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Cap Metro approves TOD market study

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 by

Transit agency joining Austin and Leander in study of station areas

Joining the cities of Austin and Leander, Capital Metro has approved funds to study Transit Oriented Development at all the preliminary sites for stops on its planned commuter rail line.

The Capital Metro Board of Directors Monday approved hiring Economic Research Associates (ERA) of Maryland for $217,000 to conduct six TOD market studies, with an option for 10 additional studies for up to $350,000. According to Capital Metro TOD Manager Lucy Galbraith, the studies will analyze the potential for development in areas around six rapid bus and urban commuter rail stations within the Austin city limits.

Voters approved urban commuter rail in the Austin area in November 2004. The 32-mile commuter rail line will operate on existing freight tracks, providing service for both suburban and central city passengers along nine planned stops.

“We are looking at any and all potential development within one-half mile of all of the stops,” Galbraith told the board. “We are emphasizing three key elements: density, diversity and design.”

The six study areas were identified through collaboration between the City of Austin and Capital Metro. The City of Austin will take the lead in developing Station Area Plans through its Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department.

In addition, the City of Leander is currently studying a 2,300-acre site near the terminus of the commuter rail line that local officials say could more than double the city’s population and could add up to $2 billion to the tax base.

“These market studies that ERA will conduct are an essential component of this kind of planning,” said Galbraith. The consultant will assess potential development that could be supported by the regional markets over the next 10 years, looking at both existing markets and the impact of new transit services.

Austin has already begun planning for growth around the rail and rapid bus terminals, creating a TOD zoning category, and carving the area around the stops into three zones: gateway, midway, and transition. The city is also including affordable housing plans in its TOD studies.

Leander’s TOD plans are further along than Austin, where city officials envision at least 13 neighborhoods built around the train station. City officials say the Leander TOD will have a total of 15,000 residential units, including 5,000 urban apartments, 4,000 medium single family lots, 2,500 small lots, 2,500 town home or duplex units, and 1,000 large homes.

Leander has annexed all of the necessary property into the city limits, developed a master plan, adopted a Smart Code, and is developing a water and wastewater plan for the area.

Capital Metro will begin operating its rapid bus lines in 2007 along the IH-35 corridor, while commuter rail service between Leander and downtown Austin is planned to begin in 2008. The transit agency plans to coordinate the two services—more or less—to provide commuters with “seamless” service to their destination.

Quiet meeting precedes commission changes

The impending changing of the guard at the city’s Historic Landmark Commission barely drew a mention at last night’s meeting, despite the fact that City Council named four new members to the panel Thursday.

However, those newly-appointed members did not take their seats last night, and Chair Lisa Laky presided over a meeting of mostly routine cases, with Commissioners Laurie Limbacher, Patti Hansen, Dan Leary, and David West in attendance. Laky, Limbacher, Leary and West all declined to reapply for their seats and are expected to leave the commission in the near future. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 24, 2005) Hansen was reappointed. Candy Hinkle in the City Clerk’s Office said new members may not take over their positions until they have filled out the appropriate forms and taken the oath of office. She said none of the new commissioners had done so by mid-day Monday, so that the previous commission was still in place at last night’s meeting.

Only one mention was made of the impending departure of several members from the commission. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky offered his personal thanks as the meeting drew to close. "I wanted to extend my appreciation to you all for serving through some very difficult times and some very difficult cases," he said, "and I just wanted you to know that the Landmark Commission would not be where it is today without your contributions, your efforts, your beliefs, and your sincerity in preserving Austin's heritage."

Among the cases heard by the Commission was a request to temporarily remove one of the Moonlight Towers ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/library/ahc/faq4.htm) at 4th and Nueces.

Atlanta-based Novare Urban and local developer Andrews Urban need to take down the tower to build their new 40-story condo project at 3rd and Nueces. The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously to allow the disassembly, storage, and re-assembly of the tower at its original location, which is diagonally across the block from its current site. The tower had actually been moved from that spot in the 1990s.

