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CAMPO dysfunctional, says Keel

Monday, November 15, 2004 by

Legislators should not serve on local board, he says

District 47 State Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin) served as keynote speaker at a weekend anti-toll road summit, and he had some tough criticism for the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Transportation Policy Board.

Corridor Watch, formed by David and Linda Stall, organized the weekend grassroots summit of groups opposed to both the Trans-Texas Corridor and proposed toll road plans in various parts of the state. Local attendees included a handful of members from Sal Costello’s Austin Toll Party, as well as representatives from the Save Our Springs Alliance, Texas Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club. Alternative transportation advocate Roger Baker, a frequent critic of CAMPO policies, also attended the summit.

Keel, who came out on the losing end on the Central Texas toll road vote, said he could forgive his colleagues in the House for voting for House Bill 3588. Everyone, even the authors, had “good intentions” with the bill, which was intended to find new ways to fund Texas roads, he said. Keel, however, wasn’t quite so charitable about the Transportation Policy Board, which recently voted 14-7 to support the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s $2.2 billion toll road plan.

“You should come see one of our meetings,” Keel told the summit attendees. “It’s the biggest example of how not to do government you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Keel said he supports eliminating House and Senate members from the Transportation Policy Board. Those who make law should not be implementing it, Keel said. The Transportation Policy Board is best left to city and county elected officials. Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) chairs the group.

One attendee asked Keel whether he had approached his county commissioners, the group of elected officials that shared in the creation of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Keel said he was “pretty disillusioned” with the Travis County Commissioners’ Court, saying it would do little good to approach them.

And Keel didn’t have anything more favorable to say about Westlake Hills Mayor Dwight Thompson, who also sits on the CAMPO board and voted in favor of the toll road plan, despite the fact that residents in Keel’s district would have to deal with not one, but two, toll projects.

“These people get screwed, and he voted for it,” Keel said. “I was stunned. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know what Kool Aid they’re drinking.”

Costello and his group have been vocal and angry about the toll road plan, launching a petition drive to recall the Mayor and Council members on the CAMPO board. Members of the Austin Toll Party dominated last week’s hearing on toll policies, presenting angry denials of the need for toll roads rather than logical arguments on toll policies. Chair Bob Tesch frequently tried to steer the speakers back to the topic at hand, which was to gather public input on the toll policies.

The Stalls are relying far more on information than anger. David Stall is the former city manager of Nassau Bay, near Clear Lake City. Both he and his wife have attended meetings around the state on the Trans-Texas Corridor, are on a first-name basis with Texas Department of Transportation employees and present cogent arguments against the creation of toll roads.

In his presentation to the group, David Stall said the move to toll roads is a dramatic shift in public policy, driven from the state level down to the local level with limited input. Decisions are being made at the state level – meetings are taking place and contracts are being let – yet the local citizen is still basically unaware of the process.

“People are not being informed, not being educated about issues like toll conversions,” Stall said. “People are being told that the projects that they have been waiting to have happen are going to happen, but now there’s going to be a toll booth on the road.”

Calling the tolls a “user fee” rather than a tax is deceptive, Stall said. Taking that argument at face value, maybe the best way to pay for public parks would be to put an “EZ Play” tag on children and charge a fee every time the child plays in the park.

“Public infrastructure is public infrastructure,” Stall said. “We pay for roads we may never drive on in other places in the state, just in case we may one day need to go from here to there. We all own a piece of that road.”

Stall also warned against the pitfalls of poorly drafted Comprehensive Development Agreements, pointing to SR 91 in California. When the state wanted to build roads in the surrounding areas to relieve congestion, the developer on SR 91 could stop them, saying that the contract did not allow competing facilities within 10 miles. Eventually, the developer went bankrupt, and the state paid $300 million for its own toll road.

Toll roads are designed to generate revenue first and provide transportation second, Stall said. He presented a slide used by TxDOT officials about making toll roads successful. The slide encouraged limiting free alternatives, avoiding frontage roads, minimizing competing facilities and avoiding overbuilding. That kind of strategy may provide revenue but it discourages transportation improvements, the slide indicated.

At the end of the summit, attendees created a common vision statement. Attendees pledged to fight to eliminate the Trans-Texas Corridor, free road to toll road conversions and toll abuse.

Commission has more advice on landfill remedies

The city's Solid Waste Advisory Commission (SWAC) is once again recommending that the City Council not accept staff’s recommendation to turn over the operation of the city-owned landfill on FM 812 to a private company. The city put out a Request for Proposals from interested companies earlier this year, and two firms responded. Of those two, the IESI Corporation scored significantly higher on the matrix used to evaluate the proposals. However, the SWAC is urging the Council to keep the landfill under city control while a new citizen’s task force develops a 20-year landfill management plan. The item is on this week's Council agenda

At last week's SWAC meeting, the commission revised a resolution passed in October opposing the privatization of the landfill. The group also heard from Robin Schneider with the Texas Campaign for the Environment, who had previously outlined her opposition to the plan before the City Council (see In Fact Daily, October 27th, 2004). Schneider is critical of IESI's operations in other Texas cities and presented information about those landfills to the SWAC. "This idea of proceeding with IESI has got to be stopped," she said. "This commission has a very long history of standing up for progressive solid waste policies in the city and fighting for that tooth and nail."

