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Austin eyes major annexation

Friday, June 24, 2005 by

SH 130 corridor represents opportunity for service, tax base

With development along the route of SH 130 on the horizon, Austin will likely move to annex major portions of land in northeast Travis County in order to have some regulatory authority over an area likely to see a huge population boom as the toll road comes through. The City Council got a report on Thursday outlining which areas along the toll road's route would be suitable for annexation, including information on the difficulties of extending city utilities and services to certain areas balanced against the benefits that city zoning and land use planning could have for those areas.

The SH 130 corridor will cover almost 300 square miles of land in eastern Travis County. Of that land, about 175 square miles are outside the city limits. The city staff divided the territory into eight different sub-districts, identifying the northern-most section as the most in need of land use planning regulations.

That territory runs north of State Highway 290 East. "The area is located along a growth corridor and is located between Round Rock and Austin. There are several large employers in the area, like Dell, Samsung, and Applied Materials," said Alice Glasco with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. "The area has good east-west connections to SH 130 such as Parmer and the proposed Howard Lane. It's an ideal location for all types of development. It's a mid-point between Round Rock and Downtown Austin."

The population of the area is already growing, up from 238,000 to 281,000 in just the past few years. City staff estimates that 31percent of the territory is already developed, 18 percent cannot easily be developed because of slopes or other reasons, leaving about 51 percent of the territory ready for development.

Planning Commission Chairman Chris Riley told the Council that tackling the issue of urban planning for the area was an historical step. "It's a big day for long term planning in Austin," he said. "We can't just sit back and expect positive development to happen automatically. There's a real risk that the development we will see out there will be in the style of Envision Central Texas 'Scenario A', which is business as usual. There's very little planning in the area now and very little ability to shape growth in any way in those areas that are outside the city limits." The Planning Commission has been reviewing the situation since last summer, and Riley said they had come up with some recommendations to help guide the Council's decision-making process. "Immediate action is needed to establish a framework for thoughtful urban planning in this area. We recommend that the Council call on Envision Central Texas to engage a consultant for the purpose of developing plans and recommendations for the SH 130 corridor," he said. "We also suggest that the Council direct staff to focus on transportation planning for this corridor to ensure appropriate connections between land use and transportation. There's a lot of planning work to be done."

For the northernmost segment of the corridor, Mayor Will Wynn said urban planning would be necessary to help the area avoid urban sprawl. "In only five years, this study area has grown in population by over 40,000 people. If you just extrapolate that same trend, this entire large swath of the Desired Development Zone, in fact, won't be able to help us deliver on the fundamental message of Envision Central Texas…that is…how do we get people to utilize this very developable land? We need to figure out how to change land use patterns in such a way to where as the next 40,000 people move into this study area, we don't use up the same amount of developable acreage as we've used up in the past five years."

To that end, city staff has already identified areas where annexation would be possible, given the need to extend city services such as fire protection and city utilities in a designated time-frame following annexation. "You get the ability through limited-purpose annexation to begin your land use without all your service and a two or three year window to stretch your full-purpose annexation," said City Manager Toby Futrel l. "We could try using some full-purpose and some limited-purpose annexation to stagger those costs. So what we will do next is try to bring you some tiered approaches that might get you the ability to begin with land use and stagger the costs of the full purpose annexation."

The Council could give official direction to staff at its next meeting at the end of July to officially recommend some of the land for annexation, including some parts of far East Travis County and Southeast Travis County near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Council Member Brewster McCracken said bringing the city's regulatory framework to the area could only benefit the community as a whole. "We have an unprecedented opportunity to do what American and European cities used to do, which is plan it out in advance," he said.

