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ZAP approves Champions' extension request

Monday, January 23, 2006 by

Routine request draws opposition

Opponents of the development of the Champion tracts on RM 2222 made the unusual point of opposing an extended phasing request for one of the Champion parcels at last week’s Zoning and Platting Commission meeting. After much debate, the request was granted.

The site plan extension on the tract, nine acres zoned GR-CO and RR, was approved in November for the standard three years. Attorney Michael Whellan, representing the Champion sisters, requested a five-year extension for Phase I and 10 years for Phase II.

Opposing the development of the Champion tracts is not unusual, but opposing a fairly routine phasing request is. In fact, Chair Betty Baker was forced to pull the item from the consent agenda on Tuesday night after the agenda was approved.

Dale Bulla of the 2222 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations (2222 CONA) made a case for disapproving the site plan extension: litigation was still pending on the Champions’ tracts; the transportation impact analysis had not been updated for the tract in question with current conditions and assumptions; the site plan on the parcel was incomplete; and the Champion family had not addressed lead contamination on an adjacent tract.

Josie Champion addressed ZAP first, saying that the site plan extension was requested because of anticipated work by the Texas Department of Transportation. TxDOT has “some fairly elaborate plans” over Bull Creek, and those plans would probably impact the Champion properties at the intersection of RM 2222 and Loop 360. Those plans likely would mean extending the phasing and marketing of the property, Champion said.

Whellan followed Champion to address the CONA concerns, which he called “red herrings.” The Champion sisters have a certificate of completion required for the approval of a site plan, he said. Nothing in the current litigation on the property would impact the development of the tract in question. And while CONA had claimed the Champion sisters were asking for an unfair advantage, Whellan stressed the sisters had struggled for years to propose a development on the tract – not highest and best use – but something that was reasonable and would be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. That included the traffic, which had been mediated to 11,000 trips-per-day, Whellan said.

In his letter to ZAP, Whellan argued that the conditions of the property were subject to the 1996 settlement agreement between the Champion family and the city. Hence, applicable regulations for the property would not change in the future, even if the site plan expired on the site. Ending the site plan prematurely would only mean submitting the same plans again – with the same settlement regulations – to ZAP.

The site plan extension was approved last November as a Hill Country Roadway site plan. Two commercial buildings would sit on the proposed tract, with a total square footage of 42,500-square-feet. The maximum height of the buildings on the tract will be 60 feet, per the Lake Austin Watershed Ordinance. The minimum parking requirements would be about 200 spaces for each of the two lots. The maximum impervious cover would be 50 percent on one lot and 41.3 percent on the other lot.

Despite CONA’s arguments, ZAP approved the site plan extension as requested.

Task Force report readied for Council action

Historic Preservation process is streamlined, clarified, brought up to date

Four months of work by the Historic Preservation Task Force to streamline the historic landmark process has been boiled down to a two-page report that the group reviewed last week in anticipation of sending it to the City Council.

The task force has already overhauled the city’s historic preservation code once. Last August, City Council reconvened the task force, headed by Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Betty Baker, to consider additional code revisions necessary to expedite historic landmark and local historic district process, including any special consideration of owner-opposition cases.

Along with the two-page report, the task force reviewed the seven-page historic district nomination form. Tere O’Connell, who spearheaded the writing of the application form, laid out the specifics necessary to meet the minimum standards of historic district designation, as well as the broader goals of local historic districts, which are to preserve the architectural integrity of existing and new construction in the district.

Once a local historic district is in place, a homeowner with an historic or contributing property within the historic district would have to meet a set of standards: maintaining exterior building elements that suggest or create historic character; prohibition of sandblasting; limiting additions so that those additions don’t overwhelm the historic character of the building and complement the character of the district; maintaining the character of the original façade; and maintaining a use for the original or contributing building that does not destroy the building’s character.

The maintenance of “use” generated some discussion in the group. A historic house converted into law offices was one thing and acceptable to the group. Stretching a building on Sixth Street to the point where many of the original fixtures are gone inside the building was another. O’Connell called it the avoidance of “insensitive redevelopment,” but Charlie Betts, who leads the Downtown Austin Alliance and represents local owner interests, said he did not want to discourage adaptive reuse.

Additions are permitted to buildings in local historic districts, but owners should clearly understand the limits, Baker said. Baker pointed to Opal Divine’s Freehouse on West Sixth Street as an example of a building where the additions had overwhelmed the original building’s character.

