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Panel fails to suggest height for Spring tower

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 by

ZAP committee suggest trips, floor plate

The Zoning and Platting Commission subcommittee considering recommendations for the Spring Condominium project failed to reach agreement on a height limit for the controversial spire at its final meeting last night. That fact, especially in view of fears expressed by some members of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, should be seen as a victory for developers Perry Lorenz, Robert Barnstone, Diana Zuniga and Larry Warshaw, who hope to build a 400 foot tall tower on Third Street just east of Lamar.

Subcommittee of the Zoning and Platting Commission met for the final time Monday night and drafted a recommendation on the project for the full commission to consider on October 18. While that recommendation covers limits on trips per day, the size of the proposed building’s floor plate, and the height of the base of the building, the subcommittee refrained from setting a specific height limit on the building’s tower.

The developers are requesting a zoning change that will allow them to build a 400-foot “point tower,” a narrow style of building not previously seen in Austin. The current zoning on the site would allow for only a 120-foot tall structure. The subcommittee’s recommendation to the full ZAP suggests a range of anywhere between 175 to 400 feet.

“It’s going to be difficult. I really don’t know what the height should be for this building,” said Commissioner Clark Hammond. “Not speaking as an advocate, but this is a different kind of building. There’s really nothing like it in Austin…and literally if this building was three blocks to the east, the sky’s the limit. But I also need to balance that with the concerns that our neighbors have, not only the OWANA neighbors but our neighborhoods in South Austin that are in walking distance of downtown.”

Commissioner Joseph Martinez originally suggested recommending a range of between 200 and 400 feet, but Commissioner Janis Pinnelli requested a lower limit of 175 feet instead, and the rest of the members concurred. “Four hundred feet is not compatible with that neighborhood,” she said. “I’m hard pressed to say 200 is compatible. West of Shoal Creek, everything from there has been capped at 120.”

Although other commissioners seemed more willing to seriously consider a height greater than 120 feet, there was some reluctance to endorse the 400 feet as requested by the applicant. “Even I think 400 feet is too much,” said Commissioner Keith Jackson, who chaired the subcommittee.

Although the subcommittee held off on a specific height recommendation, the group did come up with several other more specific suggestions for the project. Their report to the full ZAP will call for a maximum height for the base portion of the building of 45 feet, a limit of 1,500 trips per day associated with the project, and a maximum floor plate area of 8,000 square feet. Developer Perry Lorenz seemed agreeable with some of those recommendations, noting that the designers hoped to be able to create a project with a 7,000 square foot floor plate, but expressed concern about the impact that some of the other proposals might have when taken in combination.

Of particular concern to the development team, he said, would be a height limit significantly lower than 400 feet combined with other restrictions that would result in a more conventionally-shaped building. “That’s what you can recommend, but I’m just saying there’s not a project there. It’s just something that we haven’t envisioned,” he said.

The subcommittee will also take to the ZAP several other issues raised by the point tower proposal but not directly linked to the zoning change. Those include setting up standard regulations governing point towers for the future, such as the maximum allowable height of the base of the tower, overall tower height, set-back requirements, and minimum required spacing between point towers. The Commission is scheduled to consider the zoning change request one week from today, and the item could go to the full City Council any time after that.

Walker, Treviño reappointed to Cap Metro

CAMPO Board refuses to consider Trans Texas plan

Lee Walker and John Treviño won the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s reappointment to the Capital Metro board last night, but County Judge Sam Biscoe expressed his own reservations about how Capital Metro was conducting its business during negotiations between Star Tran and its union members.

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, who recently joined the Capital Metro board, moved to reappoint Walker and Treviño. Thomas pointed out he had been no fan of Capital Metro’s light rail proposal – which failed at the ballot box – but had come to appreciate both Capital Metro’s approach to the commuter rail issue and the service of Walker and Treviño.

A recommendation to reappoint the two board members stalled last month due to concerns over union negotiations and the boundaries for the rail district. At the time, Thomas offered a motion to delay the vote for a month in order to get clarification on the legal issues. Last night, he still had some concerns.

“I will say this, that I’m not comfortable with what’s going on (with union negotiations) but we’ll work through that,” said Thomas when he made the motion to appoint the two. “We ought to be able to come to agreement and move on because the citizens deserve the great service offered by Lee Walker and John Treviño… I make a motion to appoint them because they have done a great job, and we have more work to do.”

At last night’s meeting, Capital Metro CEO Fred Gilliam and Star Tran Executive Officer Kent McCullough clarified the role of Capital Metro in negotiations with Amalgamated Transit Union No. 1091. Gilliam said the law permits Capital Metro to monitor labor negotiations but not participate directly in those negotiations. McCullough agreed that Capital Metro had been briefed but had not compromised its arms-length relationship.

