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This is the final issue for 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 by

Glasco retiring after long city career

Planner has overseen neighborhood planning, zoning

As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Alice Glasco watched her father go about his daily duties as the city manager of the town of Nakuru, where they lived, and told herself that kind of work was the last thing she wanted to do with her career.

Now as Glasco is poised to retire after a 23-year career in a variety of jobs in city planning—including director of two departments since 1996—she looks back with pride on her accomplishments as a city planner and in steering much of Austin’s growth in the right direction. As director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, Glasco has had personal experience with people and development in every part of the city.

Glasco has been a fixture at City Council meetings for almost two decades, and is recognized as the authority on zoning in the city. After serving as an intern with the City of Austin, Glasco began her career in 1984 as a Land Use Planner in the Department of Planning and Development. Development was moving pretty fast when she came on board after completing her Masters in Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas, Glasco recalls.

“There was a time in the mid-80s when we could not keep up with the workload,” she said. ”Our zoning cases were in the 500s. We had to work on the weekends just to stay on top of things. It was just a boom.”

Zoning cases now run at a more moderate pace of just under 200 a year, she added, noting that her career has seen more than a couple of boom-and-bust cycles in the city’s growth. Early in her career, she was assigned to deal with an area that would see much of Austin’s growth over two decades.

“I was assigned to handle the Hill Country… Loop 360, (FM) 2222, (FM) 2244, (FM) 620, all the northwest part of town was my area,” she said. “I like complex projects. They keep me happy. In the northwest part of town, every area had a site plan with it and every site plan had a different ordinance. It was very intriguing. I liked that.”

She said her job changed again as the city moved into neighborhood planning. At first, it was difficult, as they felt their way along developing the process.

“Some days during the first neighborhood plan, I’d come home and ask ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” she said. “But as time went by, we were able to get the process going more smoothly.”

As she moved up the ladder in the planning department, she was able to put her personal stamp on the planning process and convince others—both in and out of city government—of the benefits of planning and zoning entire neighborhoods.

“There are several tracts involved, but you count it as one case,” she said. “If you had individual property owners involved, there could be hundreds. You are doing more work but it’s combined. We have two units in this department. We have the staff that focuses on neighborhood planning and rezoning, and then staff that focuses purely on zoning.”

She said developing teams with key leaders is the secret to the neighborhood planning process. “We have three principal planners, which are the more seasoned planners,” she said. “They take the lead in one or two areas and they have two or three others planners to assist them in the process.”

Working as a team, they can accomplish a great deal in a relatively short time, she said.

“At one point, it took five years to get six plans approved without zoning,” she said. “When I took charge of the department in 2001, the plans were somewhat meaningless,” because they lacked the zoning components. “When you choose the zoning first, it allows the area to develop over time. So that is what we did,” Glasco said.

She said the neighborhood planning process has gone from taking an average of about two years to about nine months, keeping the stakeholders from losing interest in the process and keeping staff onboard too.

She says with a certain amount of pride that Austin’s planning process has been held up as an example of one of the best ways to plan land use.

“I was invited to go speak in Chicago a few years ago because they had heard that Austin had a great neighborhood planning process that involved the community,” she said. “They liked the Austin model, though we are not set up like Chicago, in that they have council member districts and we are elected at large. That makes it easier for us to have a planning process that works. Other cities often come to Austin to learn from our planning process.”

Sometimes the planning process gets off to a rocky start, she said, but in the end, everyone likes the final product.

“The most interesting planning area I can remember was West Campus, the University area,” she said. “When we went in there, they didn’t want us there, but we were singing Kumbaya in the end. Sometimes you just have to go through the process. I told them that we had done this elsewhere and had been successful, and they just hadn’t experienced it. In the end, they enjoyed it, they came up with a great plan and they were a great bunch of people to work with.”

In her long career, much has changed in Austin, and Glasco has had a major influence on how much of that change happened.

“For me, the biggest changes have been in the Hill Country,” she said. “It has changed tremendously. Back in the mid-80s we would have to go out on a field check. And when we would go out there, there was nothing. In fact, we would have to go back downtown to eat. We would drive through Oak Hill to 71 to 620 all the way to 183, and there would not be a single place to eat. Now, of course, they’re everywhere.”

