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Enviro Board likes PUD changes neighbors hate

Friday, October 8, 2004 by

Change from office to apartments riles neighbors

The Environmental Board on Wednesday gave its unanimous support to exceptions to the city's regulations regarding cut-and-fill and development on slopes for a planned unit development ( PUD) near Loop 360 and Westlake Drive. The PUD zoning on the site dates back to 1989, and the location is already developed. The review of the proposed changes comes as the owners are seeking changes to the PUD to allow the construction of 323 apartment units on land originally slated for office and commercial development.

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School owns the land. "When we began marketing the property back in 1999, we received various offers — several office development, and several multi-family," said school representative Brad Powell. "Our board did an extensive evaluation, and determined that multi-family development would be a better neighbor to St. Stephen’s for several reasons. Number one, the reduced traffic with the multi-family vs. the office or retail. Number two, because of the buildings' smaller footprints, they could be strategically placed on the land and would be much less visible and require a lot less cut-and-fill and save more existing trees."

Gables Residential plans to develop the site. Attorney Steve Drenner represented the company before the board, outlining how the proposed new plan would result in less construction on severe slopes and save a significant amount of trees when compared to the development that would be allowed under the existing PUD. "Given that the office buildings require larger floor plates, you have a great deal more loss of vegetation around the site because of having office development," he said. "When you look at the new plan…we have been able to do a more sensitive development, moving off of slopes, preserving more trees, and not having to do the destruction through this area that you would have to do with the office plan. It seems to me the tree retention is as important an issue as anything," he said. The city's environmental staff also presented material endorsing the proposed development, since it would provide superior water quality protection measures as compared to those outlined in the existing PUD.

Residents of the surrounding area, including Bunny Run, Bridge Hill, Rivercrest, and Davenport neighborhoods, packed the meeting room on the third floor of One Texas Center to oppose any exceptions to the rules outlined in the existing PUD. Many of them wore signs around their necks reading, "A Deal is a Deal." Attorney Terry Irion, who brought forth some procedural concerns about the propriety of the item being brought before the Environmental Board, represents the neighbors. He also criticized the plan submitted by Gables Residential for the site, saying it was incomplete and would not comply with current development rules. "The plan we saw here is a speculative plan, because it can't be built unless the zoning on this property is changed. We would submit that if they change the zoning on this project to allow multi-family, they're creating a new project. A new project ought to come in under current ordinance requirements," he said. In effect, Irion was arguing that any consideration the developers might be granted under HB1704 disappears when the zoning changes.

Several residents told Board Members that the negations over the PUD in the late 1980s had resulted in a carefully crafted document that they did not want to be changed. The PUD specifically called for "non-residential" development on the acreage in question, said Tom Burns with the Bunny Run Neighborhood. "We said, ‘we don't want any multi-family in this development.’ The reason behind that was…we felt the traffic that went with an office tract would be counter-cyclical…traffic coming into the office buildings would be counter to the residents coming out of the neighborhood," he said. "What we are asking every person in the commission and board process to do is to stand up and hold St. Stephen’s accountable to the deal they made, and support neighborhood land use planning. All we're asking is for them to live up to what they agreed to, and they agreed to no multi-family."

Other residents presented alternative uses for the land, and argued that the traffic estimates provided by Drenner were not accurate. Many also echoed the refrain that St. Stephen’s should adhere to the original terms of the PUD. But Environmental Board Chair Lee Leffingwell reminded the audience that those types of land use and zoning decisions were not the responsibility of the board. "This is the Environmental Board," he said. "We will be restricting our discussion and consideration to the environmental aspects of this request. You may have other valid requests…but we will make no judgement on that. You may have other venues to present other reasons for opposition to this request."

Board Member Timothy Riley indicated he was sympathetic to the neighborhoods' concerns, but moved to endorse the proposed exceptions to the rules outlined in the existing PUD. "I don't envy the tough decisions the Zoning and Platting Commission and the City Council will have to make in the coming weeks," he said. "On balance, I believe the proposed project provides, from an environmental standpoint, a better project. It enhances water quality standards, it provides reduced need for cut-and-fill, and it provides reduced impervious cover on slopes. I believe the overall siting of the proposed project provides improved protection for the existing tree canopy." Riley's motion to approve the changes, with conditions, passed 7-0, with Board Member William Curra absent.