Although some of the area that will likely be targeted for annexation is already populated, Wynn said he hoped the city could avoid the kind of divisive annexation battles that have brought crowds of angry county residents to City Hall in the past. "Obviously, annexations in the past have been quite an emotional and heated issue. At times, it certainly has been characterized as the city simply grabbing the tax base…figuring out where there's going to be development annexing that property so that that assessed value will be in your city limits," he said. "I'm suggesting that with this plan, and the direction we likely will give the Mayor Will Wynn. very shortly, I would characterize it as enabling annexations." Residents and developers would benefit from the extension of city utilities and regulations, he said, in that both could bring new value to property. "I think they will see that our goal here is to actually increase what otherwise will be the tax base, that is, to figure out how to take better advantage of their developable land and have more people, more tax base, and a better series of land uses along this important corridor than would otherwise happen. I would suggest that these land owners and these potential developers will reap benefits from what should be a dramatic change in land use patterns up and down this corridor, and we will see more than this incremental population growth in this critical corridor."

Citing misinformation, manager delays TxDOT deal

City Manager Toby Futrell pulled items related to amendments to the city’s agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) before a brief public hearing on the matter early this morning. Futrell said she wanted to correct “misunderstanding and misinformation” about the effect of the amendments which would eliminate $52 million in right-of-way and utility relocation payments if three highways are designated as toll roads.

Transportation activist Roger Baker and producer Stefan Wray said they were appreciative of the decision to postpone action on the TxDOT contracts. “I hope you wait until your analyst is through,” with the toll road study, said Baker, who quoted the American-Statesman’s story that called the amendment “at once a powerful argument for charging tolls and a disincentive for backing off from tolls.” But Futrell said such statements were incorrect. She said the money, including $46 million in utility relocation costs and $5.7 million in right-of-way costs incurred since Jan. 9, 2005, would remain encumbered until the Texas Transportation Commission decides whether to toll US 290, SH 71 and US 183.

In a memo dated Wednesday, Deputy City Manager Joe Canales urged the Council to approve amendments to the city’s agreement with TxDOT, arguing “Council’s action on these items does not state a policy direction one way or the other relative to the development of these segments as toll roads. The decision to develop them as tolled facilities is determined by TTC.”

There had been concern about whether the city would lose money if the Council did not agree to the amendment yesterday. But Canales said Thursday that the Council could postpone action on the amendment because City Manager Toby Futrell signed the amendment before Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 2702. He said as long as the Council did not reject the amendments, there would be no reason to worry.

HB 2702 would require municipal utilities to pay 50 percent of the cost of relocating utilities—so failure to sign the agreement would cost the city an estimated $23 million extra. Both Canales and Futrell stressed that ratifying the amendments would not affect TTC’s decision on whether to toll the three roadways. However, a vote on the amendments was clearly one decision—in a long day with many tough decisions—that did not need to be made.

Place 3 Council Member Jennifer Kim stepped into Jackie Goodman’s pro-neighborhood shoes last night, joining colleagues Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez in opposing multi-family development on a 10-acre site on Frontier Valley Drive.

The multi-family project by Marbella Corp. flies in the face of the Montopolis neighborhood plan, according to Susana Almanza of the Vargas Neighborhood Association and PODER. And while she and other neighbors vocally opposed the zoning change from single-family ( SF-2-NP) to apartments of any density, the City Council voted to support the zoning change on first reading on a vote of 4-3. The motion followed recommendations by the staff and the Planning Commission ( MF-3), but not as quite as dense as the applicant had sought ( MF-4).

“I think this is a travesty, a real breakdown for the neighborhood process,” Alvarez told his colleagues before they approved the zoning change. “It sends a bad message for those people who go through the neighborhood planning process.”

The city was the applicant on the zoning change for medium-density multi-family residential housing on the site once known as the Jockey Tract. The staff recommendation said the zoning presented a transition between adjacent and nearby zoning districts, land uses and development intensities.

While the neighborhood considered its preference for single-family to be widely known, it was the city’s position that the zoning of this tract and adjoining tracts remained undefined. The land would be zoned for residential use, up to the category of MF-4, including various infill options.

Alvarez argued that an earlier exception for multi-family housing in the Montopolis area was only made for a project in which every unit was set aside for families with 50 percent of median family income. The Marbella project doesn’t even meet that standard, setting aside only 40 percent of the 225 apartment units on the property at 60 percent of median family income. “These won’t even be affordable to the people who live in the neighborhood,” Alvarez argued during his speech on the zoning change, echoing earlier remarks from Almanza.

