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Bill offers hope for stringent air quality plans

Friday, April 1, 2005 by

TCEQ would have to consider more options under Barrientos measure

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) proposed a measure on Thursday intended to give Central Texas the flexibility to choose more options for improving air quality.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is given the authority to authorize air quality control measures for non-attainment areas. That same authority is not clearly stated for near non-attainment areas. Central Texas learned that when the region submitted its Early Action Compac t to address the 8-hour ozone standard by 2007.

“It is unclear whether the TCEQ can authorize measures,” Barrientos said when he brought the bill before the Senate Natural Resources Committee. “We want to extend that to those areas with an Early Action Compact.”

The TCEQ approved the Austin, San Antonio and Northeast Texas State Implementation Plans for each early action compact. Some of the most aggressive measures were cut from the plan. Those measures approved by TCEQ included a vehicle inspection and maintenance program in Travis and Williamson counties. The State Implementation Plan also included enforcement of heavy-duty diesel idling restrictions and revisions for degreasing, vapor recover and asphalt use.

Scheleen Walker, who represents Travis County in regional clean air action, presented letters of support for the bill to the committee from city and county leaders in the region. County Judge Sam Biscoe, as well as the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, were on hand to support the bill.

Language in the substitute on SB 123 was strengthened to make sure TCEQ would consider all options for non-attainment areas, although the bill was not intended to force the TCEQ to agree to any specific option. The Senate Natural Resource Committee left SB 123 pending in committee.

Eastside group protests condos

Leaders of PODER mustered about a dozen protesters next to a vacant lot at the corner of East Cesar Chavez and Comal streets Thursday afternoon. The group wants to stop construction of the Waterstreet Lofts ( http://www.waterstreetlofts.com), a two-story mixed-use project which will include seven commercial and 22 residential units.

The added density and likely price range for the lofts do not fit the current neighborhood, said Susana Almanza, leader of People Organized in the Defense of Earth and her Resources . "We feel that these high-priced condos are the gateway to gentrification," she said. "We want to send a message to the developers, the city, and the bankers that this is not the kind of development we want in our community. We see it as another form of housing discrimination." Almanza said the current residents of the neighborhood would likely not be able to afford the new lofts, and the increased value of the now-vacant lot at Comal and Chicon would raise the value of surrounding properties, which would in turn increase the property tax burden on nearby owners. "Those who are renters are going to be dislocated. They're going to be the first to go," she said.

Almanza's suggested solution is to revamp the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan. The Future Land-Use Map designates that stretch of Cesar Chavez as Mixed Use, not single-family, which is what she would rather see on the site: "One of the things the city needs to do is re-evaluate its zoning and downzone this area. A lot of people would like to see housing or small scale development, doctor's offices, a small clinic…a lot of things that would really benefit the community." ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/downloads/ecc1_flum.pdf)

Although the development team of Waterstreet Partners, Ltd. will not need a zoning change for the project, Almanza said her group would be tracking the project through the site plan stage to see if any variances are required. She also said they would be seeking assistance from the Austin Tenants Council on their housing discrimination claims.

PODER has been active in advocating for the people and neighborhoods in East Austin, organizing the community in the fight to get remove the tank farms, forcing the BFI recycling site to move, and closing the Holly Power Plant. But the Cesar Chavez neighborhood has another strong group of activists in the East Cesar Chavez Planning Team, which put together the neighborhood plan PODER opposes. The team, which includes Zoning and Platting Commissioner Joseph Martinez and Lori Renteria, has developed a strong relationship with city planners.

ZAP Okays DMU on 17th St.

The Zoning and Platting Commission whisked through a short agenda Tuesday night, debating only two cases and dispatching the balance of its agenda on consent.

One case involved a rezoning request for three buildings on the corner of San Antonio and 17th streets west of Downtown from General Office (GO) to Downtown Mixed Use with a Conditional Overlay (DMU-CO). The owner’s agent, Jim Bennett, told the board that the requested change would bring the property in line with its current use. “There are no plans now to change the use,” he said. “We simply want to bring the three tracts into conformance.”

Richard Hardin with the University Area Partners said his group backed the change with the conditions recommended by city staff. “We discussed this with the nearby Judge’s Hill Neighborhood Association just to the hill, and they are also supporting this.”

