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Dunkerley gains two more opponents after smoking debate

Tuesday, March 8, 2005 by

When the clock struck 5pm yesterday, the City Clerk’s office had received ballot applications from five candidates for Place 4, the spot held by incumbent Council Member Betty Dunkerley. Until last week, Dunkerley faced only one opponent—perennial candidate Jennifer Gale, 44. But last week’s tedious and fractious Council debate over the wording of a referendum to ban smoking in most public places brought two more candidates into the race against the grandmother and former Assistant City Manager.

Wes Benedict, who just resigned as executive director of the Libertarian Party of Texas, had paid the filing fee to run for Place 3, the seat being vacated by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. Benedict, 36, withdrew from Place 3 yesterday and paid an additional $500 fee to run against Dunkerley. He explained that there were two factors motivating his decision—Dunkerley’s vote to remove the words "live music venues” (See In Fact Daily, March 7, 2005) from the Onward Austin referendum language and a more complex argument relating to toll roads and central city housing. Benedict ran against Council Member Danny Thomas in 2003.

The most surprising entry in Place 4 is John Wickham, Jr. the owner of the Elysium Nightclub. As of last week, he had not even filed a designation of campaign treasurer, normally the first step a candidate takes. Wickham, 33, has not previously run for the Council. He told In Fact Daily he decided to run after last Thursday's Council meeting, referring to Dunkerley’s vote on changing the ballot wording. Wickham believes that banning smoking will damage Austin's live music industry and the small businesses that promote it. Thus, his entire platform revolves around defeating the smoking ban. "Austin should stay the same free and tolerant society it is now, but it’s not going to happen if these prohibitionists get their way."

The other candidate in this race, Phillip Byron Miller, 45, an employee of the Austin Public Library, could not be reached for comment.

Candidates for Place 1 include Lee Leffingwell, Andrew Bucknall, James Paine, Casey Walker, and Scott Williams. All but Paine secured a spot on the ballot by submitting 300 voters’ signatures. Paine paid the $500 filing fee. At this point, Leffingwell has won the endorsement of every group participating in endorsement process, including police and firefighter political action committees, the Sierra Club, and the Austin Small Business Group.

The crowded Place 3 race features Margot Clarke, Mandy Dealey, Jennifer Kim, and Gregg Knaupe. This race has appeared headed for runoff since last fall when all of the candidates decided to seek Goodman's seat. A battle between supporters of Knaupe and Clarke, coupled with confusion over who should be allowed to vote, at the Capital City Young Democrats Friday night resulted in no endorsements in any Council race. With Benedict’s move to Place 4, Knaupe is once again the only man in the contest. All three of the women, or their surrogates, can be expected to ask Knaupe, whenever possible, why he is running for a “woman’s seat.”

One candidate who will not be on the ballot this spring is Steve Adams, who ran against Raul Alvarez in 2003. Adams had planned to run in Place 1 this year, but missed Monday's deadline to file his paperwork with the City Clerk's Office. "I parked downstairs, came upstairs, went through the metal detectors, and got into the City Clerk's Office at 5:01pm," Adams said. "They said 5pm is the deadline, and 5:01pm is past the deadline, and I was past the deadline." The filing period opened on February 7th. Adams said he was aware of the deadline, but had been too busy to turn in his paperwork and signatures (in lieu of the regular filing fee). "I was fighting other items like the toll roads, the smoking ban. These are items I've been working on, lobbying the Legislature, trying to get items fixed for Austin," he said. "Yes, I should have been here a minute earlier, or two minutes earlier, or even days earlier…but my main priority was helping Austin." Adams said he has not yet decided whether to run as a write-in candidate.

Tonight, the battlefield will be at South Austin Democrats. That group meets to consider endorsements at 5:30pm at Little Mexico Restaurant, 2304 S.1st St at Oltorf St. Both Knaupe and Kim live in South Austin but Clarke and Dealey could have a lot of support there, too.

Panel rejects plan to change historic designation

Owners want vacant land for student housing

Neighbors of the historic Maverick-Miller House at 910 Poplar Street are organizing to oppose plans for a new student housing condominium development on the lot. The home’s new owners want to preserve the house, which dates back to 1922, while building a new 5-story condominium complex on the vacant portion of the lot near Lamar Boulevard. The property owners say they will develop in accordance with the guidelines set out by the University Neighborhood Overlay approved by the City Council last year.

Before they move forward with plans to build condos with a two-story below-grade parking area on the steeply sloping lot, the owners of the property want to remove the historic designation from the undeveloped portion of the tract. But they want to keep the historic designation for the house itself and a small buffer area.

