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Neighbors win Council vote on condos

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 by

Traffic, environmental concerns may limit development

The Austin City Council voted last week on first reading to deny a request for SF-6 zoning for a 15-acre tract along Longview Road in Southwest Austin. Instead, the Council voted 7-0 to support a change from interim rural residential to SF-4A, a lower density than requested by property owner Brett Vance and Flex Realty.

The owner had originally requested MF-3, but agreed to modify the request in line with the recommendation from city staff. Agent Jim Bennett said the owner had plans for a condo-style development with a total of 120 units. The developer’s intent is to average eight units per acre, Bennett said, but they would use the clustering allowed under SF-6 to concentrate the density away from a portion of the tract within the Barton Springs Zone of the Williamson Creek Watershed. The undeveloped tract straddles two watersheds, Williamson Creek and the South Boggy Creek.

Neighbors told the Council they were opposed to the request, not for environmental reasons but because of the impact that the project would have on traffic in the area. “I want the smallest amount of single-family units being put in,” said Velma Castro. “One of the main reasons is that Longview is only 18 feet wide, and it’s a very busy street. So from a safety factor, I don’t think that additional vehicles are needed on a road that narrow.”

While the developer offered a conditional overlay to limit the number of trips per day associated with the site to 1,000, neighbors said that would still be a problem. “My main concerns have to do with the safety of our neighborhood,” said Sheryl Cave. “I’m really concerned about the vast amount of traffic that will be generated by this project. I just can’t imagine the amount of traffic generated by 120 units.”

Council Members heeded the neighborhood’s concerns over traffic. “It doesn’t seem like an appropriate level of intensity for an area with 18-foot wide roads with no curbs, in the offhand hope that there may be a curb in the future,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. But they also questioned the environmental impact of increasing the density on the tract.

“I don’t feel comfortable, necessarily, with the level of density that’s being requested or recommended,” said Council Member Raul Alvarez. “I don’t think that if this was zoned SF-3 for SF-4, they could actually develop this number of units. So my inclination would be, because it’s surrounded on three sides by single family development, that it should be single family.”

Alvarez moved to approve SF-4A zoning on first reading only, which passed unanimously. Since that was not the recommendation of either the Zoning and Platting Commission or city staff, there will be an additional transportation review by the staff of the impact that development under SF-4A would have on the streets in the area. That information will be presented to the Council when the case returns for second and third readings.

New federal courthouse design unveiled

Seven-story, $63 million complex will have non-traditional theme

The new federal courthouse on Republic Square, as envisioned by an Atlanta architectural firm, is a series of interlocking boxes that offer tall spaces and natural lighting.

Architect Mack Scogin presented the design at the University of Texas School of Architecture last night. During his presentation, Scogin unveiled renderings that showed the proposed $63 million seven-story building in the round with plenty of open space and views from every side and every courtroom. A large open space for public events will face the Republic Square side of the building.

This is not a heavy traditional Greek revival structure – as many traditional federal courthouses are – nor is it a tribute to the character of Austin, as Austin City Hall was, Scogin said. Instead, the design of the building is intended to say something about the federal judicial process, Scogin told a group that included both judges and architects.

The current federal courthouse is beautiful and historic, but this courthouse will say something about the evolution of the judicial process, Scogin said. Most people think of courts – like the traditional courthouse – as mysterious and closed. The design of this building is intended to be light and open to the community.

“This courthouse, if not more welcoming, says to the people of the city that the court process, like any other process, is slowly evolving,” Scogin said. “We’re in a different world now than many years ago, and the symbolic form of the courthouse is changing. With those kinds of discussion, you simply cannot trust the symbols of the past, and you must use some level of invention that transforms not only the process inside but translates and expresses itself in the exterior of the building.”

Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin, who served on the committee that oversaw the design process, said the committee had visited a number of courthouses and the clear goal was not to create a courthouse with an office backside that looked like a rabbit warren. The four two-story district courtrooms will have floor to ceiling natural light. One-story ancillary facilities, including jury rooms, will abut each courtroom. Corridors will be filled with light.

Court functions and officials — such as the marshals, federal public defender, pre-trial programs and district clerk – will be brought together again in the one building. Right now, those functions are split between the current courthouse on 8th Street and the awkwardly converted former post office, which is now known as the Thornberry Judicial Building.

The courthouse still faces a number of issues. First and foremost, it has yet to be funded by Congress. Federal funding, to date, has provided the site for the courthouse, as well as the demolition of the Intel shell and the architecture fees. Once the construction documents are completed in a year, lobbying will begin in earnest for the full funding of the building itself, which Judge Lee Yeakel pointed out had not been put under the three-year moratorium that many other federal projects had faced.

Additionally, the courthouse will have a limit amount of parking. Scogin said the General Services Agency is not in the business of building parking garages. It is hoped the federal government can work out a deal to use the adjacent parking garage. The federal government has asked the city to close San Antonio Street alongside the building and intends to work out an arrangement to improve Republic Square .

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

Named plaintiffs . . . Although Mary Arnold's name was used in a press release regarding a lawsuit by voters against the city of Austin over charter amendment ballot language, Arnold is not a plaintiff the suit. The plaintiffs include Jeff Jack, Glen Maxey, Ann Del Llano, Paul Robbins and Jordan Hatcher. Election expert Buck Wood it is representing the plaintiffs, who will be in court at 9am Thursday seeking an injunction to prevent the city from using the language adopted by the Council on March 9 “and requiring the city to adopt new language that comports with the applicable law. " Anne Morgan, chief of litigation for the city Law Department, told In Fact Daily Monday she believes that time has expired for the Council to change the language. However, she said a judge could order different language to be put on the May 13 ballot . . . SOS v. City of Austin still pending . . . Morgan said Judge John Dietz is expected to rule today on the suit SOS filed to keep the city from issuing a permit to allow AMD to build a new campus on Southwest Parkway . . . McCracken kickoff . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken’s supporters are not taking his three opponents very seriously if the small crowd at Monday’s kickoff party is any indication. His opponents include Mark Hopkins (not to be confused with the landmark San Francisco hotel), Colin Kalmbacher and Kedron Touvell. McCracken told the group he was not taking any vote for granted and would be working hard to win re-election . . . Martinez fundraiser . . . The Small Business Group is holding a fundraiser for Place 2 candidate Mike Martinez Wednesday at 5:30pm at 219west . . . City Council forums . . . The Northwest Civic Association will host a candidate forum beginning at 7pm Wednesday at Murchison Middle School . . . PODER, LULAC and the NAACP will hold a candidate forum beginning at 7:30pm Thursday at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, 808 Nile Street . . . . Meetings . . . The Planning Commission meets at 5:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 6:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The T ravis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 310 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in the Pct. 3 JP court room on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . Not gonna be that easy . . . There was some interest when a discussion and possible action item showed up on the Design Commission’s agenda regarding the University of Texas planned Hotel and Conference Center on MLK Boulevard. The item turned out to be a placeholder for the commission to discuss asking UT officials to make a presentation on the project. Admitting that UT is under no legal obligation to coordinate the project with the city, Commission Member Eleanor McKinney noted that UT officials have “acknowledged the Downtown guidelines.” Member Girard Kinney said that new UT President William Powers has said he wants to have more interaction with the community. McKinney agreed to contact UT officials and make the request . . . Courthouse art . . . The proposed federal courthouse already could have its first piece of art. Robert Summers is trying to save an unnamed 1954-circa 30-foot abstract mural in the American National Bank building and transfer it to the new federal courthouse. Proponents of the piece, which now sits in an unused state office building, say the modern art mural is very much at risk and are eager to raise the money to move it.

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