Biscoe and Chair Gonzalo Barrientos both raised red flags on the fact that Capital Metro and Star Tran retained the same lawyer, even though under separate agreements. McCullough said the two relationships were separate. When he cast his vote, Biscoe supported the appointment of Walker and Treviño but said he would welcome the chance to address the Capital Metro board on the conflict of interest issue, if invited.

“Capital Metro should stay out of the bargaining, and I think the entire board, including these two, should do a better job of ensuring that,” Biscoe said. “I’m willing to reduce that to writing or address a board meeting, if invited.”

The Capital Metro board is comprised of five elected officials and two citizen members. Walker and Treviño serve as the two citizen appointees to the Capital Metro board.

Seventeen people signed cards in support of their appointment but chose not to speak at the hearing. A handful of people, including union members, were opposed to the appointments, including one man who had sought a seat on the board.

Only eight members of the CAMPO board – those who represented the Capital Metro service area — are allowed to vote on the appointment of Capital Metro board members: Mayor Will Wynn; C ounty Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Gerald Daugherty; Council Members Brewster McCracken and Betty Dunkerley; and Williamson County Commissioner Frankie Limmer. Proxies represented Wynn, Sonleitner and McCracken last night. Limmer was absent from the meeting.

The final vote was 6-1, with Daugherty voting against the appointment. Daugherty, who has been unhappy with Capital Metro’s use of sales tax revenues, had a brief sidebar discussion with Leander Mayor John Cowman. Cowman, recently appointed to the Capital Metro board, spoke in favor of the appointments and in favor of the commuter rail recently approved by voters. Daugherty challenged that statement, saying the only reason Leander had voted to stay in Capital Metro – when Cedar Park had agreed to get out – was because of a push poll done in the city in the last week before the election. Barrientos broke up the discussion, saying the issue was appointments, not rail.

Daugherty also questioned the need for House Bill 1815, which dropped the term limits on the Capital Metro board. Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), who carried the legislation, said he supported the bill because he had confidence in the current membership on the board. Barrientos, who carried the bill in the Senate, noted that a number of elected officials were leaving the board and that the desire to waive term limits was motivated by the need to keep some institutional memory on the board.

During questions last month, Barrientos had questioned the jurisdictional area of the Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail District. Gilliam acknowledged a map presented by Capital Metro had a misprint and subsequently had been corrected.

In another matter, the CAMPO board postponed consideration of a resolution endorsing the planning and implementation of the Trans Texas Corridor-35 project . Some members of the board were taken aback that the resolution had even come before them.

“I’m just a little amazed that we would be looking at a resolution endorsing the Trans Texas Corridor,” said Daugherty. “If anything could be more controversial than the toll roads plan we just dealt with, it’s this.”

Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) agreed. “As I read the resolution, I had a similar reaction,” he said. “I think we need to learn a lot more about this before we approve anything that endorses the TTC.”

A number of citizens addressed the board on the item, calling the TTC everything from an illegal land grab to a “river of lost jobs” to “theft on a monstrous scale.” No one spoke in favor of it.

Strama moved to delay consideration of the resolution until the December meeting. The board approved that motion unanimously.

Battle for District 47 begins early

He hasn’t even made his announcement yet, but House District 47 candidate Jason Earle has already drawn fire from his Democratic primary opponent’s campaign consultant. Earle, the son of District Attorney Ronnie Earl e, is set to announce this morning that he would like to take over the seat being vacated by Rep. Terry Keel. Keel, a Republican, has already said he would seek a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The only other Democrat who has announced for the House seat so far is Valinda Bolton, an expert on domestic abuse and sexual assault. Bolton made her announcement last week, stressing the failure of the Legislature to solve school finance problems. Consultant Glen Maxey is working for Bolton, who has no immediately apparent baggage, unlike Jason Earl e, whose father has drawn national attention for the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

Last week, the American-Statesman’s Gardner Selby wrote a column asking, “Will Earle’s son take heat for dad’s acts?” In that column, Selby quoted Norm Newman of the Associated Republicans of Texas, who said the race could become one of the most expensive in the country. The younger Earle, however, said he did not expect non-local players to get involved in the race. Selby quoted a couple of well-placed Republicans who said otherwise.

Yesterday, Maxey sent out an email telling selected Travis County Democrats that Jason Earle is the “wrong candidate,” running at the “wrong time” in the “wrong district.” A brace of Republicans—including Bill Welch, Alex Castano, Terry Dill and Rick Phillips—have said they will vie for that party’s nomination. Welch, a former member of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board, who resigned because of his long-term active duty work in the Air Force Reserve, is currently the frontrunner.

