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City likely to continue running health clinics

Tuesday, August 10, 2004 by

Officials celebrate Community Health Center Week

Elected officials and the city's community health center staff mingled last night at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Clinic to celebrate Community Health Center Week.

The Community Health Centers will be an integral asset of the Travis County Hospital District, a fact that raised the profile of last night's event. Today, the Budget and Planning Committee of the Hospital District Board of Managers—members Tom Young and Thomas Coopwood were in attendance at last night's event—will meet in the County Attorney's office to discuss some of the hospital district's necessary contracts.

At last week's training session, Assistant County Attorney Jim Collins offered the board of managers a number of options for running the city/county clinic system, including the continuation of the city's management of the dozen clinic sites across Travis County.

Young said his impression was that the board was "absolutely committed" to continuing the city's role in the Community Health Center system. The city's Primary Care Department has a good track record running the clinics, with professional and qualified staff. "It just seems most efficient to keep the people in place," Young said.

The budget of the city-county Community Health Center system is an estimated $22 million. Other major components for the district will include the Seton lease and the rural and urban Medical Assistance Programs.

Four of the nine members of the TCHD's Board of Managers were in attendance, along with Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Rep. Dawnna Dukes, Council Members Betty Dunkerley and Raul Alvarez and Commissioner Margaret Gomez. Also attending were Board of Managers members Rose Lancaster and Rosa Mendoza.

Both Young and Coopwood are well acquainted with indigent health care. Young is the former administrator of Brackenridge Hospital and Coopwood, a retired trauma surgeon, is a former chief of staff at Brackenridge Hospital.

Brackenridge and the clinic system now belong to the Hospital District. New federal grants will open the health care clinic at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and reopen the expanded Montopolis Health Clinic, which closed in 1999 because of foundation problems. Federal grants this year will total $1.9 million.

Dukes spoke of the celebration as "a bittersweet time," given the cuts the state has made to health care. Adjustments to the poverty standard have left 140,000 Texas children without health insurance, making community health centers all the more important. Dukes said the health centers must "fill the gap" for health care.

Dunkerley, who heads the Council Health Care subcommittee, praised the efforts of the city and county to provide a health care safety net. Afterwards, Dunkerley said the city was committed to the financial support of the hospital district. She said the city has committed to not only the $3 million in financial support it has promised, but has also offered to make payments on behalf of the district to cover operating costs until the district receives tax revenues. The city has also agreed to cover the administrative costs of the clinic system, which Dunkerley estimated at around $1 million.

In addition, the city is committed to providing a reserve for the Travis County Hospital District, Dunkerley said. Before a budget is approved, the district can decide what level of fund balance is needed she said, whether it is 5 or 7 or even 10 percent. Dunkerley said, “That level should be set based on what the district board evaluates as the risk areas and risk levels for the hospital district in consultation with the city and the county technical staffs.”

Southwest Marketplace wins ZAP blessing

Area homeowners show support for change to Forum PUD plan

The Zoning and Platting Commission last week voted unanimously to recommend approval of a change in the Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the property previously known as the Forum PUD. Numerous representatives of surrounding neighborhoods attended the meeting to show their support for what is now called the Southwest Marketplace.

“We’ve studied the plan. We started studying it with a very pessimistic attitude,” said Cliff Anderson of Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN). His friend, OHAN President Bruce Perrin, told In Fact Daily that that attitude had changed. “We think this is going to be great . . . There’s an environmental benefit: it will be filtering more water from the site than occurs naturally,” he said, also praising steps the new designers had taken to encourage pedestrian traffic.

Perrin said he had been working with development representatives and neighbors since the first of the year. “We think it will be a great asset . . . It’s a welcome change from the way things have been developed in Oak Hill over the past 20 years. We would hope that other developers would stand up and take notice. This is the way we want development to happen.” He added that OHAN had been very active in working with the developer and that neighborhood association members intended to continue their involvement.

Mark Bartelt, president of the Creek Ridge Homeowners Association said he has lived in the relatively new subdivision for the past three years.

Kathleen Foley of Creek Ridge Homeowners Association said she was “totally impressed” with the developer and with the staff at Drenner Stuart, the developer’s law firm. “They really kept the communication doors open.” Foley said development representatives came to three neighborhood meetings—one for each neighborhood association—to explain what they had in mind for the property. “They spent over two hours on a presentation. They really were trying to make the neighborhood a part of this project,” she said. She also praised city staff participation.

Three representatives of the Western Oaks Property Owners Association said they had participated with the landowner and the developer and had come up with a plan much improved over the previously approved PUD. Johnnie Wells, Mary Castetter and Sara Summers said their neighborhood has been there for over 30 years and they have been working on plans for this site for the past 11 years. They said the association’s general membership decided to support this project in April.

