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Onion Creek annexation fight brewing

Wednesday, December 1, 2004 by

State General Land Office asks city to wait

Residents of three neighborhoods near Onion Creek have gathered about 950 signatures on a petition they hope will convince the City Council to annex a 32-acre strip of land this week over objections from the State General Land Office. The state hopes to sell the land to Ford Motor Co., which plans to open a new showroom and sales lot on a six-acre corner of the property.

Normally, the annexation would be a routine matter approved on consent, but in this particular case the GLO has asked the city to delay annexation for a year. If the city decides not to annex the land tomorrow, neighbors fear that Ford will move ahead with plans to purchase the property from the state and disregard neighbors' concerns, according to Darlene Louk, president of the Parkside at Slaughter Creek Owner’s Association.

If the property is not annexed, the city's zoning regulations, including compatibility standards, lighting and impervious cover restrictions would not apply. Asked to name her greatest concern, Louk said, "We're most concerned that they might be able to build a dealership with no restrictions."

Attorney Richard Suttle, who represents Ford, said Tuesday, "I've told them that regardless of what happens on the annexation, we're going to work with them.”

In Fact Daily, ”The position of all three homeowners associations is, ‘If you’ll work with us, then great,’” but do so “’through the annexation process.’” Louk said that the company has indicated that they were concerned that annexation could delay their project by 90 to120 days. She agreed that Suttle had told the neighborhoods he would work with them to answer their concerns, but the sticking point is annexation.

Consultant Rick Vaughn, who is working on behalf of the homeowners ' groups, explained that the Ford tract is part of property the state owns, where a new TxDOT Office will be built. “It's kind of a hole in the doughnut,” Vaughn said, explaining that all of the surrounding property has already been annexed.

Council members, who are usually not overly concerned about objections from those about to be annexed, have more to think about in this particular case. With a Legislative session only a month away, it's not a good time to incur the wrath of a state agency. On the other hand, the city and a majority of the Legislature have not agreed on much when it comes to land use regulations. So city leaders may feel they have nothing to lose, especially with the worried neighbors, who were annexed not long ago themselves, clamoring for city action.

Pflugerville populism prevails

Race track referendum set for February 5

In what has become a battle of family values versus economic progress, the Pflugerville City Council voted 4-to-1 last night to hold a non-binding referendum to gauge the city’s support or opposition to a proposed horse racing track. The Council approved a resolution to hold the vote on February 5, the same day the Pflugerville Independent School District plans a bond election.

The issue concerns a plan by the Austin Jockey Club to construct a $15 million facility on 200 acres near the planned intersection of SH 130 and SH 45, land in Pflugerville’s ETJ that is likely to be annexed before the end of the year.

Opponents and proponents of the plan have staked out well-defined positions on the plan, and flocked to last night’s called meeting. The group opposed, Pflugerville Pfamilies Pfirst (PPP), claims the track would be a corrupting influence on the city’s family-oriented atmosphere. Proponents, who have thus far avoided adopting any “Pf”-based monikers, claim the city needs the jobs and tax base that the facility would bring to the area.

Both sides, however, seemed to agree that they wanted the opportunity to get their people to the polls.

Gus Satcher, speaking as an individual, said how the community deals with the issue will say a lot on how it is perceived in other areas. “In five years, is our Chamber of Commerce brochure going to say ‘Come to Pflugerville. We have a Wal-Mart?’” he asked. “Having a horse race track will make us a destination, not just a place. Holding the referendum will serve at least one function: it will deny the small group that opposes it their attempt to hijack ownership of public opinion.”

But Bruce Wood, leader of PPP, says he is confident that his group, mostly members of several local churches, would win such a vote. “We have put a lot of time and effort into letting people know what this (race track) is really all about,” he said. “Some people have tried to paint us as just a small minority of people in the community making lot of noise, but we’re not. We are a diverse group that cuts across all parts of the community.”

The rationale behind holding the non-binding referendum is to give the Texas Racing Commission a definitive word on whether the community supports the race track or not. The Pflugerville City Council has already endorsed the project, but at a recent racing commission hearing, PPP members presented a petition with some 1,500 signatures opposing it. Saying community support is a major component of licensing a race track, the Commission said it needed better proof of community support within the next nine months.

At one point, Council Member Chuck Laroche floated the idea of allowing the community to initiate the referendum. In order to do that, a group would need to gather signatures of 20 percent of the registered voters in the city, or about 2,600. Several PPP members bristled at the idea, saying they had already spent time knocking on doors to gather signatures for their earlier petition, and felt that requiring them to repeat the process was either a delaying tactic or a deliberate obstacle.

However, Mayor Cat Callen said her concern was that only about 1,000 of the area’s 13,248 registered voted in the last election, and if turnout was similar in February, the referendum would do little to prove support or opposition to the track.

Council Member David Seeker, the lone “no” vote on the referendum, said he wasn’t sure what it would indicate. “What message will the racing commission get from the result?” he asked. “If the vote is 55-45 percent, will they that see that as overwhelming community support, or just that we are divided? We were elected to make this decision, and we have made it. If we hold a referendum every time someone disagrees with our decision, we’ll tie our hands and the hands of every Council that follows us.”

PPP’s Wood reminded the Council of his group’s displeasure with their support of the race track, and hinted broadly that if they did not approve the referendum, there could be political repercussions. “I’ve been reading the City Charter, and while it may take 20 percent of registered voters to get a referendum on the ballot, it only takes 10 percent to get a recall. Maybe we could vote on both at the same time.

