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CAPCOG puts landfill comments on hold

Monday, November 14, 2005 by

Committee wants TCEQ approval of waste plan amendment before taking action

Without a clear-cut indication of where its authority lay, the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) executive committee chose to delay action last week on a recommendation on the proposed expansion of Waste Management Inc.’s landfill in northeast Travis County.

Travis County Commissioners voted to oppose the landfill expansion, and CAPCOG’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) recommended similar action to the full board.

The opposition to the landfill expansion on Giles Road was based on a number of unanswered questions, such as how Waste Management would deter illegal dumping and address nuisance issues. The SWAC also questioned how well WMI had coordinated with local government on the expansion plans, as to how it would impact roads, drainage and other infrastructure. The CAPCOG committee also questioned the compatibility of the landfill and surrounding areas, as well as the compliance history of Waste Management.

The real question for CAPCOG to answer, however, is how the permit fits into the regional solid waste plan. To date, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has yet to approve an amendment to the CAPCOG Solid Waste Plan that would include a process for the review of expansion permits. The current plan is silent on the permit issue, said solid waste coordinator Keith Helmers.

According to TCEQ, that amendment will be up for approval before the commission in either January or February, and until then, CAPCOG is obligated to operate under the current plan, which includes no process for plan amendments.

After a closed executive session on Wednesday morning, the CAPCOG board came out to say it would take no action on the WMI expansion permit for Giles Road. County Judge Sam Biscoe made a motion to delay action on the plan until at least January to give CAPCOG the chance to consult with the TCEQ staff.

Tweaks proposed for design standards

Most changes relate to vertical mixed-use category

Last week, the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee heard several proposed revisions to the city’s Commercial Design Standards. A task force headed by Council Member Brewster McCracken developed the standards to guide new commercial development in Austin.

Richard Weiss, chair of the Design Commission, and Chris Riley, chair of the Planning Commission, presented the proposed revisions, which the two groups developed they saw instances where problems arose from the original standards adopted in May.

The design standards were developed by a McCracken’s Task Force to “create a built environment of aesthetic and sustainable value that enhances development efforts to promote Austin’s unique character and natural environment.”

Riley said the proposed changes were mostly minor tweaks. “We are hoping to bring the code up to speed with what’s going on,” he said. “These recommendations are the result of what a lot of people want to see.”

The majority of the recommendations involve the creation of a provision within the mixed use (MU) zoning category called “Vertical Mixed Use” or VMU. A VMU building would have ground floors designed for different uses than the upper floors; no front or side setbacks; ground floor uses to accommodate the sidewalk along 75 percent of the frontage; and, spaces for ground level pedestrian uses at least 24 feet deep.

Riley said there was concern that neighborhood plans in existence at the time the code is adopted may be affected by the changes, so there is a provision in the proposal that would allow them to opt-out of some or all of the VMU-eligible properties in their area within 90 days of its adoption.

The VMU projects are important enough that those making the proposal are seeking a dedicated development review team to study requests similar to the way the city handles SMART house applications. The proposal also suggests that the city waive parkland dedication fees for VMU infill redevelopment projects, but keep the fee for VMU Greenfield projects.

Another facet of the proposal is to adopt options to promote Envision Central Texas recommended land use patterns. The main goal here, Riley said, is to redevelop large apartment complexes or abandoned big box retail sites into mixed use development.

There are also recommendations for changes in the Core Transit Corridor, options to improve transit congestion and to revise citywide sign regulations. The Council is expected to consider an unrelated set of changes to billboard rules this week.

Cis Meyers, representing a group of local fast food franchise owners, told the subcommittee that after much discussion with city staff her group was now able to endorse the changes in the design standards as presented.

“The biggest issue was that we wanted a level playing field,” she said. “Initially, we felt like we were picked out for a different set of requirements.”

She said that the people she represents are local owners, who put the money back into the community in the forms of payroll and supplies.

“What started out as an adversarial relationship has developed into a set of regulations that will allow my clients to meet their goals,” she said.

