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Council approves Southwest Marketplace

Friday, August 27, 2004 by

Only McCracken opposes popular changes to PUD

Anticipating arguments against changes to the Southwest Marketplace, an amendment to the Forum PUD atop the Edwards Aquifer, members of surrounding neighborhoods turned out in force last night to support what they believe is a great improvement over plans previously approved for the site.

The Council vote of 6-1 was a big victory for those neighborhoods and for attorney Steve Drenner, who represented Cardinal Paragon, which plans to put a Costco on the site at MoPac and William Cannon. In a move sure to cause even more consternation in a neighborhood already incensed over his vote in favor of toll roads, Council Member Brewster McCracken voted ‘No.’

Neighborhood representatives Johnnie Wells, Mary Castetter and Sara Summers said they had been working on plans for this site for the past 11 years and on the Southwest Marketplace over the past 16 months.

Wells told the Council they would have “a much better project,” than the one approved in 1999. Noting the many environmental and design changes, she told the Council, “We do feel that it’s much improved over the previous project. We feel that a no vote tonight means that you would approve the previous plan, which allows for four big boxes.”

Castetter stressed, “Your voting ‘yes’ on this is not a vote for development. The development is already there. You are voting to improve the development. You are voting to improve the water quality. You are voting to improve the environment and you are voting to improve my neighborhood. I would really be sad if you wouldn’t vote for this and my neighborhood would be stuck with an inferior project because you didn’t vote for it.”

Drenner noted that the idea of the original PUD was to take impervious cover off the two most sensitive tracts owned by the Brownlee family and put them on the Forum PUD area. In 1999, two tracts were dedicated to the city, including one known as the Blowing Sink tract, which Drenner described as “one of the most sensitive” in the city.

The original PUD would have allowed for construction of four 100,000-square foot stores. The new zoning allows Costco to build a 157,000-square foot store, but it will be the only big box in the shopping center. Cardinal Paragon is proposing to limit all other users to a maximum size of 50,000 square feet. While the site is exempt from the "no big box" ordinance

Even Save Our Springs Alliance spokesman Colin Clark offered only a half-hearted objection to the zoning. “We do request that you reject the zoning change,” he said, citing the Council’s approval of a ban on big box stores over the aquifer. Because Costco is a members only club, he said, approval would mean that shoppers from as far away as Buda would drive across the aquifer to shop there. Clark also asked for strict compliance with the SOS Ordinance, which prohibits projects with more than 15 percent impervious cover on the recharge zone. However, since the PUD was originally approved as part of a settlement agreement, that prohibition did not apply. Finally, he said if the Council decided to approve the change, “we would ask that the city dedicate 100 percent of the sales tax to acquiring land in the Barton Springs watershed.”

But another environmentalist, Julie Jenkins of the Texas Cave Management Association, told the Council her group owns a cave preserve directly south of this PUD property. Improvements offered by the developer would provide “better water quality than we’ve had in many, many years,” she said. For that reason, especially, she said, “We are absolutely delighted to support it.”

As a final piece to the puzzle, one that probably would have clenched the deal for almost any environmentalist, Drenner announced that his client had signed a contract to acquire a seven-acre corner adjacent to the site, owned by Lowe’s. “It has a previously approved service station—that will not be built and we will reduce impervious cover on that property by an additional 20 percent,” he told the Council. In addition, as part of their commitment to look for local retailers, Drenner said negotiators had reached “an understanding with Waterloo Ice House” to go in the center.

Council Member Daryl Slusher moved approval on reading and Council Member Danny Thomas seconded the motion. Slusher was on the Council when the original PUD was approved. He said, “The first time this came through . . . this was a tough choice and I voted against it. I chose to go with the strict compliance with SOS. I’m glad now,“ that those mitigation tracts “are in the city’s possession.” Having gotten that land, he said, it would be inequitable to require the landowners to comply with SOS on this tract alone. He also cited the numerous environmental improvements being offered by the developer, not the least of which is filtering of runoff from MoPac.

Mayor Will Wynn called the project “the most remarkable development that has come across this dais in a very long time.”

McCracken said, “When I ran for City Council I promised that I would oppose big box stores over the aquifer. Tonight we are being asked to endorse construction of a big box store over the aquifer. This site is larger than 40 downtown blocks.” He also cited a road “already in traffic failure (that) has more gridlock than any downtown street. When I made the campaign promise it was important to me. I did not make it lightly and I will not break my promise.”

The project should return for second and third reading next week.

Council approves new bid method for MACC construction

Competitors for construction of the Mexican-American Cultural Center ( MACC), the Gus Garcia Recreation Center, and three other city facilities will be selected through the Competitive Sealed Proposal Method, which allows staff to consider a number of factors other than which contractor turned in the lowest bid. The Legislature approved the method for municipal projects in 2001 but the Council must specifically authorize the method before staff can use it.

Council Member Raul Alvarez said the Council MBE/WBE Subcommittee decided to start with construction contracts larger than $2 million but this was the first time the Council as a whole had been asked to approve use of the method.

