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Austin Mayor Will Wynn used his State of the City address yesterday to celebrate the city's economic recovery and promote his plan for an " Envision Central Texas" bond election in 2006. He told the packed house at the RECA luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel that the city was at a pivotal point, and the bond package to support the goals established by ECT would play a key role in preserving Austin's prosperity and quality of life.
"After three years that have tested the mettle of this community, I can proudly and confidently tell you today that the state of our city is strong and is getting stronger every single day," he said. Wynn outlined the city's successes over the past few years in dealing with the economic downturn and urged the audience to help with the task of planning for the population growth on the horizon. "We now have to do three things: we have to grab this economic recovery and hold on, we have to maintain the fiscal discipline that we've developed during these lean times, and we need to take action now to create the future that we've said we want. In short, now is the time for us to make smart decisions about how to allocate the resources of recovery."The job creation effort spearheaded by " Opportunity Austin," Wynn said, would play a key role in maintaining the region's economic rebound. City government will also play a role through the incentives offered to major employers, like the Home Depot data center the city recently secured for northeast Austin. As for city spending, Wynn said he would continue to look for areas in which taxpayer dollars could be used more efficiently as funding is returned to areas where it has been cut over the past few years. "I propose to you that those reinvestments in beloved city departments like Parks and Libraries must be both judicious and very strategic, in ways that we haven't done before," he said. He cited city facilities as one example, noting that the opening of several new city buildings have been delayed during the past few years because there was a shortage of funding in the budget for operations and maintenance. "We spend millions of dollars to build general fund facilities all across this community, sometimes whether we need them there or not," he said. "I think we need to be smart about general fund facilities in a way we haven't been, because in my opinion we haven't been on a sustainable path when it comes to delivering general fund facilities across this city." The biggest task for the immediate future, Wynn said, would be to convert the goals outlined in the final report of Envision Central Texas into reality. "The remarkably broad consensus vision delivered by ECT should dictate how we govern as both a city and a region," he said. "The required complement to preserving open space is enabling dense urban development and we face some constraints, most noticeably urban drainage and transportation, not to mention politics." The city is already working on redeveloping the de-commissioned Seaholm Power Plant and the city-owned Block 21 downtown, which Wynn identified as significant opportunities to create more density. But he also added a third site on his list of central-city locations which could help handle some of the population density necessary to allow more suburban areas to remain undeveloped. That site was the Green Water Treatment Plant. The plant treats water taken directly from Town Lake for Austin's drinking water supply, serving downtown and parts of East Austin. New federal drinking water standards will likely force the city to either close the plant or spend millions of dollars to upgrade it. On Tuesday, Wynn made his preference clear. "We should be on the fast track today to decommissioning the Green Water Treatment Plant as a way to realize more vibrant density, add to the tax base, and preserve more open space," he said. "Anyone who says they support the goals of ECT but is unwilling to consider redevelopment of four acres in downtown Austin doesn't really support the goals of ECT." While the treatment plant is a significant symbol for some parts of the community because of its history and connection with Town Lake, the Mayor argued that the plant had outlived its usefulness. "Anyone who would elevate a symbol of our quality of life over real steps to protect our quality of life is doing trade in rhetoric, not reality," he said. Although the Mayor's speech focused on the future of Austin, he did take time to acknowledge some of the difficult issues of the past year, including some disappointments. The city's efforts to attract a new manufacturing facility for an international company dealing with wind energy came up short, as the company decided instead to build its plant in Pennsylvania. And while the debate over toll roads dominated much of the latter half of 2004, the Mayor noted that race relations had also occupied a prominent place on the city's agenda, in part due to the series by the Austin American-Statesman on the use of force by APD officers. "Regardless of your opinion of the series, it did inspire us to talk," Mayor Wynn said. "I spent more time this past year talking about race than talking about toll roads. That's an important thing for people to realize." Several City Council candidates put in an appearance at Tuesday's luncheon, including Lee Leffingwell, Greg Knaupe, Mandy Dealey, Margot Clarke, and Jennifer Kim. Notes from Campaign Trail Margot Clarke kickoff Margot Clarke kicked off her campaign last night by declaring her support for local, homegrown businesses, affordability, protection of Austin’s environment and neighborhoods—themes that resounded with about 100 supporters at Jovita’s restaurant. Long time environmental leader Shudde Fath introduced Clarke, saying, “In our public officials, we look for people who will tend to the good of the public. They’re in the office to serve; they’re not out for personal aggrandizement and possible future financial gain or a step ladder to a higher office, and that’s why I think Margot is just Number One qualified to serve us as a City Council member.” Clarke said when candidates are asked why they are running they rarely respond, “It’s important and I think I could do a good job, or even I would do a better job than my opponents. When I ask myself—which I’ve done more often this time—the answer always seems to end up the same: I am running because I can’t not run. This election’s too important to our future. This city’s too important to me, and yes, I do think I’m the best person for this job.” She said her “first priority is making Austin affordable and making choices that are in the best interests of the people who live here.” Clarke, who is hoping to succeed Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, promised to continue efforts by both Goodman and Council Member Daryl Slusher, who have led the Council on both neighborhood and environmental issues. She reminded her audience of her lengthy record as a Yeller Dawg Democrat and professional working for both women’s issues and environmental causes. Clarke just stepped down from her position as outreach coordinator for the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club to run for office. At this point, it seems unlikely that any