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City, county nearly done with subdivision rules

Friday, September 24, 2004 by

Robinson Ranch remains to be decided

County and city officials still have one final detail— Robinson Ranch—before they can put a bow on the joint subdivision regulations they have spent three years trying to complete.

Two bills—House Bill 1445 and House Bill 1204, passed in 2001 and 2003 respectively—were expected to speed up the process of joint subdivision regulations between Austin and Travis County within the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. After some false starts and stops, the two sides are ready for final approval—if they can figure out what to do with Robinson Ranch.

The City Council agreed to annex the massive 6,300-acre ranch between Austin and Round Rock last June. Robinson Ranch was brought into Austin under a Planned Unit Development (PUD) agreement that will allow a variety of zoning categories. But it also provided one final question for the city and county, which is how to define the area.

The joint subdivision code gives final plat review and approval solely to the city for near-term annexation areas, the logic being that the city is about to take on the task of maintaining the land's infrastructure. Duties under long-term annexations are split between city and county, with the county picking up roads and drainage and the city handling review and approval for all environmental code compliance requirements.

Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman said she wants to hold onto Robinson Ranch as a near-term annexation area, since it's clearly in the path of development. Ultimate build-out of the property could put more than $3.6 billion on the tax rolls, according to city estimates. The city could realize up to $160 million in property taxes by 2029.

“What we are asking is that Robinson Ranch be included in the near-term annexations," Huffman said. "A development agreement is in place,” with Robinson Ranch. That agreement includes some variances from the city’s transportation ordinances, she said. If the area were not included in the near-term category, the developers would have to go to the county for variances. That would not make the annexation impossible, she said, because the agreement includes language to allow for that to happen, if necessary.

County officials, who delayed their approval last week, were comfortable with the extended timeline. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said the last major hurdle – the certification of revenue on the proposed fee schedule – has been resolved.

The interlocal agreement between the city and Travis County should be before the Council at its meeting next Thursday or October 7, Huffman said. The parties need to verify which responsibilities each is taking and reach final agreement on the fees to be charged. “That will mean adjusting the fee ordinance,” which the Council must approve, she said.

Huffman expressed confidence that the two sides would be done with the process in the near future. She said Travis County and the City of Austin have “pretty strong agreement” about the process.

Harry Savio of the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, one of the strongest advocates for streamlining the local development process, said the division of labor is clearly not the vision builders held for the process, but that the city and county had put "a huge amount of effort into the process that includes the fundamentals of what we were trying to achieve."

"There will be one decision-making entity – either city or county – over each of the major areas associated with land development," Savio said. "We're also looking at an oversight committee to assess performance and effectiveness after about a year."

Two legislators see Robinson Ranch as med school site

State Rep. Jack Stick knows what he wants to see when it comes to a Central Texas medical school, and it isn't the cramped site of a former municipal airport. Stick (R-Austin) and Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) have been the strongest proponents of a medical school in Central Texas, and they have made no secret of their desire to see the project in Stick's district up at Robinson Ranch.

That's because Stick's vision of a medical school is not just a medical school. It's a public-private partnership of a medical school, research center and cluster of health-related or biotechnology companies. That's not something that can be accomplished on 15 acres set aside at Mueller for business complementary to the new Austin Children's Hospital.

"I definitely think the campus should be at Robinson Ranch and not the old airport," Stick said. "The fact it's in my district is only part of it. Really, the reason is that there's no way we could put all the facilities we need in the limited area the airport has to offer."

The medical school could be a satellite of the University of Texas Medical Branch – which is already running Austin Women's Hospital – or its own separate stand-alone campus.

"Where do you want to put a medical school?" Stick asks. "Do you want to put it on a rinky-dink second-class site at Mueller, or do you want to put it at a great location?"

Greg Weaver, project manager at the Mueller site for Catellus, says he has had no formal discussions with anyone about locating a medical school on the Mueller site. But prompted by In Fact Daily, whose reporter has visited the Mission Bay site in San Francisco, Weaver had to admit the right location for a medical school comes down to vision.

Mission Bay, one of Catellus' most successful redevelopment projects, is located on the last major piece of undeveloped land on San Francisco Bay, the site of a former rail yard. The research campus for the University of California San Francisco anchors the site.

When it's built out, UCSF will put 2.65 million square feet of space on 43 acres. At full build-out, 9,000 people will be working at the research facility. Overall, the various UCSF campuses employ 19,000 people, making it the second-largest employer in San Francisco. The first phase alone, more than $800 million in construction, will include Genentech Hall, the California Institute of Bioengineering and a building for genetics and development science. Even given the limited space, the UCSF campus includes housing and day care.

The density of the Mueller site doesn't come close to Mission Bay, Weaver admits. But Mueller's zoning density could support as much as 700,000 square feet on 15 acres. "Would that kind of space accommodate what they need? I have no idea," Weaver said. "At this time, we don't know what the plan is, and until we're given better information and more detailed information, I don't have a clear opinion of which site is the better choice."

The final choice for the campus might be a rolling suburban setting, or it could be a denser urban setting with access to commuter rail, like Mueller. Those who approve the facility and its location also are likely to take into account just how close or far they want the facility from other relevant locations, such as existing hospitals.

Nofziger to announce . . . Former City Council member and political consultant Max Nofziger has an announcement. Unlike his previous announcements, however, this time he is announcing his retirement from electoral politics. Nofziger said he has spent the last 25 years doing politics in one form or another. For the next 25 years, until he is 80, Nofziger intends to be a writer. (He said that his father is 90 years old and his mother lived to be 80.) Nofziger has started his own Web site, maxblog.org . . . Planned Parenthood cut the ribbon on "The Choice Project" on Thursday. The new facility on Ben White Boulevard was the target of a boycott effort by a concrete supplier, who attempted to convince other companies in the construction industry not to provide necessary materials to Planned Parenthood. The ribbon-cutting ceremony attracted noted attorney Sarah Weddington, along with State Reps. Eddie Rodriguez and Elliott Naishtat, Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, Council Member Brewster McCracken, former Mayor Bruce Todd, and current Mayor Will Wynn. "Sadly, we all experienced the outside agitators trying to stop the project," said Mayor Wynn. "But the courage that was shown by this community…came through for the benefit of this community's health care network. I'm proud to be here as a supporter of Planned Parenthood.". . . Alert to rabbit lovers . . . In celebration of International Rabbit Day, the House Rabbit Resource Network and the Town Lake Animal Shelter are having a free house rabbit education and adoption fair on Saturday afternoon. The event is from 1-4pm at the shelter, 1156 W. Cesar Chavez. For more information, visit the web site: http://www.rabbitresource.org

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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