“We’ve rarely faced a situation where an owner has requested the partial removal of historic zoning,” Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told members of the Historic Landmark Commission. “However, the Commission has recommended partial historic zoning on cases before.” He recommended that the Commission approve the removal of the historic designation from part of the lot. “If we retain the historic zoning for the entire parcel, then we’re going to have brand-new buildings on that parcel that are going to be zoned historic and be eligible for the property tax exemption,” he said. “If you remove the historic zoning from that, then the condominiums can be built but won’t be eligible for the tax exemption.”

The current owners of the home, B & H Enterprises, recently purchased it from the descendants of Edmund and Emily Miller. Agent Mike McHone told commissioners that the developers of the condominiums would include language in the bylaws of the condo regime requiring proceeds from the development to be used to maintain the house, which would serve as a “common area” for the condos. “It is not our intent to harm or in any way diminish this house,” he said. “We are here to try to figure out how the public good can be served by private enterprise development…by providing a source of funds that will always maintain and preserve the house.” While the home was built in a neighborhood originally populated by UT professors, McHone said that the house was increasingly isolated in the densely-populated West Campus area. “This is a historic building that is lost….because you can’t see it from the street,” he said. “It’s a narrow street crowded by very large buildings on both sides….it has a lot of cars parked out on the street and a lot of overgrown vegetation.”

But the home’s former owners protested the developer’s plans for the property, saying the new condominiums would destroy the historic fabric of the lot. Lucy Wells Riggs, the granddaughter of original owner, Emily Maverick Miller, argued that the layout and architectural features of the home were intrinsically linked to the layout of the 3/4 acre lot, and that many of the home’s features had been specifically designed to take advantage of the views overlooking Lamar Boulevard and nearby Shoal Creek. The planned 5-story condominium complex, she said, would be inappropriate for the site. “Our preference was to sell to someone who would retain the property as a single-family residence,” she said. “However, it became clear that because of the character of the neighborhood, the need to make the property economically viable, and the relatively large amount of land, we had to accept the likelihood that the property would be developed to some extent by its new owners. We believed that this development would have to be sensitive and respectful of the history of 910 Poplar, because it would have to be approved by the Historic Landmark Commission.”

Terri O’Connell, a former member of the HLC, told the current commissioners she believed no changes were necessary to the historic zoning. “It is truly a treasure,” she said. “The real views of the house are on the north and west side…the site is an integral part of this historic structure.” Some additional construction on the lot, she said, would be appropriate, but not the plans put forth by B & H Enterprises. “I would fully support any low-scale use of the lower areas of the site that aren’t visible from the entryway,” she concluded.

Commissioner Jean Mather originally moved to delay a vote on the case until the applicant returned with finalized plans for the condominium complex. But she withdrew her motion after it became clear that other members of the commission felt strongly that the historic zoning should be preserved on the entire lot. “The site is integral to the historic designation,” said Commissioner Patti Hansen, who moved to deny the applicant’s request. “The scale of the proposed development is way out of line.” Hansen’s motion passed 5-0. The Commission also voted 5-0 to grant a certificate of appropriateness for some routine maintenance work on the property involving painting, caulking windows, and re-setting a stone walkway. But that motion did not include permission to install new mechanical equipment as part of the developer’s plans to make the home a “common area” for the condominiums.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

South Austin Civic Association luncheon . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken and Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein will talk about toll roads. The election begins at 11:30am at Green Pastures Restaurant . . . Minority concerns . . . Police Chief Stan Knee, who has had more than his share of problems in the minority community, will have two live interviews on national television this morning. The first interview is scheduled for 5:15am with ABC’s Good Morning America. Half an hour later, at 5:45am, the chief is scheduled to talk to CNN. They’ll be talking about the response of some officers and dispatchers upon learning about the fire at the Midtown Live . . . MBE/WBE Council Subcommittee . . . The subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 6pm tonight in the Boards and Commissions’ Conference Room at City Hall. They will be talking about the city’s construction contract requirements, monitoring of MBE/WBE participation and a second-generation availability study . . . The Planning Commission will meet in the Council chambers at 6pm to talk about proposed amendments to a number of neighborhood plans. They may also be considering design standards. The Zoning and Platting Commission task force on the subject scheduled for last night was cancelled . . . The Mueller implementation task force is set to meet at 6pm at Waller Creek Center. . . A fix for the pet population . . . Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services has set up a fund to assist in providing free pet sterilizations. The city’s $15,000 will be used be used to match money raised by individuals and organizations for pet sterilization projects, especially in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Individuals, groups, clubs, neighborhood associations, churches or other organizations interested in sponsoring a sterilization project, raising funds for sterilizations or donating to such projects should call Dorinda Pulliam at 972-6088 or email her: dorinda.pulliam@ci.austin.tx.us .

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