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Bond panel balks at funding Central Library

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 by

Straw vote finds support for $90 million facility, not the requested $124 million

The Bond Election Advisory Committee agreed Monday that Austin needs a new Central Library– twice delayed and needed for almost two decades – but a straw vote from the committee indicated members were willing to spend only $90 million.

That straw vote, offered by subcommittee chair Tom Terkel, was not binding on the committee. Still, it indicated that members were not ready to approve the $124 million proposed by the subcommittee or even the $106 million proposed by library staff. That $106 million would build a 300,000-square-foot shell, with 200,000-square-feet built out, with the idea of going back to voters in a future bond election.

When the 110,000-square foot John Henry Faulk Library was built in 1979, the city intended to add more stories later. However, enactment of the Capitol View Corridor has prevented vertical expansion.

Mike Clark-Madison argued for the central library. Austin needs a new central library, he said, not because the committee wants one, not because it would be cool, not because other cities have one, but because the current system is failing. The Austin library system operates in the wheel-and-spoke fashion. Anyone who accesses the central catalog, Clark-Madison said, is accessing the city’s central library.

In lieu of building a new Central Library, the city has committed to expanding branches across the city over the last three bond cycles, Clark-Madison said. Those branches, in turn, must rely on the Central Library. With the branch system addressed, the time has come to address the Central Library branch issue. Nothing more will come to the library system – in terms of staff or materials or branches – until the central branch is built, he concluded.

Community activist Robin Rather and Frederick Steiner, dean of the UT School of Architecture, raised the issue of cost. Steiner noted that the city had brought some of the pricier recent central libraries to the table for comparison. He noted that the Phoenix central library, at a cost of $43 million, had come in under budget. Some people might want a Mercedes Benz; other people expect to see a Toyota Prius.

John Gillum, who heads the city’s library construction program, defended the $124 million price tag. He said the budget on the 300,000-square-foot library, originally set at $178 million, had been scrubbed over the last two years. The budget covers not only architectural/engineering fees ($14.3 million) and construction ($84.4 million) but also collections ($6.1 million), equipment/furniture/security ($10.5 million) and art in public places ($2.2 million). Those figures are based on construction beginning in 2010, with a completion date for the central branch set for 2012.

“This is not a project that is designed to build monumental landmark architecture,” Gillum said. “This is a budget that we believe will deliver to the city a building that will serve it well, built out with durable materials that will be sustainable.”

Following a break, Terkel made a proposal to consider a $90 million baseline on the library, given the mixed views on the $124 million price tag. Rather proposed a range of $75 million to $100 million, which Terkel declined.

The committee vote on the non-binding $90 million recommendation was 14-4, with Rather, Jennifer McPhail, Fred Butler and Sabrina Brown voting no.

The committee has scheduled a meeting on November 21 to talk about bonds for open space and affordable housing. That will be followed by a possible vote on proposals on November 29, with additional meetings planned for January.

Board rejects strange parking space case

Call it the case of the phantom parking spaces.

The owner of the property at 4119 Guadalupe Street wanted to open a new restaurant, called “Vino! Vino!” on the site, but he had a problem: no available parking spaces. Well, not exactly “no” parking spots. But the ones he had were really hard to find.

Enter the Board of Adjustment, whose members were asked last night by the building owner’s agent, Jim Bennett, to grant a parking variance for a 3,000 square-foot restaurant—without any customer parking at all. It was a tough sell, even for Bennett, who is known for taking difficult cases before city boards and commissions. The board did not see it his way.

The site is located in the middle of the 4100 block of Guadalupe Street in a building that was constructed in 1921. There is currently no on-street, side street or alley parking available. While the area, several blocks north of the UT campus and across the street from the Austin State Hospital, had several successful restaurants in the past, all of them thrived before the 1980s, which is when the city reconfigured the street to eliminate head-in parking in front of those businesses.

“This small piece of Hyde park is in need of revitalization,” Bennett said. “This is just the type of business that is needed in this area. It’s a viable use as a restaurant.”

Members of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association had mixed feelings on the project. At a recent meeting, a vote to reject the restaurant’s request for a variance from parking regulations failed, but a subsequent vote to support it resulted in a tie vote. Nonetheless, some Hyde Park area residents spoke against the variance.

“This is not a valid hardship,” said Karen McGraw. “There are several other uses for the property which are available without a variance. We don’t think they deserve special privileges.” She added that parking in the block behind the building, along Avenue A, was already crowded from apartments, and that restaurant patrons would be depriving residents of parking near where they live.

