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Council names four new historic commissioners

Monday, October 24, 2005 by

Most did not apply for reappointment to controversial panel

City Council named four new members to the Historic Landmark Commission on Thursday, replacing more than half the panel’s members in one list of new appointments.

The Historic Landmark Commission has been the subject of some controversy in the last couple of years. Neighborhood organizations have used the city’s historic preservation code as a zoning tool to stop teardowns in local neighborhoods, regardless of the actual value of the building. The Historic Landmark Commission has rarely stood in the way of this neighborhood strategy, even if the documentation was sketchy and the owner opposed the designation.

The City Council, in an effort to address the issue, appointed a Historic Preservation Task Force, headed by former city historic preservation officer Betty Baker, to tighten up the historic preservation code. This, too, failed to make a serious impact on historic designations, so the task force reconvened both to raise the bar higher and set up further standards on local historic preservation districts.

Asked about conflicts between recommendations by the Historic Landmark Commission and City Council votes—particularly on cases in which the owner opposed historic designation— Council Member Betty Dunkerley said, “We’re trying to get the task force to come up with ideas on how we can address owner opposed cases, to put in some additional steps and we hope the Landmark Commission will help us implement that.”

The task force has adopted a recommendation that three-fourths of the Historic Landmark Commission—seven of nine members—vote in favor of historic designation if the property owner opposes it for the matter to move forward to either the Planning Commission or the Zoning and Platting Commission. That suggestion will go forward to the Council when the task force finishes its work.

New commissioners include developer Rodger Arend, architect Timothy Cuppett, retired city planner Joe Arriaga, and former city zoning staff member Laura Knott. Knott recently completed the historic preservation program at the University of Texas. Julia Bunton, a retired Austin educator who has served on the commission since 1984, was reappointed to the commission, Patti Hansen, who has served on the commission since 1985, and Jean Mather, who shifted from the Planning Commission to the Historic Landmark Commission in 2002, were also reappointed to the board. All appointments are by consensus.

Two seats on the commission are still vacant. Dunkerley, the Council’s most vocal opponent of historic designation in the face of owner objections, said the Council “is looking for people who are interested in and have a knowledge of historic preservation.”

A number of the current commissioners either declined to reapply for another term or thought that reapplying was not necessary. Those include Chair Lisa Laky, and Commissioners Laurie Limbacher, David West and architect Daniel Leary. Leary, a six-year member of the Historic Landmark Commission, serves as that commission’s representative to the Downtown Commission. Limbacher is a historic preservation architect and Laky was the commission’s most vocal proponent of historic designation of local structures.

Other commissioners resigned in recent months. Long-time commissioner Jim Fowler moved out of town at the end of last year. Former preservation executive Julie Hooper and former city building code inspector Frank Ivy quit the commission. The commission is scheduled to meet at 7pm tonight.

Gables previews plans for 200-foot mixed use tower

Gables Residential hopes to succeed where other developers have failed – putting a high-density 200-foot-plus DMU-CURE project on the Lumbermen’s site at the intersection of the Lamar Bridge and West Cesar Chavez, overlooking Town Lake.

Attorney Steve Drenner made a presentation, complete with PowerPoint slides, on the Gables/Lumbermen’s project at last week’s Downtown Commission meeting. This commission, not surprisingly, has been a strong supporter of high-density downtown development, and Drenner found little criticism of the project, especially in the wake of the Spring Condominiums’ forward momentum. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 19, 2005.)

The zoning, whether DMU or DMU-CURE, makes little difference in the density of the project, said Drenner. Both would put about 500,000 square feet of residential development on the property. DMU-CURE, however, will allow Gables to build a 200-foot tall tower on the mixed-use development, and create a better mix of uses.

The version of the Lumbermen’s tract that failed four years ago was a type of stair-step arrangement of towers that took full advantage of the Town Lake view. In this version of the project, there is a “wedge” building and a tall tower, split by a thoroughfare that is intended for automobile, bicycle and pedestrian use.

The rough estimates under the proposed DMU-CURE project is 314,000-square feet of multi-family use for 314 apartments, 160,000 square feet of use for 100 condominiums, 20,000 square feet of office space and 40,000 square feet of retail. Retail would be massed on the ground floor, closer to the proposed Seaholm project.

A total of 1,205 parking spaces, which would back up to the crescent-shaped property owned by the city, would be available, Drenner said. The project, once completed, would easily allow the city to use between 250 and 275 parking spots, he concluded.

The Gables/Lumbermen’s project could be completed with the same approximate mass under the 120-foot limits of DMU, but the mix would be limited and an overpass would have to be created to provide more density in the project. Drenner called the more limited project “squattier,” calling the DMU-CURE plan simply more attractive.

