane miles would have on the Edwards Aquifer. However, the environmental message from CAMPO was not a comforting one and Slusher found himself agreeing with opponents, as did Representatives Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez.

Wynn, Slusher and other CAMPO members got about 6,000 emails over the past two to three weeks, the majority of which expressed opposition to the toll road plan. That is one reason why Wynn, who is more contemplative than many politicians, described Monday night’s decision as “among the most complicated and difficult votes that I have cast as Mayor.” He also reiterated his basic contention that “our failure to act at critical junctures in our past is the reason that our regional transportation infrastructure is, today, entirely insufficient to meet our needs.”

Slusher saw the matter in an entirely different light, writing, “There simply was not enough discussion in this community about an issue of such huge magnitude, or enough time for consideration. It would be much better to both consider and implement a change of this magnitude gradually rather than in one sweeping and rushed vote.” He pointed out that the amount of new construction now planned for the Barton Springs Zone might mean that “the incredible scenic beauty would be further scarred permanently.”

Slusher has served on the Council since 1996 and is in what will likely be his final year as a Council member. Wynn, on the other hand, is serving in the second year of his first three-year stint as Mayor after only one term as a Council member. Barring unforeseen developments, he can be expected to run for re-election in 2006. In his letter, Wynn urges citizens to turn their attention now to “other major mobility challenges,” including the likely November election on Capital Metro’s plans to start commuter rail service. “Passage of a commuter rail plan is critical to our efforts to resolve our mobility crisis. At the same time, we should also be working diligently to support the efforts of the Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail District to create a robust inter-regional rail system that seamlessly compliments Capital Metro’s plans.”

Not only are Slusher and Wynn on different political tracks, but they seem to be addressing different constituents. The Mayor might be addressing toll road boosters, such as the high dollar lawyers and public relations professionals who donated time to ensure approval of the road plan. He wants them to know it’s time to get behind Capital Metro’s plans. The road warriors may not show the same enthusiasm for the rail plan as they have for toll roads, but Wynn wants them to see that both are essential to the future economic health of the region.

Slusher, who was troubled not only by the environmental degradation he foresees as a result of the toll roads, but also by the lack of detail provided concerning financing for the roads, wants his readers to stay involved in transportation politics. He concluded, “Now that the plan has passed I will do everything in my power to prevent (environmental and fiscal) concerns from becoming reality. I hope that citizens will stay involved as well.” In other words, he isn’t happy with the vote but he hasn’t given up either. While the two Council members came down on different sides of this vote, there is not necessarily much difference in their hopes for the community’s future.

Lick Creek property owner must negotiate with neighbors

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty has offered to mediate between the owner and neighbors of a 13-acre property in the controversial Lick Creek subdivision.

Owner Mercedes McClellan wants to subdivide her property into five lots. That decision will require a variance, including exceptions to the required dimensions. Commissioners have little latitude but to grant subdivision plats when they meet Travis County standards. Variances, however, are another matter, and county commissioners made it clear early in yesterday's discussion that they intended to reject McClellan's request.

Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joe Gieselman told commissioners they were facing a moment when they could decide that Lick Creek would remain rural in character, or take a turn toward a more urban style of life. McClellan's request was in fact a sign of the tension that comes with rural conversion, Gieselman said.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner opened Tuesday morning's discussion of the variance by saying she intended to vote against it. Commissioners Margaret Gomez and Gerald Daugherty followed with similar statements. Commissioner Ron Davis said the county had to be careful about the precedents it would set by granting such a variance.

Daugherty, who represents the area along the Pedernales River where Lick Creek is located, said it's glaringly clear to him that the area is not the same as it was when the land was originally platted back in 1988. And as much as Daugherty supported property rights, however, he could not support McClellan's plans without knowing the property owner had done everything possible to try to come to some resolution with the neighbors.

"I don’t want this thing to be litigious," said Daugherty, alluding to the fact that McClellan's next avenue of appeal would be District Court. "You live out in the area across the river. Let's see if we can come together and come up with something."

Attorney Dan Cutrer, who represented McClellan, argued that McClellan was being penalized for doing openly what other landowners in the area had done privately by metes and bounds: subdividing property into smaller lots. Throw a pencil at a map, Cutrer said, and you couldn't help but hit someone in Lick Creek who had violated deed restrictions. It wasn’t fair to hold McClellan accountable for higher standards than her neighbors, he said.

Sonleitner countered that county officials had worked long and hard to enforce stringent subdivision standards for the area, now five years old. Those changes were precipitated by just the kinds of problems Cutrer was noting. Sonleitner said Cutrer could argue all he wanted that other landowners had not met county standards, but his plat was filed under newer county standards and he would have to meet them.

Cutrer's brief argued that the variance should be granted because it would put a minimal burden on the surrounding properties, although commissioners clearly saw the subdivision as the first of a number of changes to the area.

Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols completed research of the property deeds Monday night. He said 12 of the 36 properties in Lick Creek had been subdivided. Of those subdivisions, six had come to Commissioners Court and two had been approved. Another six did not come to Commissioners Court for approval. None of those lots had frontage as narrow as the lots that McClellan was suggesting.

Daugherty told Cutrer and McClellan it was clear they were about to lose their variance. He encouraged the two to meet with neighbors, which they initially resisted. McClellan said she was willing to compromise but did not want to spend her time spinning her wheels with neighbors who would be unwilling to compromise on the plat requirements.

After some input from neighbors, Cutrer and McClellan agreed to refile for their variance, with the intention of either finding a compromise or resubmitting their variance request.

Today’s meetings . . . A subcommittee of the Environmental Board will meet to discuss the city’s mitigation policy at 9:30am at One Texas Center in Room 410 . . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission will meet at 6:30pm at Waller Creek Plaza in Room 105 . . . The Telecommunications Commission will discuss ACTV and the Austin Music Network, beginning at 7:30pm at City Hall, Room 304 . . . The Art in Public Places group will meet at 6pm at One Texas Center on the 8th floor . . . Free scary movie . . . Keep the Land is promoting a free showing of The End of Suburbia: Oil depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream at 6:45pm tonight at the Austin History Center (just north of the main library on Guadalupe). The 78-minute movie is free of charge. For more information, contact Christine Johnson, (512) 303-4716 or cbmanz@io.com .

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