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***Trigger opts out of Council race***

Friday, January 7, 2005 by

Jeff Trigger, who had announced last month that he would compete in a crowded field for the Place 3 race being vacated by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, released a statement this morning announcing his decision to withdraw from the race. He said he would return checks to those who had donated to the campaign.

In a press release, Trigger said, “This campaign should have been mobilized much earlier to be worthy of efforts of everyone involved.” Trigger’s decision leaves Margot Clarke as the lone frontrunner, with Mandy Dealey and Jennifer Kim in contention for a spot in a runoff with her. However, Gregg Knaupe is expected to announce that he will run for Place 3 next week. If he does, Knaupe would be the only man in the race.

Racetrack fans, foes argue in person and on-line

What was advertised as an informational debate between those for and against building the proposed Austin Jockey Club Horse Racing Track near Pflugerville turned into a one-sided affair last night, when the largest group opposing the track refused to participate. The real debate appears to be going on in cyberspace, as both sides seem to prefer putting their own spin on the issues and trading jabs on their respective web sites.

The forum was planned in advance of a February 5 non-binding referendum in the City of Pflugerville to determine public sentiment towards the proposed race track. Proposed by the Austin Jockey Club, backers hope to see a Class 2 Horse Race Track facility built on 200 acres east of the city near the planned route of State Highway 130. The group that owns Retama Park north of San Antonio would operate the race track. A permit to build the track is currently pending before the Texas Racing Commission.

After some fairly contentious negotiations, what was going to be a panel debate ended up pitting local small-business owner and former City Council Member Cliff Avery, a race track supporter, against local landowner Darlene Cross for those opposed. Cross was the only opposition representative willing to participate. The group, Pflugerville Pfamilies Pfirst, pulled out of the debate on January 1, after negotiation on the format broke down. The debate was moderated by KLBJ-AM News Director Todd Jeffries, who asked predetermined questions of the two sides. No questions were allowed from the 100 or so audience members.

Avery said that Pflugerville citizens are overtaxed, and developing commercial properties is the best way to ease that burden. “We are out of balance here in Pflugerville,” he said. “We need to seize the opportunity presented by the Austin Jockey Club, and use it as a cornerstone to developing our commercial property base.” He added that Pflugerville has one of the highest tax rates in the area, with taxes on a $100,000 home costing $640 a year. That compares to $365 for Round Rock, $461 for Cedar Park and $163 for Buda. Avery also touted the jobs and sales tax revenues the track would bring.

For the opposition, Cross asserted that the race track would not be the revenue bonanza its proponents say it is, and at 200 acres, was a very inefficient use of commercial property. “Take, for instance, Tinseltown (movie theater),” she said. “With only 18 acres, it generates more property and sales tax revenue on 18 acres than the race track will. We need to be looking at a better type of development for the entertainment district we are planning near Highway 130.” She said businesses like movie theaters, skate parks and shopping centers were a better investment to bring spending money into the area than a horse racing track. “Those types of businesses are more family friendly, too,” she said.

The debate also covered other aspects of having a race track in the area, such as security concerns, future development at the site, job creation, and gambling problems.

But the real debate continues on the two sides’ web sites. Those for the track have staked out their position on www.supportpflugerville.org, while the main opposition group, Pflugerville Pfamilies Pfirst, states its case at www.noracetrack.com.

Both sites currently contain pages telling their side of the story over negotiations for the debate. Support Pflugerville claims that the PPP continuously shouted insults at Mayor Cat Callen and shouted her down when she tried to speak. The Support Pflugerville site is sponsored by, among others, Bryan Brown with AJC. Meanwhile on the No Race Track site, leader Bruce Wood claims the Mayor was openly in support of the gambling interests and that she used “undemocratic, heavy-handed and tyrannical” tactics.

The results of the February 5 referendum will be presented to the Texas Racing Commission on February 10, so they can be considered as part of the AJC license application. According to an AJC spokesman, community support of a race track is a key factor in the commission granting a license.

ZAP committee to study TOD zoning

The Zoning and Platting Commission has assembled a subcommittee to further study the proposed TOD, or " Transit Oriented Development" zoning category. At the past two ZAP meetings, some members of the Commission have expressed concerns about the new category, designed specifically for stops along Capital Metro's commuter rail line.

At the final ZAP meeting of 2004, Commission Chair Betty Baker pointed out that the new high-intensity zoning category was not officially part of the proposal approved by voters in November. "We have a referendum on a commuter rail line, and now we're coming in and doing all this," she said . "I can talk about carts and horses here and who goes first. Are we coming in backwards to the public? I don't feel like it's fair to say 'I voted for a commuter rail line and I'm getting all of this.' I'm not sure how it's going to be accepted." The significant change in the code that is part of the draft TOD Ordinance, Baker said, could be a tough sell. "Ultimately, I assume that the citizens have to buy in . . . I don't think the citizens are going to have a great deal of affection and regard for something that's almost force-fed."

