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Gables, Seaholm items top Council agenda

Thursday, February 2, 2006 by

Council to hear about mental health, bond recommendations also

When the City Council meets on Groundhog Day, you have to expect that members—just like in the movie of the same name—might be seeing some issues they have heard before back in front of them.

Today’s agenda has several items that just won’t seem to go away, including issues surrounding the proposed Gables/Seaholm development. Members, however, will not take up a proposed moratorium on single-family residential development in established neighborhoods, but will hear a final report from the Bond Election Advisory Committee and a first report from the Mayor’s Committee on Mental Health.

Some neighborhood leaders, including Jeff Jack of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, have lobbied hard to prevent Lion Gables from winning the necessary zoning and other approvals to build its proposed 195-foot tall mixed-use project on West Cesar Chavez. But Gables promoters have come up with a package that may be hard to resist—including financial assistance in construction of the new pedestrian bikeway, realigning area streets and participation in building a stormwater pond for the area.

Council Member Lee Leffingwell said Wednesday that he still has some questions about the proposed deal but that the plan is a chance to get rid of an eyesore close to Town Lake and build an extension to Pfluger Bridge that bikers and pedestrians have long sought. That extension would end in the Whole Foods shopping district. In addition, he said, Gables has agreed to provide ongoing maintenance for the water quality pond. Staff has provided a lengthy response to questions from the Council, but at least one question remains, Leffingwell said—Is the city really giving too much?

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 4pm but could come up later in the evening. As for the McMansion moratorium, that item will not come up until next Thursday’s meeting.

Assistant City Attorney Marci Morrison has notified the Council that they must comply with recent legislation related to moratoriums on property development. According to a memo from Morrison, the Council must publish a notice of hearing on the moratorium four days before the hearing and then could only enact a temporary moratorium.

In order to approve a more lasting ban, the Planning Commission will have to hold a public hearing the following week. After that, the Council may adopt a “permanent” moratorium that expires in four months–although that may be extended.

The memo says the Council must find that "existing essential public facilities, such as drainage," are currently operating at, near or beyond capacity. There are several other requirements.

If the Council decides to enact the moratorium, the city would stop issuing building and remodeling permits on various single-family residences for:

buildings of more than two stories; houses being expanded by than 10 percent; and new houses replacing demolished or relocated houses that would be more than 10 percent larger than the house previously on the lot.

Council members will also hear several reports, including a first year report from the Mayor’s Mental Health Task Force Monitoring Committee, a presentation from the Bond Election Advisory Committee on its final recommendations for the 2006 Bonds, and a presentation on the Regional Water Quality Management Plan.

The Council Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee got a preview of the Mental Health Task Force report, which outlines mental health services and facilities available in the area and examines the demand for those services.

Council members will hear that, according to consultant Susan Stone, the behavioral health service system is extremely overloaded and in need of increases in both funding and manpower. She noted Monday that too little is being spent on the front end of the system for prevention, causing the cost and demand for crisis intervention and inpatient treatment to skyrocket.

The report will also note that the vast majority of mental health cases are identified only after the person has entered the criminal justice system. Stone says that the Austin Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team has seven fulltime officers and 198 others with some mental health training to answer more than 5900 mental health calls each year.

Cole kicks off campaign for Place 6

The first of three expected candidates looking to replace Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas on the Austin City Council officially kicked off her campaign last night with a crowd of about 100 at the Victory Grill.

Austin Attorney Sheryl Cole made it clear that she is courting the East Austin vote in her campaign for Place 6.

“We’ve been blessed, and Austin has been good to us with lots and lots of opportunities,” Cole told her supporters. “We need to spread those opportunities throughout Austin, not just in certain pockets of Austin but specifically in East Austin. There’s about to be a tremendous investment in the infrastructure of East Austin with the rail lines and SH 130, and we want to make sure our entire community is uplifted from that, and in particular that the communities that are going to be affected are at the table to have their input.”

Retired State Rep. Wilhelmina Delco told the crowd, "I’m not saying that there aren’t good people on the City Council. I’m not saying that there aren’t good candidates for the City Council. I’m simply saying that we in our community deserve the best, and Sheryl Cole is the best. “Long-time Democratic fundraiser Eleanor Thompson is also assisting the campaign.

