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In Fact Daily will take off on Monday

Friday, February 17, 2006 by

McMansion moratorium wins final approval

After listening to another three hours of public input, Austin City Council members voted final approval last night of interim development regulations for single-family homes in the central city, and named a Task Force to develop permanent regulations.

The interim ordinance is aimed at limiting the demolition or expansion of existing homes and replacing them with oversized structures, or McMansions, that don’t fit the character of the neighborhood. Council members listened to four hours of public comment last week, and the Planning Commission heard more input earlier this week.

Homeowners lined up against builders and developers over the ordinance, with both sides claiming the city was interfering with their rights. In all, more than 100 people spoke on both sides of the argument, including the final “speaker,” who sang a song to the Council and onlookers loosely titled “Your House is Too Big.”

At the recommendation of the Planning Commission, the Council included duplexes in the final ordinance. Plans for duplexes filed with the city by yesterday will be considered valid.

The interim regulations apply to properties subdivided before March 7, 1974 for homes being constructed on a property where a home was or will be demolished or moved. For a house being demolished or moved, the maximum size of the new home is the greater of a 0.4 to 1 floor-to-area ration (FAR); 2,500 square feet, or 20 percent larger than the original structure. For an addition to a home, the maximum size of the remodeled home is the greater of a 0.4 to 1 floor-to-area ration (FAR); 2,500 square feet, or the existing size plus 1,000 square feet.

The Task Force appointed by the Council will get to work almost immediately, meeting at 1pm today at City Hall. Council Member Brewster McCracken said the Task Force will meet weekly, and is charged with presenting the Planning Commission with a draft ordinance by April 25, and City Council by May 4. Council is scheduled to adopt the final regulations by May 7.

Members of the Task Force from the development community include David Arscott, Homebuilders Association; Terry Mitchell, RECA; Sabas Flores, American Institute of Architects; Dennis McDaniel, Heritage Society of Austin; Clint Small and Delores Davis, remodelers; Michael Casias, Infill Architects; and Silver Garza, at large.

Members representing the neighborhoods include Chris Allen, North (Rosedale); Danette Chimenti, South (South River City); Melvin Wrenn, East Austin; Noah Kennedy, West (Pemberton Heights); Mary Gay Maxwell, Central (CANPAC); Karen McGraw, at large (Hyde Park); and Laura Morrison (ANC) and Michael Cannetti (Tarrytown/WANG), Citywide.

Two other revisions were made to the ordinance, including a streamlined waiver process shortened to 10 days, and a provision permitting a waiver if the applicant is willing to provide appropriate drainage facilities at the applicant’s cost.

City staff is available to answer questions about the interim ordinance. For questions, call 974-2755 or go to http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/sf_regs.htm.

Council OKs new plan for schools over aquifer

AISD Board must still approve amendment to impervious cover agreement

Despite environmentalists’ concerns about building schools over the aquifer, the City Council approved an amendment last night to the Land Development Standards Agreement between the city and the Austin Independent School District that sets out how campuses over the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer can be built.

The amendment limits the level of impervious cover to 25 percent for most schools in the Barton Springs Zone, and allows the purchase of additional land to mitigate the expansion of Kiker Elementary School within the zone.

Council members, however, rejected a recommendation by the Environmental Board to remove two other building sites from the agreement that would allow AISD to construct schools over the aquifer with up to 50 percent impervious cover and require additional bicycle parking.

The amendment approved by the Council adds three school sites to the agreement: Southwest Elementary School, Southwest Middle School and a site in the Bear Creek PUD. The school sites are located on land covered by the Bradley agreement and the Stratus agreement, which address impervious cover under the SOS ordinance.

It also allows the district to expand Kiker Elementary—which was built under the 1986 Comprehensive Watersheds Ordinance—from 24 to 32 classrooms. The addition would expand the school’s impervious cover from 34 percent to 38 percent, but would allow AISD to buy 96,000 square feet of land elsewhere in the zone as mitigation. That purchase, applied to the Kiker area, would bring the net impervious cover for the campus to 15 percent.

Brad Rockwell with the SOS Alliance reminded Council members that the location of schools drives development.

“In many respects, schools determine how the city grows,” he said. “We are concerned that the district plans to close some Central Austin schools where people want to locate. AISD is not building schools that meet the needs of people in central neighborhoods.”

