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Ranchers decry Trans Transit Corridor

Wednesday, May 4, 2005 by

Strayhorn blasts Perry and "Trans-Texas Catastrophe"

In a made-for-the-media rally on the south steps of the State Capitol yesterday, State Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn led a sizeable audience gathered to denounce the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), and its biggest proponent, Gov. Rick Perry.

Strayhorn, who may be running for Perry's job next year, was extremely critical of the Governor's transportation project. "This project is the biggest land grab in Texas history," she said. "He calls it the Trans-Texas Corridor, I call it the Trans-Texas Catastroph e." The Comptroller took full advantage of the opportunity to heap criticism on Perry, saying the multi-billion dollar project will "turn TxDOT into EuroDOT," alluding to the Spanish firm Cintra Zachry LP, who has contracted to build the first phase of the project.

The rally’s sponsor, Corridor Watch, bused in about 500 farmers, ranchers and others from areas where the proposed “superhighway” may be built, including Bell, Lee, Fayette, Bastrop, Wharton and Caldwell counties. Most in the crowd wore yellow T-shits and carried signs saying “ Don’t Pave Texas,” and chanting “1-2-3-4, We Don’t Want the Corridor!”

Many in the crowd were second, third and fourth generation land owners who are extremely upset at the prospect of losing their land to the toll road project, even though a route for the project has not been finalized.

The official purpose of the rally was to push passage of HB 3363 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), which would delay implementation of the TTC for two years to allow the state to study the environmental and economic effects of the corridor. However, the bill ended the day still in the hopper in the House Transportation Resources Committee, with Chair Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) saying he plans no more meetings this session.

The TTC is a planned 4,000-mile network of superhighways, railroad clusters and utility easements that will criss-cross the state when completed in 2055. Cintra Zachry has been contracted to build the first segment, TTC-35, which is touted as an alternative route to I-35, running from north of Dallas to south of San Antonio. Contracts for the initial engineering were let in early March. The project is expected to cost $175 billion over 50 years, financed mostly by private money. The road builders would then charge tolls to recoup their investment.

Linda Stall with Corridor Watch said that 20 counties have already passed resolutions opposing the corridor, and more are expected. Other elected officials at the rally included Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) and Reps. Robby Cook (D-Eagle Lake), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) and Glenn Hegar (R-Katy).

Also addressing the group was Austin’s own anti-toll aficionado, Sal Costello, who announced that his group, Austin Toll Party, would soon become the Texas Toll Party in order to help people in other areas of the state vote politicians who support toll roads out of office.

Strayhorn treated the occasion like a campaign rally, inciting the crowd to chant anti-Perry slogans on several occasions, with several people in the crowd calling for “Carol for Governor” a time or two. Strayhorn remains coy about her political future, waiting perhaps for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to announcer her plans. The Senator is also said to be interested in the Governor’s job.

.In a release to counter the Corridor Watch rally, the Texas Association of Business called the Trans-Texas Corridor “essential to the state’s long-term economic growth and prosperity.” TAB President Bill Hammond said the transportation system “is the most realistic proposal on the table to quickly and efficiently move people and products throughout Texas.”

The TAB also says the corridor will—directly and indirectly—create thousands of jobs and get the roadways built years sooner than a project funded by tax dollars. “We can’t get to the future on a roadway built for the past,” Hammond said.

OWANA opposes changes for W. 6th St.

Planning Commission subcommittee to mull zoning

The Planning Commission sent two West 6th Street zoning cases to the Neighborhood Planning subcommittee for review last week, to try to find some compromise between the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association’s plan and two property owners convinced their homes were business locations in all but name.

The two locations, at 1706 and 1708 W. 6th Street, share a common driveway and a location that approaches the on-ramp of MoPac. Owners proposed changing the zoning from SF-3-NP to NO-MU-CO-NP, using the alley for an entrance.

The Planning Commission’s discussion became one of when a plan amendment became necessary. For some members of the commission, the map clearly indicated that the future purpose of properties could be something like office. OWANA members said they intended for any changes to the property to require a plan amendment, and that they were being punished for entertaining the possibility of a zoning change.

