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County gives Freescale abatement deal

Thursday, June 9, 2005 by

Package depends on creation of jobs

Travis County has granted Freescale Semiconductor a substantial tax abatement package, comparable to the one it accepted from the City of Austin two months ago.

The city gave the burgeoning semiconductor company a 10-year, $20 million deal in April. This week, the county offered what commissioners suggested would be an abatement of between $2 million and $2.5 million in new taxes each year. The deal comes as Apple Computer announced this week it would switch from IBM and Freescale processors to a mass-market Intel processor in future machines.

Attorney Jerry Harris, who represented Freescale at Commissioners’ Court, said the company has two sites in the city – a headquarters in Oak Hill and a fabrication plant on Ed Bluestein Boulevard. Freescale’s early plans were to move 300 jobs out of the Oak Hill location to a new permanent headquarters on Parmer Lane in North Austin. Freescale, which was spun off from Motorola in 2004, employs a total of 5,600 employees in Austin, according to its website.

The deal cut with the county will obligate Freescale to keep its global headquarters in Austin for 10 years, which will keep 600 jobs in Austin. Freescale was considering a move to Chicago. Under its deal with city and county, the semiconductor company has committed to add another 500 additional semiconductor-related jobs within the next decade, 200 of those jobs by April, 2009. The company also will invest an additional $525 million in new equipment and machinery at its Austin locations.

Travis County’s commitment is a 10-year abatement on 80 percent of the taxes owed on the expansion of Freescale facilities. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner dubbed the deal a “performance-based contract” rather than an “incentive package.” The company will continue to pay taxes on existing facilities and an estimated $500,000 a year on additions.

“You used the word abatement, but what we’re talking about is a performance-based contract –if Freescale followed through on its commitment to Travis County–related to investment and the employment goals and everything else that is associated with what you’ve laid out,” Sonleitner said. “There will be a rebate back to the company, and the net effect will be that there is an 80 percent reduction on the taxes that would be owed.”

County Judge Sam Biscoe called the Freescale deal a “better win-win for all involved.” He said the job creation and job retention presented by the expansion was enormous. Commissioner Ron Davis wanted to be assured that the majority of new jobs would come from Travis County, rather than transfers from outside the city.

Historic question before Council today

Neighborhood pushes for historic designation

The Zoning and Platting Commission covered some familiar ground Tuesday night as commissioners heard arguments over a potentially-historic home targeted for relocation by its new owner. Although the home is in the Pemberton Heights Neighborhood, the arguments on both sides were similar to those in a series of recent cases in the Old West Austin Neighborhood in which the neighborhood association said preservation of the home would be essential to protect the historic fabric of the area, while the homeowner argued that the house was in need of major repair and did not hold significant historical value of its own.

The Ikins-O'Connell-Messer house at 2608 McCallum was built in the late 1930's. The home was named for Milton Messer, the owner of Modern Supply, a machine shop that was involved in the construction of many structures now considered to be Austin landmarks. "He's had a considerable hand in forging the face of Austin," said Janie Orr, "Very familiar structures that you have walked by several times actually evidence his expertise in the construction." Messer, she said, had been involved with work on the UT Tower, Mansfield Dam, and the Moonlight Towers. She also presented information about his work as an artist, providing medallions or plaques for the State Archives Building in Austin and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.

The case arrived at the ZAP after the Historic Landmark Commission initiated a historic zoning case on the property when Bill Walters, who purchased the home last year, applied for permission to move it so he could construct a new home on the lot. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky recommended historic zoning for the home, as did the HLC. But Walters is objecting to the designation. His agent, attorney Steve Drenner, described the home as old but not historic.

Drenner's case was bolstered by testimony from several experts and neighbors, who said they supported Walters’ right to remove the structure. Architect Peter Dick told commissioners that he disagreed with Sadowsky's assessment that the home qualified as an excellent example of the Classical Revival style. "This is a fairly mediocre example of this particular style. It's trying to be Classical Revival, but it's trying to be modern at the same time," said Dick. "It's very difficult for those two styles to reconcile themselves in one structure. There was no evidence of any architect found." Wick Alexander, who lives nearby, said he trusted Walters to build a new home in keeping with the character and scale of the neighborhood. "This is just an old house with no central air or heat, a cracked foundation, and holes in the floors and the walls. The opposition wants you to believe that this home is historically significant, because that's the only arrow in their quiver. They are opposed to and they fight many of the remodeling jobs in our area and the new homes, several of which have come before this board. The 'historically significant home' is the same card the play every time."

Walters submitted a letter to the commission stating his opposition for the record stressing that those neighbors closest to him supported his bid to remove the home. "The opposition in this case is a tiny minority of property owners in the area who are trying to micromanage other people's private property without any regard to the cost or liability to the owner," he wrote.

Members of the Pemberton Heights Neighborhood Association pleaded with the ZAP to support historic zoning, saying the home contributed to the Old West Austin Historic District. Along with protecting Austin's history, Candace Volz told commissioners that the historic district contributed significantly to the city's economy through tourism and film production. "Ten major movie producers in the past 15 years have found their locations in their national register district," she said. "Last week, an ad was filmed on my street for Special Olympics."

Commissioner Joseph Martinez eventually moved to deny historic zoning for the house. "From my perspective, I do not see where this home meets the criteria to get historic zoning," he said. Martinez's motion passed on a vote of 6-3. The case is posted on today's City Council agenda.