Rockwell encouraged the Council to look at the AISD agreement as a planning document, and to encourage the district to build in the desired development zone, and continue to support campuses where students can walk or ride a bicycle to school.

Dan Robertson, director of facilities for AISD, argued against the Environmental Board’s request to remove the two sites, noting that in one instance, AISD built a school with only 22 percent impervious cover when 50 percent was allowed. He asked that the district be trusted to try to reduce impervious cover where possible, but to not tie their hands. Council members apparently agreed.

The vote amends an agreement between AISD and the city first adopted in 1994, and amended again in 1997. The initial pact allowed 25 percent impervious cover in the entire Barton Springs Zone except for three previously funded schools that were allowed 50 percent impervious cover in Maple Run, Travis Country the Village of Western Oaks. Impervious cover was limited to 50 percent in all other watersheds.

In 1997, Boone Elementary was added to the list of schools that could exceed the 25 percent limit. A 1999 attempt to again amend the agreement failed when changes were made late in the process and were rejected by AISD.

The Council voted 7-0 to approve the amendment, which must win approval of the AISD Board of Trustees.

Futrell wins unanimous praise plus raise

New $232,500 salary more in keeping with market

The Austin City Council heaped praise on City Manager Toby Futrell during Thursday’s Council meeting along with a significant raise, the first such increase to Futrell’s base pay since she was officially promoted to the city’s top job in April of 2002. Futrell, who had been drawing an annual salary of $196,115, got a $36,387 raise to make her new salary $232,502 per year. The Council also restored $7,500 in deferred compensation for Futrell.

“We’ve gone through a challenging three or four years for the City,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “I think we’ve come out of the downturn in good order. This is, in my opinion, a leaner, more efficient organization than we were in 2001 going into our downturn.” He gave Futrell credit for helping the keep the city on sound financial footing during that difficult time. “The city manager’s professionalism and competence and ingenuity at restructuring and formatting this organization has allowed us to do as much as we are doing right now with, in many ways, fewer resources that we had five years ago. I’m very proud to be serving with this city manager. She makes my job easier.”

The Council voted unanimously to give Futrell a raise after reviewing a market study for pay rates for various city employees, including the manager. Futrell will keep her cell phone allowance, and the full roster of health benefits available to other city employees. In addition, the city will purchase retirement service credits for Futrell is she is forced to leave office before reaching 24 years of service under the city’s program for calculating retirement benefits.

Along with praise for Futrell’s financial management, Council Members also offered their thanks for her handling of the city’s emergency shelter operations following Hurricane Katrina. “The truest test of how effective a government is and how effective its leadership is…is when you have a crisis,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. “What we discovered last year when the Katrina relief effort began…a lot of governmental entities across the country were amazingly unprepared. Really, nobody did a better job than Austin. That’s reflective of an extremely high level of competence, of an amazing level of dedication in the city employees…but mainly it’s reflective of some great leadership by our chief executive officer as well as our Mayor.”

In a press release issued later, Futrell said, “It’s a great privilege to serve as City Manager of Austin, but a greater one to be able to work with our incredible city government workforce. I know we will continue to accomplish great things for the City of Austin.”

Crash can’t break Todd’s spirit

Former Mayor makes remarkable comeback from near-fatal accident

Less than three months after the bicycle crash that seriously injured him, former Mayor Bruce Todd is back at his desk part-time. Todd, who suffered a head injury as well as broken bones, has made a remarkable comeback. He walks with a cane—which he says he will discard soon—and he plans to return to cycling.

With that in mind, In Fact Daily asked whether Todd had any advice for cyclists. It’s a question he was prepared to answer.

“I have advice for bicycle riders, people who drive cars, who walk or run: to be mindful of how you’re controlling yourself or your vehicle so not to cause harm,” he said. He noted that in the past, cyclists have been criticized for failing to follow the rules of the road, adding that the Austin Cycling Association disseminates those rules and encourages everyone to follow them.

Todd said everyone should recognize that as more people move into the area, the use of our public right-of-ways will increase. “We need to be more insistent that, whenever possible, there be a space for non-vehicle traffic,” he said. Todd, now a lobbyist in various forums, said he would be lobbying for cycling interests but he was not sure of how or where he might do that.