However, according to current city codes, a restaurant must provide one parking space per 75 square feet of business space. That normally means that Vino! Vino! would need a minimum of 24 spaces, but another portion of the city code pertaining to buildings built before the street parking was removed gives such buildings credit for 10 parking spaces. So, the site only needed 14 spaces.

Bennett offered up two potential solutions, though neither one appeared to resolve the problem.

The first was access to a small lot to the north of the site which could have accommodated about 10 cars. However, only a small portion of the lot was paved and the owners did not have legal permission to use it yet. That meant that it didn’t meet city requirements.

The second option was a small parking lot across Guadalupe on the grounds of the Austin State Hospital. Bennett said preliminary talks with hospital staff to use the lot in the evenings were promising, but he could not say with any certainty that the lot was within the prescribed 500 feet of the restaurant as required by city regulations.

That left the restaurant with only the 10 parking spaces that the city gave it credit for after it lost its street parking years ago. And those spaces, of course, don’t really exist.

Board Members voted 3-2 to reject the request for the variance. Members Betty Edgemond, Leane Heldenfels and Barbara Aybar voted no, while Chair Frank Fuentes and Greg Smith voted yes.

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

Grievances filed . . . The Austin Police Association (APA) has filed grievances with city management alleging that a vote by the Citizen Review Panel regarding disciplinary measures against Officer Julie Schroeder was leaked to a local daily newspaper. Schroeder shot Daniel Rocha in June during a struggle that followed a traffic stop. On Monday, In Fact Daily requested copies of the grievances. The Public Information Office said those documents would be available to the press later today after the City Attorney’s Office has redacted some portions. APA President Mike Sheffield referred questions to the association's attorney, Tom Stribling, who could not be reached for comment late Monday. A police review board is scheduled to meet on Friday to make a recommendation to Chief Stan Knee about any disciplinary action Schroeder might face . . . First to file . . . Attorney Sheryl Cole, who has made no secret or the fact that she wants to succeed Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas in the Place 6 seat, filed her designation of campaign treasurer Monday—the first day she could do so under the city’s quaint regulations. Rev. Joseph Parker, Jr. of David Chapel will serve as Cole’s campaign treasurer. The campaign consultants include David Butts, Mark Nathan, Kristi Willis and Eleanor Thompson. Cole, 41, is a Certified Public Accountant and mother of three sons . . . Meetings . . . The Z oning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The City Planning Commission Comprehensive Plan Committee meets at 6pm in room 2016 at City Hall . . . The Parks and Recreation Board Land and Facilities Committee meets at noon at PARD Headquarters, 200 S. Lamar . . . The Resource Management Commission meets at 6pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . Travis County Commissioners meet at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in the Pct . 1 JP Courtroom on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown. . . . Watson fundraiser . . . Former Mayor Kirk Watson will be holding a fundraiser beginning at 5:30pm tonight at Nuevo Leon on East Sixth Street. Watson is hoping to succeed retiring Austin State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos . . . Hurricane evacuees need bikes . . . Local bicycle organizations and bike shops are getting together to collect bicycles in good repair for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Austin’s Katrina BikeAid Donation Drive will occur on Saturday, from 9am to 6pm at Bicycle Sports Shop, 517 South Lamar. The goal is to collect 540 bicycles in nine hours—one bike per minute. Complimentary food, drink and entertainment will be available for anyone who donates a working bicycle that day. All donated bicycles must be in good working order, ready to hit the road with just a few minor adjustments. Both adult and children's bikes are needed, and sponsors are seeking financial contributions to cover the cost of providing locks and helmets for every recipient. Audrey Warren, New Orleans evacuee and the former director of New Orleans' Safe Routes to School Program, is coordinating the BikeTexas Katrina BikeAid program. For more information, call Warren at 964-9337. . . . Meeting postponed. . . Laurie Limbacher presided over a brief meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission Monday evening, joining Commissioners Jean Mather and Dan Leary in welcoming new Commissioners Joe Arriaga, Rodger Arend, and Timothy Cuppett before voting to postpone all of the commission's cases for the evening until December 5. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky has been out of the office and was unable to prepare the case files for the meeting due to a death in the family. . . . Let there be light… The streetlights are scheduled to go on at the Mueller property tonight, another sign that progress is underway at the master-planned development . . . Landing on his feet . . . Former Republican State Rep. Todd Baxter, who resigned his District 48 seat last month, has found new gainful employment. The Texas Cable and Telecommunications Association announced Monday that it has hired Baxter as a lobbyist. The cable group lost a major battle during the last session over allowing traditional phone companies to provide TV programming through statewide franchises, leaving local cable companies still tied to local governments. During his two terms in the House, Baxter served on the Committee on Regulated Industries, which governs cable TV, among others. He has been working at the law firm of Minter Joseph & Thornhill.

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