ZAP says CBD for Rainey only

A developer’s attempt to get in on the new Rainey Street Area’s development policies may have been short-circuited this week by the Zoning and Platting Commission. The commission rejected a proposal by Calhoon Properties to use the new rules for a mixed-use building along the southbound service road of I-35 near where it crosses Town Lake. The commission did recommend limiting the height to 120 feet.

The property sits immediately south of the Town Lake Holiday Inn on a triangular piece of property just 0.358 of an acre, some 15,600 square feet. Developers plan the facility with ground-floor retail shops and high-density multi-family residential units on the upper floors. The developers were requesting a zoning change to Central Business District (CBD), similar to that afforded many of the properties in the Rainey Street area.

“We just want to have the same development opportunities as the other buildings in the area,” said Judd Welmon, the agent for Calhoon Properties. “The previous owner did not want the property included in the district, but at the April 7 council meeting (when the Rainey Street zoning was approved), we were told it could be rezoned for this at a later time.”

But Vice Chair Joseph Martinez had some concerns. “I don’t believe that this property is in the same area as Rainey Street,” he said. “We need to be careful with the scope of our zoning near I-35 and Town Lake. This just isn’t the same as Rainey Street in many aspects of the development.”

The major difference in the property’s original zoning, Downtown Mixed Use (DMU), and CBD, was the allowable height of the structure. Under the CDB, according to city staff, the building could be up to 180 feet, but under DMU, while all of the structure above 60 feet would have to be residential, there was no height limit. Welmon said initial plans for the building were for 60 residential units at an average of 1,500 square feet, which he said would fit in a building about 10 stories high.

Martinez moved to deny the request for CBD zoning, but Commission Member Keith Jackson made a substitute motion to continue the DMU-CO, with all of the original overlays, including a limit of 2,000 vehicle trips per day, plus an overall limit of 120 feet for the entire structure.

The height of the building still concerned some commissioners. “I’m opposed to something that throws a shadow across Town Lake,” said Commissioner Clarke Hammond. “I’ve been involved in some major fights on building close to Town Lake, and I don’t want to start backing away from what we have been able to preserve.” The substitute motion was passed on a 6-3 voice vote. It is scheduled to go to the City Council today.

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

City Council meeting may lack fireworks . . . Although the agenda looked pretty daunting on Monday, several items appear to have slipped off—notably the never-ending saga of Gables at Westlake and the 6pm public hearing on whether to allow a new property owner to build condos on a historic property in the UT area. The parties to the Gables zoning case are still working on an agreement and the neighborhood has asked for a postponement of the historic case . . . The Council may postpone one zoning item that has a valid petition since Council Member Brewster McCracken is leaving the meeting early to take off for an urban design conference in California . . . Final meeting for Goodman, Slusher . . . Friends of departing Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman have been encouraged to attend the music and proclamations portion of today’s City Council meeting at 5:30pm. Staff may have devised some special farewell hijinks for the occasion . . . Musical spaces to be honored . . . The Council will begin the process for placing appropriate plaques at the site of the original Armadillo World Headquarters, where Goodman and Slusher both hung out when the first came to Austin. Slusher, who is sponsoring items for the Armadillo and Antone’s, says he intends to honor Goodman also. She has been the strongest Council supporter of making Austin friendly to the music industry and musicians in general. The plaque for Antone’s will commemorate the legendary blues club’s 30th anniversary . . . A familiar face in a new place . . . Jana McCann made her first appearance at the Mueller Advisory Commission on Tuesday night. McCann, the city’s recently departed urban design officer, is now the principal in ROMA’s Austin office and will be the ROMA liaison for the Mueller master plan. . . Lizards to entertain donkeys . . . The Austin Lounge Lizards will entertain Democrats at the Barr Mansion, 10463 Sprinkle Road, at a party beginning at 6pm tonight. The Travis County Democratic Party will honor the county’s legislative delegation. Expect runoff contenders Margot Clarke and Jennifer Kim, both staunch Democrats, to attend . . . Catfish and Tunes . . . The free Plaza Concert Series at City Hall, presented by the city’s Cultural Arts Division is continuing the weekly lunch concerts, each Friday in June as a tribute to African American heritage. The concerts take place on the plaza at Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second St. beginning at noon. This Friday’s featured performance is by Just Released with Pamela Hart, playing jazz/R&B, noon-1: 30pm. Next Friday is Beyond the Veil, singing gospel, from noon-12: 30pm and All U Need and special guest Kyle Turner, performing jazz/R&B, 12:30-2pm. June 17 is a Juneteenth celebration. The first band will begin playing at noon with other bands to follow until 2pm. On June 24 W.C. Clark will be playing blues from noon-1: 30pm. Local vendor Mr. Catfish will be on site to provide lunch opportunities. Free parking is available in the City Hall garage (enter off Lavaca Street). In May, the City of Austin launched the Plaza Concert Series with a month-long celebration of Latino music in honor of Cinco de Mayo. The City of Austin plans to host ongoing concerts on the plaza featuring Austin musicians and performers. .. . Rock crusher permit hearing . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, expecting a larger-than-usual crowd, has moved tonight’s regular board meeting to the Manchaca United Methodist Church, 1101 FM 1626, starting at 6pm. The occasion is a pair of public hearings on the well-drilling applications of KDBJ Inc., which operates a controversial rock-crushing plant on FM 967 in the Buda area. A large number of permit opponents are expected to speak. … L ive jazz in East Austin . . .The East End Summer Music Series brings regularly scheduled live jazz and blues back to East 11th Street. Kenny Dorham's Backyard hopes to fill the niche as the key East Side summer destination for African American culture-based music programming. This week’s featured performer is blues legend Lavelle White. Gates open at 6:30pm, with the concert set to begin at 7:30pm.

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