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Council puts off West Lynn decision

Monday, February 14, 2005 by

Council members want to hear from neighborhood's appraiser

After hearing both sides of the dispute, the City Council Thursday delayed a decision on whether to designate as historic the house at 609 West Lynn, a case that pits the value of the house against the cost of its rehabilitation.

The historic designation process on the two adjacent houses on West Lynn, both owned by the same family, was started, stopped and then started again over the last two years. One of the two houses earned the historic designation; the other one did not and was lost before the process was completed and the house was sold.

Now, new owner Hunter Goodwin is caught between dueling appraisals. One appraisal, commissioned by the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, says the Brown-Ledel-Silverman House could be salvaged for about $100,000. To OWANA, the value of the Queen Anne house is priceless and invaluable to the neighborhood’s National Register Historic District application.

“There is little, if any, dispute as to the historic nature and value of this property,” said Steve Colburn, Vice Chair of OWANA. “This house is one of the historic gems of Austin. It’s one of the first things you see when you enter the neighborhood and as such, it is essentially a gateway to our neighborhood and helps define our neighborhood. The issue is the practicality to restore this property to be habitable.”

If the issue had been that straightforward, the Planning Commission probably would have recommended historic zoning on the property. Instead, the commission sent no recommendation, on a 4-3 vote, to Council. Agent Sarah Crocker, who represented the owner of the property, produced a report by structural engineer Jerry Garcia that estimated the real work to be done on the house would amount to more than $800,000.

Garcia, who has worked on many of the high-profile projects in the city, including Penn Field, said the property on West Lynn had been mismanaged and neglected.

”Being in the building and all over that building, I can say it is truly unsafe,” Garcia said. “I was concerned for the people who were living there. We’re talking about the better part of a million dollars to get the building up to working order.”

Goodwin was both shaken and upset by the fight over the historic designation. Goodwin said he had left his pregnant wife’s ultrasound in College Station to drive to Austin, having been informed that OWANA neighbors were on his property, peering into his house and taking pictures.

Goodwin said he was not a developer out for a profit – simply a man who had bought a house and lot in Austin for his family – and called the neighbors’ behavior “completely bizarre.” Goodwin said he no longer wanted to live in the house, which he intended to demolish and replace with a single-family home. Goodwin said he was at Council’s mercy.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, the only one other than the engineers to walk into the house, reversed his recommendation to Council. Originally, Sadowsky recommended demolition, given the cost of the rehabilitation. Once informed it might be a more reasonable $100,000, Sadowsky proposed historic designation.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman called for the one-week delay, asking staff to explore every option with the neighborhood, including the possible purchase of the house by a non-profit entity, given Goodwin’s desire to move. She also wanted an update from staff on how critical the property is to the OWANA historic register district application.

Goodman also asked that the OWANA engineer be present at this week’s Council meeting to outline his rationale for his $100,000 estimate. The engineer had been at the Council meeting last week but departed before the hearing.

Council Member Danny Thomas agreed to the delay, but said he was inclined to grant a demolition permit if it could be proven that the cost of renovation was going to be a severe burden. Thomas said that was consistent with many of his earlier decisions on the historic designation of homes.

Since the owner of the property is opposed to historic zoning, it would take only two Council members to derail the designation. If they decline to vote for the historic designation, the demolition permit can be granted.

Neighbors, Ford still in conflict over Brandt Road

Telling Austin City Council members to “throw us into the briar patch,” members of three neighborhood associations surrounding a piece of state-owned land on South I-35 where a Lincoln-Mercury dealership is planned, said last week that negotiations with Ford over the property had stalled. The neighborhoods said they were confident that Ford would have a lot more trouble getting its land use plan past a state zoning panel.

Council members voted to postpone considering the zoning change until this week, but not before they got an earful during a public hearing.

Talks over the 33 acres of land on the northeast corner of I-35 and Brandt Road—which is also subject to annexation by the city—appear to have bogged down. The neighborhoods claim that Ford, anticipating annexation, would only concede to conditions that city regulations would impose on them anyway. Ford plans to build on approximately six acres fronting I-35, with Texas Department of Transportation administrative offices planned for the balance of the lot. The state’s General Land Office currently owns the property, with Ford in negotiations to purchase the area.

On Thursday, Ford’s attorney Richard Suttle read into the record a list of uses that would be prohibited on the site: drop off recycling collection facility; hotel-motel; outdoor sports and recreation; congregate living; exterminating services, outdoor entertainment; pawn shop services; and residential treatment.

Ford also agreed to enter into a restrictive covenant with the neighborhood that would prohibit test driving of vehicles on Brandt Road; provide adequate parking on site for employees and visitors; and install a no left turn sign at the exit from the property onto Brandt Road. Ford also agreed not to oppose a neighborhood petition to eliminate parking on Brandt Road. In addition, the company promised to use native plants and landscaping, to eliminate search lights and partially shield lights along the perimeter of the business, to use “luxury dealership” construction standards and participate in the Green Building Program. There were numerous other conditions that related to site and building requirements.

But neighborhood representatives such as Jerry McCully with Onion Creek Homeowners Association, still urged the Council not to annex the property unless they were willing to zone it community commercial (GR) and make auto sales a conditional use. The Zoning and Platting Commission is recommending that the six acres for the dealership be zoned GR-CO, and the balance general office with a conditional overlay (GO-CO).

said the neighborhoods needed assurance that they would have some protections from the dealership doing things considered harmful to the area. “We are particularly concerned about the dark skies issue,” he said. “This is an established neighborhood, and we enjoy an unobstructed, non-intrusive view of the sky. With the intensity of the lighting this dealership has planned, that will be obliterated.”

