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House approves 'takings' bill

Wednesday, May 11, 2005 by

Rockwell says proponents distort meaning of case

The Texas House passed HB2833, dubbed a “ takings” bill by its author, on third and final reading last night, and with only one minor technical amendment. The measure, authored by Rep. Robby Cook (D-Eagle Lake), would force municipalities to reimburse landowners when water quality regulations reduce the value of their property.

Several attempts by Reps. Eddie Rodriguez and Elliott Naishtat (both D-Austin) to amend the bill failed during second reading Monday. (See In Fact Daily, May 10, 2005). Cook’s claims that Austin’s SOS Ordinance was responsible for devaluing some parcels of land until they were “virtually worthless” were disputed after the fact in an email to In Fact Daily from SOS Deputy Director Brad Rockwell.

He said Cook’s use of the case Quick v. City of Austin to make his point was a distortion of the issue. “The proponents of HB 2833 … have been relentlessly misrepresenting the Quick case as exemplifying existing deficiencies in takings law,” Rockwell wrote. “In the author's statement of intent in the bill analysis, contained an analysis of takings law that cited to Quick as if it upheld the validity of 90 percent reductions in value of property against a takings claim. But Quick was not a takings case. The Supreme Court did not hold that the City of Austin was exempt from takings law.”

Rockwell criticized the Texas Landowners Conservancy, the main backers of HB2833, for distorting the Quick case as a “scare tactic” in the debate. “If there really was a property owner whose value was decreased by 90 percent because of the SOS Ordinance, the Supreme Court invited him to bring suit against the City of Austin,” he wrote. “Because no suit like this ever was brought, it calls into question the very existence of this supposed fact. The Landowners are perpetuating a myth about Texas takings law no less than the myth they are perpetuating that they are a conservancy.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces not only a less friendly atmosphere than in the House, but a time crunch. House bills coming to the Senate must make it through a committee hearing and then must be placed on the full Senate calendar. With just three weeks left in the regular session, it faces an uphill battle to make it to final passage.

Historic home expansion wins OK

Hyde Park neighbors ask BOA for support

At this week’s Board of Adjustment meeting, representatives of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association took the rare step of supporting a variance request to allow new construction to expand an historic home.

New owners Nicholas and Linda Van Bavel want to turn a home at 213 W. 41st Street from a duplex with nine bedrooms back into a single-family residence. They sought out and received " H", or "historic", zoning from the city for the home. "We're actually going to restore it to the way it looked in 1917," said Nicholas Van Bavel.

"We're really looking forward to the project. To make the house of practical use, we are building an addition on the back." The location of that garage, he said, was chosen to comply with the rules of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District and to protect a large tree on the property. However, meeting both of those conditions would put the garage four feet into the side-yard setback for the adjacent property.

Neighborhood association representatives endorsed the variance request. "We're delighted to see this historic house be re-done," said Stanley Kozinsky. Van Bavel advised the Board that the addition would likely contain plumbing and kitchen facilities so it could be used as guest quarters, but would not be rented out.

Van Bavel and his architect have been working with the city's Historic Preservation Office on their design to make sure it does not violate the home's historic character. "The HLC has not officially signed off yet on our proposed changes," said Van Bavel. "We've accommodated some feedback that Steve Sadowsky has given us. It is possible, if you observe certain guidelines, to put an addition on an historic home and still have it maintain its historic status." The Board voted 4-1 to support the variance, with Board Member Betty Edgemond opposed.

In other commission action, visitors to the Dell Computer facility at 701 E. Parmer Lane will soon have an easier time finding their way around. The Sign Review Board approved a variance Monday night to allow the company to install up to 10 signs on its property to help direct the flow of traffic.

"These are going to be directional wayfinding systems for the property," said Lee Young with Austin Architectural Graphics. "They're going to go around the entire facility. The primary reason we would need a variance is because they have the Dell logo on top, which throws it into a different category as a 'freestanding sign' rather than a 'directional sign'."

Young said the signs to help visitors to the campus and delivery drivers find the right building were necessary because of recent changes in security procedures which limited the points of entry to the property. Although the variance request was for 10 signs, the company intends to install only eight. The board voted 6-0 to approve the variance.

Council to look at water plant again

Gables at Westlake, Murphy Tract hearings set for Thursday

With many controversial items on the agenda, this week's City Council meeting could be arduous for both those on the dais and those in the audience.

The Council will have to consider whether to approve a contract for the preliminary design of Water Treatment Plant No. 4, or postpone the matter again. Carollo engineers' contract extension for $6.5 million is on the agenda, but environmentalists say there is no need to fund the design right now because the water utility is still assessing other options. The treatment plant is located next to Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan acreage.