But Maxey says whichever Republican wins the primary will have lots of help from angry conservatives throughout the country itching to get a shot at the Earle on the ballot. Elisabeth Earle, the District Attorney’s daughter, is seeking re-election to the county-court-at-law bench, but it would be a lot harder to knock off an incumbent judge running on a countywide basis than a newcomer in Republican territory.

Maxey wrote in his email, “The million dollars that gets dumped into the ‘get Ronnie’ campaign will be for TV that the voters across Travis County get to watch. Kiss Dist 47 goodbye. But TV doesn't stop at the district line. It goes across Central Texas to District 48 where we can take out (Republican Rep. Todd) Baxter and in Dist 50 where (Democratic Rep. Mark) Strama is going to face tough re-election battles and even in (Hay’s County Democratic Rep.) Patrick Rose's area where another right winger backed by Rick Green is about to file as a Republican. Why would we do this to ourselves?”

Earle, 35, was not available for comment yesterday, but his press secretary, Kevin Kennedy, told In Fact Daily, “I don’t understand why Glen’s doing that. I would think Glen has his plate full.” As to whether Jason Earle will have the bull’s eye Maxey—and some Republicans would like to paint on him, Kennedy says, “I just don’t see it; I don’t think many consultants around town see it.”

The reported last night that “some key Democrats are talking about launching a national fundraising drive” to help the District Attorney’s son get ready for a Republican blitzkrieg, before he even wins the primary.

Earle, who works for Girling Health Care, will announce his candidacy this morning at Pease Elementary School, 1106 Rio Grande. ”

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

Dia de la Raza . . .The United East Austin Coalition celebrates the 20th Annual Dia de la Raza event and will present Raza Awards from 7 to 10pm Wednesday. It’s a free community event with a nacho bar, punch and dance music by Salaman. The United East Austin Coalition recognizes individuals and groups who improve the quality of life of East Austin's native people as part of its annual Dia de la Raza Celebration. Dia de la Raza is celebrated all over the world to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of indigenous people. Most events include respect for diversity and the showcasing of cultural arts and traditional customs of native people from that region. Raza Awards will be presented to: Outstanding Individual Efforts, Juan and Martha Cotera; Outstanding Community Service, The Austin Tenant’s Council; Outstanding Business Efforts, Cisco’s Bakery; and Spirit of Cooperation Award, The Austin History Center. The events will be historic Red's Scoot Inn, 1308 E. 4th Street, at the corner of Navasota and 4th . . . Meetings . . . The MBE/WBE Council Subcommittee meets at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 6:30pm at PARD Headquarters, 200 South Lamar . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The A irport Advisory Commission meets at 5pm in room 160 at 2716 Spirit of Texas Drive . . . The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission meets at 6pm in room 105 at the Waller Creek Center . . . Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Court Chambers at 325 West 11th St. . . . Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in the Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3 Courtroom, 301 S.E.Inner Loop, in Georgetown . . . A transportation challenge . . . County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty offered the challenge—and the staff of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization have agreed to take the commute solutions challenge for two weeks in October, finding alternative travel options to work. Daugherty said his three-member staff already had taken a similar challenge. . . A raise for Aulick . . .The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board offered Executive Director Michael Aulick a 3.5 percent raise, plus a 2 percent lump sum bonus at last night’s meeting. The raise is a combination of increased pay and incentive pay enhancement. The only nay on the vote was from Daugherty. Aulick’s salary last year was $84,800 . . . No meeting in November . . . The CAMPO Board has canceled its November meeting The Transportation Policy Board’s next meeting is now scheduled for Dec. 12 . . . White Cane Day . . .Hundreds of blind and visually impaired Central Texans representing seven local blind agencies and organizations will march from the Congress Avenue Bridge to Austin City Hall on Wednesday to mark Austin’s fourth annual community-wide observance of National White Cane Day. This day is known locally as an Independence Day celebration for the estimated 25,000 individuals living in Travis and Williamson counties who are blind or have significant vision impairment. Mayor Will Wynn plans to commemorate the contributions of Austin’s blind citizens and promote public awareness with a proclamation recognizing White Cane Day.The march begins at 9:30am followed by a proclamation ceremony at 10am in the City Hall Plaza . . . Last chance to register . . . Today is the final day to register to vote in the November 8 election. There are a variety of state Constitutional amendments and local options on ballots around the Central Texas area. Contact your county clerk’s office for information on getting registered.

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