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Commission backs hotel conversion

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 by

South Austin hotel would become housing for singles

Despite the concerns of some neighbors over increasing crime, the Planning Commission voted to recommend a zoning change that will allow a group called Foundation Communities to convert a South Austin hotel into a mixed use project with affordable housing.

The property, located at the corner of Bannister Lane and Ben White Boulevard, has been a Ramada Inn for the past 20 years. If the Council approves the zoning change to community commercial, mixed use, it will now be renovated into a supportive housing facility.

Foundation Communities already operates one similar facility, Garden Terrace, a converted nursing home at 1015 W. William Cannon Dr., and is planning to open a second facility, Spring Terrace, a converted hotel at I-35 and St. Johns, this summer.

Carol Gibbs, president of the South Lamar Neighborhood Association, said her group was in support of the project, and its goals.

“It fits what we are discussing in our neighborhood planning process,” she said. “We are generally trying to encourage mixed use along the corridors.”

But Bob Thompson, who identified himself as a member of the South Lamar Neighborhood Association but not representing the group, said most members who backed the project lived on the other end of the neighborhood from the facility.

“We already have more than our share of affordable housing in that part of the neighborhood,” he said. “We support the goals of Foundation Communities, but low income housing should not be dumped in just one neighborhood, it needs to be spread more evenly across the city.”

Thompson also expressed concerns about crime in the area, saying there was already a high crime rate, and it could affect the people who live in the facility who are trying to turn their lives around.

“It presents a risk to a neighborhood that is already under stress,” he said.

Foundation Communities plans to spend $1.5 million converting the hotel into a 100-unit, single-resident-only facility, which will be operated in the same fashion as a regular apartment complex. Walter Moreau with Foundation Communities stressed that the project will not be public housing, but a subsidized housing facility where applicants are screened for drugs, and a criminal history.

“Supportive Housing is a successful, cost-effective combination of permanent affordable housing with services to help people live stable, productive lives,” he said. “On-site case managers help residents find work, go to school, get medical care and meet their goals.”

Moreau said many of the residents in supportive housing are formerly homeless, and are looking to get their lives back on track.

The Planning Commission, not swayed by some of the neighbors’ concerned about the facility, voted 8-0 to recommend the zoning change. Commissioner Cid Galindo was off the dais.

Board backs cancer survivors' pavilion

PARD panel OK’s plaza with controversial sculpture in Waterloo Park

The RA Bloch Cancer Foundation is considering a $1 million donation to the Austin Parks Department to create a cancer survivors’ pavilion at Waterloo Park, but that gift comes with a catch – Victor Salmones’ multi-figure sculpture, Cancer: There’s Hope.

The Austin Parks and Recreation Board supported a motion last night to instruct Parks Department Director Warren Struss to move forward on negotiating with the Bloch Cancer Foundation to create the cancer survivor’s plaza. Questions from PARD board members at last night’s meeting centered on issues such as whether the cancer survivors’ area would disrupt any of the existing activities at the park, such as Spamarama, Austin’s yearly potted pork festival, and whether the donation would include the cost of long-term maintenance at the park.

However, anyone who lives in other cities that have a Bloch Cancer Survivor’s Plaza – Houston and Dallas, for instance – understand the real issue that comes with the plaza, and that’s Salmones’ bronze artwork.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s especially true of this piece, which is been frequently panned by local art critics. Houston Press art critic Kelly Klaasmeyer, writing for The Texas Contemporary Art Journal, described Salmones’ figures, all walking through an abstraction of a cancer maze, as having the “banal features of storefront mannequins,” wearing 1980s hairstyles and clothing and frozen expressions of glee.

“I hate this sculpture,” Klaasmeyer wrote in her article. “Every time I drive past it, I have to resist the urge to hit the gas, veer to the right and plow my mini-van into it. All the while I’m thinking, ’I’ve got airbags and a seatbelt, this is doable.’”

Klaasmeyer’s full article, with pictures of the Houston pavilion at Hermann Park, is at http://www.artlies.org/article.php?id=146&issue=41&s=1.

Richard Bloch, who co-founded H&R Block and passed away in 2004, was a pioneer in the concept of cancer survival. Bloch and his wife were committed to the concept of moving through the disease to a fulfilling life. To date, the foundation has funded parks in 21 cities, from Bakersfield to Rancho Mirage to Tucson.

Under a partnership, RA Bloch Cancer Foundation would provide up to $750,000 to create the specialized park area, with an additional $150,000 put into escrow for the long-term care and maintenance of the plaza. Each underwritten park has its own individual elements – a grand archway, an area of contemplation, an arranged series of plaques on cancer survival – but all of them must have Cancer: There’s Hope.

Leibel Harelik of the Prostate Cancer Resource Center was a protégé of Bloch’s and is working hard to bring the park to Austin. The statue has gotten its share of criticism, agreed Harelik. Dallas attempted to negotiate the statue, however, and almost killed the program. After the problems in Dallas – and Bloch’s death – the statue became the non-negotiable part of the park plan.