County looks at regulations, expenses

Ordinances could help rural residents

A number of regional efforts for Travis County will come to fruition in coming weeks, including anticipated proposals to broaden the county’s powers to regulate water quality.

At yesterday’s County Commissioners’ meeting, Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joe Gieselman presented a list of 20 regional planning projects narrowed down to the six most crucial ones for the county that will require actions or expenditures from the Court. At the top of the list was the extension of water lines out Hamilton Pool Road.

A group of neighbors and county staff have participated in the Southwest Travis County Growth Dialogue, which deals with the Hamilton Road issue. Gieselman said the group is earnest in its efforts and will likely recommend county leaders finally use some of the new authority vested in counties under Senate Bill 873. Passed two sessions ago, the legislation was intended to grant counties some of the jurisdictional authority reserved for cities.

“The approach right now is fairly broad-brushed,” Gieselman said. “It may be water quality standards, more water conservation. It may be going beyond our current subdivision or flood plain regulations. We’re launching into an area where we have not gone heretofore, and its based on feedback from the stakeholders.”

That includes both the development community and the neighborhoods in the area. The goal of the dialogue is to “mitigate some of the adverse consequences of development in rural areas,” Gieselman told the court in his briefing yesterday. Suggestions from the group are likely to be brought to the court in January. The commissioners, however, will ultimately be responsible for crafting and approving any ordinances.

Other items that top Gieselman’s list include the completion of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ studies of flooding on Onion Creek and the Highland Lakes. Both are expected to produce recommendations for additional buyout programs and are expected in the near future. To secure federal funding, however, the Corps of Engineers must get a 35 percent match from Travis County. Gieselman suggested that the projected cost of the buyout of Timber Creek should be included in an anticipated 2005 bond proposal.

“We’re not driving the train, but we’re going to be affected by it,” Gieselman said.

Commissioner Ron Davis urged Gieselman to also consider buyouts in Walnut Trace. Gieselman said he was not opposed to the suggestion but pointed out the possible buyouts in Timber Creek and Graveyard Point will come at the end of three to five years of study.

County Commissioners also have other items on the horizon: Terms of some appointees to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will expire and re-appointments or new appointments must be made. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization will approve a new 25-year plan next spring, and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner pointed out it will be the first time for a full three-county area. And the county must come up with an anticipated grant program for those drivers who have vehicles that cannot pass the new county emission inspections.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said the emissions testing are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing clean air issues. The county, among others, will soon need to take serious steps to encourage mass transit on ozone action days among employees. Such an effort may not be something county employees will all do voluntarily.

And, finally, Travis County will have to decide whether it wants to continue to contribute to Envision Central Texas. County Judge Sam Biscoe said it was time to invite the new executive director to address the commissioners. Sonleitner said she wanted to make sure any future effort would produce deliverables the court could use, such as some of the materials and mapping that had come out of past efforts.

City move could create holiday . . . City Hall staff members have been ordered to stay away from both the Municipal Building at Eighth and Colorado and the new City Hall on Cesar Chavez from Friday, December 10 through Sunday, December. 12. On Friday, movers will start to disassemble all the computer equipment at the old City Hall and began moving all that vital technology to the new City Hall—along with boxes of files and other belongings. All City Hall phones will be shut off from Friday through Sunday. The movers have promised to complete the move and to have telephones and computers operating properly by Monday December 13. However, that leaves a gap during which the City Clerk’s Office, for example, will not be offering the usual public services–including posting of public meetings, filing of designation of treasurer for City Council candidates and providing public information. City Clerk Shirley Brown said yesterday that she would try and work out a resolution to this problem “to meet the demands of our citizenry.” Kay Gudea in the City Manager's office told In Fact Daily that two people from that office would be staying at the Municipal Building to make sure that the agenda for the December 16 Council meeting was prepared on time. Members of the staff of the city's Public Information Office will be available by cell phone to the media. According to a memo outlining the move, city employees may opt to take a vacation day, work four 10-hour days, work somewhere away from the office, or help out at the library on Friday . . . What ever happened to Pete Peters of the Communicators? . . . Pete reported yesterday that he had quadruple bypass surgery at the end of September, which has given him a new perspective—as a truly lucky guy who won more than any lottery purse. He says he’s as good as new now and continues to help those involved in road construction . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Environmental Board is scheduled to meet at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The board’s subcommittee on Barton Springs Mitigation Policy did not meet yesterday. The information the group needed was not available, said Karin Ascot, who chairs the subcommittee . . . The executive and core committees of the Regional Water Quality Planning Project will meet in a combined session at 7:30om tonight in the Dripping Springs City Hall. The project was established to develop measures to protect the water quality of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. . . . Media phobia? . . . Williamson County Commissioners often point out with pride that they no longer manage a sleepy, agricultural county but a modern, growing suburban metropolis. However, a request yesterday from an Austin radio station to set up a news bureau in a county office appears to have sent them back to their rural roots. When the item, a request for KLBJ-AM radio to have access to a desk and chair in the Cedar Park annex—at no cost to the county—came up for a vote, comments such as “We don’t have any space to space for that,” “That would set a dangerous precedent,” and “We don’t do things the same way they do in Austin,” emanated from the dais. But the line that most perplexed the six reporters on the back pew, five of whom represented major Austin media outlets, was when one Commissioner opined, “We don’t get that much media coverage anyway.” With that, they unanimously rejected the request.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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