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Museum, Asian Center, library top bond wish list

Thursday, December 15, 2005 by

Supporters pack bond hearing for pet projects

Supporters of the Mexic-Arte Museum, the Asian American Resource Center (AARC), a new downtown Central Library, and members of environmental groups filled the meeting room at Town Lake Center Tuesday night to urge members of the Bond Election Advisory Committee to keep funding for their favorite projects in the Committee’s final recommendation to the Austin City Council.

The committee, which has another public hearing scheduled for January 5, is considering final revisions to the draft recommendations ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/budget/beacdraft.htm) the group has crafted after several weeks of meetings.

With nearly 100 people signed up to speak at the hearing, Committee Member Robin Rather urged speakers to suggest areas of the bond proposal they felt were appropriate for reduced funding along with advocating money for specific projects. A few speakers suggested trimming funding for street repairs or traffic calming, but most used their allotted time to tout the reasons why the committee should support their particular project.

Library supporters lined up early to urge the committee to include $90 million or more for a new Central Library in its recommendations to the Council. “We need $124 million,” said David Rice. “Austin prides itself on being progressive. We’re the smart city. We lead the way in the state. We have to have the best library.”

The Asian American Resource Center (AARC) drew the largest number of supporters at the hearing, with representatives of several different Asian-American cultural and business groups requesting $5 million to help get the project started. If voters approve bond funding for the first phase of the AARC, backers hope to get started on construction sometime in 2008.

The first part of the building would be designated as an Education Center with classrooms, a library, an activity center, and a display hall for cultural exhibits. The overall cost for the AARC is estimated at $30 million. Supporters plan to secure the balance of the funding from private and corporate donations and some federal government grants.

“This small amount will be a big step for us,” Susan Fifer of the Austin Filipino American Association said of the $5 million request. “The AARC will not only create jobs but provide a place for Asians to hold cultural activities and serve as a showcase for the broader Austin community. The community needs a center where Asians can display our cultural heritage in one central area.”

Backers of the Mexic-Arte Museum also urged the committee to approve funding to improve their existing facility, which they said would improve the city’s culture and economy. “Mexic-Arte serves as a vital cultural bridge for U.S.-Mexico relations through its various exchange programs,” said Mexic-Arte’s Jason Rivera. “Since our doors have opened, we have been dedicated to the recording of the Mexican art genre. Investing in the museum is an investment in the economic development and tourism of the state and the revitalization of downtown Austin, and also an investment in the historic heritage of Hispanics in Texas.”

Transportation and drainage projects, which make up a much larger portion of the proposed bond package, drew comparatively few comments during the meeting. There were members of several environmental groups in attendance to show their support for funding for parkland and open space.

“I think it’s a priority in that it’s a life-and-death, real human suffering issue,” said Chris Lehman with the Austin Sierra Club. “By leaving this open space to be developed over the aquifer, we are losing our future water supply. The issue is: when do we need to acquire this land? This vacant land out in the suburbs is going up in value faster than your home, faster than inflation. The city needs to acquire this land now.”

Developer redesigned lots to cut footprint of building

A few changes were all it took for a developer to get a subdivision plan approved by the Environmental Board the second time around. The project, which would divide an existing lot into four lots in the Bouldin Creek Watershed area south of Oltorf Street, was originally brought before the board in September, but failed to get a recommendation.

Last night, the Environmental Board voted to rehear the case after staff said the owner had made major changes in the project designed to overcome the board’s objections to his original plan. Specifically, the applicant— Longaro and Clark – wanted a variance to allow construction in the Critical Water Quality Zone on the property at 2211 Thornton Road.

Working with a triangle shaped parcel of land bisected by a tributary of Bouldin Creek, the owner had planned to build duplexes on three of the subdivided lots and leave a single-family structure on the fourth. The 50-foot buffer on the CWQZ follows the line of the tributary as it turns north from its east-west orientation, cutting into the footprint of one of the duplexes on one lot. A 4-2-1 vote by the Environmental Board in September sent the matter to Council without a recommendation.

Jeff Howard, attorney for the applicant, said his clients had gone back to the drawing board and redesigned the structures on the lot in question. “We have met several times with neighbors and with city staff to try and find a way to do this that addresses your concerns,” he said. “We believe we have a design solution that meets all the findings of fact in this case.”

Architects had originally put parking in the center of the two halves of the duplex, but in the revised plan, they moved it to the north side of the lot, allowing the structure to be moved farther north, as well.

Carol Gibbs with the South Austin Neighborhood Association told the board her group had no objection to the subdivision, but that they believed that a single family structure was a better choice for the lot.

“We feel that a duplex is just too large to put on that lot and not affect the water quality,” she said. “We are concerned that a bad precedent would be set if you grant this variance.”

Board Member Karin Ascot shared Gibbs’ concerns. “There is some merit to the argument that it may set a precedent,” she said. “Down the road, people won’t see that they went back and made changes, they will only see that they were allowed to build in the critical water quality zone.”

Ascot moved to deny the request, but the motion died for lack of a second. A second motion was made and seconded to recommend the variance, and was approved 6-2 with Ascot and Board Member Mary Gay Maxwell voting no and Board Member Julie Jenkins absent.

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

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