candidate would declare herself or himself in favor of what Clarke called “horrendous decisions like the current toll road plan,” but she added her voice to the growing chorus of toll road opponents. “What I want us to think about in this campaign is what in this city is worth fighting for, not just fighting over, or about,” she said. Clarke promised that she would facilitate “true public participation when decisions are being made.” Speaking of redistricting, toll roads and the LCRA pipeline, she said, ”When thousands of citizens speak out on an issue, they should not be ignored.” She also pledged to work with other agencies, organizations and Central Texas neighbors. Also running for Place 3 are Mandy Dealey, Jennifer Kim and Gregg Knaupe. The first day to file for the seat is February 7. Commission adds strong affordable component to TOD A discussion of the Transit Oriented Development ordinance at last night’s Planning Commission meeting turned into a marathon discussion on affordable housing. Commissioners, especially Dave Sullivan and John-Michael Cortez, expressed a strong commitment to a values statement supported by the city’s affordable housing community. The statement provided guidance that was incorporated within the Planning Commission’s resolution of support on transit-oriented development. The guidelines also set the bar high for long-term affordability in TOD districts. The first public hearing on transit-oriented development at Council was scheduled this week. That hearing will likely be delayed because the Zoning and Platting Commission has yet to offer its recommendation on the proposed ordinance. Sullivan offered the affordable housing amendment, and Cortez offered the second. According to the amendment on the commission’s resolution, the Planning Commission recommended 25 percent of all homes within each TOD would be targeted for homeowners with an income of 50 to 80 percent of Austin’s median family income. In addition, 25 percent of the rental property would be targeted to families between 20 and 50 percent of median family income. Percentages could be adjusted to surrounding income levels. The commission recommended affordable housing be scattered evenly across the TOD and the affordability standards would have to be maintained for 30 years. The commission also approved 100 percent SMART housing for new construction in the TOD districts. That standard is similar to requirements on the Mueller site. Stuart Hersh of the O ffice of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, who guided the commissioners through the process, said the fee waiver process more than offset the cost of meeting the city’s SMART housing standards. The vote on the amendment was unanimous, but various commissioners expressed concerns about aspects of the ordinance. Commissioner Matt Moore, for instance, hesitated to set standards that developers might not be willing to meet. Commissioner Cid Galindo also expressed some reservations about being “too prescriptive.” “I don’t sense that there is going to be a huge rush to develop around these TODs,” Moore admitted. “I think we’re going to see transit come in, trains coming in with only a few riders, and we put in place policies that hinder the developer of any kind of residential development. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.” Moore preferred to monitor development and then take measures if new housing around the site ended up being pricier than the city anticipated. The city could come back to an affordable housing approach. Hersh, however, warned that a reactive approach had not worked in the past when the city tried to encourage SMART housing. Cortez, who didn’t think the commission went far enough on affordable housing, said he would have preferred even more prescriptive guidelines. Cortez pointed out that developers in TODs were already getting substantial entitlements that could encourage affordable housing without the requirement for levels of affordable housing. Chair Chris Riley admitted that was concerned about the 30-year specification for affordability although he did not consider it a deal breaker. Riley said long-term affordability was a complicated process that would require significant work on the part of the city and could be in conflict with goals of long-term ownership. The affordable housing recommendation was the most substantial portion of the Planning Commission’s recommendation. The group also recommended a tweaking of other areas of the ordinance, finishing up at midnight. ©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved TOD v. neighborhood plans? . . . Commissioner Cid Galindo recommended transit-oriented development be exempted from the constraints of neighborhood plans at last night’s Planning Commission meeting. Galindo wanted to free the city to pursue the density recommended by Envision Central Texas. Commissioner Dave Sullivan said it would be better to sell neighborhoods on plan amendments to accommodate density. In the end, the Planning Commission simply struck a sentence in the process, encouraging amendments to the neighborhood plans . . . Austin Energy doubles clean energy portfolio . . . Enough wind-generated electricity started entering the Austin Energy grid this week to double the clean energy now available to subscribers of GreenChoice, the utility’s award winning power program. The new wind source is a farm in Nolan County, about 40 miles west of Abilene. The utility inked a 12-year contract for 128MW of power from wind turbines, which will be fully constructed at the end of this year. Austin Energy is now contracting for the annual output from 215MW of wind generators in West Texas. The new project means that renewable energy sources will supply up to 6.5 percent of the utility’s energy requirements, keeping Austin on track to achieving its goal of 20 percent use of renewable sources by 2020 . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure will meet today at 3:30pm in the Council chambers. Connie Wodlinger of Austin Music Partners is scheduled to report on her company’s progress in setting up a new home for the local music network . . . Real estate professionals and developers are invited to comment on the proposed design standards from 1-3pm in C ity Hall in Conference room 2.106. Neighborhood advocates met with Council Member Brewster McCracken and city staff Tuesday to make suggestions on the proposal. They seemed enthusiastic about McCracken’s approach to improving design aesthetics . . . Sixties star coming for Black History Month . . . Mary Wilson of the Supremes will highlight Austin’s celebration of Black History Month. This year the theme is Black Families, according to Betty Baker of the Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Baker said Wilson will be speaking at a gathering in the atrium of the LBJ Museum at 10am on February 4. A number of Wilson’s gowns are displayed in a featured exhibit on the 1960’s at the museum . . . Get well wishes . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley is suffering from pneumonia, according to a member of her staff. A friend said Dunkerley has been ill for several days, noting that she may not be well enough to attend Thursday’s Council meeting. We wish her a speedy recovery.
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