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ZAP sides with Rosedale over doctors' offices

Wednesday, September 21, 2005 by

Commission rejects doctors' arguments on Medical Parkway zoning

A plan to build a five-story medical office building for a thoracic surgery practice on Medical Parkway presented the first zoning case the Rosedale Neighborhood Association has opposed in 10 years.

Attorney Henry Gilmore, who represented Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons (CTVS), told the Zoning and Platting Commission last night about the noble history of the 33-year-old medical practice: the first open heart surgery in Austin in 1961; the first heart bypass surgery in 1968; the first kidney transplant in Central Texas in 1975; and the first heart transplant in 1986. To date, the CTVS physicians have performed 150 heart transplants in Central Texas, Gilmore said.

Now, after a long history in the Rosedale neighborhood, the practice wants to move from its existing building at 1010 w. 40th St. to a five-story building across the street on Medical Parkway, expanding space from 17,000 to 23,000 square feet, Gilmore said. The 54-foot-tall building, built on two lots, would have three levels of parking and two levels of office. CTVS is willing to limit its floor-to-area ratio of 1.35-to-1 and a zoning of LR with one CS use of medical office space. Trips would be no more than 700 per day, Gilmore said.

According to Gilmore, the new building would give the doctors more parking spaces – from 47 to 79 – and would take on-street parking out of the neighborhood. Also, an office development would present far less of an impact on the neighborhood than its likely replacement – a retail plaza.

Homeowner Robert Geller called it a good fit for the neighborhood, an aesthetically pleasing building that would sit between a hamburger restaurant and a gas station. Most of the Rosedale neighbors present, however, were opposed to the idea. Felicia Adams, co-president of the Rosedale Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood had a long history of working with the business community on projects like Rosedale Village, the Heart Hospital of Austin, Congregation Beth Israel and 26 Doors Shopping Center.

“There’s a lot of give-and-take,” Adams said. “The result is one of the most liveable neighborhoods in the city.”

The neighborhood recommended a 40-foot height on the building. Some neighbors, like Tracey Atkins, said the neighborhood had always placed single lot densification along 32nd Street, 38th Street, Medical Parkway and Lamar. The zoning provided the proper buffer to the residential houses in the surrounding neighborhood.

Some, like Commissioners Keith Jackson and Teresa Rabago, agreed with Gilmore’s argument that the medical buildings were appropriate around the city’s established hospitals. Others, like Vice Chair Joseph Martinez and Commissioner Melissa Hawthorne, argued that the building could not be separated from the overall neighborhood plan.

Jackson said Austin has insufficient medical office space. He suggested CS-CO zoning, with an exception for medical offices greater than 5,000 square feet, with limits on floor-to-area ratio and vehicle trips recommended by staff. Jackson did agree to roll back the height to 50 feet to reach some compromise. His motion failed on a vote of 5-4, with Chair Betty Baker, Martinez, Hawthorne, John Philip Donisi and Janis Pinnelli voting no.

“I don’t understand, when this would be okay right across the street,” Jackson said after the vote. “I’ve got to tell you, I don’t understand it. I don’t see the logic.”

The motion that did pass, 6-3, was to set the zoning at LR on the entire block. Those who opposed the motion were Commissioners Rabago, Jackson and Jay Gohil. City staff had recommended CS for the property.

Commissioners refuse to act on trash contract

Rhodes won't share downtown transition plans with SWAC

Relations between members of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission and city staff continue to be strained and may have worsened last week, as both sides remain at odds over the city’s plan to contract out waste collection services in parts of the Central Business District.

The plan, put forward by Solid Waste Services Director Willie Rhodes, is for the city to contract with a single solid waste hauler to service businesses in the downtown area known as the “T” (for its shape). Rhodes developed the plan at the request of City Manager Toby Futrell, acting on a request from the Downtown Austin Association’s complaints about trash pickup problems in some areas served my multiple haulers. In addition, the original service area is to be expanded by seven blocks, mostly in the Warehouse District.

Rhodes has already identified Waste Management Inc. as the low bidder in the process and has prepared a contract for the City Council’s approval.

From the outset, a key concern of many SWAC members was that using a single hauler system in this area would stifle competition. Many of the private haulers have complained about the potential loss of business and expressed concerns that the single-hauler “franchise” system could be extended to other parts of the city.

Members of the SWAC—particularly Chair Gerard Acuña—and Rhodes have clashed over a number of issues in recent months, with commissioners charging that Rhodes routinely withholds information from them and often informs them of major policy decisions only after the fact.

Despite the past disagreements, a request for Council action (RCA) on the contract that was on the SWAC agenda Wednesday night seemed headed for routine approval until Acuña asked Rhodes how the city would handle the transition in the new service areas where some private haulers still have contracts with businesses.

“We are going to have to look at the contracts in place and attempt to work out a smooth transition to the new system,” Rhodes said.

Acuña repeated his question. “But are you going to honor the contracts that are in place and transition the customers to the new system as they drop off?”

