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ZAP sees major problems with TOD

Thursday, February 3, 2005 by

Commission recommends restrictions only in gateway zone

The Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance will go to the City Council today with a recommendation from the Zoning and Platting Commission that the ordinance only apply initially to the areas closest to Capital Metro’s proposed transit stations.

As currently written, the ordinance regulates three zones surrounding a transit hub. The closest is designated the “gateway” zone, followed by the “midway” zone and the “transition” zone. At the request of Commissioner Keith Jackson, the ZAP voted 5-4 to recommend that the TOD provisions only apply to the gateway zone, giving more time to those property owners in the other two zones to prepare for the imposition of new restrictions and design guidelines to promote high-density development.

At least two Council members have said privately that the Council should postpone voting on the ordinance, but they are expected to take comments at a public hearing scheduled for 6pm tonight in the Council chambers.

Jackson, an engineer, was concerned about the list of prohibited uses that would go along with the TOD zoning designation. Many of the prohibitions are designed to restrict low-intensity and automotive uses in the region surrounding a passenger stop on the Capital Metro commuter rail line.

“I have a hard time with the draft ordinance as it exists,” said Jackson. “I think there’s some issues, specifically, creating so many non-conforming uses.” Under the staff’s proposal, businesses currently located within the areas proposed for the midway or transition zones that fall into those prohibited categories would be allowed to remain, but would be designated as legally non-conforming. That limits how much they are able to expand, and one business owner told the commission it would also limit his access to loans, since many banks are reluctant to lend money to a business declared non-conforming. “If we are creating a wealth of non-conforming uses, we are creating a number of problems,” Jackson concluded.

Three representatives of real estate and development interests used the public hearing portion of the meeting to tell commissioners the ordinance needs more work. “As this proposed ordinance hits a broader group of stakeholders, we’re finding that there are some very serious concerns. I think there’s a lot more thought that needs to go into this. At the very least, you should delete any requirement of a TOD overlay district or initial regulations,” said attorney Jeff Howard. “The transit stations are still several years away. Ridership will be low. It’s simply too soon to assume that there will be a demand for this type of development. These initial regulations will apply, but there won’t be any initial benefits.”

Mike McHone also told commissioners the ordinance, in its current form, would not meet the needs of the market. Instead of prohibitions on some uses and mandatory building heights, McHone urged the commission to consider an incentive-based approach. “Set up incentives for each area, then enact policy that will guide and encourage the marketplace to meet those expectations If the market says you’re only going to build a two-story building, you’re not going to get any building if you can only build a six-story building.”

Jackson’s proposal to apply the TOD provisions only to the area closest to each transit hub (the gateway zone) was intended as a compromise after Commissioner Joseph Martinez suggested that the commission recommend that the Council reject the TOD Ordinance. While the various stakeholders should continue working on the guidelines, he said, he did not feel the ordinance should be approved in its current form.

“It is essential that the effects of the TODs, both within their boundaries and the surrounding areas, are carefully analyzed and that measures are taken to maximize their success”, Martinez said. We recognize that there is an urgency to get phase one of the TOD Ordinance in place as a means of preventing inappropriate development. However, the process must not be so rushed that it precludes adequate planning and sufficient public input and oversight,” he said.

Although Martinez moved to recommend that the ordinance not be approved, Jackson offered a substitute motion, suggesting that the provisions relating to the midway and transition zones not be applied until after a planning process for each station area. “By restricting it to that area (the gateway zone), we allow further planning to go on in the periphery while we protect the real heart of what the staff is trying to do, and minimize the number of non-conforming uses out there,” he said. “I think those are a nightmare in the making.”

The vote to support Jackson’s motion was 5-4, with Commission Chair Betty Baker and Commissioners Janis Pinelli, Melissa Whaley Hawthorne and Clarke Hammond joining him. At Baker’s suggestion, Jackson also added a provision to separate one of the seven proposed TOD locations. While six of those locations are along the railroad tracks to be used by Capital Metro’s commuter rail line, the seventh is a Capital Metro Park and Ride facility in North Austin. Baker said that should be open to some of the automotive uses that would be prohibited near the rail transit sites.

Carollo gets nod for water plant design

With approval from the City Council next week, work could begin soon on the planned Travis Water Treatment Plant on a 100-acre site in the hills of northwest Travis County. The city Water and Wastewater Commission has endorsed an amendment to the utility’s contract with Carollo Engineers for design work on the new plant, which must now get the Council’s approval.

Carollo will do preliminary design and engineering work on the plant to be built north of FM 2222 and just east of RR 620. The location for the plant was originally picked in the 1980’s, but construction was put on hold before any work was done. But with the city’s growing population, Austin needs a new water treatment facility by the spring of 2010 to help meet peak demand during hot summer days.

The Water and Wastewater Utility selected Carollo in March 2002 to review the site and determine if it was still suitable. Now that the review has been finished, the utility plans to retain Carollo for additional work. The amendment to the city’s existing contract with the firm totals $6.5 million, bringing the total contract to $10 million.

Commissioners questioned utility staff about the procedures for the contract and the company’s qualifications before voting unanimously to recommend the proposal. The $6.5 million dollars for Carollo is only a fraction of the eventual total for design and construction services related to the plant, which could run between $40 and $50 million.