Schneider also accused the company of failing to comply with state rules regarding the operation of its landfill on FM 812, which is next to the city-owned landfill. Company representatives disputed Schneider's claims during the October 28 meeting of the City Council, telling Council Members the facility had a clean record with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Commissioners were posted to discuss environmental concerns relating to the FM 812 landfill, but were advised by legal counsel to steer away from certain areas since the matter concerned an RFP pending before the City Council. Representatives of Texas Disposal Services, which has also submitted a proposal to run the city's FM 812 landfill, were in the audience. However, they chose not to speak on the matter, fearing their communications might be interpreted as a violation of the anti-lobbying rules under the RFP process.

There was some limited discussion by Commissioners relating to the environmental issues at the landfill. "It is 50 years old. Maintenance has been deferred out there. We have some possible environmental challenges," said Commission Chair Gerald Acuna. He specifically referred to erosion concerns previously mentioned by Robin Schneider that date back to the early 1990's, and cited a memo from city management regarding possible solutions. "This is the landfill that we are responsible for…it is an old facility, and perhaps we should have a comprehensive plan put together," he concluded.

Director of Solid Waste Services Willie Rhodes disagreed with Acuna's characterization of the erosion situation at the landfill as it related to nearby Onion Creek. "I would disagree with you," he told Acuna. "We are handling all the issues as they arise." He defended the city staff running the landfill, but did not specifically oppose the notion of a long-range plan for the city's landfill operations. "The environment is something that we have to take a look at, because we are held to a higher standard than the rest of the community," he said. "At times, it feels like when these types of issues come up, its easy to point fingers." Acuna moved to defuse any tension with praise for the department's recycling and waste-reduction efforts. "As a commissioner, I'm proud of those things," he said. "But on the other side, if we become proactive, I'm hoping that we can off-set future challenges, future difficulties out there."

Other Commissioners used the discussion period to express their skepticism of the plan to hire a private company to operate the facility. "There's no question in my mind that Solid Waste Services knows more about that landfill than anybody else," said Commissioner Rosemary Wyman. "So if Solid Waste Services can't make that landfill operate in an economically feasible fashion and in an environmental fashion, why would we want to outsource this problem to someone else? I'm still not clear on why we're trying to outsource the problem. If we can't solve it, then maybe we should close the landfill."

Because of the on-going RFP process and requirements of state purchasing laws, commissioners agreed to delay a discussion on that particular question until a future meeting. The SWAC's resolutions in support of a long-range landfill management plan and in support of delaying any decision on a private operator for the FM 812 facility are being sent to the Council for their consideration this week.

Demolition OK'd for 6th Street faç ade

City Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky has taken the unusual step of recommending demolition of the façade of a structure in the heart of the Sixth Street entertainment district. The Historic Landmark Commission takes changes to the Sixth Street National Register District so seriously that they review each sign placed on Sixth Street buildings. Along with Congress Avenue, East 6th Street is among the city's most protected historic assets. But Sadowsky could find little to protect during a presentation on the structure at 408 E Sixth St.

The owners of the property, most recently the Daiquiri Factory, want to pull down the current façade and put up a new one-story brick front with a rooftop patio. What the owners and Sadowsky found in their research of the property was that façade was no newer than the late 1960s and was not constructed from the original building fabric.

In fact, the building at 408 E Sixth St. is no building at all. The original owner simply threw up a front piece between two existing buildings. The structure, actually sandwiched between two historic buildings, uses the walls of the buildings on either side to enclose it. The support beams and tresses for the building are literally built into the walls of the adjacent buildings. An extension in the back was so haphazard that a past owner simply threw up a tin roof behind the building, creating an extension that included an existing oak tree.

Architect Michael Antenora, who represented the owners of the proposed new bar, presented pictures of the building at 408 E Sixth St. culled from the records of the Austin History Center. Those pictures showed the current façade, a façade from the '70s and even a recessed entryway from the '50s that clearly showed that the front was not peeled back to expose any original fabric when the brick façade was added in thirty years ago.

The building did have a gloried history as a turn-of-the-century saloon owned by William White, followed by Louis Silverstein. Later, it belonged to a tailor. The building was vacant for much of the '50s, likely the time of its first transformation, Sadowsky told commissioners.

Whatever had been on the site clearly was not there anymore, Sadowsky told the commissioners. Commissioner Laurie Limbacher asked some careful questions about the construction to establish the original fabric of the building. Nothing could establish that much remains of the original building materials.

When the time came for the vote, only Chair Lisa Laky opposed the demolition permit requested by the owners. Laky said she would never oppose the initiation of historic zoning if it appeared additional research could be done on a structure.