“This is a case going against it’s own neighborhood plan, with a case the city itself initiated,” Alvarez said. “There’s no justification for this.”

Kim asked agent Annick Beaudet why the developer would not consider an SF-6 designation, which would have allowed for townhouses. Beaudet argued that the developer couldn’t meet the goals of affordable housing, possibly only setting aside 10 percent of the units for families at 80 percent of median income.

Several members of the neighborhood spoke against the zoning change, expressing dismay at the idea that they would have more apartments in their neighborhood. Pat Johnson was especially adamant as he waved what he said were signatures from 47 neighbors opposing the zoning change. “I don’t care if you put senior citizens in wheelchairs (in the apartments), the crime is going to come to that neighborhood . . . Do what’s best for the people.”

Neighbor Johnny Limon, on the other hand, said he favored the multi-family project because it would help some East Austin residents to stay in the area, rather than being pushed out by continuing gentrification. “People are having to leave East Austin because they have no place else to go,” he said. “So, if we are serious about protecting our renters from having to move out,” the zoning change should gain approval.

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

SW Parkway offices approved . . . The City Council gave final approval yesterday for office zoning to allow for development of 344,000 square feet of offices on a 48-acre horseshoe-shaped tract. With only Council Member Raul Alvarez dissenting, the Council approved the zoning change on second and third readings. The developer has promised to comply with the SOS Ordinance, use only native plants and integrated pest management and avoid use of coal-tar based pavement sealants . . . Eminent domain ruling . . . Yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling reinforcing the power of local governments to use eminent domain could play a role in the City of Austin's legal battle with Harry Whittington over land condemned by the city for use as a parking garage next to the Austin Convention Center. "The ruling is helpful in situations where the city is trying to acquire property to use it for a public purpose," said City Attorney David Smith. The court ruled 5-4 in the case of Kelo et al v. City of New London that a Connecticut town could use its eminent domain authority for an economic development project. While the ruling does not directly speak to the city's case involving the parking garage, Smith said it could play a role in the court arguments over whether the city properly used its power of eminent domain to seize land from Whittington for a valid public purpose. The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals overruled a trial court’s decision, giving Whittington a victory and sending the matter back to the trial court for an additional hearing, Smith said. Assistant City Attorney Chester Beaver said Whittington had turned down an award of $7.75 million. In addition to the garage, Austin Energy is building a chilled water facility in the structure. Smith said a date for the hearing has not been set . . . So hard to let go . . . Former Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman promised her staff she would leave the City Council behind this week, vowing to rest, not to watch the meeting on TV. Executive Assistant Jerry Rusthoven and assistant Andrew Rivera had some doubts though. They set up a pool on how long it would take their former boss to contact them about City Council’s actions. Whoever bet on Thursday won, according to Rusthoven, who reported that Goodman emailed him yesterday about the meeting . . . Appointments . . . The City Council has named Council Member Betty Dunkerly to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Council Member Raul Alvarez to the Capital Metro Transportation Authority Board, both filling seats vacated by former Council Member Daryl Slusher. Council members also reappointed Rick Krivoniak, Larry McKee and J im Walker to the RMMA Advisory Commission by consensus . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley reappointed Jay Reddy and Council Member Brewster McCracken reappointed Chris Riley to the Planning Commission . . . Dunkerley also reappointed Adan Martinez to the Resource Management Commission . . . Timothy Riley, William Curra and David Anderson all won reappointment to the Environmental Board. More next week . . . I t’s hot out there! . . . Family Eldercare has increased its fan drive goal to 7,500 fans due to recent high temperatures. Threadgills World Headquarters and 107.1 KGSR are broadcasting live music today from 7am to 8pm with additional drop-off locations at any Greater Austin area Home Depot from 10am-2pm. Cost to attend the Threadgill’s event is an $11 donation or a new box fan. For more information, visit: http://www.familyeldercare.org.

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