With minimal discussion, the commission also voted unanimously to recommend historic zoning for the Miller House at 900 Rio Grande. The owners of the building initiated the request. The structure currently houses a tea shop ( http://www.teaembassy.com/). The home was built in 1899, said Sadowsky, and "is significant for its architecture and its depiction of the lifestyles and tastes of working women at the turn of the century."

The Folk Victorian home is still in excellent condition, Sadowsky said, and had notable characteristics beyond just the architecture. "Too often in landmark cases, we focus on one person who made a contribution to Austin's history and Austin's society, and we overlook the fact that some houses represent the lifestyles of ordinary folk and should be preserved just for that simple reason," he said. "This house is a really good example of that."

The home was originally owned by Fannie Miller, a widow who worked as a clerk at the post office and later at the Comptroller's Office. While her son and his family later rose to prominence in the grocery business in Austin and lived in the home up until the 1970's, Sadowsky said it was the home's association with Fannie Miller that gave it historic value.

The Commission voted 5-0 to support the owners' request for the historic designation.

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

UT tops early voting . . . Early voting for the November 8 election started yesterday, with the University of Texas polling place drawing 654 voters, more than twice as many as the Travis County Court House, where 270 votes were cast. Two hundred sixty voters cast ballots at the Randall’s on Research; 321 voters took advantage of mobile voting stations. Early voting will continue through November 4. In case you missed it, voters are registering their opinions on nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution and several Travis County bond proposals . . . Solar news conference . . . Renewable energy advocates from across the country are gathered in Austin for the 10th National Green Power Marketing Conference. Solar Austin and the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) plan to host a press conference at 10am today to other cities around the country to be the city powered with the most renewable energy. The initiative is part of Solar Austin's work being sponsored by the U. S. Department of Energy's Million Solar Roof program. Over the next year, advocates will push for cities to work to obtain 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and biomass by the year 2025. The press conference is at City Hall. . . . Changes brewing . . . Development representative Mike McHone is working on some changes to an earlier proposal that would have placed condominiums on the grounds of the historic Maverick-Miller House in the UT area. The City Council rejected that proposal last spring. McHone is now visiting City Council members to talk about leaving the historic compound intact in exchange for moving the development rights to another property in the same neighborhood. McHone asked for and received a postponement from the Historic Landmark Commission last night on a certificate of appropriateness for the house. This should be an interesting test case when it comes before the Council . . . Meetings . . . The P lanning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Council’s Audit and Finance Committee will meet at 10:30am in room 1101 at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St . . . . Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown.. . . Future meetings . . . A Citizen Review Panel will conduct a public meeting October 31 to hear comments about the June 9, 2005, fatal shooting of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha by an Austin Police Officer. The meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second St. The Citizen Review Panel may take into account the public’s comments, along with information from the Austin Police Department’s Internal Affairs files, in its deliberations about what recommendations to make to Police Chief Stanley Knee. Rocha was shot while in custody of Austin Police Officer Julie Schroeder. . . . KKK Rally planned . . . The American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc. have reserved the Austin City Hall Plaza for a demonstration on November 5. In an e-mail to city officials, an official with the group describes it as a "Pro Family Values Rally". The e-mail seems to indicate the group is taking a stand in support of Proposition 2 on the November ballot. The author says their demonstration will be to "encourage people to vote…against legalized homosexual marriage in the state of Texas." The group's permit request was routed to City of Austin Building Services Officer Jill Maness, who said the city's policies do not allow for a request to be rejected based on the political content of the planned demonstration. "We don't make political evaluations of people who reserve the plaza," she said. "They went through the proper procedures and agreed to our terms of use. As long as they are peaceful and don't abuse the property, they will be able to use it." Security for the event will be provided by APD . . . Where’s his yellow jersey? . . . A justifiably proud Capital Metro President Fred Gilliam announced at yesterday’s board meeting that a Capital Metro driver, Arthur Murillo, has won first place for the second time in the I nternational Bus Roadeo, noting that that makes him the “best bus operator in the country.” Murillo also won in 2002 in the annual contest of driving skills in the 35-foot bus category. Board Member John Treviño joined in heaping praise on Murillo, saying “He’s our answer to Lance Armstrong!” .

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