The case now goes to the Zoning and Platting Commission, which will consider many of the land use and traffic arguments presented by neighbors on Wednesday in deciding whether to recommend amending the PUD to allow the multi-family development on the site now designated for "non-residential" use. The case then goes to the City Council for its consideration.

Hospital managers to consider improvements

The Travis County Hospital District has begun looking into one of its primary missions, how to spend $5 million in its budget on “enhancements” to health care delivery beyond current levels.

The district’s Board of Managers has already heard from a host of community groups about what programs, projects and services are most in need. At a public hearing in August, representatives of various groups told the board improvements are needed in a number of areas, including mental health, trauma, primary care, medical education and more.

Managers began discussing the issue Thursday night. Board member Frank Rodriguez suggested that it would be wise to first develop criteria for deciding how to spend the money.

“We need to examine the primary areas we looked at during the campaign (for the district),” said Rodriguez. “Those include primary care, emergency services, trauma center, medical education and mental health. Then around those areas we would develop criteria to entertain expansion of services or new services.”

Rodriguez said the board needs to develop criteria to determine the best “return on investment. We’re not looking at this on a monetary basis, but on factors such as community impact, health outcomes, and so on. From there, we can better determine the most effective way to use this money.”

Board Member Tom Young agreed, saying he was worried about raising expectations on the part of some groups that have been asking for money.

“I’m concerned about the addictive quality of money,” he said. “I think we need to be careful about making substantial commitments of funds until we have something of a plan. We need to develop a set of principles and criteria before looking at specific areas to fund.”

Board chairman Clarke Heidrick said he would visit with various board members to name a planning committee to look at the criteria for funding health care enhancements. He promised to name the committee at the next board meeting.

The board also heard a report on one of its other major functions: managing the contract with the Seton Healthcare Network to operate Brackenridge Hospital. Brackenridge administrator Jesus Garza gave the board an overview of hospital operations, the first in what he called a “series of briefings” outlining areas such as growth, mission, training, finances and other operating areas.

Garza concentrated on the growth in the demand for services. Between 1997 and 2004, the demand for outpatient services increased by 34 percent. At the same time, inpatient services grew by 22 percent and emergency room services shot up 61 percent.

“The number of clinics we are operating has grown significantly—from 22 to 34—with the number of patients up 56 percent.” he said. “We are now one of the busiest Level II trauma centers in the country. The number of trauma cases handled has grown from 2,100 to 2,600 per year, a 24 percent increase.”

Garza said that all this growth is expensive. “The cost of keeping 12 different medical specialties on 24-hour call has grown from $3.9 million to $5.2 million a year,” he said. “Overall, since we took over managing Brackenridge in 1995, we have invested some $50 million dollars in its operation.”

He said the amount of charity care performed at the hospital has grown steadily over the years, and it could climb higher in the coming months.

“After the November 2 election, we expect Congress to begin addressing the federal deficit,” Garza said. “That may mean that the federal government will pass more of the pressure to pay for the uninsured down to cities.”

Garza said that despite those financial pressures, Brackenridge was operating in better financial condition than it has in several years.

HIV patient sues city, two employees

Plaintiff claims employee illegally disclosed his illness

A patient at the David Powell Clinic is suing the city along with two clinic employees for disclosing the fact that he is HIV-positive. The plaintiff, filing as ‘John Doe’ to protect his identity, is seeking monetary damages along with changes in clinic procedures.

The suit, filed in state district court, charges that an administrative employee at the clinic loudly announced his real name and HIV status when he arrived at the clinic for an appointment. Furthermore, the suit claims, the employee, Patricia Burdett, maliciously changed the patient’s appointment time to interfere with his treatment for the life-threatening disease, repeatedly insulted him, and discussed his HIV status in public at a restaurant with another clinic employee.

