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Firefighters approve contract with Austin

Monday, November 22, 2004 by

Overwhelming majority says 'Yes' to deal with city

Austin firefighters have overwhelmingly approved a new one-year contact with the city, the first since Austin voters gave them the right to collective bargaining last spring. Ninety-seven percent of the 950 members of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters voted to ratify the contract, according to AAPF president Mike Martinez.

“We feel like we got the best possible contact we could, under the circumstances,” Martinez said. “The city had already approved next year’s budget, so we knew pretty much what was available. Clearly, with this high a margin of approval, our members are happy with it.”

The contract gives firefighters a two percent pay increase for the term of the contract, at a cost to the city $1.4 million. That amount is in addition to a 3.5 percent annual raise approved by the City Council for all city employees in September. The contract also gives the city more input on firefighter cadet qualifications, adding preferences for applicants with college or military experience. The contract is slated to appear on the Council’s Dec. 2 agenda for ratification.

Austin voters approved a referendum on the May 15 ballot allowing firefighters to use the collective bargaining process in negotiating with the city. Firefighters gathered signatures in order to get the measure on the ballot, which passed by a 60 percent margin. Firefighters and police union representatives have used the more informal “meet and confer” process to negotiate with city officials to hammer out a contract in 1996 and 1999. However, firefighters have been without a contract since 2002, when negotiations with the city failed. The collective bargaining process allows either side to take their case to arbitration if they reach an impasse after 60 days of good faith negotiations.

Martinez is already looking ahead to the next round of negotiations. “We hope to sit down with the city shortly after the first of the year to begin working on a multi-year contract,” he said. “There are some other issues we want to put out on the table.”

Next up for collective bargaining may be the 640-member Travis County Sheriff’s Officer’s Association. That group is currently attempting to collect the 20,000 signatures needed to put a referendum on the May ballot. If voters approve that referendum, if would give the deputies the same negotiating rights as the firefighters, with the ability to negotiate pay and working conditions with the county.

Council OKs changes for Lamar at Evergreen

The Austin City Council has moved to unify the zoning on 3.9 acres near South Lamar Boulevard and Evergreen Street. The Council voted 5-1 last week to apply CS-MU-CO (commercial mixed-use) zoning to the tracts in a case initiated at the request of the Zoning and Platting Commission (see In Fact Daily, April 13, 2004).

The ZAP had initiated the case after agent Jim Bennett brought forward a request from the owners of property at 1704 and 1706 Evergreen. Most lots in the surrounding area had much more intensive zoning than the SF-3 on those two lots, and the owners wanted their property up-zoned to conform with the other surrounding uses. Although the original owner of those tracts has since passed away, her family is seeking to go forward with the zoning change. "We do not have a use for it," said Bennett. "The property will be put on the market. It is the remaining SF-3 pieces that are left in this whole island."

The ZAP recommended that the properties within the area bounded by South Lamar, West Mary, and Evergreen be zoned CS-MU-CO, with an extensive list of CS uses that would either be prohibited or allowed only with a conditional use permit. The city staff made a similar recommendation, although the staff's proposal would have allowed more of those uses normally found within CS zoning.

Despite the ZAP's proposed restrictions, which would effectively limit most new development in the area to those uses normally found under GR (general retail) zoning, the Zilker Neighborhood Association (ZNA) opposed the change. "We are concerned that the city's proposal to rezone the entire block seems to pre-empt the neighborhood planning process for our area a few months before it is scheduled to begin," said ZNA President Lorraine Atherton. "This block, we hope, will serve as the Zilker Neighborhood's gateway to the new library for South Austin at Mary and South 5th and the park, greenbelt, and trails being developed along Bouldin Creek." She urged the Council to keep the residential zoning in place on those few tracts where it currently exists. "We cannot support the attempt to zone the entire block without the benefit of a comprehensive neighborhood plan," she said.

The neighborhood planning process for Zilker is not scheduled to begin until late in 2005, according to Greg Guernsey with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. Instead of leaving the owners of the SF-3 tracts in limbo, the Council voted to approve the ZAP's recommendation of CS-MU-CO zoning along with the recommended list of restricted uses. The vote passed on first reading only, with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman opposed and Council Member Daryl Slusher temporarily off the dais.

City begins three-year effort to update preservation plan

The City of Austin’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department will spend the next three years compiling an inventory of historic sites and prioritizing them for preservation. Assisting in the task will be the University of Texas School of Architecture’s Historic Preservation Program. The program will provide the manpower to catalog the city’s buildings, monuments and sites, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Completed 20 years ago, the original preservation plan was a drive-by survey of the architectural facades of neighborhood buildings. It was completed in 1984 and limited to those buildings in the city that were at least 50 years old. That excluded most of the city’s suburbs and even the Bouldin Creek neighborhood on the edge of downtown.