Paul Seals asked why the Planning Commission was considering a zoning change at all. He said it was clear from the Council meeting in September, 2002, which set in plan in motion, that the two properties were intended to be limited in use. The final decision, however, was left open-ended, leading to the current discussion.

“For two-and-a-half years, the staff has pondered this case. Instead of going back to the Council for reconsideration and further instructions, the staff has recommended approval of the rezoning in violation of the neighborhood plan,” Seals said. “If there is a problem with the plan, the appropriate procedure should be to consider revisions to the plan instead of what you have before you, which is a recommendation to disregard the plan. This commission should not be considering a recommendation from the staff that is not in conformance with the neighborhood plan.”

Property owners argued the two properties no longer functioned as residential properties. Staff members agreed, with some accommodations such as limitations of “ingress only” from West 6th Street, a minimum 10-foot vegetative buffer and a six-foot masonry wall. The neighborhood recommended cutting the number of daily trips on the property.

One of the two properties already was “red tagged” for functioning as an office use. Neighboring property owners argued the alleys would not function properly as a common entryway and that the change in use defied the plans intended by the neighborhood association. Commissioners were split on whether it required a plan amendment.

Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry said the Planning Commission needed to take some action on the zoning action or it would automatically go to the Council. They agreed to send the cases to the Neighborhood Planning Committee. Subcommittee Chair Cynthia Medlin told the committee she had some problems with how to handle the case, given that it did follow its expected future use.

The Planning Commission agreed to schedule a committee meeting on the two cases and bring it back to the full commission on May 24.

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

Early voting ends . . . More than 26,700 Travis County voters—or 5.44 percent of those registered to vote—had cast ballots early when the polls closed last night. More than 2,000 citizens took advantage of the mobile polling locations but the most popular fixed sites were Northcross Mall and grocery stores at either end of the city. The Randall’s on South MoPac recorded 2,333 voters’ choices and the Randall’s on Research hosted 2,132 voters. Now that early voting is over, all campaign eyes turn toward Saturday. But there are still doors to knock on and phone calls to be made, in the thousands . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Environmental Board will meet at 6pm tonight in the Council chambers at City Hall. Channel 6 stopped broadcasting the Environmental Board meetings due to budget constraints, but the meetings will once again be televised, beginning with tonight’s, according to board liaison Roderick Burns . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission also meets tonight at 6pm at Waller Creek Plaza. These meetings are not televised . . . The Art in Public Places Panel will also meet at 6pm. They will be in Room 2016 of City Hall . . . More events for today . . . The Community Action Network will be talking about kids today, Children's Mental Health Summit Day. The group will release a new report on C hildren's Mental Health. The group will gather beginning at 10:30am on the south steps of the Texas Capitol Building . . . Tonight . . . The Austin Gentrification Discussion Forum will host a free screening of the film " Boom,” about gentrification in San Francisco at Red's Scoot Inn, 1308 E. 4th Street at 8pm. The gentrification forum is described as a group of Austin residents, most living in East Austin, who are interested in starting a constructive dialogue about gentrification. They meet every Tuesday at 5:30pm at Gene's Po-Boys, (1209 E. 11th Street) for these discussions . . . Students filibuster at Princeton’s Frist Hall . . . Last night, political moviegoers got to see “ Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and were connected by phone to some Princeton students who are trying to convince Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to give up his ‘nuclear option.’ People for the American Way sponsored the film and phone call, during which the audience got to hear Princeton students reading the Texas Constitution. The students, who have been talking continuously since April 26, are conducting a filibuster at Frist Hall. To check on their progress, visit the web site: . . . Oops! . . . In Fact Daily did not do a good job of explaining Place 3 candidate Margot Clarke’s decision to pay the Austin Toll Party for use of its mailing list. The anti-toll group donated the list to Clarke and its other endorsed candidates, Casey Walker and Wes Benedict. However, after questions were raised about the propriety of that donation—and its true value, Clarke decided to decline the donation and pay for use of the list. In an email to Toll Party founder Sal Costello, Clarke explained her campaign’s decision to pay $188.29 for use of the list. She said the amount was “our share of the commercial market value of your organizational mailing list for our anti-toll road mailer. This value is based on 1/3rd of the $25 per thousand-voter cost of mailing lists that has been standard in Austin from such vendors as Opinion Analysts.”

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