Friday, April 8, 2005 by

Rainey Street gets CBD zoning with strings

Affordable housing, mixed-use allow greater height

The City Council managed to make quick work of the Rainey Street sub-district code amendment last night after a slow start, cobbling together a zoning ordinance from various options and giving Rainey Street property owners the C entral Business District (CBD) zoning most of them wanted.

Although the Council accepted almost all the optional recommendations that Council Member Raul Alvarez offered, they tried not to tie the hands of developers too strictly. Some neighbors on the periphery of Rainey Street urged special care when trying to create a neighborhood of such high density. If the area is fully built out, it could eventually be home to between 3,000 and 5,000 residents. A long-time neighborhood leader who lives on Rainey Street urged the Council to move forward aggressively with the zoning changes.

“We’ve waited a long time for the decision you’re going to make tonight,” said Robert Velasquez. “Our desires are the same, which is to provide the best zoning for our area to accommodate growth.”

Under the proposal the Council approved on second and third reading last night, all property would be zoned CBD with some conditions, including:

Building height is limited to 40 feet unless 5 percent of the residential units available are set aside for affordable housing at 80 percent of median family income;

Developers must commit to provide sidewalks not less than 10 feet wide on both sides of the street on the two major entrances into the Rainey Street neighborhood;

For residential buildings, a ground floor dwelling unit must have its principal entrance facing and opening onto the street; and

The use of any property for drive-in services is prohibited.

Those are the “must” conditions. Optional standards that can lead to density as high as 12-to-1 floor-to-area ratio include: • the use of mixed-use development,

• compliance with the Great Streets Standards,

• the use of flexible pedestrian-oriented ground floor space,

• the use of open space, and

• the use of underground parking or garage space with flat floors.

Projects also are encouraged to meet Downtown Design Guidelines, Green Building standards, street connectivity and a proper relationship with the Mexican-American Cultural Center. The developer also picks up points for the relocation and reuse of the historic structures in the neighborhood.

The Council approved the new code standards, 6-0. Council Member Daryl Slusher recused himself because of family members who live in the neighborhood

Bond possibilities hit $769 million

Futrell says staff started with $1.9 billion

City Manager Toby Futrell outlined $769.1 million worth of city departmental needs on Thursday, setting the stage for the next year's public discussion on what items the Council should put before the voters in a bond election in 2006. That figure could have been much higher, Futrell said, if all the projects suggested by various city departments had been included.

All of the needs identified in the report would far outstrip even the $600 million in bonding capacity the city could obtain if the Council took the improbable step of raising the tax rate (see In Fact Daily, March 11, 2005). "We recognize that we are presenting substantially more than we have the bonding capacity for," acknowledged Futrell. "This needs assessment is the starting place for the community and policy discussion for the upcoming bond election. We started with almost a $1.9 billion dollar package of needs, and have carved it down to here, and we recognize and understand that it has to be carved down further."

The biggest item on the needs list, drainage improvements, also had the largest gap between the amount submitted by Futrell and the amount of money needed for all desirable projects. A long-range plan for addressing the city's flooding problems in 2001 found a need for more than $800 million in capital projects. The core amount identified in Futrell's " Bond Election Needs Assessment" was $196.8 million. "What you have before you is the first opportunity since you passed the Drainage Master Plan to allocate general obligation bonds to the solution of our drainage problems," said Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman. "We recognize that a single bond package can't and probably shouldn't attempt to solve the whole problem."

Huffman went on to itemize the top priorities: $45 million for flood and erosion control projects for creeks, $45.1 million for storm drain improvements, $6 million for water quality protection projects, and $102.5 million for multi-objective projects. "Those are projects that are primarily flood-control related, but also include erosion control and water quality enhancements," she said.

When calling for a 2006 bond election earlier this year, Mayor Will Wynn said his two priorities would be flood control and promoting the goals of Envision Central Texas (see In Fact Daily, January 19, 2005). "This is the first time we've had a bond election since Envision Central Texas formulated its recommendations," said Huffman, "and many of the projects you see in this assessment support the ECT goals of densification, improving water quality, and preserving natural resources as the city expands."