However, Commission Chair Betty Baker opposed the idea of expanding the DMU zoning any further out of the Downtown area. She was alone in those concerns as the Commission voted 8-1 with Baker dissenting to recommend the request.

The other case heard by the commission involved a 1.33-acre tract of land at 11833 Buckner Rd. in far Northwest Austin. The owner, Patricia King Sigg, was requesting a zoning change from Development Reserve (DR) to Family Residence (SF-3).

No one spoke on behalf of the owner or in favor of the change at the public hearing, but a neighbor to the property, Hal Meddes, opposed the change on the grounds that water and wastewater services were not available in the area, and a septic system on the property might be too close to existing wells. “I don’t see how they can build a single family home on that lot with the problems they will face in getting water and wastewater service,” he said. “I would like some assurances from the applicant that they can resolve the problem.”

City staff told the commission that the water/wastewater issue was separate from recommending the zoning change, and that the owner would need to seek a variance at a future date to resolve the water problems. But staff also doubted that the owner could afford to add water and wastewater service to the site, saying the cost of doing so would be prohibitively expensive.

Commissioner Keith Jackson moved to recommend the change to SF-3, but at Baker’s suggestion, amended the motion to recommend a change to Single Family Residence (SF-2), which she said would make it easier for the landowner to hook up to city water and sewer services if they should become available in the future. That motion won approval 9-0.

The consent calendar contained two significant items. One was the approval of a change from Rural Residence (RR) to Single Family Residence (MF-2) and Limited Industrial (LI) on a large tract of land at 1000 West Howard Ln. in far North Austin. The owner plans a single and multi-family home development on the site. Also approved was a two-year extension of an approved site plan for North Austin Medical Center II (Austin Diagnostic Clinic) at 2311 Park Bend Dr.

Notes from the campaign trail

Place 3 candidates answer students' questions

The Austin City Council campaign—at least for the Place 3 candidates—took a detour from the usual political club forum Wednesday night to meet with a group of student political organizations at the University of Texas. Despite reports to the contrary, political activism is alive and well on campus, if not a little rough around the edges.

The forum was sponsored by the University Democrats, UT Student Government, the Senate of College Councils and UT Watch. One representative from each group was on the panel who asked questions of the candidates, and there were also questions from the audience. About 100 students attended the forum, some lured by free food and T-shirts, but most of those attending seemed genuinely interested in the issues.

Three of the four Place 3 candidates, Margot Clarke, Mandy Dealey and Greg Kanupe, had all attended UT as a student, with Dealey noting how ironic it was that she had taken a government course in the Jester Auditorium where the groups were meeting. Jennifer Kim confessed to being the only Aggie in the race, having received her undergraduate degree in College Station, though she also has a master’s degree from Princeton. Organizers said there were too many candidates running to have all of the races at the forum, so they chose Place 3 because it was the most competitive.

Many of the questions, predictably, related to student issues, including how to get more students involved in city politics, proposals for the West Campus Neighborhood plan, a bill in the Legislature to give Austin police concurrent jurisdiction with UT police on campus, and building a homeless shelter in the UT area.

Dealey suggested that the city—which has dozens of boards and commission on virtually every topic—should have a students’ commission. “I think that with college students being such a large part of Austin, they should be represented at the city, she said. “Representatives from UT and the other colleges in the area could help Council members better understand the issues that concern students.” Kim told the students that they should attend Council meetings. “Every meeting has a time when anyone can address the Council, and I think students should speak out on issues such as housing, transportation, and other student views,” she said.

Knaupe echoed that idea, remembering his days has a student in the late 1980s. “I had a hard time finding an affordable to place to live as a student,” he said. " I think Council members need to understand those kind of problems.” Clarke said students needed to participate in developing policies for the areas near campus. “We had a very good process in developing the old Mueller Airport site plans,” she said. “We were very successful in getting the public to participate in that process, and I think it could be done in the campus area, as well.”

There were also questions about citywide issues, such as toll roads, the recent problems with APD, and the referendum on the smoking ordinance.