Because of the nature of the posting, the Historic Landmark Commission could only discuss the demolition permit. The new construction, however, will have the distinction of being located next to the residence of architect David Graeber, who renovated the first building on Sixth Street.

Sadowsky has worked with the Antenora on his design for 408 E Sixth St., making sure the bar proposal matches the style, scale and material of the historic district. The construction plans will come back to the Historic Landmark Commission next month, putting the commission in the interesting position of commenting on construction improvements on what is essentially a non-landmark non-building located within the historic district.

Concessions Sadowsky would like to see include additional soundproofing and design standards that make sure the rooftop bar does not obstruct the view of neighboring buildings. Graeber, who attended last night's meeting, said he accepted the limitations of living on Sixth Street and had spent significant money to soundproof his dwelling. He said he wanted the chance to further review and comment on the construction plans.

The vote was 4-1, with Limbacher, along with Commissioners Jean Mather, David West, Julia Bunton, voting in favor of the permit and Laky opposed. Commissioners Daniel Leary, Patti Hansen and Jim Fowler were absent.

Board approves Domain variances

The Environmental Board has approved several technical variances to the planned development agreement (PDA) for the proposed Domain Shopping Center in northwest Austin. Located on 96 acres on the east side of MoPac between Braker Lane and Burnet Road, the center is planned as a mixed-use retail and residential center.

The site of the development currently consists of a reduced portion of the former IBM campus, the Culinary Institute, some office space and associated parking. The land is in both the Shoal Creek and Walnut Creek watersheds.

Developers asked for the amendments to the zoning agreement to allow them to build on slopes on the property and to allow cuts and fills in excess of four feet, according to city staff member Chris Dolan.

“The topography of the site mostly slopes to the north and east,” Dolan said. ”Drainage will be relocated underground and will be directed to a wet pond and detention facility on the northeast corner of the property. The pond will handle the runoff for a total of 230 acres in the area.”

Steve Drenner, attorney for Simon Properties, spent much of his time before the board, explaining how the developers planned to preserve as many trees on the property as possible.

“There are a number of Class 1 trees on the property that we are planning to use as anchor points in the design,” Drenner said. “If we are unable to keep them in their original location, we have plans to transplant them wherever we can.”

Drenner said the majority of slopes that the developer has identified on the property are associated with large spoil disposal piles left over from the construction of MoPac more than 20 years ago.

“All cuts that need to be made in excess of four feet are a direct result of the man-made spoils pile,” Drenner said. ”The fills in excess of four feet are necessary to cover several retention areas designed to contain potential chemical spills from holding tanks at the IBM manufacturing site.”

Drenner gave the board engineering studies showing no residual traces of toxic chemicals at the site.

The changes approved by the board included a 5-point agreement between the developer and the city. Those points include

• provisions that all cuts and fills be structurally contained,

• all required landscaping utilize green native or adapted materials,

• a minimum of 276 caliper inches of Class 1 trees be relocated within the site and 60 percent of all replacement trees be container grown from native seed,

• that the replacement trees include a 2-year survival warranty and any trees that don’t survive the first year be replaced, and

• No coal-tar based asphalt sealants will be used.

Only four members of the Board attended the meeting. Chair Mary Ruth Holder, Vice Chair Karin Ascot and Members David Anderson and Phil Moncada were present, while William Curra, Timothy Riley, and Mary Gay Maxwell were absent. The board currently has two vacancies.

Council announcement today . . . Jennifer Kim, 32, will be the first to make a formal announcement of her candidacy for the Place 3 City Council seat being vacated by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman next spring. Kim’s press conference will be at 11am at Auditorium Shores, near the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue. If there is rain, which seems likely, the group will gather at Threadgill’s at Barton Springs Road and Riverside . . . Oops . . . Margot Clarke is actually the outreach coordinator for the Sierra Club of Texas, not the Executive Director, as we erroneously reported last week. Apologies to Ken Kramer, who has served as the organization’s Executive Director for many years. Clarke is one of several likely candidates for Place 3. . . Meeting tonight . . . The Historic Landmark Commission will meet at 7:30pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The Urban Transportation Commission will meet at 6pm in the 11th floor conference room of One Texas Center. Urban Renewal Board will also meet at 6pm in Room 400A of the Jones Building, 4th Floor, 1000 East 11th Street . . . Street ownership question answered . . . The City of Austin asked Attorney General Gregg Abbott who had the authority to vacate a part of San Antonio Street between 4th and 5th streets to allow for construction of the Federal Courthouse project on the former Intel site. The question arose because the state owns Republic Square, but according to the Attorney General, the city is the appropriate authority to vacate a street abutting Republic Square. The elimination of the street is necessary in order to provide the amount of space needed for federal security requirements . . . Landfill expansion . . . Travis County Commissioners will take up a subdivision plat for Waste Management’s landfill expansion at Tuesday’s meeting. The plat meets all requirements set out by county code, giving local officials little room to deny it. Waste Management also will present an update on its efforts to secure a future landfill site somewhere away from northeast Travis County.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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