Also endorsing the changes was Laura Morrison of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, who said her group was particularly interested in the VMU designations. “The changes have put more teeth into the VMU overlay,” she said. “It will allow for real mixed use in the neighborhoods.”

The subcommittee voted 2-0 to recommend the proposed changes to the full Council with Council Member Betty Dunkerley absent because of a death in her family.

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

New conference . . . Mayor Will Wynn and County Judge Sam Biscoe will join the Austin Travis County Victim Services Task Force and Community Action Network at 10am today at City Hall Plaza to release new data and discuss trends for victims of violent crime . . . Benedict continues to dog APA . . . Former City Council candidate Wes Benedict’s favorite hobby evidently is causing trouble for the Austin Police Association PAC. He complained to the Texas Ethics Commission about expenditures made on behalf of three candidates in this year’s Council election—with late notice to the candidates so that they could not have known of the expenditure and reported it before the election. The commission fined the PAC for that violation, but the fine was de minimus, as lawyers sometimes say. Benedict has once again pointed out problems with the APA PAC’s 2003 expenditures on behalf of Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Danny Thomas, Brewster McCracken and Raul Alvarez. The candidates did not report the expenditure, as required to do, on the campaign finance report covered by that time period, but apparently they didn’t know about it. Benedict’s latest missive points out that the PAC’s former treasurer, Sean Mannix, has stated that it was his practice to notify candidates of any expenditure made on their behalf. However, Wynn, Thomas and Alvarez have all told the TEC that they have “no personal recollection of receiving notice” of such expenditures and the commission has dismissed Benedict’s complaints against them. Now Benedict wants Mannix to prove he sent written notification to the candidates. Benedict ran against Thomas in 2003 . . . Garten party . . . County Court-at-Law Judge Nancy Hohengarten will hold a fundraiser from 5:30-7:30pm Tuesday night at Scholz Garten, 1607 Guadalupe. Hohengarten, a Democrat, hears primarily criminal cases in Court-at-Law No. 5 . . . Meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities meets at noon in room 1101 at City Hall . . . The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 7pm in room 325 at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd. . . . The Bond Election Advisory Committee meets at 6pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . Williamson hit with suit . . . The soap-opera like battle between Precinct 1 Constable Gary Griffin and the Williamson County Commissioners moves into the courts this week. Griffin has filed suit over commissioners’ transfer of almost three-fourths of his budget to the Sheriff’s Office, along with the authority to handle mental health cases in the county. Griffin said the move was political retaliation and an abuse of power by some members of the court. Commissioners say it is an administrative move. No hearing date has been set . . .. Aquifer agency cuts budget . . . The San Antonio based Edwards Aquifer Authority has adopted a budget that is 17 percent less than it spent last year. The agency last week approved a 2006 budget of $10.4 million, which establishes a $37 per acre-foot aquifer management fee for all non-agricultural users. The EAA also created a conservation fund that will allow the authority to issue aquifer-management fee rebates to municipal and industrial users who do not use all of their allocated water rights. The agency is separate from the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District here in Central Texas . . .. Tolls beyond Texas . . . Last week’s defeat of Proposition 9 at the hands of Texas voters is getting attention from national proponents of building toll roads. The defeat of the measure, which would have allowed six-year terms for Regional Mobility Authority board members, was seen by Peter Samuels of TOLLROADSnews.com as a slap in the face of TxDOT and others seeking to build toll roads in Texas “The vote is a political blow to tolling since it suggests a lack of public confidence in the way tolling is being handled in the state," Samuels writes. “ Political support in TX has also been sapped by a bewilderingly unprincipled and unexplained intermixing of funding of projects by TxDOT. In Texas, the tollers are behaving arrogantly and with extraordinary political ineptitude." He goes on to say that state highway officials are their own worst enemy. TxDOT's promiscuous approach to raising funds and their promotion of projects without even a semblance of study has been the anti-toll groups' major recruiter."

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