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Design panel commends two high-rises

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 by

Block 25, Gables win commission's approval

Members of the city Design Commission voiced approval for two downtown area mixed-use buildings Monday night, giving developers another positive recommendation when they go before the City Council seeking greater height than would be allowed under current zoning.

Commissioners voted 8-0-1, with Girard Kinney abstaining, in favor of DMU-CURE zoning for the Gables project at the Lamar Street Bridge and West Cesar Chavez. The Gables project is slated to go before the Zoning and Platting Commission next week.

The commission also voted 7-1 for CBD-CURE for the Block 25 Project at West Third and Nueces streets. The ZAP has already voted to recommend CBD-CURE for the 538-foot-tall condominium building that Atlanta-based Novare Group Inc. and Austin development firm Andrews Urban LLC plan to build on Nueces. ( In Fact Daily, Oct. 19, 2005) Commissioner Holly Kincannon voted against the Block 25 recommendation, explaining after the vote that she thought the building would be too tall. Commissioner Eleanor McKinney was not present.

Although they sought explanations and assurances of certain design aspects of the Block 25 building, especially as related to the Great Streets program and landscaping on the Shoal Creek side of the building, commissioners seemed comfortable with developer Taylor Andrews’ request for a 10-to-1 floor-to-area ratio from the beginning of the discussion.

The only real question was whether he would commit in writing to the things that developers have promised in their presentation. A site plan of the building helped commissioners with that but Andrews must make his promises about Great Streets, in particular, in writing before the commission will write its letter to the Council.

Planner Ted McConaghy of Doucet & Associates explained that city staff had advised that going through the Great Streets program prior to getting a permit would slow down construction. Andrews promised that the 18-foot sidewalks and other amenities of Great Streets would be installed and Commissioner Perry Lorenz suggested making Great Streets a condition of the 10-1 FAR. Lorenz has his own tall building, Spring, planned for just a few blocks away. Chair Richard Weiss moved in support of the increased height and Commissioner Juan Cotera seconded. Commissioner Joan Hyde congratulated developers for their attention to the Downtown Design Guidelines, which the commission labored so hard to produce several years back.

The Gables project will include apartments, condominium units and retail space, as well as a throughway that separates bikes and pedestrians from automobiles. The roadway would bisect the project on a north-south axis. That thoroughfare, plus a parking garage that backs up to city-owned property, was on the city’s wish list for the property, according to Attorney Steve Drenner, who is representing Gables. Four years ago, a very different City Council split 4-3 on allowing Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. to build a 180-foot tower on the property. However, a site plan approved in 1984 would allow construction of a 220-foot building on another portion of the tract—a plan Drenner says his client does not want to follow.

After a presentation and discussion of the new plan, Commissioner Phillip Reed asked the question that was on everyone’s mind—with the controversial rejection of the previous plan for this site, why would Gables want to go through this again? (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 28, 2001.)

Drenner responded, “We think it’s worth the time and the effort and the risk . . . With regards to the taller building versus the shorter building, we think we have a viable mixed-use project with different residential uses. We don’t think it’s a viable condominium piece on the east side without that sort of height….in terms of how it looks, how it feels, how it will live, having that throughway open was just a better answer,” he said. Gables “wanted something they thought was the best that it could be… (which they couldn’t do) without the additional height,” said Drenner. “Given that we were dealing with this point forward…giving up a bigger chunk of our site right in the heart of it. It’s hard…given that and given what we thought the western side needed to be, we knew that those condo units were going to demand height, looking west, as well as north. You could sell the units on the south,” facing nearby Town Lake, said Drenner, but the others would be harder to sell without the additional height.

Under the proposed DMU-CURE zoning, the project would have 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 east side of the project. Architect Brett Rhode said Gables intends to comply with Great Streets on the Town Lake side and the internal part of the project.

Board questions city plan for pollution prevention pond

Environmental Board members posed a lot of questions last week when presented a plan to construct a pollution prevention pond in a critical water quality zone above Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park.

The Watershed Protection and Development Review Department plans to construct a 1.36 acre pond below the Barton Hills Park Place Apartment complex to treat storm water runoff and divert it to discharge downstream of the Barton Springs Pool. The $1 million project, set to begin in November and take four months to complete, was postponed last week by the Council.

Several members of the Environmental Board raised questions about the project, including why the city was paying to retro-fit a problem caused by a commercial property.

“I understand that the project needs to be done,” said Vice Chair Karin Ascot, “but I have some real concerns about the city paying to solve a problem that is being created by an apartment complex.”

In its proposal, the WPDR said that it had determined that runoff from the apartment parking lot contains high levels of the contaminant polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which have been linked to use of coal-tar sealants on parking lots.

PAHs have been found in various creeks throughout the city, including the tributary that is adjacent to the Park Place Apartments. WPDR staff said the tributary leading from the apartment complex discharges into Barton Creek about 300 feet above the pool.

