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Council subcommittees cause quandary

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 by

The new City Council reached agreement on more than 100 items set on their agenda last Thursday, but failed to agree on one item—membership on various Council committees. On other types of issues, the Council does not need to reach a consensus since four members can make a decision in most cases. But a majority of the Council would be hard pressed to dictate committee assignments to an unwilling colleague.

One of the committees, the Council Audit and Finance Committee, had been scheduled to meet today. However, because the Council could not agree on the committee’s membership, that meeting has been cancelled.

When the item came up Thursday morning, Mayor Will Wynn said he wished to defer it because a number of decisions had not yet been made. Upon returning from executive session about 1:20 Friday morning, Wynn suggested that the group appoint members only for committees that would be meeting between before the next City Council meeting, July 28. Those include CAMPO, Capital Metro, the Capital Area Planning Council of Governments and the Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail District, he said. However, the group was only certain about meetings of CAMPO and Capital Metro, so Council Member Lee Leffingwell moved appointments for those bodies only.

Council Member Brewster McCracken jumped in, noting that he had proposed creation of a Land Use Transportation Subcommittee, which he thought should meet in July. “So we need to approve this tonight, “he said, pointing out that only three members of the Council wanted to be on the committee— Betty Dunkerley, Leffingwell and himself. Leffingwell’s motion was amended to include the Land Use Subcommittee and the Council approved it. Council Member Raul Alvarez will serve on Cap Metro; Dunkerley gets the hot seat on CAMPO and Leffingwell is her alternate.

McCracken said the land use subcommittee would focus immediately on revisions to the zoning code and SH 130, which the city is eyeing for annexation and utility service. (See In Fact Daily, June 24, 2005.)

Alvarez observed that he and other Council members had requested not to serve on several committees, noting that those requests might mean that some committees might cease to exist. He specifically named the Health Care Subcommittee, which had a lot of work to do before creation of the Travis County Hospital District, but has little to do now. However, he said he had not had a chance to talk about the matter with Dunkerley and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, the two other members of the committee. He added that duties of some committees could be grouped together, eliminating some.

Council Member Jennifer Kim, who is at the bottom of the roster in seniority, expressed an interest in adding economic development to the list of Council committees by rolling it into the committee on telecommunications or another committee. She asked the Mayor to make sure the posting for the July 28 meeting is broad enough to encompass creation and dissolution of various committees.

With only three days to prepare for a meeting that featured numerous contentious items, it is not surprising that the Council and their aides failed to reach agreement on the various committees. But it reflects the need for interpersonal skills amongst those on the Council beyond that needed to please the public or any segment of the public, which has little knowledge of the work done in committees and in one-on-one meetings between various members of the Council. Watch now to see which committees will be eliminated or combined with others to make service on them more palatable. About 30 such committees, including assignments to CAMPO and Capital Metro, are listed on the City of Austin website..

ZAP rejects N. Lamar change

The Zoning and Platting Commission made quick work of its agenda last week, passing several cases on consent while postponing most of the others until its meeting July 5. One of the contested cases commissioners did hear involved a shopping center on North Lamar. The owner, Steven Tong, was seeking a zoning change from Interim Rural Residential (I-RR) to GR to allow several businesses on the site to continue to operate.

The city staff did not support the GR request for the half-acre site at 11601 N. Lamar. Instead, the staff’s recommendation was for LO-CO, with the conditional overlay limiting the site to 2,000 vehicle trips per day. “The reason is that this particular property is the same size as properties both to the north and south. Each of those has LO zoning. Behind it, we have SF-1,” said Tom Bolt with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. While the staff recommended the LO zoning to preserve compatibility with those surrounding tracts, Bolt noted that it would cause problems for the current tenants on the site, which include a wedding planner, tile store, real estate office, bicycle shop, and computer store. “Most of these tenant spaces would not be allowed under the LO zoning that we’re requesting, but would be allowed under GR zoning,” he said.

For that reason, agent Shaw Hamilton urged the commission to consider the more permissive GR zoning requested by his client. “These uses are all existing, they have been there for about a year and a half,” he said. “The existing uses have no impact on lighting, traffic, or noise. (Tong is) willing to restrict the uses that are there now.”

But representatives of the Walnut Creek Neighborhood said GR on the site would not be compatible with the SF-1 zoning covering most of the residential area behind the commercial structures on Lamar. “It would open doors to other zoning cases along Lamar,” predicted Walnut Creek resident Wayne Tobias. “This property should be re-zoned LO to be consistent with other properties in the North Lamar Study, which serves as our neighborhood plan.”

Tobias said the neighborhood had used that plan in the mid-1980’s to express a preference for office development along Lamar. Although businesses in place prior to the study were grandfathered, Tobias said that should not apply to the buildings at 11601 N. Lamar, which were built within the past two years. “When numerous violations in addition to the zoning were reported, complaints were forwarded to city enforcement, which is why we are here tonight,” he said. “We all know the domino theory. Push over the first and the rest fall. We have that potential regarding zoning along our neighborhood. This must not be allowed to start.”