Cole told In Fact Daily she was excited to have won the endorsement of the Austin Police Association. That organization has yet to release a statement but the organization's president, Mike Sheffield, confirmed Wednesday that the group had endorsed Cole for Place 6.

She also addressed problems some of the problems she intends to tackle.

“We’re going to have to tackle this muddy mess of race relations. But we can do it, and we can do it together,” Cole said.” We know that the disharmony between the Africa-American community and Police Association has to be mended, and that’s not just the problem of the Police Association. It’s not just the problem of the people affected. That’s the problem of every one of us, including the school district, including the churches, because we have to come together in harmony.”

There were quite a few familiar faces at the party, including Exalton Delco; Sheriff Greg Hamilton, County Commissioner Ron Davis, Firefighters Union President and Council Candidate Mike Martinez; Downtown Austin Alliance Executive Director Charlie Betts; former Police Monitor and attorney Ashton Cumberbatch, attorney Michael Whellan, and Urban League Board Member Bobbie Barker.

Odd shape makes property tough to develop

East Seventh Street tract faces uphill battle from neighborhood, city regulations

An odd shaped lot is proving to be a square peg of commercial development trying to fit into the round hole of the city’s building regulations, and it has its owner, it neighbors and more than a few people at City Hall scratching their heads over how to make it fit.

Last week, the City Council approved on first reading a zoning change requested by the owner of a lot on East Seventh Street despite objections voiced by several of them to the owner’s plans for that lot. The Council urged Marie Rocha to continue discussions with her neighbors to come up with a more appropriate plan for the oddly-shaped lot at 704 Gunter St.

The property is currently zoned CS-CO-NP. But Rocha said the irregular shape of the lot, combined with the city’s building regulations, made finding an appropriate commercial use for the site nearly impossible.

“We have owned this piece of property since 20 or 30 years ago, and this has been zoned commercial all this time. About 10 years ago, we tried to build a building there, and with all the rules and regulations it was very hard for us to build a commercial building…. With the compatibility standards, we are only limited to a very small piece of land that we can build on,” she said.

Rocha proposed adding the mixed-use (MU) designation to the tract so that she could build duplexes on the site. Rocha also told the Council she had been working with the city’s SMART Housing program in order to ensure the duplexes were affordable for current neighborhood residents.

But Rocha’s proposal faces a valid petition. Some neighbors are concerned that building only residential on the tract would go against the spirit of the mixed-use designation, which allows both residential and commercial. “I thought mixed-use was something that was supposed to be mixed, and she wants something that’s strictly single-family or multi-family,” said Sylvia Ybarra.

The neighbors to the south of Rocha’s property argued that putting residential in a primarily commercial area would disrupt the growth of the rest of the neighborhood.

“Ms. Rocha has been very forthright with respect to what she plans to develop. In reality it’s a request from CS to SF-3. With us owning a commercial property to the south…we thought this was not a good property for single-family residential homes,” said attorney Nikelle Meade, who represented property owner Stacy Oliver, “I think the neighborhood plan was for this to be a commercial block eventually, and once the single-family is developed here the potential for this block being able to redevelop as commercial really goes away.”

Meade also outlined how the existence of single-family units would impact her client’s ability to develop on their nearby lot, saying “a residential plan would make it such that our lot, which has all the frontage on Seventh Street, completely un-developable. We would only be able to put some pavement on it for parking for some other use.”

Oliver and Rocha had discussed the possibility of a joint development agreement for the two properties, Meade said, but had been unable to reach an agreement. So instead, they drafted a proposal whereby Rocha would not seek a certificate of occupancy for the duplexes until after Oliver had obtained a site-plan approval from the city for the property to the south. That would allow both parties to develop their lots without city regulations forcing one party to leave their lot dormant.

But that proposal did not find favor on the dais. Allowing a residential-only use on a lot with frontage on East Seventh Street, said Council Member Brewster McCracken, would be a bad idea. “What is before us deviates from sound planning principles,” he said. “Seventh Street is becoming a major commercial corridor, a major corridor to the airport, and the proposal before us would effectively down-zone part of east Seventh Street to SF-3, which is from an urban planning standpoint a completely inappropriate use.”

