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Historic house may provide new development path

Friday, October 28, 2005 by

Plan would allow Maverick-Miller House to assign building rights to another tract The Austin City Council Thursday took the first steps toward allowing the transfer of development rights to aid in the preservation of historic properties. If approved, the owners of the historic Maverick-Miller House in the West Campus area would be able to sell the development rights to their property to another property owner or transfer rights to another property they own.

That would effectively provide an income stream to the owners of the historic property at 910 Poplar without additional development on the site, as had been requested earlier this year (See In Fact Daily, June 20, 2005).

Transferring development rights, while not commonly used in Austin, is popular in other parts of the country. "You have a property that you want protected, here it would be an historic property, and that property owner sends restricted development rights to a receiving area," explained Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky. "That is an area where the city or the Council is looking at incentiviizing greater development. These are generally done by development credits, sold on the open market between a willing buyer and a willing seller." The development credit programs are popular in older cities, especially in the northeast, such as Philadelphia and New York City.

Sadowsky said such a program in Austin could prove to be useful in the West Campus neighborhood, which has at least 17 historic properties. "We have a fairly high concentration of landmarks in this small area, and this area is of course ripe for development," he said. "There are going to be, I'm sure, several of these properties that are going to be looked at for development projects and a Transfer of Development Rights program would help preserve these properties individually and the character of the area."

The action by the Council on Thursday does not initiate a city-wide program, but directs the City Manager to begin working on an ordinance allowing the transfer between the owners of the Maverick-Miller House and the owners of 900-908 W. 26th Street nearby.

The two parties and members of the North University Neighborhood Association and the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee have all agreed to the terms. "It's been very exciting, and very tedious, and very difficult," said Lin Team, a member of the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee. "We will preserve the Maverick-Miller historic property. We will increase the number of housing units available for students in the University Neighborhood Overlay area, and we will make the Maverick Miller property attractive by allowing some of the other uses to make it economically viable but limiting it via restrictive covenants in such a way to protect it and preserve it in its historic context."

Sadowsky told the Council the Historic Preservation Office was conducting a survey of potentially historic properties in the West Campus area, with the goal of compiling a list of buildings targeted for preservation. He hopes to have that list complied within the next several weeks, and said the information would be shared with property owners as soon as possible to avoid conflicts when a building is sold or a demolition permit is requested.

Mayor Will Wynn praised the agreement reached by the owners of the Maverick Miller house and the surrounding neighborhood. "Many of us desperately wanted to preserve and save the Maverick Miller House, but we also think we can accomplish that with this action…with what looks like more of a traditional transfer of development rights across the street."

The Mayor indicated he would be coming back to the Council with a broader, city-wide proposal to allow the transfer of development rights in the near future and indicated he would be in favor of a more extensive public involvement process before any such program was adopted.

Taking a regional approach to dealing with waste for the next half-century, the city’s Long Range Solid Waste Planning Task Force told Council members Thursday that one of its major goals is to achieve zero waste to area landfills by the year 2040.

The task force, made up of 23 stakeholders ranging from commercial waste haulers to environmentalists to government officials, reviewed its findings and goals with Council members Thursday. Solid Waste Advisory Commission Chair Gerard Acuña and task force co-chair J.D. Porter outlined the panel’s preliminary findings.

“As our area experiences growth, we will also see increased amounts of solid waste,” Porter said. “That puts many of our residential areas in conflict with our landfills, which are rapidly running out of space. Clearly, we must take a regional approach to dealing with this. Solid waste knows no borders.”

Porter discussed some of the task force’s major findings:

• The issues of local and regional solid waste management are inextricably intertwined. Several and various city, county, regional, state and federal government Agencies have jurisdiction and influence over matters of solid waste management, a situation that, without coordination, inhibits effective local and regional planning, management and regulatory efforts.

• The stakeholders in issues of solid waste management include the public-at-large, governments, service providers and the recipients of solid waste management services, all of which may benefit from a concerted and cooperative planning effort.

• The task force has identified several key elements that warrant further research and discussion: baseline data, infrastructure, technology, public policy, implementation and ongoing management.

• Consensus has been reached, tentatively, on several topics; including adoption of Zero Waste as a target and the potential use of a solid waste authority, district or lead organization as a means of achieving that aim.

Porter said that, in addition to the City of Austin, the plan would be presented to the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), Travis County and other stakeholders such as bordering counties, businesses and environmental groups.

From its talks thus far, the task force has established three main goals, he said. First, to establish a policy designed to achieve zero waste to landfills and incinerators by 2040. Second, adopt a citywide law that reduces the use of disposable, toxic or non-renewable products by at least 50 percent within seven years. And third, implement "user friendly" recycling and composting programs with the goal of reducing by 20 percent per capita solid waste disposal to landfill and incineration within seven years.

