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Citizens tout myriad bond projects

Friday, September 23, 2005 by

Support for affordable housing options was the theme among the small crowd who showed up at St. James Episcopal Church last night to talk about the candidate projects that could go on the city bond ballot next May.

The low-key meeting had about a dozen speakers. Some, like Sabino Renteria, spoke of the need to get ground broken on the Mexican-American Cultural Center. Colin Clark of the Save Our Springs Alliance showed up to press for more money for open space on the ballot. Julie Fitch of the Downtown Austin Alliance spoke in favor of the Waller Creek tunnel project, also the subject of discussion at this week’s Downtown Commission meeting.

Others, like Dusty McCormick and Angela Lee of the Rosewood Neighborhood Team, came to show their support for the replacement of aging pipes in Upper Boggy Creek. Lee said it was time to get rid of 20 years of sewage in the water, which the neighborhood has documented on its own website, www.geocities.com/rosewoodteam. This is a project both West and East Austin can support fixing, Lee said.

“Boggy Creek is not something to be proud of right now,” Lee said. “I think, as people learn about this issue, they need to ask themselves, ‘What kind of city do I want, and what kind of city do I want to live in?’”

Susan Moffat, of Housing Works, urged the bond committee to increase the affordable housing allowances from $25 million to $75 million. Housing Works is proposing a balance of 50 percent for those most in need, with a family income of less than $21,500 per year; 30 percent for low-income families making less than $35,500 per year; and 20 percent for those first-time homebuyers with an income less than $56,000 per year.

Renteria, chair of the Community Development Commission, spoke of the need for city support for affordable housing. Already, the federal government had cut 5 percent for affordable housing initiatives, with another 10 percent to follow. Renteria said it was important the city provide as much as it could to support local affordable housing efforts.

Mandy DeMayo spoke in favor of the drainage projects in the Ridgelea neighborhood, near the intersection of 38th and Jefferson streets. DeMayo said work on Shoal Creek after the Memorial Day flood of 1981 had addressed the creek issues, but that the combination of new construction and aging pipes was causing localized flooding problems. Dense development on single-family lots was exacerbating the problem, DeMayo said.

Girard Kinney, speaking on behalf of the Downtown Austin Alliance, urged the inclusion of another $7.6 million for the Great Streets project along 11 blocks of Colorado and Brazos streets. That would be combined with $4.6 million the city already is spending on street reconstruction out of Capital Metro money. Kinney said it would make no sense to not do both projects at the same time, given that coming back to Great Streets would require tearing up the work completed with the sales tax dollars.

Great Streets would provide aesthetic additions to Brazos and Colorado such as wider sidewalks, streetscapes, traffic signals and landscaping, Kinney said. Amy Mok, who sits on the bond committee, asked Kinney to return with a prioritization of the expenditures that might be covered by the components of Great Streets.

Lori Renteria outlined priorities of the East Cesar Chavez planning team. Many of the expenditures, bond committee member Jim Walker gently pointed out, would not be bond projects but capital projects for various city departments. Those projects would include affordable housing, especially for rehabilitation and preservation of existing housing; a housing resource center on the Saltillo property; the completion of street lights in high-crime areas; the completion of the first phase of the MACC; buying out the scrapyard along Fourth Street to encourage redevelopment; providing streetscapes at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Sixth Street; and providing more community service facilities in the neighborhood of Town Lake and Interstate 35.

KDBJ still operating despite court ruling

A week after District Judge Margaret Cooper declared that the water pollution abatement plan for KDBJ LP’s quarry and rock crushing operation was invalid, the company has not changed its operations and the agency which approved its permit has made no decision on what to do next. KDBJ spokesperson Kristen Voinis told In Fact Daily Thursday that both crushing and quarrying continue at the Ruby Ranch site.

Members of Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment (NOPE) have not decided whether to take further action yet either, although their attorney, David Frederick, said Thursday he believes the group could stop at least the quarrying part of the operation. He said Cooper was not asked to decide whether KDBJ could continue operations when she overruled the permit.

The quarry and crusher sit atop the sensitive Edwards Aquifer and close to the Ruby Ranch neighborhood near Buda. NOPE sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which approved the water pollution plan and allowed the company to begin operating.

Neighbors claim the quarry and crushing operation has the potential to harm the aquifer, foul wells and limit groundwater available to Hays County residents. They also complain about the noise from blasting and heavy trucks, as well as the traffic generated by the site. Initially, the regional TCEQ staff rejected KDBJ’s request for approval, but Frederick says the Executive Director’s Office overruled the regional decision.

According to a 2004 letter from Carolyn Runyon, Water Section Manager of TCEQ’s regional staff, “The quarry overlies a major groundwater flow path with strong connection to drinking water source in the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer… and will potentially allow contaminants direct communication with the Edwards Aquifer.”

Frederick said, “I need to find out what TCEQ is going to do. I think my clients can go to court and stop quarrying—if it’s going on.” But If the TCEQ takes the position that no permit is needed to crush rock, then it would be difficult convincing a judge otherwise, he said. As of yesterday, TCEQ didn’t have any position on that. As long as TCEQ stays confused, KDBJ will keep doing what it’s doing. “

TCEQ spokesperson Lisa Wheeler said,” We have 30 days to decide whether to appeal…the district court retains jurisdiction over the case.” Wheeler said she could not say any more about the matter. The agency must file its appeal or take steps to begin the process of considering KDBJ’s pollution abatement plan for a second time by Oct. 17.