Council members will have another opportunity for input on the retail and commercial design standards, with building orientation being the most difficult to resolve. Real estate interests still want to be able to put parking in front of stores, while staff wants those tucked behind the buildings. The transit oriented design ordinance is back for a third reading Thursday, but design standards will be back on future agendas when the regulations are written to implement Council’s policy pronouncements.

Attempts to resolve an impasse between developers and neighbors for the Gables at Westlake have reportedly failed. That case alone could keep the Council up ‘til the wee hours, but of course it is not alone. The SOS Alliance has called on its members to protest plans to put 344,000 square feet of offices, on the Murphy Tract on Southwest Parkway. Sponsors of the zoning change request say the plan is SOS compliant, but SOS wants to keep major traffic generators—like AMD—off the aquifer. There are at least two other zoning cases that will bring out opponents, unless they are postponed.

There are two 6pm public hearings, one on the city’s use of US Housing and Urban Development grant funds. The second is an appeal from a decision by the Historic Landmark Commission to deny a certificate of appropriateness for a house in the UT area.

Valet parking could be coming to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. It's part of a plan to offer the special service and generate more income at the airport. The Council will be asked to approve a contract with Ampco System Parking for this service.

Although it has not generated any controversy so far, city employees may be interested in City Manager Toby Futrell's plan to increase funding for the Austin Employee Retirement System (ERS). Currently the city kicks in 8 percent of an employee's pay to the system. That was enough during the high tech boom but the downturn in the market has left the system a little short over the long haul. As the city puts it, “Each year of under funding exacerbates the problem as that adds to the unfunded liability. "

According to an actuarial analysis of the retirement system, the ERS has a funding ratio of about 81 percent. Beginning in 2007, the city hopes to reduce the unfunded liability by adding more money to the system, beginning at 1 percent and moving up gradually to 4 percent by 2010. That would happen unless system’s investments earn more than 12 percent in the market.

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

Today’s meetings . . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission, which has had its share of heated meetings recently, will meet at 6:30pm at Waller Creek Center . . . The Planning Commission’s Neighborhood Plan Committee will meet at 4:30pm in Room 500 of One Texas Center . . . T own Hall highway meeting . . . The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is hosting a Town Hall meeting from 6:30-9pm.tonight on the future of South MoPac and State Highway 45 Southwest. The meeting will include presentations from TxDOT, CAMPO, and SOS Alliance, with a question and answer session to follow. Both of the highways are in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone . . . Leaving a legacy . . . Council Members Jackie Goodman and Daryl Slusher have served Austin together for most of the past decade. They will be turning over documents from their terms to the Austin History Center on Friday. The Austin History Center Association (AHCA) will honor Slusher and Goodman during the organization’s annual meeting, set for 6:30pm Friday. The AHCA will also have a sale of various historic photographs, city directories, paintings and prints, plus the new book, “ Writing Austin’s Lives.” The sale will continue Saturday . . . Watson touting Democratic PAC . . . Kirk Watson is hoping to boost chances of more Democrats getting elected to the Legislature. He sent an email this week to raise money for the House Democratic Campaign Committee, a general purpose PAC of members of the Texas House. Veteran campaigner Robert Jones is leading the organization, which he says is ”a traditional campaign caucus program.” The group will focus on helping Democratic incumbents get re-elected and candidates gain the knowledge they need for a successful campaign. Watson invited recipients to join him as members of the House in commemorate the Killer D’s flight to Ardmore, OK two years ago. The fundraiser is May 18. For more information, visit the web site: . . . Edgemond wants bigger sign? . . Sign Review Board Member Betty Edgemond surprised her fellow board members Monday night with an unusual suggestion. Edgemond, who is normally a stickler for strict adherence to the city's development rules in order to protect her South Austin neighborhood, actually suggested that a business might deserve a larger variance from those rules. Representatives of the new ABC Bank under construction at 2201 W. Ben White Boulevard had requested a variance to allow them to raise a pole sign from 35 feet to 45 feet. "This is going to be a first in my eight years," said Edgemond. "They need 50 feet." Representatives of the bank said they had declined to request a higher sign out of concerns over the cost. The new bank is scheduled to open at the end of June . . . Mayor, wife to share stage . . . First Night Austin President Anne Elizabeth Wynn and Mayor Will Wynn will hold a press conference to talk about the arts experience planned for New Year’s Eve 2005. The event will begin at 9am today at the City Hall Plaza.

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