“Zero waste, obviously, does not mean no waste,” Porter said. “We’ll always have solid waste to deal with. But what we hope to do is significantly cut the amount of waste going to landfills and increase the amount of materials that are recycled. We want to achieve a significant reduction in the waste stream.”

Council Member Betty Dunkerly, who initially called for the formation of the task force, asked the City Manager to grant the panel the ability to hire an outside consultant to help write the plan. She also recommended that the task force pare down its initial scope of work to a more manageable level, and appoint a small working group to work with the Council on developing the plan.

Task force members will report back to the Council on November 17 with a more detailed version of their plan.

Downtown boosters want tougher law

The downtown business community presented a united front last night in support of proposed changes to the city’s public order ordinance, which is intended to cut down on panhandling, roadside solicitation, public sleeping and door-to-door solicitation.

The City Council held the first of two hearings on the proposed ordinance, with a vote expected on December 15. Those in support of the ordinance – the Downtown Austin Alliance, the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Commission, the Austin Hotel & Lodging Association, Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, Pecan Street Owners Association and the Salvation Army – spoke of a need to address some of the negative behavior going on among the homeless downtown.

Bill Fielding, who owns two buildings in the 700 block of Congress Avenue, said the homeless around his properties sometimes were verbally abusive, frequently masturbated and urinated in back alleys and made it difficult to do business in downtown Austin.

“In this area, you have done a terrible job,” Fielding told Council. “You can’t be as easy on the problem as you’re being. You can’t look the other way. You can’t avoid the consequences. You can blame it on budget restrictions or not enough jail space or whatever it will be next time. When people are homeless, it is a problem.”

Carl Tepper, who represented the Austin chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association, said downtown buildings are faced with serious issues associated with the homeless, including a crime wave of thefts from downtown offices. The time had come from some “compassionate realistic programs to end the cycle of self-destructive behavior” but also some programs to address the root causes of the problem.

Last night’s hearing on the public order ordinance came at the end of an agenda that included a lengthy list of recommendations out of the African-American Quality of Life Initiative. While fewer than a dozen people addressed Council during the late-evening hearing, more than 125 people signed up in support of the public order ordinance.

The coalition opposing the ordinance was much smaller. While the homeless, led by advocate Richard Troxell, did oppose the ordinance and advocate for a livable minimum wage, the more vocal band of advocates were the members of the city’s own Homeless Task Force. Members of the task force labeled the ordinances an exercise in profiling the homeless, choosing to mark them for criminal prosecution.

“This is not a long-term solution for what is a chronic problem,” said Alison Schmidt.

One-time Council candidate Jennifer Gale, who lives on the street, argued that public order ordinances missed the point of the homeless problem.

“Where do you want the homeless to go? To sleep in our jails? Where are the people who need the medication going to go?” Gale asked. “We’re creating the problems here. You have the chamber of commerce here that built up the downtown area, telling you to pass this ordinance, but where do you want the homeless to go?”

On a night when the Council pledged its support to the ongoing efforts to address quality of life issues for African-American residents, David Gomez of the Homeless Task Force pointed out it was only a decade ago that the Council had created the Homeless Task Force and made similar pledges of support to eradicate the city’s homeless problem.

The general manager of the Hilton Austin quoted a letter of a meeting planner concerned about downtown safety and said it was important to protect the investment the city had made in the Convention Center. The executive director of Ballet Austin talked about her need to guarantee that children coming to the ballet academy in future months were safe in downtown Austin. And a South Austin mother spoke of her concern about an encampment of aggressive homeless men who had staked out a bus stop across from Crockett High School in order to stalk and harass young students.

Major Dan New of the Salvation Army supports a tougher public order ordinance. He said a “predator class” of homeless individuals has developed on the streets of downtown, a class that is willing to roll people for money and commit rape in alleys. An ordinance could be a temporary solution to address that criminal behavior, but a comprehensive solution must have more “teeth” to put people in need together with programs.

“We have the sleeping on the sidewalk and the panhandling is not productive, but you can’t help folks until you get them into a program,” New said. “We can’t do anything until we get people into programs, so we strongly support the ordinances.” He did not mention the Legislature’s failure to sufficiently fund alcohol and drug treatment programs.

City Manager Toby Futrell reacted yesterday to complaints about the Citizens Review Panel holding its public hearing on the shooting of Daniel Rocha on Halloween night. Futrell said there is a possibility that she will decide to postpone that hearing for a day or two—because of community complaints about selection of the family-oriented holiday evening but she was reluctant to do so. Rocha died on June 9 after being shot by APD Officer Julie Schroeder.