Austin continues to negotiate with the foundation. Waterloo Park is the chosen location, but it does have some limits. The Bloch Foundation typically wants 1.5 acres. The piece of land being considered by the city is .25 acres.

Notes: ETJ voting complicates May 13 ballots

Since the City of Austin decided that voters in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction would be allowed to vote on the SOS Charter Amendment, employees of the Travis County Clerk’s Office have been working to identify those voters and set up different ballots to accommodate them. (See In Fact Daily, March 8, 2006.) Melinda Avey in the Voter Registration Division said as of last week there were 60,254 voters in Austin’s ETJ.

The ETJ includes areas that have been annexed for limited purposes in Travis, Williamson, Hays and Bastrop counties. Mary Fero, public information manager for the Travis County Clerk’s Office, said Travis County would be conducting elections for 36 or 37 different entities on May 13. Those include school districts, Austin Community College and a number of water improvement districts as well as cities.

Fero said voters living in Bastrop and Hays County portions of Austin’s ETJ would have to come to Travis County to cast ballots on the SOS Amendment. Williamson County will also be conducting elections within the ETJ, she said.

Because of the large number of jurisdictions, Fero said, Travis County has identified 503 different ballot styles—that is different ballots for voters who live within a particular jurisdiction. For example, a voter may vote in a City of Austin election, an ACC election, a school board election for a specific district, etc.

Fero said the lawsuit over ballot language, filed by five citizens who say the language approved by the City Council amounts to electioneering against the SOS and Open Government amendments, has slowed down the county’s process.

“Basically everything’s on hold. We can't program the ballot,” or print ballots to send to overseas voters until the language is set, she said. Fortunately, Fero said, there are only a few dozen mail ballots to be sent to foreign countries since most overseas voters do not choose to participate in local elections.

But early voting scheduled to start May 1 and the county is anxious to stick with its timeline for setting up the election. Judge Scott Jenkins is expected to hear the case at 9am Thursday.

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

Leffingwell working on ordinances . . . Council Member Lee Leffingwell was working on alternatives to the two charter amendment proposed by SOS before the group filed petitions to put the items on the ballot. Although he adamantly opposes the two amendments, Leffingwell is working on two ordinances that would accomplish some of the goals expressed by proponents. Campaign spokesman Jordan Hatcher sent a letter to Leffingwell yesterday asking whether he would commit to getting a proposed Open Government ordinance to the Council by the date of the election, May 13. That seems unlikely. Leffingwell’s aide Andy Mormon said Tuesday that the proposal would have to go to the Planning Commission—and possibly others—before it could be heard by the City Council. Given the slow turning of wheels at City Hall, it could be late summer before such an ordinance reaches the Council. Hatcher also sent a letter to the other members of the Council asking them to indicate which sections of the Open Government Amendment they do support, sending them a handy checklist to fill out. He asked them to reply by next Monday . . . Towing ordinance changes proposed . . . City staff is working on a series of changes to the city’s towing ordinance for consideration by the City Council next month. Among the proposals: requiring cars towed at the order of a police officer to be taken to a storage facility within the city limits, requiring companies on APD’s wrecker rotation list to sign up for the department’s rush-hour traffic management program, and increasing the types of criminal convictions which would disqualify someone from obtaining a tow truck operator license. Tow truck drivers outlined their objections to the proposals at a meeting last night with APD officials and a representative from the City Attorney’s office . . . Still waiting . . . District Judge John Dietz was at the Travis County Courthouse late Tuesday, but did not issue a ruling in the AMD site plan case . . . Loan for LifeWorks . . . LifeWorks is getting a loan from the Austin Housing Finance Corporation to transform its emergency shelter on South Second Street into a transitional housing facility with room for 12 beds. The non-profit group will continue to operate an emergency shelter for homeless youth on another portion of the property. . . . CTRMA meets . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board meets at 9:30am at 301 Congress Ave. . . . Community Development hearing . . . The Community Development Commission will hold a public hearing at 6:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. The Commission is seeking the public’s feedback about the community’s needs and goals. The feedback will be used for the Action Plan for fiscal year 2006-07, the city’s annual strategy for addressing the community’s critical housing and community development needs. . . . New chair elected . . . Adam Hauser has been elected Board Chair of Meals on Wheels and More, one of the oldest not-for-profit organizations in Central Texas. Hauser, an attorney at Brown McCarroll L.L.P., has been a member of the organization’s Board of Directors since 2000 and served as a Vice Chair and Chair of its Fundraising and Development Committee in 2003-2004. Other Board officers re-elected at the meeting were: First Vice Chair, Terri W. Cumbie, Time-Warner Cable; Second Vice Chair, Stewart Whitehead, Winstead Sechrest and Minick; Treasurer, Michael C. Brown, Citibank Texas, N.A.; and Secretary, Richard Waterfield, Waterfield & Associates.

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