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Neighbors convince ZAP to scrub car wash plan

Thursday, August 18, 2005 by

Residents of a North Austin neighborhood convinced the Zoning and Platting Commission this week to rule against a zoning change that would have allowed the construction of a new car wash on a currently-vacant tract on Rutherford Lane between IH-35 and Cameron Road. While property owner Sokona Loeung wanted to change the 0.8 acre site from family residence (SF-3) to community commercial with conditions (GR-CO), neighbors argued that a car wash on the lot would be a blight on their neighborhood and a magnet for crime.

"There are safety considerations from the road congestion and car wash associated-crimes in East Austin, there's consideration of our neighborhood elementary school, and there's the neighborhood integrity question," said Margaret Russell, who brought more than 50 of her neighbors to the ZAP meeting to register their opposition to the zoning change.

She told commissioners a car wash would serve as a gathering place for undesirable elements, increasing the crime rate in the relatively quiet neighborhood. "We're in a very vulnerable, fragile position there," she said. "It is between two high-crime neighborhoods. We have the Rundberg high-density neighborhood to the north of us, and we have the St. Johns neighborhood to the south. We are bounded on all sides by threats to our safety and to our property values."

Other residents were even more graphic with their descriptions of the perceived harm a car wash would bring. "The car washes that I've been to lately…what goes on there is at best legalized loitering," said Brad Keeton. "If any of you were here in 1991, and God forbid this happen to anybody again anywhere, but at a car wash down on West 5th street a young lady by the name of Colleen Reed was abducted and later found murdered. I'm not saying that all car washes fall into that specific category but it is possible." Serial kille r Kenneth Allen McDuff was convicted of the abduction and murder of 28-year-old Colleen Reed. Her remains were later found buried outside of Waco. McDuff was put to death in 1998 after receiving the death penalty in another case.

Commission Chair Betty Baker sought to find some middle ground between the neighborhood and the property owner, pointing out that the heavy traffic on Rutherford was not necessarily conducive to single-family homes facing the busy street. There are also light industrial and other retail uses along the short stretch of road. She urged the applicant's representative to consider office uses for the site and requested that he meet again with neighborhood representatives.

However, her efforts did not prove to be productive. "Office space right now is empty everywhere," said agent Kim Xong Tran. "The thing about office…that area is hard to lease." He declined the opportunity to seek a postponement in order to hold another meeting with the neighborhood. The commission then voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council reject the zoning change request.

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

Walgreen’s contract . . . There will be a Burma Shave demonstration in front of City Hall today, but you can leave your razor at home. Planned Parenthood is organizing the event in support of a planned City Council vote on a “no refusals” amendment to its pharmaceutical services contract with Walgreens. The amendment, sponsored by Council Member Brewster McCracken, would make Austin the first city to ensure that the patients served by a community health care system are guaranteed access to contraceptive prescriptions. The Burma Shave demonstration—holding signs in a sequence that spell out a message—begins at 8:30am along Cesar Chavez Street in front of City Hall. And if you don’t remember Burma Shave highway signs, ask your grandparents . . . The rest of today's Council meeting . . . Samsung incentives. . .The Council will consider an estimated $58.5 million incentive package for Samsung semiconductor in exchange for Samsung’s promise to build a $3.5 billion semiconductor fabrication plant. Council member Betty Dunkerley is particularly enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by the new plant—which Samsung has not yet agreed to build. Dunkerly says the chipmaker will draw to it numerous other companies, possibly including some that will be started in response to the new plant. . . Subcommittees . . . The Council is expected to abolish what are considered unnecessary subcommittees today, including the telecommunications subcommittee. It will establish a new committee to be headed by Council McCracken on emerging technologies . . . Also on the agenda is a direction to the City Manager to halt plans to expand the South Austin Tennis Center and initiate a process for finding a new site for the courts . . . Nik the Goat’s ordinance . . . Although his name may not be listed in the title, it’s very clear that a controversy over the pet goat in South Austin has spurred proposed changes to the City Code. Owners of beloved livestock would no longer be threatened with city fines under the changes proposed. . .Another resolution will direct the City Manager to begin a site selection process for a new water treatment facility to replace the Green Water Treatment Plant, a pet project of Mayor Will Wynn . . . . At 2pm, the City Budget Office will make a presentation on proposed budgets for the Austin Police Department, Fire Department, EMS and the Municipal Court . . . The Council will also consider changes to the city’s billboard ordinance on second and third reading. . . Eminent domain . . . Even though Legislature has approved a bill prohibiting various governments from exercising eminent domain for economic develop purposes, Council Member Brewster McCracken still wants to pursue a city ordinance along the same lines. McCracken said yesterday that he is not sure the state legislation would have the same impact on home rule cities as it has on counties. He pointed out that home rule cities were created by the Texas Constitution, while counties were created by the Legislature. Therefore, it is possible that the legislation would not prevent the Council from taking private property for economic development purposes. McCracken said he was not happy with the language presented to him by the city legal department, so he was not certain whether the ordinance would go forward today or not . . . New artists and their stuff . . . In a new exhibit, “22 to Watch: New Art in Austin,” the Austin Museum of Art spotlights emerging and lesser known artists from Central Texas whose imagination and spirited creativity “stretch the boundaries of contemporary art.” The exhibit has 22 of Austin's hottest new artists working in such media as film, painting, embroidery, printmaking, sculpture, interactive electronics, drawing, and color photography, as well as installation art incorporating such diverse materials as Post-it® notes, comic books, felt, wood, vinyl lettering, metal, cardboard, postcards and Astroturf. The exhibit opens Saturday at the Austin Museum of Art, 823 Congress. For information, call 495-9224 or go to http://amoa.org .

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