The city has held three stakeholder meetings so far to discuss the TOD plans, along with several smaller meetings with neighborhood representatives, developers, landowners, and affordable housing advocates. "We have tried to do outreach to the neighborhoods in this process…they see the station area planning process as an opportunity to have their voices heard," said Greg Kiloh with the Economic and Redevelopment Services Department. "That's my impression, it may not be correct." Commissioner Clarke Hammond concurred with that assessment, noting that the staff had worked hard to contact different stakeholder groups. "The stakeholder meetings have been very well attended," he said. "Just like everything in Austin, there is a lot of diversity in thinking about how these things are going to look in the future. It's something that I think citizens will have a number of opportunities to provide their input on here and at the City Council."

But at this week's ZAP meeting, some residents came forward to tell commissioners they had been left out of the process. "We didn't find out about it until December 17th," said Thomas Pantine, who owns a business near Plaza Saltillo, one of the seven areas targeted for the new TOD zoning. "We haven't had any kind of instrument for us to bring our input." He also expressed concerns about some limitations proposed for the TOD zoning that could impact his ability to make changes to his property. "Some of us have plans," he said. "I think it's too rushed to make this decision. I urge you to postpone this and figure out a way for us to get involved."

Plaza Saltillo is one of seven locations that would likely be affected by the TOD zoning, which is designed to promote high-density development near transit stops. The city, working with Capital Metro, has identified six likely locations for stops on the commuter rail line plus one Park and Ride location that would be suitable for a TOD ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/development/transit_development.htm). "There will be other stations in the future," said Kiloh. "That may be in the first phase of development, but they are not in the ordinance at this time because Capital Metro has not identified the exact location of the station in some cases. There will also likely be stations on the regional commuter rail system. The Austin-San Antonio Inter-Municipal Commuter Rail District…could have three stations within the city of Austin."

Those neighbors and surrounding property owners with questions about the TOD proposal will have the opportunity to meet in the next few weeks with the committee formed by the ZAP to study the issue before the next ZAP meeting on Jan. 18 at the new City Hall. That group will also likely include attorney Richard Suttle, retained to represent the owners of property along East MLK. Suttle told Commissioners he still had questions about the notification process and the details of the action that would be posted for consideration by the City Council at the end of January. “From the notice that we got," he said, "I couldn't tell if there was actually a zoning change in play. The Council directed the staff to develop TOD regulations, but I'm not sure they directed them to initiate a zoning change."

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

McCracken disputes Costello claim . . . On Thursday, In Fact Daily reported that Austin Toll Party spokesman Sal Costello said the group, which is collecting signatures on a petition to recall Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Brewster McCracken and Danny Thomas, had reached an agreement with McCracken. Costello told a gathering of recall supporters that McCracken had agreed to champion repeal of the toll road plan at CAMPO and the Austin Toll Party would agree not to support his recall from office. Costello said that either McCracken or Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin) would carry a motion at the next CAMPO meeting to repeal the entire toll plan. In an email, McCracken responded, "I do not have an agreement with the recall petitioners regarding my position on the toll plan (as was suggested in yesterday's In Fact Daily ). I stepped forward to advocate changes to the toll plan for a simple reason. I discovered that the state had misled the CAMPO board. We can all agree that it was wrong for the state to mislead the CAMPO board. We can all agree that Austin should not accept a plan that is disadvantageous to us and that is radically different from the plans of every other city in the state. We can all agree that Austin should not accept a plan that will cause us to lose more highway funding than we gain. I am pursuing changes to the plan out of principle. I oppose charging tolls on roads that have been fully funded with tax dollars. Period " . . . Mayor’s reception pulls in a crowd . . . The hallways were jammed, as were the conference room and Mayor Will Wynn’s office as the Mayor hosted Austin Young Professionals last night. Wynn introduced Council Member Betty Dunkerley and pointed out that she is running for re-election. Dunkerley reiterated that she is seeking a second term and welcomed the group also. Co-host McCracken introduced State Rep.-elect Mark Strama and Council candidates Lee Leffingwell and Gregg Knaupe. Knaupe told In Fact Daily he expects to make an announcement about which place he is running for next week. No other Council candidates made themselves known, but Jennifer Kim appeared later. . . Hospital District gets interactive . . . St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities showed the Travis County Hospital District’s Board of Managers its interactive community health information map last night for the 57 counties of Texas within the Episcopal dioceses. SLEHC, which functions off the profits of an endowment, is intended to offer health care services “upstream” from the hospital to encourage good health in neighborhoods. The database maps out statistics such as infant mortality, cancer and childhood poverty.. The city’s Trish Young told the District that the it was still on track for its annual budget, two months into the year. Young told the board that she would have a better picture at the mid-year point of the budget. . . . Misery loves company…. Gov. Rick Perry and Mayor Will Wynn had much to commiserate about together after Texas A&M University’s loss at the Cotton Bowl. Both are Aggies. At a public appearance yesterday to announce a college technology challenge, Perry got up to say, rather drolly, that he and Wynn had just refocused their conversations.” We’re talking a lot of basketball,” Perry said.

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