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Downtown neighborhood group endorses candidates

Monday, April 10, 2006 by

Members of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association quizzed the candidates for Austin City Council about their positions on issues important to downtown denizens during a candidate forum Tuesday night. The group endorsed incumbent Council Member Brewster McCracken and Mayor Will Wynn, along with Mike Martinez in Place 2 and Sheryl Cole in Place 6.

“She hit all the right notes on all the major issues,” DANA President Andrew Clements said of Cole. He offered a similar assessment for Martinez, Wynn, and McCracken. “We were looking for the people we thought were going to support downtown,” he said.

The group’s top issues included converting several more one-way streets downtown to handle two-way traffic, funding sidewalk improvements for pedestrians, and construction of the Waller Creek Tunnel. Also of particular interest was the city’s RFQ for a consultant to handle a new master planning process for downtown.

In a list of questions submitted to candidates before the forum, DANA officials said that while the Council had set aside $400,000 for a consultant to help guide the planning process, the City of Lubbock had set aside $500,000 for a similar planning effort. “Andrew gave us a big help at the Land Use and Transportation Committee and said that $400,000 is not enough,” said Council Member McCracken. “We’ve agreed, we’ve directed management to begin allocating dollars so that we can spend up to a million dollars on it and do it right.”

Presented with the same question earlier in the evening, Mayor Will Wynn had a different response. “Where I come from $400,000 is a lot of grease, and I think we can get a lot of bang for those dollars,” he said. “I’m hesitant to compare us to Lubbock or anybody else because, frankly, Lubbock could spend $5 million and not have what we have.”

The Mayor pointed to the impending arrival of commuter rail downtown, the growing downtown population boom, the surge in new retail along 2nd Street and Congress Avenue, and the redevelopment of the Rainey Street area, Seaholm Power Plant, and the Green Water Treatment Plant as indicators of a vital downtown core. “We are proposing a downtown plan for Austin because so many positive things are happening,” he said. “The vast majority of cities in this country will spend half a million dollars on a downtown plan because their downtowns are dead and dying. And so with all due respect to Lubbock, we don’t need to bother to benchmark our study to anybody else’s, because I promise you there’s not a downtown in this country that wouldn’t trade us heads-up tomorrow for what’s going on in our downtown.”

Candidates for Place 6 were asked about increasing the population of downtown. DANA representatives wanted to know whether the candidates would have supported the Gables Park Plaza residential tower (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 3, 2006) and the Spring Towers condo project at Third Street and Bowie. “I’m a firm believer of increasing density downtown,” said Darrell Pierce, a former member of the Planning Commission. “The one thing I would have changed about that process…I thought it was interesting that a few weeks after that project was approved that the Council decided to engage in developing a downtown plan. My preference would have been to have the plan in place before we approved those type of projects, but I think those are the type of projects we are looking for in our downtown area.”

Sheryl Cole and DeWayne Lofton both said they would have sided with the Council majority in supporting those projects. “I do understand the reservations that some of the neighborhoods had,” said Lofton. “As the city goes forward with its mission of densifying downtown, we need to look at the impact it has on surrounding areas. I would have approved the projects, but I would have much rather had more buy-in from the surrounding neighbors.”

Cole said the debate over the two projects showed the basic quandary facing the Council as it tries to meet the goals set out during the Envision Central Texas process. “I would have supported both of those projects, but you’ve got to love Austin. We don’t want sprawl, but we don’t want density,” she said. “That’s a fine balancing act that has to be done by someone on the Council. I understand the concerns of the surrounding neighbors and they need to be heard, and we need to put more emphasis on the transition zones and develop clear and concise rules.”

Flood plain dilemma stymies ZAP

Subdivision decision put off for two weeks

The Zoning and Platting Commission, faced with a quandary over lingering flooding concerns in the proposed Bouldin Meadows subdivision and unable to get a definitive answer from city staff, chose to postpone consideration of the site plan for the project last week.

The 14-acre development is bordered on the west by the Union Pacific rail line and on the east by Bouldin Creek. Developers plan to build 56 single-family homes in the area, but area residents say they still have major concerns about it contributing to flood problems that already exist in the area.

Complicating the issue is the impending issuance of new flood plain maps by FEMA and the fact that the preliminary site plan for the development will expire on May 9 if it is not approved.

George Oswald, an engineer for the city Water Protection and Development Review Department, said the plan meets all current state and city Land Development Code requirements, but that assurance was not sufficient for neighbors of the development and some members of the commission.

“I live on the opposite side of the subdivision from the tracks,” said Chuck Mains. “Eleven of the lots in the development sit in a natural depression in the ground. After a rain, the area is basically a swamp.”

Patty Sprinkle, another area neighbor, said the area along Bouldin Creek needs to be declared a critical water quality zone.

“In my opinion, it is ill-advised and potentially dangerous to allow building in that area until the issue of where the flood plain is is settled,” she said.

Bret Pascarello, engineer for the development, said drainage in the subdivision is designed to avoid any increase in the outflow of water in a storm.