The project will reroute the tributary at the north end of the apartment complex along Barton Hills Drive into a man-made culvert that runs down the hill and into the stormwater pond. Overflow from the pond will be routed through a culvert along Lee Barton Drive and discharged into the creek below the pool.

The pond will be constructed in a remote area of the park that staff said gets little use by the public. When completed, the area will be fenced and landscaped to make it less visible from Barton Hills Drive.

City Environmental Officer Pat Murphy told members of the Environmental Board that the city has no legal means at its disposal to force owners of private properties such as Park Place Apartments to pay for treating runoff from their parking lots, since the lot was in compliance with current city codes when it was built.

The Council will take up the project sometime in November. In order to complete the project, Council will need to amend the Save Our Springs Ordinance in order to use dedicated parkland for non-park purposes.

In a related action, the Environmental Board is holding a public hearing tonight on a proposed ordinance by Council Member Lee Leffingwell that would ban the use of coal-tar based sealants in the city, based on a WPDR study showing that the runoff from parking lots treated with such sealant is the main source of PAH pollution in many of Austin’s urban creeks.

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

Confusion on the commission. . . Based on comments from city staff, In Fact Daily has reported that several members of the Historic Landmark Commission declined to reapply for their volunteer positions and were being replaced by the City Council. The Council reappointed three members and added four new commissioners on Thursday. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 24, 2005.) But one commissioner told the editor on Tuesday, “It should say there’s been some confusion. I don’t think it was anyone’s intention to decline to reapply.” Boards and commissions coordinator Candy Hinkle in the City Clerk’s Office and Julia Lee, who previously held that job, said they believed that letters should have been sent to those whose terms expired in 2003, including Chair Lisa Laky and Commissioners Laurie Limbacher, Daniel Leary and David West. West did reapply for his position on June 13, 2003. However, he has now resigned via email citing time constraints. Part of the confusion apparently stems from the fact that rules for serving on the commission changed in 2004 but the Council did not act for 18 months to change commissioners. Last night, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said, “I’m as confused as anybody.” On Friday, the day after the Council made appointments, Leary, an architecture professor who has served on the panel for six years, sent in his application for reappointment. Yesterday, the city received reappointment applications from Laky and Limbacher and Hinkle heard from one of the newly appointed commissioners, Laura Knott, that she has moved out-of-state. That means that the Council has three possible appointments. In addition to Leary, Laky and Limbacher, 10 Austinites have applied for the commission. All appointments are by consensus . . . When in doubt, vote . . . Following the Council’s September 29 vote to remove the much-maligned curb islands from along Shoal Creek Boulevard, stakeholders met with city officials on October 15 at Murchison Middle School to discuss alternatives for the roadway. More than 80 members of the Allendale and Rosedale neighborhoods and the cycling community attended. After much discussion, two main plans and two sub-plans for re-striping Shoal Creek were chosen to be put to a vote by the stakeholders. Ballots were delivered on Monday to property owners, renters and businesses of the neighborhoods as well as members of the Austin Cycling Association. The deadline to return ballots is October 31. The Public Works staff will compile the votes and present the results to the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee at its meeting on November 14 . . . Meetings . . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. On the agenda is a public hearing on an ordinance banning coal tar parking lot sealants . . . The Council Committee for Emerging Technology and Telecommunications meets at 3:30pm room 1101 at City Hall . . . The Buildings and Standards Commission meets at 6:30pm in the third floor training room of 505 Barton Springs Road . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Board meets at 9am in Council Chambers at Round Rock City Hall, 221 East Main St. . . . Early voting . . . Students at the University of Texas continue to vote in large numbers—595 votes—in early balloting Tuesday for the November 8 constitutional amendment and Travis County bond elections . Northcross Mall saw business pick up with 314 votes; Randalls on South Mopac had 260 votes; and 232 voted at the mobile voting sites. A total of 7,461 votes, or 1.4 percent of registered voters, have cast ballots in the first two days of early voting, which continues through November 4 . . . New home for Firefighters Association . . . The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters, Local 975, will cut the ribbon marking the opening of its new Union Hall and Firefighter Depot Store at 11am today at 7537 Cameron Rd. Mayor Pro-tem Danny Thomas, Austin Firefighters President Mike Martinez, Austin Fire Chief Jim Evans and officials from the Greater Austin Chamber of commerce will take part in the ribbon cutting . . . News conference on Seaholm . . Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Brewster McCracken and Betty Dunkerley plus Charlie Betts of the Downtown Austin Alliance and John Rosato with Southwest Strategies Group will discuss the future of 1.4 acres of waterfront property on Cesar Chavez and roughly 1.7 acres of land behind Seaholm at 2pm today at Seaholm. The City Council is scheduled to vote this week to reduce the surface area of the Seaholm substation and to relocate the control center from its downtown location. Additionally, the Council will take action to approve the extension of West Avenue between 3rd Street and Cesar Chavez. This is the latest in a series of initiatives by the city to place valuable tracts of land on the tax roles and connect the Downtown area with Lamar Boulevard.

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