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Travis County to offer $120 million in bonds

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 by

The final total on the Travis County bond issue won’t be everything that the C itizens’ Bond Advisory Committee wanted, but it will be everything a majority of the Commissioners Court— Commissioners Karen Sonleitner, Gerald Daugherty and Margaret Gómez—thought the county could afford.

The proposal, offered by Sonleitner and Daugherty, fits the parameters for proposed debt set out by the County’s Planning and Budget Office, which was a range of $159 million (reasonable) to $228 million (upper limit). The final tally on the Sonleitner-Daugherty proposal was $120.8 million set forth in four five propositions.

Commissioners heard plenty of testimony in the morning, much of it in favor of the parks option and the $60 million open space proposal. Much was made of Arterial A and the importance it might or might not play to Northeast Travis County. When push came to shove, however, the county’s debt limits were too much for proponents to overcome.

Sonleitner compared the county’s debt levels to a snake digesting a meal. Until the county fully processes and starts to shed some of the $150 million in bonds it paid for right-of-way on State Highway 130, it would be unprepared to take on more debt.

“That $150 million has to work its way through the debt model,” Sonleitner said. “So where Gerald and I came from was, how can we leverage $119 million and use it prudently while still maximizing its use?”

Commissioner Margaret Gómez provided the third vote for the Sonleitner-Daugherty proposal, saying she was comfortable with giving the county some breathing room on possible bigger, or emergency, projects.

County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Ron Davis made a variety of proposals, starting with a proposal to split the $60 million open space proposal between open space and mobility projects as a separate ballot initiative. That failed, along with a number of other variations on open space and mobility projects.

Biscoe said he simply could not support the scaled-down bond proposal given the strong support of the community for the recommendations of the citizens’ bond review committee, hundreds of e-mails and three-dozen speakers.

Under the Sonleitner-Daugherty proposal, the $60 million proposal for open space would be out. Instead, a $40 million parks/open space option would be offered, with $18 million carved out for the purchase of open space in Southwest Travis County. The Arkansas Bend Park improvements would be struck, with the county seeking to use LCRA improvement funds to design the improvements. The proposal also restored almost $1 million for funding the design of Reimers-Peacock Road, which provides access to proposed county parkland.

That would be one proposition of the four proposed for the bond ballot in November.

A second proposition would be $56.6 million dedicated to mobility and drainage/flood plain buyouts. Of that total, a lump sum of $19.4 million would be set aside for public/private partnership agreements on what were designated as Tier I road arterial road proposals: Howard Lane from the city limits to State Highway 130; Wells Branch Parkway from Boulder Ridge to Cameron Road; Pecan Street in Pflugerville, and continuing to SH 130; and Slaughter Lane, from Bluff Springs Road to State Highway 71.

If the county could not secure agreements on those four roads, a second tier of roads were suggested for public-private partnerships: Braker Lane, from FM 973 to Taylor Lane; Decker Lake Road, from FM 973 to State Highway 130; Arterial A, from Cameron Road to US 290 East; and Reimers-Peacock Road, from Hamilton Pool Road to SH 71.

A third proposition would be smaller, only $775,000, for right-of-way acquisition of state farm-to-market roads. The right-of-way acquisitions would be FM 1431, from alignment around Trails End; FM 1626, from the Hays County line to Brodie Lane; FM 1826, from US 290 West to Slaughter Lane; and portions of unincorporated sections of FM 2244.

The fourth proposition would provide $23.5 million for jail facility improvements. Commissioners discussed terms for the ballot propositions in executive session. It will be back on the commissioners’ agenda next week for final approval.

Panel backs demolition for nameless building

The Historic Landmark Commission approved a recommendation for a demolition permit on an apartment building in the 300 block of West 12th Street Monday night, opening the door for the expansion of an existing office building at the corner of 12th Street and Lavaca.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky could find no architectural or little historical significance to the former apartment building, built in the 1920s. In fact, Sadowsky was unable to find even the name of the architect on the property, which is a block from the State Capitol and has been used by the Texas Legislative Service.

Paul Linehan of Land Strategies argued against historical zoning. Linehan said the house could be attributed to no builder, no particular owner and had no historical significance. For many years, the building, sandwiched between an office building and the Stokes Garage, was a gym. Behind it is nothing but an empty parking lot. Access issues make it difficult even to provide parking to the TLS building, Linehan said.