Another issue that concerns the neighborhoods is the possibility of a parking garage on the site. “When we asked Ford to agree to not build a parking garage on the site, they said ‘no,’” said John McGavigan. “Their position was ‘We will not agree to anything that restricts our business options.’”

Neighborhood representatives told the Council they were not comfortable that the city process would afford them the protections they were seeking, and they would rather deal with the state’s land use regulations.

Council members urged both sides to continue negotiations. The matter is posted for action on this week’s Council agenda.

Jail, health issues top county legislative agenda

Jail issues – and the ability to address overcrowding—dominate the legislative agenda that lobbyists are tracking for Travis County this session.

Lobbyists Bob Kamm and Chris Shields provide weekly updates to the court. Last week, the court heard an update on the mental health issues, plus a review of some of the jail and detention issues being pushed by the county.

Some of those include distinguishing in statute the difference between technical parole violators and those with pending criminal allegations, with the intention of quickly dispensing with technical violator cases. The county is still awaiting feedback from the Senate Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on the issue.

Other related issues proposed for consideration by the county jail overcrowding task force include the use of state facilities for parole violators, fee for non-payment of jail confinement fines, calculation of credit for time served, charges for “weekender” sentences and reimbursement for confinement expenses.

The Travis County Hospital District has pushed for greater reimbursement for health services provided to non-residents of Travis County. While the state’s coalition of public and non-profit hospitals decided not to back the proposal – mainly because of its timing – Sen. Royce West has filed a bill that would support that measure.

Urban counties have complained that the bar is set so low on the definition of what constitutes “indigence” that most outlying counties only reimburse for the most destitute of patients. Under Senate Bill 230, filed on Feb. 3, counties would have to set aside eight percent of their annual budgets to deal with such health care costs. The bill has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner brought two additional issues to the table for consideration. Sonleitner would like to amend the Election Code to include up to 5,000 registered voters in a precinct, rather than 3,000 voters as provided in current law. She also wants to amend Texas law to consider conservation easements for exemption purposes.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

CAMPO meeting promises fireworks . . . The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board meets at 6pm tonight at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center Auditorium. Among some fairly mundane agenda items–such as election of a new vice chair and setting a public hearing for the 2030 Mobility Plan–are some hot button issues. Chief among them is an item from Austin Council Member Brewster McCracken and Rep. Terry Keel for a resolution to require TxDOT to explain differences in documents listing the amount of funding available for several roadway plans, and to appoint an independent panel to analyze Phase 2 of the toll road plan. Anti-toll road maven Sal Costello promises to have a large group of Austin Toll Party members on hand. . . . Something really BIG. . . City Council Member Betty Dunkerley will be talking about the importance of small business to the local economy at 10:15am Tuesday at the Crestview Barber Shop, 7113 Woodrow Ave. as part of BIG Austin’s effort to highlight the need for small business loans. The organization wants to point out that President Bush’s proposed budget cuts endanger the growth of small businesses since Community Development Block Grants are part of the planned cuts. BIG, a non-profit catering to the needs of small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs, stands for Business Investment Growth. . . . The news about BIG came from former mayoral assistant, Josh Allen, whose firm is called Josh Allen Public Relation s . . . City launches film industry website . . . Learn all about how the film industry affects Austin, how to obtain permits for street closures and finding funding for your film through the city’s new website: . . Tonight’s meetings . . . In addition to the CAMPO meeting, which is likely to be a circus, the BOA and Sign Review Board is scheduled to meet at 5:30pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center . . . Green transportation . . . The City Council will consider resolutions on March 3 to ensure that Austin plays a leadership role in development of a Green Power Transportation System. Mayor Will Wynn is sponsoring a resolution to create incentives for plug in hybrid vehicles and initiate outreach to the 50 largest cities in the U.S. to begin similar programs. . . . Fath retracts statement . . . Last week, Mayor Will Wynn told the Save Barton Creek Association about his goal of redevelopment for the land around the Green Water Treatment Plant. He asked environmental leader Shudde Fath whether she would be opposed to moving the plant and she replied that it was OK with her. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 9, 2005.) Upon further reflection, however, Fath has decided that moving the plant might remove some of the protections for Barton Springs and Barton Creek. She informed the editor last night that she wanted to retract her previous statement . . . Improving child restraints . . . A coalition called the Texas Child Occupant Protection Safety Advocates plans a news conference at 10am today on the South Steps of the State Capitol to back legislation that would strengthen the current child occupant protection law. The law addresses “ The Forgotten Child," those ages 4 to 8 years who are not required to ride protected in a child safety seat, but are still too small for adult seat belts. Among those backing the measure are Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Rep. Fred Brown(R-Bryan). . . . A “heartening” reunion . . . Emergency responders from the City of Austin and Travis County will have the unique opportunity today to reunite with cardiac arrest patients they saved. " Survivor Austin III: Keep the Beat Alive” is sponsored by the Austin Survivor Partnership, and is a celebration of life for cardiac arrest survivors, family members and rescuers. The event will be held from 2-4pm, at City Hall, in the Council Chambers. Keynote speaker will be Texas Commissioner of Health Dr. Eduardo Sanchez.

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