“Our preservation plan was a product of the ‘80s,” Urban Design Officer Jana McCann told a meeting earlier this week. “Very few of us around today are wearing the same clothes or the same haircut we were during the ‘80s. Everything needs to be updated, and our preservation plan needs to reflect the current thinking in preservation philosophy. What we want to do is have a plan that reflects the best in preservation philosophy.”

The city’s most recent planning efforts – Saltillo District, Second Street/City Hall Plaza and the South Congress Improvement Plan – have incorporated historic elements.

That updated plan will incorporate the historic relevance of the buildings, as well as the architectural quality of the structure. At meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday night, UT Historic Preservation Program Director Jeff Chusid provided an overview of the historic preservation plans, which can vary from a simple catalog of buildings to a complete overhaul of city codes to preservation a city’s “sense of place.”

Chusid said a historic inventory could stretch beyond buildings. Some preservation plans also incorporate documents, commercial districts, archeological sites and cultural landscapes. Barton Springs is an example of a cultural landscape, Chusid said.

Students from the Historic Preservation Program will spend the next year cataloguing the city’s neighborhoods. Separately, a citizen advisory group will spend this fall drafting a preservation plan that will set the priorities for the city. The preservation plan should be completed by May 2005. Once an inventory has been compiled and a preservation plan completed, the inventory of buildings will be digitized.

Two groups – a citizen advisory group and a technical advisory group – will meet this fall. The city has set up an e-mail box for those who want to offer comments, preservationplan@ci.austin.tx.us

Congratulations . . . Natasha Rosofsky and State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) were married Saturday at St. Julia’s Catholic Church . . . Hyde Park Baptist wins parking garage case . . . Unless the City of Austin decides to take the matter to the Texas Supreme Court, the Hyde Park Baptist Church has won the final round in its lengthy battle to build a five-story parking garage on Avenue D. (Click here to read the opinion: ( http://www.3rdcoa.courts.state.tx.us/opinions/HTMLopinion.asp?OpinionID=13278 ) The case revolved around an agreement between Hyde Park’s neighbors and the church which allowed a parking garage on the block in question. However, there was a dispute about the meaning of the agreement and the size of the garage. City staff granted the church a site development permit, but neighbors appealed to the City Council, which sided with the neighborhood. A Travis County District Court granted a summary judgement for the church, the city appealed, and the appeals court has finally made its ruling. The church’s attorney, Richard Suttle, was engaged in what appeared to be a friendly conversation with Susan Moffat on Thursday—the day the ruling was issued—outside City Council chambers at the LCRA. Moffat is president of the Hyde Park Alliance, which fought the garage along with the city and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association . . . Not a chance. . . Contrary to speculation, Moffat says wild horses could not drag her to run for a seat on the City Council . . . T onight’s meetings . . . The Travis County Hospital District Board of Managers will meet at 6:30pm tonight in the Commissioner’s Court Chambers, 314 West 11th Street. The meeting was originally scheduled for last Thursday night, but was postponed due to scheduling conflicts by some members. On the agenda is a presentation about a Legislative effort to increase resources available to trauma centers across the state. . . . The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission is scheduled to meet from 6-8pm tonight at Waller Creek Center, Room 104. They will be discussing the master development agreement between the City of Austin and Catellus Development Co. The city has put the agreement online so that citizens can peruse it at their leisure: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/mueller/mda.htm The public is also invited to attend tonight’s meeting to hear the presentation. But there are more lively events scheduled for this soggy evening . . . SBCA anniversary party . . . The Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) will be honoring Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman tonight, as well Austin Energy, and will celebrate the group’s 25-year anniversary. The party is from 6-10pm, with the awards portion set for about 7pm, at the Zilker Clubhouse, West of Zilker Park off of Rollingwood Drive. The party is open to the public. Bill Oliver & Otter Space Band will provide the music . . . Democrats partying tonight . . . Travis County Democrats will be celebrating their local victories with a volunteer appreciation party from 6-9pm tonight at Scholz Garden, 1607 San Jacinto. Party sponsors include Council Member Daryl Slusher, former Council Member Bill Spelman, consultants David Butts, Ann Kitchen and Mark Yznaga, as well as Marianne Dwight, Chris Elliot, Elizabeth Hartman and Robin Rather. For more information, call Elizabeth Hartman at 452-7870 . . . Appointments . . . Last week the City Council appointed Mina Brees and Ronnie Jones to the Ethics Review Commission. The Travis County Bar Association has nominated Catherine Kyle and she will likely be appointed also . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher reappointed Grace Hsieh to the Resource Management Commission and appointed Sandra Serna to the Human Rights Commission. A consensus of the Council appointed Domingo Villarruel to the Mexican-American Cultural Center Advisory Board. The following were also reappointed last week: Babette Ellis to the Animal Advisory Board; Bruce Willenzik to the Arts Commission; Perla Cavazos and Valerie Malone to the Commission for Women; and Stanley Mann to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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