The meeting included a review of a report to Council, as well as the proposed local historic district nomination form. In the final resolution of some of the issues that the task force has grappled with over the last four months, members determined that:

• At least 60 percent of the property owners must support the local historic district nomination both when it goes to the Historic Landmark Commission and City Council. That’s a slightly higher standard than suggested in prior meetings;

• The boundaries of the local historic district should follow the boundaries of the original subdivision. The minimum size of the local historic district is one block-face;

• At least 51 percent of the principal buildings within the proposed historic district must contribute to the historic character of the district. That percentage is set at the time the nomination is certified as complete by the City Historic Preservation Office;

• An owner could appeal a denial of a Certificate of Appropriateness to the appropriate land use commission – ZAP or Planning Commission – with a further appeal to Council;

• A super-majority of the Historic Landmark Commission must approve historic zoning of properties in cases with owner opposition; and

• Staff should review applications for remodeling permits within National Register and local historic districts to prevent their misuse as a demolition permit. Further, applicants must justify building or remodeling permits if the project will require the demolition of walls or exterior features such as siding, windows, doors and other features.

Baker expects she and other members of the task force will be signing a minority report which would address research and the percentage of structures within a historic district that would be required to be historic. She said the current proposal might have the effect of protecting structures while doing nothing to save the history of those structures. She said checking to see who lived or worked in a historic house might reveal a great deal about the city’s history and would not be an onerous task if the check were done for every other year or every fifth year in a structure’s existence.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Getting ready for Black History month . . . Austin's annual observance of Black History Month will be on Friday, February 3, at the George Washington Carver Museum. The sponsors of the event, including the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, Capital City African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Heritage Society of Austin, have invited all the former African American members of the Austin City Council to attend. Other sponsors include the Mortgage Acceptance Corp., the George Washington Carver Museum and the city's Historic Landmark Commission. The theme of this year's program is a tribute to black fraternal, social and civic institutions . . . The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum plans an exhibit called A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie. The exhibit will run from Feb. 11 through April 15. The ship sank off the coast of Key West in 1700 . . . Financial filings . . . Members of most city boards and commissions are required by law to file a statement of financial information once a year with the City Clerk's Office. Members of the Board of Adjustment, a statutorily created panel that makes important decisions about variances to individual lots, are required to file twice a year-one for the entire previous year by the last Friday in April and one for the first six months of each year by June 30. However, the majority of members of Austin's BOA are not keeping up with their duties. As of Thursday, BOA Chair Frank Fuentes had not filed any statements covering 2004 or 2005. The previous chair, Herman Thun, who now serves as an alternate, also failed to file during 2005, missing both the annual and semi-annual reports. Betty Edgemond failed to file an annual 2004 statement but filed her semi-annual statement late last summer. Barbara Aybar filed an annual statement last year but missed the semi-annual filing last summer. Leane Heldenfels filed both reports last year but was several months late, as was Dorothy Richter. Greg Smith filed an annual statement but failed to file the semi-annual statement last year. Laurie Virkstis is the only member of the board who filed both reports close to the dates they were due . . . All members of the Planning Commission managed to file both annual and semi-annual reports within a few days of their due dates in 2005. Except for Commissioner Teresa Rabago, every member of the Zoning and Platting Commission has filed both annual and semi-annual reports due in 2005. Rabago missed last June's filing of the semi-annual report. . . . Meetings . . . The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 7pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Design Commission meets at 5:45pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors meets at 4pm at Cap Metro headquarters, 2910 East 5th St. . . . LCRA Park fees . . . The LCRA Board of Directors has adopted a three-year park fee schedule that leaves most fees unchanged at LCRA's 40 public parks along the Highland Lakes and lower Colorado River. The schedule, which goes into effect February 1, also lowers or eliminates some park fees and increases rental fees for improved facilities at some parks. LCRA park entry fees are $5 per vehicle for undeveloped recreation areas and between $3 and $5 per person for developed parks with more amenities. Daily campsite fees range from $10 to $25, depending on the level of services and utilities, and cabins and group pavilions can be rented at some LCRA parks. For more information, visit http://www.lcra.org/parks or call 1-800-776-5272, Ext. 3366. . . . New ICU at Brack . . Officials with Seton Healthcare plan to open the new Intensive Care Unit at Brackenridge Hospital on Tuesday. The $4.8 million project increases capacity in the ICU by 70 percent and will help meet the growing demand for critical care services in the Central Texas region. Ribbon cutting ceremonies are set for 2:30pm on the sixth floor at the hospital. On hand, will be Jesus Garza, President and Chief Executive Officer; Bill Deaton, MD, Medical Director of Critical Care; Betty Thornell, Director of Critical Care Services; and Pat Crocker, DO, Chief of Emergency Operations, Brackenridge Hospital and Children's Hospital of Austin.

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