Wells cited the reduction in impervious cover from the previous plan, the fact that there would be only one big box retail store of 100,000 square feet and an improvement in the types of materials that will be used to build the shopping center as major reasons for neighborhood support. Summers added that the developer was providing a large amount of hike and bikeways so that residents who live closest to the site would be able to walk to the shopping area.

Development representatives Steve Drenner and Michele Haussman said they expect the case to be on the City Council agenda for August 26.

Board nixes parking variance for S. Congress store

Neighbors fear Allen's Boots will change hands, create more parking woes

The long-standing parking shortage along South Congress Avenue could prevent the owner of Allen's Boots from adding additional storage space. The Board of Adjustment on Monday denied the request for a parking variance that would be necessary for the business to build the addition at 1522 S. Congress. Under the city's formula for calculating the required number of off-street parking spaces, the business would have to add seven new spaces, even though the new building space is not designed to service additional customers.

"We don't feel that this addition is going to generate any more traffic," said agent Jim Bennett, who represented the owner of the store, which has been at the current location for more than 30 years. "In the private western wear retail business, it is not a large volume of traffic," Bennett said. “A lot of the customers of the business along South Congress park in the angle parking in front of the businesses that are located there. Incidentally, each time I've gone over there, that's where I've been able to park. Generally, there's not a problem finding a parking space during normal business hours."

But nearby homeowners protested the variance, which would have allowed the store to keep its 12 current parking spaces while adding additional storage space. "They're way under today's requirement for the existing building," said Tom Hurt with the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association. "They're kind of making the parking situation even less conforming than it is now." While Hurt said the association had meet with Allen to discuss his plans, they were troubled by the potential for future redevelopment at the site. "Our concern is that the variances that are granted to these buildings follow the property and not the owner, so someday when Allen's sells the property they will have a big building with very little parking available," said Hurt. "We know that already because (with) some of the business on South Congress there's quite a bit of overflow parking back in the neighborhood. It does make it harder on certain people who live in that neighborhood."

BOA member Frank Fuentes tried to convince his fellow board members that the parking variance should be granted. "The findings that they've given us strictly do agree with the variance," he said. "We're discussing what could happen in the future . . . Where do we draw that line? The gentleman has been doing business here for 30 years. I think as a property owner, and as a somebody who has been in the community for 30 years, he has a right to come in here and ask us for a variance with findings to support that variance . . . without us trying to figure out how long he's going to be there."

But Fuentes could not muster enough support on the board to pass the variance. "I have a problem with this because it's so close to single-family homes," said Board Member Betty Edgemond. "I don't know if it's people from Allen's Boots parking in the neighborhood, but it was definitely more than neighborhood cars out there." She also questioned the future of the store at that location. "When someone keeps needing additions and needs more space, why don't they move? I'm not 100 percent sure that this won't be turned into some kind of business that's going to generate even more traffic, like a restaurant," she said.

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the parking variance. Board Members Frank Fuentes, Laurie Virkstis and Leane Heldenfels were in favor of the variance, while Board Members Betty Edgemond and acting Chair Barbara Aybar were opposed. Board Chair Herman Thun was absent from the meeting. Although a majority of the members present were in favor of the variance, the rules for the Board of Adjustment require at least four affirmative votes for any motion to pass. Therefore, Fuentes' motion in favor of the variance failed. The owner of Allen's does have the option to file for a reconsideration by the board, which could be heard at its September 23 meeting.

Busy night . . . The City Council MBE/WBE Subcommittee will meet at 6pm in Room 304 of City Hall . . . The Planning Commission will meet in Room 325 of One Texas Center and the RMMA Advisory Commission will meet at the same time at Waller Creek Center . . . Members of the Planning Commission will have a chance to make a recommendation on whether the city should be permitted to build unoccupied structures, such as restrooms, within the 25-year flood plain in parks. The Environmental Board has recommended against such a change in policy . . . Airport advisors are scheduled to meet at 5pm at ABIA, 2716 Spirit of Texas Drive, Room 160. Also, the Parks and Recreation Board will meet at 6:30pm in the departmental boardroom at 200 S. Lamar. They will hear a presentation of the departmental budget, which will be presented to the public at Thursday’s City Council meeting . . . The Community Development Commission will meet at 6:30pm at the Street-Jones Building, 1000 East 11th Street # 400A . . . Local members of the Human Rights Campaign will meet throughout the day at the Downtown Hilton. They will also host a reception for local officials tonight . . . More budget info . . . On Thursday, the City Council and public will also get their first detailed look at City Manager Toby Futrell’s proposed budget for the city’s libraries, the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department and the Health and Human Services Department, including the Travis County Hospital District. The briefing is at 2pm and the public will have an opportunity to comment at a 6pm hearing. That is the only hearing set for 6pm this week.

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