The preliminary specifications call for a facility with the capacity to process 50 million gallons per day, but the city owns enough land in the area to eventually expand the size of the plant. The city plans to reserve 100 acres for the plant itself, with the surrounding 140 acres kept as preserve land. To get water to the plant, the utility will run a pipeline just over two miles east to draw water from Lake Travis. As construction draws closer, the utility plans to do extensive outreach to the surrounding businesses and residents in the rapidly-growing area to keep property owners and residents informed about the need for the plant and the construction timetable.

County opposes change to mental health system

Travis County intends to add its voice to those of other urban counties in opposition to creating regional authorities to deliver aging, disability and behavioral health services across the state. Few issues appeared to stir up urban leaders more at a recent Conference of Urban Counties luncheon than a proposal by Rep. John Davis (R-Houston) to replace state agencies with regional health authorities. Those authorities could be divided by region and possibly privatized.

David Evans, executive director of the Austin-Travis County Mental Health-Mental Retardation Cente r, presented county commissioners with a packet of information on House Bill 470 at this week’s Commissioners Court meeting. Evans said the bill, which would be sponsored by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville) in the Senate, would not only set up regional authorities but also divide services into behavioral health and disability and aging services.

“One of the ideas would be that this would be a mirror of a regional mobility authority or a regional Workforce Commission,” Evans said. “What it needs to take into account is what have the actual experiences been in the counties for treatment and support services.”

County commissioners agreed they wanted to consider opposing the legislation, which is on the agenda for the Conference of Urban Counties. Lobbyist Chris Shields, who represents Travis County before the Legislature, pointed out this is not the first time the regional authority idea had been introduced. Shields could recall at least three recent sessions in which regional authorities were proposed.

Evans had a number of questions about how the authorities would implement policy, including how Medicaid funding would be handled and how those funds would be divvied up among authorities. Evans also questioned who would pay for the funding of the operation of the authorities. The specifics of the bill make it unclear whether the state would pay for the authorities or pay for the authorities out of funds intended for local use.

The bill would create as few as 11 or as many as 41 regional authorities. Evans also is concerned whether this authority might be administered from Travis County, from another county, or even from some type of private entity. Unbundling services – separating funding that is gathered for a person with multiple needs from multiple sources – would also be a challenge to urban counties, Evans said.

Shields assured the commissioners that the authors of the bill were still open to input from county officials. And while it was proposed in three prior sessions, it had yet to pass. Shields added that it was his assessment that the bill was not one that would save money; instead, it was another way for the state to shift the cost of services from the state level down to the local level.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved Appraisal cap revived. . . Lobbyist Chris Shields has told Travis County Commissioners that the appraisal cap bill, once considered dead, has new life since Gov. Rick Perry’s State of the State speech. The appraisal cap issue was considered the major piece of legislation to oppose by both counties and cities that rely on property taxes for local budgets . . . Boring Council meeting . . . The agenda holds little promise today, at least prior to the 6pm public hearings. There appear to be few things that will cause consternation, or lively discussion, at least in public. Lisa Sanchez, a former employee of the Water and Wastewater Department has sued the city, claiming a “whistleblower cause of action and alleged free speech violations.” The city is ready to allocate $147,000 to Cornell, Smith & Mierl to act as outside counsel in the case . . . Thompson and Knight is likely to receive an amendment to their outside counsel contract for $150,000 for a total contract amount of more than $1 million . . . The Council is expected to approve a 12- month service agreement with BFI Waste Services of Texas for containers and disposal services for waste from wastewater treatment plants. Including two 12-month extension options, the total contract amount could be $391,320 . . . Only one zoning hearing is likely today. The case involves property at 6001 West William Cannon Drive, which the owner wishes to zone community commercial . . . The case involving Ford Motor Company on I-35 South at Brandt Road will be put off, as will third reading of the annexation ordinance for the property. Ford and the surrounding neighborhoods have not yet reached agreement on traffic flow, lighting and other matters . . . Public Hearings. . . The TOD ordinance is scheduled to be heard first at 6pm. After that, there will be a public hearing on standards for childcare at the Parks and Recreation Department, which will be followed by two variance requests from the Land Development Code. Sarah Crocker is handling both of the variances . . . No decision yet . . . The Travis County Hospital District’s Board of Managers spent another evening Wednesday behind closed doors, debating the merits of the four finalists for the district’s executive director position. Manager Donald Patrick, after about two hours of discussions, emerged to say the only thing the board had decided last night was that it wasn’t going to make a decision. Discussions will continue as the board meets again tonight at 6:30pm in the Travis County Granger Building in its regular weekly meeting. However, a full agenda of regular business is also posted, so it could be a very long evening. No word on what, if anything, is causing the deadlock. . . At the Convention Center . . . More than 45,000 people are expected to attend 15 events at the Austin Convention Center this month. So far, Austin has hosted the Texas Association of School Administrators 2005 Education Expo and the 2005 Government Technology Conference Southwest. The Texas Association of Builders’ 2005 Super Builder Conference begins Friday . . . Return of the veggies . . . Whether it’s Spring or not, the Farmers Market will return to Republic Square at 9am this Saturday.

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