Plans are to expand the art deco office space on the corner. The demolition of the fourplex will expand the width of the office building from 74 to 125 feet. Such an expansion would provide an additional 56 jobs on the block and space for parking.

Members of the Fish family are co-owners in Texas Legislative Services. Andy Fish of TLS said his family had long fought to preserve the historic buildings of the city, including a Republic of Texas Capitol Building in the path of the Erwin Center. He grew up in a house attached to a house built by Stonewall Jackson. Fish spoke with fondness of Christmas caroling downtown in the years before the Stokes Garage and other more modern office buildings became part of the landscape.

“We used to go caroling every Christmas in the area,” Fish said. “This seems to be the only property left of any age in the area, and it was built 50 years after the others.”

Even so, the building in question, 303 West 12th Street, was not one the family thought could or should be saved. Fish’s family acquired the property in the 1980s. It’s on the tax rolls for $143,000. An architect and an engineer testified to the fact the building was both severely distressed (structurally) and significantly lacking (historically). The house is not even facing its original orientation or placement on its property. Fish shared the title abstract with Sadowsky so he could trace the residents of the structure.

Commissioner Patti Hansen made the motion to approve the demolition permit, which was seconded by David West. Chair Lisa Laky and Commissioner Jean Mather demurred. Laky said she could not support the motion, saying it was clear to her from the photographs that the older building would be missed on the landscape of 12th Street. Laky said its age and place gave it historical weight.

“It’s been there a mighty long time. It should be recognized in its own rights and remembered. I work downtown and drive past this and know I would miss it,” Laky said. “While there weren’t people here (to protest the demolition), that may be because there are no residents that live close to this property.”

The final vote was 4-2, with Commissioner Daniel Leary absent. Commissioners Julia Bunton, Laurie Limbacher, Hansen and West voted in favor of the demolition permit. Laky and Mather voted against it. The recommendation will be forwarded to City Council.

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

P lanning Commission officers elected . . . Now that the Planning Commission is back at full strength, the nine members have selected their new officers. Chris Riley will continue as Chair, while Dave Sullivan will switch from Parliamentarian to Vice Chair. John-Michael Cortez is the new Secretary and Jay Reddy will serve as Assistant Secretary, and Mandy Dealey will take over as Parliamentarian . . . Meetings scarce . . .The Bond Election Advisory Committee, Facilities Subcommittee, will meet at 11:30 am in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall. The Downtown Commission’s Bond Committee will meet at 7:30 am at the Kerbey Lane Café on Guadalupe . . . This week’s Council meeting . . . The Council will hold the second of three public hearings on the 2005-2006 budget at 6pm on Thursday. Whatever happens this week it is unlikely to match last week's brawl between Austin Association of Professional Firefighters President Mike Martinez and Council Member Brewster McCracken. Neither seemed likely to back down from his respective position concerning how much firefighters should be paid in their upcoming contract. (See In Fact Daily August 19, 2005.) . . . Collective bargaining continues . . . City management and union representatives are scheduled to meet again today for another round of collective bargaining. Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza and his team were busily crunching numbers on Tuesday . . . Landfill hearing . . . The Texas Campaign for the Environment will join local activists in a protest of WMI’s request to expand the Williamson County landfill at a hearing on Thursday. The protest will include unfurling a 25-foot “No Landfill Sky High” banner. The meeting, which is the second of two being held up the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), is scheduled for 7pm Thursday at the Hutto Primary School, 955 West Front Street. Citizens are also encouraged to submit written comments anytime during the meeting or by mail before the meeting to the Office of the Chief Clerk, TCEQ, MC-105, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, TX 78711-3087. . . Keep it weird, please . . . Grab your strangest pair of running shoes (and the rest of your costume, if you like) and head down to Auditorium Shores Saturday for the 3rd Annual Keep Austin Weird 5K Run and Music Festival. A free concert begins at 1pm with Grady, Vallejo and Del Castillo and the 5K starts at 5pm. The course starts and ends at Auditorium Shores and goes through South Austin via South Congress. Food and drink from local Austin businesses will be available all day, and the “Weird Zone” is back and full of fun activities for kids of all ages. The music continues until 10pm.

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