He added, “You never know when that bicyclist might be your son or daughter or neighbor—you’d want to be protective in any case. I hear between one and ten stories a day of people who have been in some sort of accident involving bicycles.” He continued, “It’s sort of a public call to be as responsible with people using other forms of vehicles for transportation (as we are of cars), even if it’s just legs. We need to be more mindful.”

Todd said he also wanted to express his appreciation for the doctors, nurses and other professionals at Brackenridge Hospital/Seton Healthcare and St David’s. He described those people helping him as “some of the most professional caring people I've ever been associated with . . . I am humbled and impressed by the system I've been through during the past two-and-a-half months.”

Right now, two different sets of physical therapists are keeping the former Mayor busy as he alternates between St. David’s Rehabilitation Center, where he is spending much of his mornings, and the Dell Jewish Community Center, which he visits in the afternoons.

As for his professional work, Todd says he’s keeping in touch with clients, including Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, a national law firm, which concentrates on collecting taxes and other fees for local governments. Most of his work for the firm is outside Texas, he said. Todd said he is not currently working on any City of Austin projects but he continues to represent Stadler Rail Co. from Switzerland, which is supplying Capital Metro’s rail cars. Todd predicted that the transit agency would grow its rail lines to meet the demand for transportation options. However, he declined to guess whether there would be a bond election on the issue this November or later.

Todd also said he wanted to express his appreciation to the large number of friends, as well as citizens, who sent him messages of support during his hospitalization.

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

Some blame Suttle . . . There was a rumor going around yesterday, fueled perhaps by competitors, that attorney Richard Suttle had thought up the idea of the McMansion moratorium and that his firm, Armbrust & Brown, was losing clients over it. We caught up with the head of the firm, David Armbrust, at Thursday’s Council meeting and he said the idea did not originate with Suttle but that he did help with the writing of the moratorium ordinance at the request of one or more Council members. Suttle usually represents the development community but has been vocal in his personal dislike for McMansions since seeing them sprout up in his own neighborhood. Armbrust said the firm had lost two or three clients as a result but they were not clients the firm would miss. In a later email, Armbrust wrote, “As far as I know we have only lost two or three clients as a result of all this. As I said we will not miss them and we need to cut back on our Christmas party list anyway. These are rough waters because of the emotional aspects of it, but I think the Council is navigating well” . . . Pierce campaign kickoff . . . The Darrell Pierce machine will kick into high gear with a party beginning at 5:30pm Monday night at Nuevo Leon, 1501 E. Sixth St. Pierce, who is vying for the Place 6 spot currently held by Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, has the backing of a number of former Council members. Luminaries who have promised to attend include former Mayor Gus Garcia, former Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and former Council Members Lee Cooke and Charles Urdy. Sheryl Cole and DeWayne Lofton have also said they will run for the seat . . . Spare change for music? . . Members of the Music Commission are discouraged that the city’s new quality of life ordinance might apply to street musicians and have requested a meeting with City Manager Toby Futrell. Teresa Ferguson told her fellow members on the Downtown Commission that the ordinance would appear to indicate that street musicians would have to use “passive solicitation,” which would mean an open guitar case is okay but signs or requests for tips are not. Ferguson says she is certain that the ordinance was not intended to target musicians. . . Bond Calendar . . . Council Members approved an ambitious schedule to prepare for the November bond election. A series of briefings are planned on the various sectors of the bond proposal, including a briefing on Transportation and Drainage on March 23; Renovations on April 6; New Facilities and Central Library on April 20; and Open Space and Affordable Housing on April 27. Two final public hearings are planned on the bond package for May 18 and May 25. City staff said the schedule was designed to allow Council to complete work on the bonds before beginning work on next year’s budget . . . Monday Holiday . . . Monday is a holiday for city offices, as well as most other government offices. In Fact Daily will take the day off as well, and will be back again on Tuesday, February 21. . . Doggie dining debate delayed . . . Austin dog owners will have the chance next month to tell Council Members about the benefits of taking their pets out to eat. The Council was posted to vote on changes to the city health code on Thursday that would have allowed restaurants with outdoor patios to permit diners to bring their canine companions, but instead set a public hearing on the issue for the March 2 meeting.

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