The report also identifies $185 million worth of projects needed to improve the city's transportation system. Most of that money would go to repairing and reconstructing existing city streets, with the rest devoted to installing new traffic signals, upgrading existing traffic lights, repairing sidewalks, building bikeways, and constructing neighborhood traffic calming projects. The report also found $104.3 million needed for repairing and maintaining existing city buildings, with another $99.5 million needed to build new facilities for the city's public health and public safety departments.

"We're dealing with aged infrastructure that results in great inefficiencies both functionally and operationally," said Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza. AFD, APD, and Austin-Travis County EMS need new facilities, he said, to replace older, cramped, and outdated buildings. AFD needs one new facility to serve the Travis Country Circle neighborhood, and EMS needs a new facility on Airport Boulevard to cover the high-traffic area surrounding Airport and I-35.

A new combined training facility for AFD and APD, Garza said, would cost about $26.1 million. "It's not uncommon if you go out to our training facility to find firefighters, cadets, or police officers with training materials on their laps or on the floor because there literally is not enough space on the desks or tables to accommodate our training needs," said Garza. The Police Executive Research Forum recommended a new, larger training facility as part of its review of APD last fall (see In Fact Daily, November 1, 2004).

Futrell chose to separate another high-profile facility into its own category in the report. A new Central Public Library, said Library Department Director Brenda Branch, could cost $106.7. While that larger facility would require an increased staff, the Austin Public Library Foundation is proposing to create a Library Trust Fund, using money from the sale of Block 21 and private donations to establish an endowment to help pay the additional operating costs. "If we build this new Central Library, we will provide to the Austin community a great Central Library that would support the branches in a dynamic way, and our customers would have a community gathering place with in-depth research and circulating collections augmenting branch collections," said Branch. While the needs assessment report does not identify a specific site for the new library, Branch said it would require about 2.5 acres to build a 200,000 square-foot facility.

Two other areas were also listed as priorities in the Needs Assessment: acquiring land for parks and open space, and setting aside money for affordable housing. Futrell noted that these would need to be the focus of intense community debate over the next year, but included target amounts of $50 million for land and $25 million for affordable housing in the report.

Freescale package wins approval

Much of the hoopla over the city’s economic development package for Freescale Semiconductor has centered on the cost of incentives being offered—estimated at $20 million or $30 million, depending on the headline. But Austin’s portion, approved by the City Council yesterday, turned out to be $10.6 million. Travis County, the State of Texas, AISD and the University of Texas are also expected to sweeten the pot.

Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman began her presentation by noting that Mayor Will Wynn has referred to the city’s relationship with Freescale as a marathon, rather than a sprint. Huffman emphasized what Freescale has done for Austin. “There are 5,600 employees at Freescale . . . These employees have been a part of this community and contribute a great deal to the greatness of Austin, including efforts with United Way, SafePlace and Keep Austin Beautiful,” she said. “Opportunity Austin talks about the human capital that we have here in Austin, and these employees represent a part of that human capital. Beyond that, Freescale is a high tech company with cutting edge research and new product development that impacts all of us. The design chips they make are running some of the most advanced cell phones in the world, form the backbone of the Internet, and make our cars safer, more reliable and energy-efficient.”

In December 2004, when Freescale spun off from Motorola, the company considered its options for a global headquarters. After hearing entreaties from a number of other cities, Freescale announced last week that it would stay here and also agreed to a $600 million expansion of its local manufacturing facilities.

Huffman stressed that the incentives Austin provides are performance-based, meaning, “the city pays after the company performs.” The package is broken into two parts, headquarters and expansion. The former includes $2.6 million in property tax and payroll benefits. In order to earn those incentives, Freescale must move up to 300 employees from its current site in Oak Hill over the Drinking Water Protection Zone to a site in the Desired Development Zone.

The expansion portion of the package includes a total of $8 million, for which Freescale must put between 200 and 500 new jobs into the Austin economy and make a $600 million investment in new machinery, equipment and real estate. The city will grant abatements on $414 million of that. The incentives also include $500,000 for a general aviation hangar. Tax abatements will be spread out over a 10-year period.