Kim said the toll road issue indicated to her that some public officials had “misplaced priorities. This awful toll road plan should not be taken to completion,” she said. “We need need more mass transit and less dependence on cars.” Knaupe said he is a supporter of the commuter rail plan, but has problems with the toll plan. “We should not be paying tolls on existing roads,” he said. “That amounts to triple taxation when you figure in the fact that we are losing future maintenance funds on these roads, too.”

Clarke pointed out that she has been endorsed by the Austin Toll Party in the race. “You may not agree with their tactics or tone, but they have brought the issue of problems with the toll road to the front on the debate,” she said. Dealey said some toll roads in the area do serve a useful purpose. “State Highway 130 will take traffic around Austin,” she said, “but it will not do much to improve mobility here in Austin. We need an integrated plan to provide connectivity, quickly and efficiently.”

On Saturday, University Democrats will meet again, this time joined by members of Central Austin Democrats, beginning at 10am in the Graduate School of Business Room 2.124 on the UT campus. Following another forum, this one devoted more to Democratic concerns than student issues, both groups will make endorsements. If they choose the same candidates, these groups, taking on the title Austin Progressive Coalition, will likely cooperate on door-hangers to let Central Austin voters know their selections.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Long Center progress . . . Officials of the new Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts will announce today that the first steps in constructing the $77 million project will begin soon. According to Cliff Redd, Long Center executive director, the center has begun advertising for contractors to clear the old Palmer Auditorium of asbestos and deconstruct portions of the existing building. The contract should be awarded by mid-April, with about two months of work in asbestos abatement to follow. Asbestos was “commonly used as insulation and fire retardant at the time the building was originally constructed,” said Donald Rutledge, director of design and construction for the Long Center. “Following abatement, old Palmer’s domed roof, ceiling support beams and other elements will be deconstructed over a period of two to three months,” said Rutledge. Long Center Chairman Joe Long said, “We are thrilled to be getting started. The board of trustees and I are confident that it is prudent to begin the project at this time, given our successes in fundraising and the opportunity to bid the job before construction costs escalate further.” Redd said that nearly $59 million already has been raised to pay for Long Center construction and provide an endowment to help meet operating expenses in future years. . . Music message . . . Austin Music Partners has sent a letter to the city detailing its planned first year budget, beginning on July 1, when AMP’s CEO Connie Wodlinger believes her group will be able to take over operations of the Austin Music Network from ACTV. That letter includes a budget scenario that shows AMP funding $200,000 per month in start-up costs in May and June and more than $345,000 a month from July 2005 through June 30, 2006. The deficit spending is projected to go down once advertising sales and other revenues increase, but the total deficit for the first year is more than $2.8 million. Wodlinger’s letter says the company has a letter of intent from Time-Warner but it had not yet been signed when the letter was sent . . . Trans Texas Commission . . . The Texas Transportation Commission named a 21-member Trans-Texas Corridor Citizens’ Advisory Committee Thursday. Local members of the committee include Ann O’Ryan and Sid Covington of Austin, as well as J ose Ramos of Buda. CorridorWatch.org co-founder Linda Stall was also among those appointed yesterday . . . Weekend events include campaigning . . . Candidates will be out pounding the streets when they’re not trying to win endorsements. West Austin Democrats will meet at 10am Saturday, as noted above . . . Fine Arts Festival. . . The Austin Fine Arts Festival is Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm at Republic Square Park, 5th and Guadalupe. The theme this year is " Buy Art & Feed Your Soul," an event promising “the works of 220 of the nation's top visual artists.” In addition to the art, the festival includes live music, hands-on arts activities, children's entertainment, artists’ demonstrations and food. For more information call 458-6073 or visit the web site austinfineartsfestival.org . . . Unitarian Public Affairs Forum . . . The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, 4700 Grover Avenue, will host a reading from the book “ Awakening Courage: One Woman’s Journey” by Gretchen Shartle at 10am Sunday. Shartle’s book details the writer’s journey from dreamer to activist . . . C hanging of the Guard . . . The Travis County Hospital District’s interim director James Collins tendered his letter of resignation to the Board of Managers last night. Chair Clarke Heidrick read a resolution honoring Collins’ work in helping get the board off the ground. Trish Young takes over today as executive director of the district, but Collins will not be riding off into the sunset. He will resume his duties in the County Attorney’s office, part of which will include serving as the Hospital District’s legal counsel.

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