“This provides an exciting view of downtown and extends downtown to Lamar without doing anything that would cause a lot of consternation,” Drenner said. “From our viewpoint, the benefits of having this (taller) project versus having the 120-foot project were significant.”

The questions from commissioners were few and comments were supportive. Drenner, however, came armed with his arguments to counter height concerns, concerns that stopped the last project on the Lumberman’s site. Drenner noted nearby neighborhoods–Bouldin, Old West Austin and Zilker–were between one-quarter- and one-half-mile away from project, providing an appropriate buffer zone.

The Gables project could work, Drenner said, with or without the use of the city’s crescent-shaped land and with or without the possible northwest arm of the Pfluger Bridge. He provided schematics of the thoroughfare, plus the proposed underpass onto Bowie Street. Traffic off the Pfluger Bridge would travel up the east side of the Gables project.

Gables Residential also has agreed to pay for the cost of a deepened bio- filtration meadow, which would be required once the roadways are completed. The company also has committed to provide for the maintenance of the pond, which will be dry in most rain occurrences.

Drenner argued that the limits of the Town Lake Waterfront Overlay District make the massing of the Gables project, plus the Seaholm and Spring projects, easily absorbed.

The project goes to the Design Commission for a presentation and discussion tonight. The commission is also scheduled to hear a presentation on the proposed Block 25 Project at West Third and Nueces streets. If the City Council approves a zoning change for that tract of land, Atlanta-based Novare Urban LLC and Austin development firm Andrews Urban LLC plan a 538-foot-tall condominium building.

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

Time to vote . . . Early voting for the November 8 Joint Special Elections begins today and continues through November 4. On the ballot are nine amendments to the Texas Constitution, including the controversial Proposition 2 regarding same sex marriage. Several other local issues are on ballots as well, including three Travis County bond proposals and a Special Election to fill an unexpired term on the Round Rock City Council. Early voting times and locations are available on the Travis County website at http://www.co.travis.tx.us/ and in Williamson County at http://wcportals.wilco.org/elections/index.html. . . . Meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at noon in Room 240 at One Texas Center with a fairly brief agenda. . . . The Design Commission meets at 5:45pm in room 1101 at City Hall (see above) . . . The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 7pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. One of several items on a lengthy agenda is the controversial condo project on the grounds of the Maverick-Miller House . . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors Planning-Audit-Finance Committee meets at 3pm at Capital Metro Headquarters, 2910 E. Fifth St. . . . The Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees meets at 6pm at AISD Headquarters, 1111 W. Sixth St. . . . Williamson County shakeup . . . Meeting in an emergency session late last week, Williamson County Commissioners voted to shift the county's Mental Health Response Unit to the Sheriff's Department, after Precinct 1 Constable Gary Griffin announced his office would no longer perform those duties. The county's Mental Health Committee, which was appointed to study making such a change, was meeting Thursday morning to discuss the issue. During the meeting, Griffin-angered over what he called "politics run amok"-decided his office would relinquish all mental health duties immediately. The move leaves Sheriff James Wilson scrambling to hire deputies trained to handle mental health cases. . . Smith meets with Balcones officials. . . U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, whose 21st District includes the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in west Travis County, meets at 11am this morning with refuge officials to discuss acquisition plans for the federal reservation. The Congressman, who helped secure $500,000 for the refuge in the new Interior Department budget, will be joined by Wildlife Refuge Manager Deborah Holle of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and by Jim Gilchrist of the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands organization, in discussing opportunities for the 21,000-acre preserve. . . . Digital dumping. . . The Texas Campaign for the Environment will release "Digital Dump," a new report by the Basel Action Network that documents the dumping and burning of electronic waste, which was supposedly destined for reuse, in a part of the world not previously associated with irresponsible electronic waste. Robin Schneider, Texas Campaign for the Environment and national Vice-Chair of the Computer TakeBack Campaign will hold a news conference at 11 am at 611 South Congress Ave. Suite 200. . . . County Bond meeting . . . The Hill Country Alliance has scheduled a public meeting to help citizens learn about three Travis County bond propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot: Parks and Natural Areas, Roads and Jails. Of particular interest to the alliance is the possible purchase of Reimers Ranch, a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers and rock climbers along the Pedernales River. County Judge Sam Biscoe, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and former Commissioner Valarie Bristol, now with the Nature Conservancy, will attend. The meeting will be at 7pm at Bee Cave Elementary School. . . . Voter rally . . . The No Nonsense in November campaign which opposes the "gay marriage" amendment (Proposition 2) on the November 8 ballot is holding an early vote rally at 5:30pm today at Woolridge Park, 10th and Guadalupe streets. Speakers will include Anne Wynne, Trampes Crow and Dick and Jimmie Sue Francis.

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