Danny Thomas was the only Council Member to raise questions about the deal. He asked Huffman what types of jobs Freescale would be providing. Huffman said they would be highly-paying jobs in the semiconductor industry, with an average pay of $77,000 annually. Huffman said Freescale would provide good jobs, but she could not tell him how many minorities the company hires.

“Do we ever look at that when we do these incentive packages?” Thomas asked.

Huffman indicated that the city looks at questions like whether the company is a good corporate community partner, but she did not say that included a commitment to minority hiring.

He responded, “We need to let the community know that we are looking at different angles when we do these incentives to make sure we are trying to represent everybody in this community.”

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

Long Center on a roll . . . Long Center director Cliff Redd had no trouble convincing the City Council to accept a guaranteed maximum cost—rather than do a feasibility study—as an amendment to the lease agreement between the city and the Long Center. Redd noted that center boosters are raising more than one-half million dollars a month, enabling them to move forward with construction plans. A study would cost them $500,000 and would not be necessary with the cost guarantee, Redd said. Mayor Will Wynn noted that the bid would be “much more accurate, frankly than a third-party study.” The change was approved without dissent . . . Promotion . . . Greg Guernsey has been promoted. He is now Assistant Director of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning . . . Downtown show debuts . . . The Downtown Austin Alliance is co-producing a 13-week series on Downtown Austin with Action Figure and KLRU. The show, Downtown, debuted last night. It will run each week on Thursday night at 8 p.m. and Friday nights at 9 p.m. For more information on the show and a QuickTime preview, go to http://www.downtownaustin.com/news/tv . . . Appointments . . . The Council appointed Julie Jenkins to the Environmental Board and Brenda Malik to the Arts Commission by consensus . . . Rogerio Cortinas was appointed by consensus to the Community Development Commission and Jeb Boyt was reappointed by consensus to the Downtown Commission as a representative of the Parks Board. C ouncil Member Betty Dunkerley appointed Betty Hudspeth to the Child Care Council. M ayor Will Wynn appointed Randolph Houston to the Music Commission and reappointed Cristina De La Fuente-Valadez to the Urban Renewal Board . . . Judy Cortez was appointed by consensus and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman reappointed Edward Sledge to the Human Rights Commission. The Council reappointed David Campos, Rose Lancaster and Julia Mitchell to the Federally Qualified Health Care Board by consensus . . . Goodman also appointed David Adamson to the Electric Board and reappointed Karen Paup to the Community Development Commission. . . Bond committee announced . . . The City Council appointed members of the Envision Central Texas Bond Committee yesterday. The name of the Council Member appointing each member is in parentheses: Martha Cotera and Lydia Ortiz (Alvarez); Amy Mok and Tom Terkel (Dunkerley); Jennifer McPhail and Cynthia Medlin (Goodman) ; Mike Clark-Madison and Ron Urias (Wynn); Rosanna Barrios and Sabrina Brown (McCracken); Rodney Ahart and Dave Sullivan (Slusher); Albert Black and DeWane Lofton (Thomas). ECT appointed Fred Butler, Lowell Lebermann, Robin Rather, Frederick Steiner, Charles Urdy and Jim Walker. The group could add another to that list. The surrounding counties are also being asked to appoint representatives, along with AISD (see In Fact Daily Mar. 1, 2005), but their names were unavailable yesterday. . . C&E reports . . . Yesterday was the deadline for City Council candidates to turn in contribution and expenditure reports for the period from Jan. 1 through March 28, the next to last report before Election Day, May 7. Place 4 incumbent Council Member Betty Dunkerley raised more than $66,000 but still owes her own retirement fund $30,000. Most of the reports were not available at press time but will be posted on the city web site today. . . Committee delayed. . . The Council delayed by one week a vote on creating a " Blue Ribbon Committee" to work with the group assembled by City Manager Toby Futrell to find ways to improve the quality of life for African Americans. The discussion gave Council Member Danny Thomas a chance to express his surprise that the proposed loan for the Midtown Live was not necessarily coming back to the Council for a vote. Two people signed up during Citizens Communications to discuss the loan, but supporters of club owner Selena Cash did not rally at the Council chambers Thursday evening as previously planned.

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