PODER leader Susanna Almanza, among others, sent a letter to the Council criticizing the city for choosing Halloween. Almanza also complained during the citizens communications segment of Thursday’s City Council meeting. Futrell, who addressed both the Council and Almanza, said the review panel had been scheduled to hold its hearing several weeks back. However, the city was asked to postpone the hearing because of a LULAC function. Then the event was going to be held on October 26 but several panel members would not have been able to attend. In retrospect, she said, it was probably a mistake to move the hearing in the first place.

The problem at the other end of the timeframe looms large in city officials’ minds. “Every day we wait we’re getting dangerously close to the (180-day) deadline,” explained Futrell. That deadline is set by state Civil Service law, requiring that disciplinary action against police officers be taken with 180 days of the action for which they are being disciplined. After the hearing, she said members of the panel will go into executive session to deliberate on their recommendation to Police Chief Stan Knee. If they do ask for an independent investigation, the city would have only five weeks to conduct such an investigation, said Futrell. Missing the deadline, she said, “would make moot a decision that could come out of the Citizen Review Panel.”

Members of the panel have already held one five-hour executive session on the Rocha shooting. During that time, Futrell said, they have had access to internal police documents that can only be accessed from the City Council’s backstage meeting room.

Various city officials, including Police Chief Stan Knee, Futrell, Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield, Austin Police Monitor Ashton Cumberbatch and APD Chaplain Rev. Nick Meyers served on the panel that met with members of various community organizations on July 18. A number of Council Members attended that meeting also. (See In Fact Daily, July 19, 2005). In June, there an extremely emotional five-hour meeting in the Dove Springs neighborhood, where the shooting occurred. Futrell, Knee and several Council Members attended that meeting also.

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

Barker to join Hospital District Board . . . The only appointment on Thursday’s Council agenda was the consensus appointment of Bobbie Barker to the Travis County Hospital District Board of Managers. Barker replaces Victoria Hsu . . . Affordable Housing. . . Paul Hilgers, Director of Community Development for the Department of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, leaned heavily on Rep. Eddie Rodriguez’s (D-Austin) House Bill 525 during a briefing last night on neighborhood sustainability recommendations under the African-American Quality of Life Initiative. Rodriguez’s HB 525, passed last session, would create a community land trust in East Austin to keep housing affordable in historically African-American low-income neighborhoods (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 11, 2005). . . Zoning cases . . . .Council Members voted to deny two contested zoning cases yesterday. In one case, a change had been requested at 3327 Slaughter Lane from limited office (LO-CO) to community commercial (GR-CO) so the applicant could operate a “by-hand-only” car wash. In the other case, a landowner was seeking a change in the conditional overlay on single-family-3-CO zoned property at 5505 Montview. The owner wanted to build another multi-family structure on a property that already has a duplex on it. Surrounding neighbors had valid petitions against the changes in both cases. The Council approved three other uncontested cases, although one of those cases will have to come back for second and third readings . . . Vance proposal popular . . . A proposal by the city’s African-American Quality of Life Committee to name a theater at the Carver Museum after the late Boyd Vance earned a strong round of applause at last night’s Council meeting. Vance, who was the founder of the Pro Arts Collective, died in April following heart surgery . . . Early voting . . . The numbers are picking up in early voting for the November 8 Travis County bonds and constitutional amendment elections. Some 15,265 people have voted in the first four days, with the UT box continuing to lead the pack Thursday with 524 votes. Mobile voters cast 411 ballots, Randalls on Research had 323, and Northcross Mall had 308 . . . LCRA studies economic impact of lakes . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority said a recently completed study shows that visitors to Central Texas parks bring millions of dollars and provides hundreds of jobs each year. The results of the economic impact study were presented last week to the LCRA Board. An average of 593,232 people visited 11 parks on LCRA land at Lake Travis annually between 2000 and 2005, according to the study. Nearly 55 percent—about 326,000—of the visitors live outside Travis County and spent an estimated $6.5 million a year in Travis County while visiting the parks. This direct spending had a ripple effect in the local economy that generated 205 jobs, $4 million a year in local income, and an additional $3.4 million a year spent on sales of other goods and services, for a total of $9.9 million in spending annually. Travis County residents who visited the parks spent an estimated $5.2 million. This direct spending led to 130 jobs, $3.1 million in local income, and an additional $2.3 million a year spent on sales of other goods and services, for a total of $7.5 million in spending annually . . . Giant chess tournament Sunday . . . Kids in grades K-12 are invited to compete in the Austin Parks Foundation’s third annual Giant Chess Tournament at Wooldridge Square Park from 12:30pm to 5pm Sunday. If your child is a chess player, you may want to check the website at

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