Sondra Creighton, Director of the Public Works Department, explained that design work on the two recreation centers and the MACC was near completion. The estimated construction cost for the first phase of the MACC is $8 million and the first advertisement for bids is slated to run on September 20. The two recreation centers are estimated to cost $3.3 million each and the libraries are expected to cost more than $2 million each. They will not be advertised until next spring.

Mayor Will Wynn said, “I happen to be a fan,” of the method. “It’s a practice commonly used in the private sector to speed up projects and hopefully save some dollars.”

This method will allow city staff to consider contractors’ track records, among other things, in making a decision about which contractors to choose, Creighton said. When he brought up the item, Wynn pointed out that the projects won voter approval in the 1998 bond election. But the economy has meant postponed construction, not only for the MACC and the Garcia center, but also for Colony Park Recreation Center, the North Village Branch Library and the Twin Oaks Library.

Creighton explained that the method would allow the city to consider whether contractors had completed projects on time and exhibited a cooperative attitude, as well as making timely payments to subcontractors. In an exchange with Council Member Daryl Slusher she confirmed that the city is not allowed to look at those considerations under the standard low bid method.

Slusher got a laugh when he said, “ I think I got a low bid. Both the arms are coming off my chair.” He added, “I’m for this process. I did want to note, as gently as possible, this does put it in the situation where the anti-lobbying policies need to be enforced because this opens it up to people coming around saying, ‘Move me up to the front.’”

Wynn quipped, “That takes all the fun out of it.” Slusher responded, “That’s fun I’m willing to forego.”

Brodie PUD lumbers toward finish line

The Austin City Council gave approval on second reading for PUD zoning on a 31-acre tract in the 9000 block of Brodie Lane late Thursday night. The vote came at the end of a long debate over urban planning principles and the particulars of the project in question.

Developer Bill Walters and his agent, Paul Linehan, had met over the weekend with neighbors to explore alternate designs for the tract. Local architect Gerard Kinney, who helped the neighborhood come up with a drawing that would re-arrange several of the proposed uses within the site, facilitated the charrette.

Linehan told the Council that his client would continue to work with the neighborhood groups, including the Cherry Creek on Brodie Lane Neighborhood Association, but that the design laid out during the charrette was likely not feasible. "We can put the buildings closer to the street; we can put the parking in the back. We might not be able to put the detention in the middle of the lot because of economics," he said.

"There's some practical restrictions, reality restrictions…the ordinances we have to design by. As much as I like to be creative as I can be in my own designs, it is almost a cookbook as how you design it all. If we can make the street scene better, it's better for us. But it has to work economically," Linehan explained. He also told Council Members that many of the specifics the neighborhood wanted to address, such as the location for an automotive repair shop on the tract, would be more appropriately addressed at the site plan stage. "This is a zoning case and we are trying to get through this process," he said.

Council Member Brewster McCracken moved to approve the PUD zoning on second reading only, adding a list of conditions that would guide the development towards the vision expressed by the neighborhood. "I think what we're seeing is that this neighborhood is not anti-development," said McCracken. "There's an understandable and legitimate business need that we're not drawing the site plan up here on the dais. But there are also well-established urban planning principles about how the buildings relate to the street." The vote was 7-0 on second reading only.

Mueller zoning approved . . . The Council approved PUD zoning for the former airport site on second and third readings, with only some minor modifications provided by Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. The Council did not limit construction sales and services or prohibit a grocery use at the intersection of the 51st and I-35 as requested by Austin Full Circle . . . One more time for UNO . . . Promising to take up the matter for the last time next week, Council Member Daryl Slusher moved to postpone passage of the University Neighborhood Overlay and zoning cases on properties with valid petitions in the West University area. The Council did take action on zoning cases within the North University and Hancock neighborhoods. All are part of the long-running process to complete the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan. If the Council fails to complete those items next week, they are unlikely to do so until September 30, the date of the next meeting not designated for budget matters only. Those budget meetings are scheduled for September 13, 14 and 15 . . . New job for Joseph . . . J ohn Joseph, Jr., who has worked with his father at Minter Joseph and Thornhill ( MJT) for the past 5 years, has accepted a job as Director of Entitlements with JDH Strategies of Charlotte, NC. Joseph said Thursday the new job would allow him to spend about a third of his time in Austin, continuing with MJT as a consultant. Joseph said he would also be working with Thompson Global Strategies, which will enable him to continue to pursue development ventures in Bulgaria and Slovakia. Joseph said he did not seek the new job but was approached by a headhunter who recruited him for JDH Strategies. When he was first approached, Joseph said he had no interest in moving. Only after the company agreed to allow him to continue his work here as well as to continue working on plans for Eastern Europe did he agree to accept the job, he said. He said he intends to keep his home in Austin . . . Appointments . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley appointed Charlie Betts, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, to the Historic Landmark Task Force. He will be taking the place of Jim Christianson, who is unable to continue serving. The task force will start meeting twice a week next week. Dunkerley also appointed Rosemary Wyman to the Solid Waste Advisory Commission. Council Member Danny Thomas appointed Juliet Nious to the Human Rights Commission and reappointed Phil Moncada to the Environmental Board. He also reappointed Andrew Donoho to the Resource Management Commission and Ronny Williams to the Electrical Board.

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