“We have designed the drainage system to handle it,” he said. “Any additional flow that occurs from the developed area will be handled by two retention and filtration ponds.”

Jana Renfro with the WPDR said she was satisfied that the project was sound.

“This development won’t create any new problems,” she said. “That’s the standard they have to meet before I will sign off on any final permit.”

But Commissioner Clarke Hammond remained concerned, citing pictures of previous flooding events in the area shown by residents.

“I don’t want us to be creating any new problems over there,” he said. “I’m also concerned that the FEMA flood plain maps won’t be finalized for a full year. New homes could end up being built below the flood plain.”

The developer’s agent reminded the commission that the preliminary site plan for Bouldin Meadows would expire on May 9 if it is not acted upon by the city. That would mean that the development process would have to start over again.

At the end of the debate, Chair Betty Baker asked the commissioners for a motion, but got none. Finally, after several minutes, Commissioner Keith Jackson offered a motion to approve the plan, but it died for lack of a second.

Then Vice Chair Joseph Martinez moved to deny the plan, and received a second. But Commissioner Melissa Hawthorne offered a substitute motion to postpone action on the item until May 2. That was seconded, and approved on a 6-1-1 vote with Jackson voting no and Baker abstaining, saying she didn’t believe it would make a difference.

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

Wood’s a busy man . . . Election law specialist Buck Wood filed suit last week against the Texas Ethics Commission on behalf of State Rep. Lon Burnam(D-Fort Worth). Burnam is seeking a declaratory judgement that would require the commission to make public officials report the value of any gift they receive worth $250 or more. Members of the commission recently declined to force Employee Retirement Commission Board member Bill Ceverha to disclose the amount of a check he received from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, saying they lacked a rule relating to such disclosure. Ceverha was treasurer of the infamous Texans for a Republican Majority. He lost a lawsuit filed by Wood on behalf of a number of Democrats who said they lost their elections as a result of TRMPAC’s ad campaign. Ceverha told the Quorum Report last year that he had filed bankruptcy because of the costs of the litigation. ( http://www.quorumreport.com) After the TEC meeting, Perry and Ceverha released a statement saying that the check was for $100,000. Wood also represented successful plaintiffs in a lawsuit to force the city to change ballot language . . . Warner lobbies for SOS Alliance . . . As In Fact Daily reported on Friday, lobbyist Michael J. Warner, did not file a monthly lobbying report due on May 10, 2005 or for any month thereafter through January 2006. In addition to being chair of the Water and Wastewater Commission, Warner was a lobbyist for the SOS Alliance. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, Warner filed to lobby for SOS from March 10, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2005. Warner said last week that he would speak to the commission about what needed to be filed . . . Apologies to Warren Struss . . . In Fact Daily consistently misspelled his name in Friday’s edition. The error has been corrected . . . Conference planned for Saturday . . . City planners and members of neighborhood groups will gather for a conference entitled Neighborhood Planning in Austin—Next Steps from 9am – 1:30pm Saturday at City Hall. But Lori C-Renteria has sent out an email saying she is concerned that not enough businesses have signed up for the conference. Those who wish to attend should RSVP by Wednesday to neighboraustin@infohiwy.net. If you have questions, call Renteria at 478-6770, or Tim Mahoney at 326-9944 . . . Candidate forums . . Tonight at 7pm the Crestview Neighborhood Association will hold a forum at the St. Louis Catholic Church, 7601 Burnet Road. Tuesday there will be an arts forum beginning at 5:30pm at Nuevo Leon on E. Sixth Street . . . SAD meeting Tuesday . . . South Austin Democrats will meet at 5:30pm Tuesday at Little Mexico, 2304 South First Street. The business meeting begins at 6pm. The group will be considering its position on the city charter amendments. . . . Splitsville . . . The University Democrats and the Central Austin Democrats together make up the Austin Progressive Coalition. More often than not, the two groups agree on candidates and propositions. But they found little to agree on this weekend during endorsement meetings. The UD’s voted to oppose Proposition 1 (Open Government) and support Proposition 2 (SOS amendment), while CAD voted to oppose both. Both groups voted to support Mayor Will Wynn for re-election and Mike Martinez for Place 2, but CAD endorsed Kedron Touvell and UD’s endorsed incumbent Council Member Brewster McCracken for Place 5. UD’s also endorsed Darrell Pierce, while CAD selected Sheryl Cole . . . Meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Historic Landmark Commission Operations Committee meets at 7pm in room 525 at One Texas Center . . . The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board meets at 6pm at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center at UT . . . Registration deadline. . . The City of Austin reminds potential voters they must register to vote by April 13 to participate in the municipal election on May 13. Voter application forms are available through the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office at www.traviscountytax.org/goVotersRegistration.do or call 854-9473 for more information . . . Immigration protests. . . People who work and/or live in Downtown Austin can expect a few delays and a lot of noise this afternoon. Some 5,000 people are expected to march about 5pm along a circuitous route from the State Capitol to the Federal Building at Ninth and San Jacinto streets. There is also a march planned earlier in the day by UT students. That group will gather on campus about 2:30pm and may head towards the Capitol.

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