Rhodes did not directly address the question, but repeated the essence of his earlier answer. “We are going to look at the contracts and try to have a smooth transition,” he said. “We are going to look at how the contracts play out and smoothly transition one block at a time into the program.”

Acuña seemed taken back by what he termed a “last-minute change” in the city’s policy. “This is something we discussed the first time this issue came up,” he said. “It was made clear to this board and to the haulers that contracts already in place would be allowed to run out before the city program would go to those businesses.”

Commissioner Charles Cree asked if this had the potential of putting the city in a position of liability. “Do we know what the total amount of financial exposure the city faces over this?” he asked. Most of the contracts have a six-month payout penalty for an early termination. “The fiscal note of the RCA says “There is no unanticipated fiscal impact,’ but it seems to me that the city could be in for some litigation and potential liability if it forces an early end to these contracts.”

Rhodes said that he saw no liability problems for the city, and continued to avoid answering whether or not contracts would be allowed to expire.

With that, the commission voted to separate out the three parts of the RCA Rhodes had presented to them as a package. The first two items, requesting the Council to set an October 6 public hearing on the matter and to hold the public hearing on that date, were approved on a 6-0 vote.

But the commission then voted 4-2 to postpone a recommendation to the Council on the contract, saying that they were waiting for staff to clarify its intentions on the transition in areas with existing contracts and a statement from the city attorney regarding what—if any—liability would be incurred if the city forced an early end to private haulers’ contracts.

Commissioners J.D. Porter and Rosemary Wyman voted no on the delay. Porter said he was voting no based on his earlier opinion that the entire downtown program was a code enforcement problem. “It’s a private sector problem,” he said. “A few well-placed citations to the offending businesses would straighten out the problem. “

Wyman was the lone commissioner to support Rhodes’ program. “The purpose of this program is to solve a very real problem with waste overflow in these areas,” she said. “There are other ways to resolve these problems.”

It was not immediately clear if the commission’s vote would have any affect on the outcome of the issue. Since the commissioners endorsed the Council setting and holding a public hearing on the matter on October 6, the Council would also be able to vote on the contract at the end of that hearing. The next scheduled SWAC meeting is October 12, after the date of possible Council action, essentially meaning that the commission’s vote could amount to forwarding the matter with no recommendation.

Rhodes gave no indication if or when he would report back to the commission with the information requested.

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

Quiet days at City Hall. . . Council members and their aides seem to be recovering from the short budget session, with the hallways between offices unusually quiet this week . . .T aming the tear-down trend . . . The Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee of the Planning Commission has asked Greg Guernsey of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department to explore whether the use of floor-to-area ratios or height restrictions (rather than average height) might help prevent the McMansion phenomenon in historic districts. FAR, more typically used for commercial properties, has been noted as a strategy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation…. Meetings. . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. The board will hear the semi-annual report of the Austin Clean Water Program. . . The Downtown Commission meets at 5:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall. On the agenda is a presentation on the Spring Condominium project. . . The Historic Preservation Task Force meets at 5:30pm in room 240 of One Texas Center. . . Get up early for Watson . . .The Metropolitan Breakfast Club is kicking off its Heart of Texas Topics Series this morning with former Mayor and Senate District 14 candidate Kirk Watson. Watson is also chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. This could be a good time to preview the Watson stump speech, since the group, which meets beginning at 7am at The University of Texas Club in Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium, promises Watson will speak on a wide variety of subjects, including economic development, transportation, education, and public safety . . . New court, new judge . . . Williamson County Commissioners have named John B. McMaster as judge of the new County Court at Law No. 4. The new court was created by the Legislature during this past session. McMaster currently has a private law practice in Georgetown. He graduated from Georgetown High School in 1975, received his bachelor’s degree from Baylor University in 1979 and graduated in 1982 from South Texas College of Law. Commissioners appointed McMaster to fill the position from January 2006 until a judge is elected by voters in November. . . EMS trailer heist . . . We’d like to think that somebody just needs it to ride out Hurricane Rita this weekend, but we doubt it. Austin/Travis County EMS PIO Warren Hassinger reports that somebody has stolen the department’s rehab trailer from its station in East Austin. The trailer is a black, 12-foot single axle flat bed Magnum Custom Trailer, carrying a red generator, a 100-gallon fresh water tank and a very distinctive Reddy Ice storage cooler – all mounted in the trailer bed. The trailer was last seen northbound Tuesday afternoon on Airport Boulevard near Shady Lane, pulled by a late model maroon Ford extended cab pickup. Hassinger says if you have any information, please call 9-1-1. There is a reward. . . Just another benefit of having Lance Armstrong as a neighbor. . . In honor of the anniversary of 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong’s 1996 diagnosis of cancer, his rock ‘n roll fiancé, Sheryl Crow, plans to perform a free concert in Zilker Park. The show, scheduled for October 2, will be "to thank the City of Austin for the incredible support that her future husband has received over the years," according to http://www.cherylcrow.com. Armstrong will speak at 4pm, and Crow will perform from 5:30 to 7pm.

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