The changes are sometimes startling. “I know almost every single piece of property on 2222,” she said. “I was the case manager for that area. I drive by and I go ‘wow,’ I can remember every part of that area and when it was developed.”

Glasco says Austin’s next major growth area will be east of town along the SH 130 corridor.

“All the land in the western part of town has been developed,” she said. “There may be some small tracts left, but the large parcels are already taken. Therefore the shift is occurring to the east side of town. Just like the northwest was planned 20 years ago, people are beginning to plan for building in that part of the city. It will eventually grow as much as the Hill Country. It’s going to take a while to get the infrastructure in place, but it will eventually happen.”

Glasco says she will take some time off after her retirement at the end of December, but plans to work as a planning consultant in the future. Greg Guernsey will succeed Glasco as director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department.

Council says yes to housing near industrial area

Last week, Main Street Homes won its bid to re-zone property in a primarily industrial area along South Congress near Stassney Lane to accommodate much-needed affordable housing west of Interstate 35.

Affordable housing has long been a strong argument for the City Council, and this case was no exception, despite the concerns of neighboring homeowners and Council Member Lee Leffingwell. Carving the property out in the Pleasant Hill subdistrict of the West Congress Neighborhood Planning Area required a number of concessions by Main Street Homes, including proper buffers with neighborhood properties. Still, Leffingwell saw the inability of neighboring properties to function and expand as a major drawback.

Leffingwell said he visited the property proposed for rezoning and noticed that many of the surrounding properties, including a sheet metal shop, were noisy. They could not be moved. They could not be expanded. And the sheet metal shop provides good jobs.

“There also are 30 good jobs in there, 30 good union jobs with good pay, health care and pension,” Leffingwell said. “I believe there is a threat to those jobs with this rezoning. Regrettable, despite the SMART housing. I have to vote against this motion.”

Main Street Homes' Vice President of Land Development Ken Baker, said it had agreed to a number of conditions related to the zoning, including a restriction to single lot, single-story homes, with additional insulation to address noise concerns and a masonry wall between properties. Main Street also had agreed to hardy plank siding on homes and a setback equivalent to that used in the airport overlay district.

Such concessions were enough to sway Council, which approved to the zoning change on 2nd and 3rd reading. Mayor Will Wynn did ask whether zoning might follow a previous case, where prior legal uses upon annexation were now illegal. Those properties, however, were legal, but staff did agree that expansion, given a residential neighbor, could now be a hindrance for the industrial neighbors.

Greg Guernsey of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department did note that future expansion of the existing businesses would be non-compliant, given the new setback requirements. If a building was destroyed, possibly by fire, it could not be expanded if it did not rebuild within a year, Guernsey said.

Main Street’s concessions, hammered out between first and second reading, included, a minimum 30-foot rear yard setback, a decibel reduction plan and a height adjustment. The rezoning, given a valid neighborhood petition, required a super majority of Council members. The rezoning won on a 6-1 vote, with only Leffingwell against the motion.

Council votes to downzone South Austin tract

The City Council has approved rezoning of land for a small subdivision on Barton Skyway at the Union Pacific rail line on first reading, despite calls from area property owners to wait for new flood plain maps to be drawn.

The city is still in the process of updating its flood plain map, with the assistance of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). Those new maps would likely take the Barton Skyway property under consideration out of the newly configured flood plain. The 1.5 acre property, owned by Forest Cove Ltd., would be rezoned for family residential.

The downzoning of the property wasn’t enough to keep neighbors away when it came time to rezone the Barton Skyway tract. Council ultimately approved the rezoning of the property on first reading, given that flood plain maps by the developer and the city took the property out of the 100-year flood plain. Staff recommended the zoning change based, in part, upon the zoning of surrounding property and the owner’s intention to develop the property in conjunction with property owned to the south of the lot.

Residents from a number of neighborhoods, including, Zilker, Galindo and the immediate area, protested the development given recent flood conditions. Some said the city was looking at the immediate area in isolation, rather than as a regional issue, a point that city officials denied in their own presentation on the area.

George Oswald of the Watershed Protection Division said the flooding problem was more complicated than simply neighbor complaints that houses in the area had flooded. For one thing, the Union Pacific rail line itself had created its own barrier that had exacerbated flooding in the area.