While Hamilton confirmed that the property had been red-tagged by city inspectors, he disputed Tobias’ prediction that allowing GR zoning on the tract would have dire consequences. “I don’t believe in that domino effect,” he said. “Everybody’s got to come in and stand on their own two feet for each case. The North Lamar Area Study was done more than 20 years ago. The city has changed a bunch.”

Commissioners agreed with the staff and neighborhood recommendation. Vice-Chairman Joseph Martinez moved to zone the property LO-CO, and the commission agreed unanimously.

In another zoning case, the commission recommended a change at 3327 West Slaughter Lane from limited office ( LO-CO) to community commercial with conditions ( GR-CO) for the purpose of building and operating an H2O Hand Car Wash operation.

Staff and members of the nearby Tanglewood Forest Neighborhood Association opposed the change, primarily because the business would be located in an area housing mainly office space. Wendy Walsh with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department said there had not been a significant change in the character of the neighborhood, a car wash was incompatible with other neighborhood uses, and that the business would be too close to a single family home behind it.

“It is setting a precedent to change the zoning in this location that we feel would bring more businesses of this type into the area,” said Linda Klar with Tanglewood Forest. “And while we are happy with most of the conditions they are willing to agree to, code enforcement is difficult at best, and the reality is that when there is a problem, it’s unlikely that it will be addressed.”

But consultant Sarah Crocker told the commission that the business was not a car wash in the way most people think of one, and pointed to her client’s other operation at Barton Springs Road at Lamar as an example of the type of business he intends to operate.

“This is a hand-wash only operation,” Crocker said. “There’s no machinery, no stalls for washing. Customers drive in and leave their cars, which are taken under a canopy and cleaned by hand. They use 10 percent biodegradable products, and the operation does not generate any waste.”

After discussing some of the neighborhood’s concerns and other possible problems, the commission voted 8-0 to recommend the GR-CO zoning, with a 90-day rollback clause and a ban on operating 7 days a week.

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

New Metro board member . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez was sworn in and took his seat on the board of Capital Metro yesterday. He took the place of Daryl Slusher, who retired at the end of his Council term earlier this month . . . Tweaking Build Central Texas . . . Rob Smith, director of strategic planning and development for Cap Metro, told the board’s planning, financial and audit committee yesterday that the City of Austin wants some flexibility on spending funds the city received from Capital Metro. Specifically, Smith said, city staff wants authority to move funds from one project to another within a category—such as from street reconstruction to traffic controls or from long-range planning to traffic enforcement. Flexibility is needed, he said, because of factors such as pavement work, underground utilities and the different amounts of time needed for design work. Board members expressed support for the idea, with Vice Chair Margaret Gómez saying, “I think it calls for flexibility . . . It doesn’t change the bottom line.” Board member Fred Harless said, “I think all the cities and the county should have this flexibility” . . . RMA lawsuit headed to trial . . . A lawsuit filed last year by People for Efficient Transportation (PET) against the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is set for a hearing today at the Travis County Courthouse. PET spokesman Sal Costello says a verdict is expected. One of the group’s allegations involves the RMA’s board of directors, given a six-year term by the Legislature. PET says the Texas Constitution allows only two-year terms for such entities. Costello says, “The lawsuit has already caused a reaction in an attempt to fix the problem. State Representative Mike Krusee, who also authored the freeway tolling HB 3588 that caused the issue, proposed a constitutional amendment in the last session. HJR 79 will appear on the November 8, 2005 ballot, and will authorize the legislature to ‘provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority’ “ . . . Today's meetings . . . The Planning Commission will meet at 6pm in the Town Lake Center Assembly Room . . . The Parks and Recreation Board will meet at 6:30pm in the department board room, 200 South Lamar . . .Oddly enough, the advisory board of the Mexican American Cultural Center is also scheduled to meet in the same room from 6 to 8pm tonight . . . As noted above, the Council Audit and Finance Committee meeting has been canceled. . . . Flood hazard meetings. . . Neighborhood meetings have been planned on Flood Hazard Reduction Plans for the Onion and Williamson Creek areas. The City of Austin Watershed Protection and Development Review Department is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Lower Colorado River Authority, the City of Sunset Valley and Travis County to study alternatives to reduce flood damage to structures along Onion and Williamson Creeks. There will be a presentation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about potential solutions and an opportunity for area residents to ask questions about the projects in the Williamson Creek area at 7pm tonight in the Woodlawn Baptist Church Sanctuary, 4600 Manchaca Rd. The meeting for the Onion Creek area will be at 7pm Wednesday in Mendez Middle School Auditorium, 5106 Village Square Dr. . . . City offices to close Monday . . . The City of Austin administrative offices, including offices of the City Council, will be closed Monday, July 4, in observance of Independence Day. Normal business hours will resume on Tuesday. Regular collection for City of Austin customers’ garbage, recycling and yard trimmings will remain the same. For example, if your normal pick- up date is scheduled for Monday, then your garbage will be picked up on Monday. . . . No commissioners . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court will not meet today. They will meet again on July 5.

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