BOA grants setback variance for River Place

A new David Weekly Homes community on River Place Boulevard near FM 2222 received a variance from the Board of Adjustment for front-yard setback requirements for eight lots of the subdivision. The lots in question all front on a new cul-de-sac, Enclave Vista Cove, which branches off from River Place Blvd.

“The topography at the back of the lots is extremely steep, and our engineer set a 15-foot set-back at the front of the lot so as to provide a building area that would be reasonable to construct houses,” said Jim Spence, who represented the developers. Building the homes 25 feet back from the front of the lot as normally required under the city code for an SF-5 subdivision, Spence said, would place the homes too close to the dramatic slopes at the back of the lots. “This potentially creates another hazard later on for the homeowner…and it increases the cost of construction,” he said. “It would create a real problem for the builder.”

None of the other lots in the new subdivision will require a variance. Most of the lots face River Place Blvd. and have sufficient distance between the front of the lot and the start of the difficult terrain. The eight lots on Enclave Vista Cove will all have a uniform setback of 15 feet. None of the nearby property owners objected to the variance.

The new subdivision is bounded by city-owned habitat preserve on three sides and an undeveloped tract with commercial zoning on the fourth. Board Members voted 5-0 to support the front-yard setback variance.

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

In praise of city employees . . . As thousands more people from cities along the Texas coast pour into Austin to escape Hurricane Rita, the city is preparing to close the shelter at the Austin Convention Center that has housed Louisiana residents evacuated after Hurricane Katrina. The 200 people still staying at the shelter have all been assigned a caseworker, and city officials believe all of those individuals will have private housing by the end of the day. "What we've seen at the shelter from our city employees is no different than the way they perform 365 days a year," said Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza. "The only difference is it's a centralized situation that's received a lot of attention. They're always excellent. I think the shelter gave us an opportunity to let people know they can be proud of their city government ". . . Support for Travis County bonds . . . The Hill Country Alliance has announced a board resolution supporting the entire Travis County Bond Package and encouraging all voters to vote for the bonds on November 8. The three propositions include funds to protect natural areas in environmentally sensitive watersheds, jail improvements and mobility and drainage projects along SH 130. “The commitment to parks, natural areas and water quality protection in this bond package is outstanding. With rapid development bringing numerous challenges to environmental resources and quality of life in western Travis County, County Commissioners have committed over $62 million for parks, open space and flood plain buyouts,” according to a statement from the group. Central Austin Democrats endorsed all three bonds this week . . . Rita even an inconvenience in West Texas . . . The Texas Republican Party has postponed until further notice campaign schools slated for Saturday in Abilene and Wichita Falls. The party promises to announce new dates for the events early next week . . . Metro drivers end strike . . . Capital Metro’s subsidiary StarTran reports that union bus drivers and mechanics, who staged a one-day strike Thursday over the lack of a contract, have said they will be back on duty today. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, which represents 830 workers, has been negotiating with StarTran since early last summer, but has not been able to reach agreement on a new contract. Capital Metro ran an abbreviated route schedule yesterday, using management and nonunion personnel. . . Rain or shine . . . In Fact Daily is taking Monday off. We will return on Tuesday . . . Mayor Will Wynn staying in Austin . . . Mayor Will Wynn has canceled his trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors leadership summit in Long Beach, California. Hurricane Rita is bringing numerous new evacuees to Austin, causing the Mayor to reconsider the trip. This would have been Wynn’s first trip as chair of the conference’s Energy Committee. He had planned to make a presentation on Austin’s award-winning energy programs . . . Austin is growing rapidly . . . The recent influx of evacuees from Katrina and Rita notwithstanding, the Census Bureau reports that the Austin area was among the fastest growing cities in the country between 2000 and 2003. The population grew from 1.25 million to 1.38 million, a 10.2 percent increase. The report said the biggest jump was within the suburbs in Williamson and Hays counties, though some people swear they are all settling on MoPac around 5pm every afternoon. . . . Austin City Limits Fest is on . . . Despite the earlier possibility of severe weather as a side-effect of Hurricane Rita, the producers of Austin City Limits Music Festival are going ahead with the three-day extravaganza as scheduled. Mark Higgins with Capitol Sports and Entertainment said late Thursday that after consulting with City of Austin Emergency Management officials and weather forecasters they were confident that severe weather would not pose a threat this weekend. Mayor Wynn (resplendent in an “Austin OEM” sport shirt and huarache sandals) said that the city’s main concern was for the safety of the thousands of fans attending the event but that he was comfortable that it would be a good weekend for music in Zilker Park. Higgins said there was a certain amount of flexibility built into the schedule in case of weather interruptions. The festival begins today, but unless you already have tickets or good connections, you may be out of luck. Promoters say the entire weekend is sold out . . . For dog lovers only . . . The City of Austin Town Lake Animal Center is looking for donations of medium, large and extra large dog crates to help those who brought their pets while evacuating the Texas coast. Anyone wishing to donate such an item may take it to the center at 1156 W. Cesar Chavez or the Austin Humane Society, 124 W. Anderson Lane . . . It’s more fun. It lasts longer. Will it be as effective? . . . No, this is not an embarrassing come-on for a product you certainly don’t need. We’re talking about Kinky Friedman’s campaign cartoon, featured on his website, http://www.kinkyfriedman.com. Once viewers see the ad, which is not showing on TV, the independent gubernatorial candidate hopes they will “distribute the ad to friends and family so that it spreads like a bad rumor.“

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