Friends of the plaintiff, who did not know he was HIV-positive, overheard the conversation and reported it to him. "Learning of this reckless public disclosure from my friend was one of the saddest and scariest moments of my life," said ‘John Doe’ in a prepared written statement. "What the two employees did was wrong and illegal. They had access to my medical records because they worked the front desk at the clinic. They broke my trust and the law that says they can't disclose my HIV test result without my consent."

The suit also charges that the patient made repeated complaints about Burdett’s behavior but was rebuffed or ignored. The suit also names the employee to whom the patient complained as a defendant in the lawsuit.

"To our knowledge, there hasn't been any serious discipline (of Burdett) at this time. Certainly, it doesn't seem the City of Austin has lived up to its duty to make sure people don't disclose the identities of patients who are HIV-positive," said attorney Wayne Krause, who is handling the case for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The suit asks for damages in the amount of $550,000,and further stipulates that the money not come from the clinic's regular operating budget. "The purpose of this suit is to make the David Powell Clinic a better place," said Krause. "It is extremely important that the city does not use this lawsuit as an excuse to under-fund the clinic further, or to reduce its services. If anything, the HIV-positive community and its allies in the city…need greater services. They need better treatment." He also called for any other patients at the clinic who felt they were harassed or discriminated against to step forward. "We encourage anybody out there who has had their identity disclosed to come to the Texas Civil Rights Project as soon as possible."

Easy zoning day . . . After postponing eight cases in the Rainey Street neighborhood, the City Council moved quickly to approve three matters on consent yesterday, finishing their zoning agenda in less than an hour. The Council approved a change in zoning for 807 and 809 East 14th Street from Multi-family-4-Neighborhood Plan (MF-4-NP) to Multi-family-6-Neighborhood Plan (MF-6-NP). They also approved a change from interim rural residential ( IRR) to community commercial ( GR) for property at 7501 South I-35 service road northbound. There was no opposition to either case, and both cases were approved on all three readings. They also approved some a zoning that had been agreed to by both property owners and neighbors in the West University Neighborhood area. However, there are still three cases that have not been resolved . . . Two hearings put off . . . The Council postponed a hearing and action on an appeal concerning a conditional use permit for day care services on West William Cannon at the request of the property owner. They also postponed making a decision on an appeal regarding a height waiver for a condominium on West Sixth Street at the request of a neighbor. The Council will not meet next week but has scheduled a meeting for the following week, October 21 . . Appointments . . . Mayor Will Wynn reappointed Cid Galindo to the Planning Commission and Council Member Brewster McCracken reappointed Kathy Hamilton to the Animal Advisory Commission. There were no other appointments on Thursday . . . ALGPC endorsements . . . The Austin Gay Lesbian Political Caucus, has endorsed the following candidates—all Democrats—for election next month: US House of Representatives, District 25: Lloyd Doggett; Texas Supreme Court: David Van Os; T exas House of Representatives, District 48: Kelly White; Texas House of Representatives, District 50: Mark Strama; Third Court of Appeals: Jan Patterson and Diane Henson; 345th District Court: Stephen Yelenosky; 353rd District Court: Margaret Cooper; Travis County Court-at-Law #5: Nancy Hohengarten; Travis County Sheriff: Greg Hamilton; Travis County Constable, Precinct 5: Bruce Elfant . . . Democrats to gather tonight . . . The T ravis County Democratic Party and Austin For Kerry will hold a debate watching party beginning at 7pm tonight at Mother Egan’s Irish Pub . . . Lawsuit settlement . . . The city will pay $1.7 million to SpawGlass Contractors as part of an agreement to terminate the contract for the company to build a new North Service Center. Work was halted on the project in November of 2003 after an explosion at the construction site that injured four workers. The site formerly housed a chemical plant. The city shut down work so the soil could be tested for dangerous levels of residual chemicals. Following the explosion, SpawGlass was unable to access some construction equipment and endured other costs related to the shut-down of the job site.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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