Despite that problem, Oswald told Council that the new development would not increase flooding, that the old flood plain map was based on inaccurate data and that the new map would reduce the flood plain to the point that the proposed project was outside the 100-year flood plain. Under the new map, which Oswald showed in a presentation to Council, the flood plain fell just outside the development.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley said she was confused about the neighborhood objections, pointing out that the zoning change was from the more intense CS to the less intense SF-3. Such a move would provide less density on the site and fewer issues when it came to flooding, Dunkerley said.

Dunkerley made the motion to zone the property residential, with a second by Council Member Brewster McCracken. Council Member Raul Alvarez said he would support the motion because of Dunkerley’s point about residential zoning being less intense. Such zoning was more appropriate for the property, Alvarez said. The Council approved the zoning change on first reading only.

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

Final edition of the year. . . In Fact Daily is taking a vacation until Jan. 9, 2006. While this may seem like a long time to In Fact Daily addicts, the City of Austin will pretty much shut down for the same length of time. There will not be another City Council meeting until Jan. 12, 2006 and the Zoning and Platting Commission meeting scheduled for January 3 promises to be quite brief. Here’s wishing all of you the happiest of holidays and continued success in the New Year . . . Coronado files for Court of Appeals . . . Travis County Criminal District Court Magistrate Jim Coronado, who began his judicial career 17 years ago as an Austin Municipal Court Judge, filed Tuesday as a candidate for the Place 2 seat on the 3rd Court of Appeals. Coronado is seeking the seat currently held by Justice Alan Waldrop, who was appointed to finish the term of Justice Mack Kidd, who died earlier this year. Coronado is not expected to have an opponent in the Democratic primary . . . Howard receives teachers’ endorsement . . . The Texas State Teachers Association Tuesday announced its endorsement of Democrat Donna Howard in the January special election for the House District 48 seat. The TSTA PAC called Howard “a strong supporter of public education and public school employees” . . . Republican Robert Reynolds, who filed Monday for the District 48 seat Todd Baxter vacated, decided he did not want to run after all. He cited family issues but that seems pretty unlikely. Most Republicans want to unite behind one candidate— Ben Bentzin—who has both money and campaign experience . . . Bentzin will speak today to the Young Men’s Business League as they lunch at the Headliner’s Club. . . Others in the race include Democrat Kathy Rider and Libertarian Ben Easton. The winner of the January special election will get to serve in any special session called this spring but will have to run in the March primary in order to have a place on the November ballot and a chance to serve in the 2007 Legislature . . . Contest deadline extended . . . The Keep Austin Beautiful Awards application deadline has been extended to 5pm on Friday. For more than 20 years, KAB has honored individual volunteers, community organizations, schools and responsible corporations through the Annual Keep Austin Beautiful Awards. For more information, go to http://www.keepaustinbeautiful.org/nominations02.php. . . . City posts holiday hours . . . City administration office will be closed December 23 and 26 for the Christmas holiday, and closed January 2 for the New Year's holiday. Austin Public Libraries will be closed Dec. 23-26 to for the Christmas holiday and Jan. 1-2 for the New Year's holiday. The Austin Nature and Science Center will be closed Dec. 24-25, as well as on January 1. All recreation/senior activity centers will be closed Dec. 23-26 and Jan. 1-2. And city museums will be closed Dec. 23-26, and 31 through Jan. 2. . . . Ending on a sour note. . . The Save Our Springs Alliance has sent a letter to its members warning that despite many other victories, “ Barton Springs may be lost in 2006.” The reasons for their alarm include AMD’s plans to build its new office complex over the Barton Springs contributing zone on Southwest Parkway; the LCRA’s decision to move forward with plans to extend major water lines across the watershed to allow for higher-density development; and the CTRMA and TxDOT’s plans to “build 25 years of highways in the next 5 years, including $1.5 billion in new and expanded highways and toll roads over the Barton Springs watershed.” The letter ends with an attack on Mayor Will Wynn for refusing to demand that AMD choose another site. “Mayor Wynn is not alone in his silence and backroom dealings as this irreversible train-wreck happens. This silence from City Hall is deafening,” writes SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch. The letter ends urging supporters to sign the SOS’s petitions to amend the City Charter and send donations to SOS. ( Travis Bullard of AMD says most of the site is in the Williamson Creek watershed. )

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