Council Member Jennifer Kim moved to approve the addition of MU to the tract on first reading only, with the suggestion that the two parties reconsider a joint development agreement or find some other way to have commercial uses on the Gunter property.

“What we’re seeing time and time again is people are gaming the system and using the impervious cover limitations under MU to do just duplexes, and that is not the intent of mixed-use,” she said. “I would support this if there was truly mixed-use, at least for this part of it, and maybe we can work it out for the entire block.” McCracken agreed, and the motion passed on a vote of 6-0. Mayor Will Wynn was out of town.

“I will be encouraging both parties to figure out a way to actually develop this as a mixed-use project,’ McCracken said, “and not to have the up or down vote on which of these property owners actually is going to get to develop and which one is out of luck. I do want them to work it out. If we can be of assistance, I’m certainly willing to become engaged in that regard.”

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

What's in a name? Civic pride . . . City officials say East Austin residents have expressed interest in renaming several city facilities and a street to honor area civic leaders and contributors to Latino musical heritage and culture. Starting this week, the City of Austin will seek public comment on proposed name changes for several facilities, which include the Mexican American Cultural Center, locations at Fiesta Gardens and a city street. A 45-day comment period began Tuesday for discussion of possible names for the project. The deadline for submissions is March 17. Facilities may be named after individuals (living or dead) or something other than an individual such as a place or natural feature. Facilities to be renamed are: Fiesta Gardens East Meeting Hall; Fiesta Gardens Pavilion; Medina Street Plaza; The Mexican American Cultural Center; Morrison Ranch Park; and the Town Lake Scenic Overlook. In addition, a roadway, Festival Beach Road, north of Town Lake and east of I-35, will also be renamed. After the March 17 deadline, the Parks Board will call a public hearing on the suggested names and make recommendations to the City Council for final approval. . . . Board OKs AISD amendment . . . The Environmental Board has recommended the amendment to Land Development Standards Agreement between the city and Austin Independent School District, after several members grilled city staff and AISD officials over its contents. A subcommittee led my Board Member Mary Gay Maxwell studied the proposed amendment and recommended that the full board approve it with some modifications. Central to the compromise was moving two proposed schools off of a list that would have entitled them to have 50 percent impervious cover in the region over the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer. Another school in the area, Mills Elementary, had been built under the 50 percent rule, but used only 22 percent impervious cover. Other changes included a statement encouraging AISD to build sufficient parking for bicycles at neighborhood schools. The amendment will also be reviewed by the Planning Commission on February 14 before it goes to Council on February 16. . . . Hispanic Chamber names officers . . . The Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce named its board of directors for 2006. Serving as chair is Rosie Mendoza of R. Mendoza & Co., and chair elect is Paul Saldaña, president of Adélante Solutions Inc. (also with Martin & Salinas Public Affairs). Board members are: Al Beavers of the Lower Colorado River Authority, Bryan Cady of Urbanspace Realtors; Patricia Dabbert of AISD Partners in Education; Susan Franzen of LifeU Inc.; Sally Hernandez of KXAN; Diane Medoza of Capital Metro; Joe Muñoz of the Austin Police Association; Flynn Nogueira of del Fuego Publishing; William Penny of Wachovia Bank; Sam Perez of Netgineer Data Systems Inc.; Sebastian Puente of Avenida America Inc; and Blanca Zamora-Garcia of Casa Blanca Realty. The GAHCC will induct its newly elected 2006 board of directors at its 33rd Annual Awards and Installation and Banquet being held Friday at the Austin Hilton . . . Commissioners change agenda deadline . . . Williamson County Commissioners have voted to change the deadline to submit items for the court agenda. Starting February 21, items will be due Tuesday by noon for court the following week. The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Inner Loop Annex, 301 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown. The agenda will be prepared on Tuesday and ready for the commissioners court members to pick up on Wednesday morning, giving them an additional two days to review their packets. The court also voted to cancel Commissioners Court for February 21, in order for court members to attend a forum at Southwestern University . . . Gumbo rock . . . Those who normally take a break during City Council's 5:30pm music and awards break might just hang around this week. New Orleans transplant Cyril Neville of Neville Brothers fame will be performing this week. Neville took up residence in Austin after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his New Orleans home last summer.

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