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Mayor: Add golf course to parkland

Thursday, April 13, 2006 by

Wynn proposes buying 150-acre Riverside course; Council seeks release of information on alternative sites

Mayor Will Wynn said Wednesday he intends that the city purchase the Riverside Golf Course from Austin Community College and incorporate it into Roy Guerrero Colorado River Park. The additional approximately 150 acres would be used to mitigate the taking of 30 acres for the new Green Water Treatment Plant, Wynn said.

The Mayor and three other Council Members also indicated that the public should have more information on the site selection process that led the city’s water utility staff to recommend placing the plant in the park. Eastside activists and members of parks advocacy groups have expressed frustration over the city’s unwillingness to release information on other sites.

Council Members Raul Alvarez, and Brewster McCracken, Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas and the Mayor said the public needs to know what factors were considered. Thomas, who is running against Wynn for Mayor, said the decommissioned Govalle Wastewater Plant and land owned by a road construction company were considered as possible sites. He also said of the $5 million offered by staff on Monday, “That’s like throwing crumbs at them.”

Wynn said, “I would like to see as much information released as legally possible with the only caveat that we were considering condemning property of non-willing sellers; I will say it is frustrating—that the legal constraints and the rationale of why our taxpayers would be hurt by having more information available has been frustrating for six years now.”

“I want all this information available so the citizens can see the compelling reasons from the environmental perspective, the taxpayer’s perspective, the rate payer’s perspective, the parkland mitigation perspective, the public golf perspective, that this should be strongly, strongly considered,” Wynn concluded.

Alvarez told In Fact Daily, “If the process continues this way,” without further information being released on other possible sites, “we’re only going to get more negative feedback . . . To a lot of folks, they didn’t consider any other sites because this is the cheapest; I don’t rule out the possibility of supporting a mitigation plan—if it’s significant mitigation plan. “ But he said, “There’s a much greater benefit to the city than $5 million.”

Alvarez said the city should at least be willing to tell the public how many sites were considered and what the costs would be without necessarily identifying the locations. He said that he and Thomas had voted against looking for a replacement for Green when the matter came to Council last August “because the writing was already on the wall that they were going to be considering Guerrero Park . . . You can't get any closer to Town Lake than that.”

“Can you eliminate the issue by not disclosing the location but saying ‘Site a, b, c, d and e’ and these were the costs? I'm hopeful we won’t have to wait until next week because the Parks Board meets next week,” he said. “At the very least I thought if there were other city-owned properties where there really is no competitive disadvantage to disclosing that because the city’s not going to stiff itself—one would hope.”

McCracken, who supports moving Green to the eastside site, said he supports releasing all the information the city used—regardless of the legal arguments against doing so—so the public will understand the rationale for using parkland for the new plant.

In addition, McCracken and Wynn both stressed the difference between a water plant and any other kind of industrial use. “This is the first one in East Austin,” McCracken said. Ullrich is in the highest dollar neighborhood in the city and one is by Austin Country Club … I think we need to put more information out to the public… the public needs to see all the information we saw. I think it’s helpful because it’s the public making the same judgment we do. If we missed something the public will be able to identify what we missed.”

Council Member Lee Leffingwell cautioned, “I don’t think it’s etched in stone that it’s going to be at the preferred site.”

Finally, asked why the public process had to move so fast, Thomas pointed at the Mayor as the reason. Wynn said he wanted to make sure that Thomas and Alvarez got to help make the decision before they retire. However, Alvarez, who is stepping down at the end of June, said with a laugh, “I wouldn’t mind if it gets put off until I'm gone.”

Wynn laughed too when he heard Alvarez’ remarks. He said the Council could then put the matter off until the end of June.

Commission, neighbors battle over Riverside project

A fight over a piece of land on Riverside Drive raised an issue at Tuesday night’s Planning Commission meeting that is rarely answered in neighborhood plans: Does a neighborhood’s goal for a property always trump the economic reality of a piece of land and its marketability?

The Riverside Neighborhood Plan calls for more single-family development in an area that is heavy with apartment dwellers. Eddie Dean, represented by agent Jim Bennett, sees a future for 2301 Riverside Dr. at Willow Creek Dr. for a bank. Neighborhood representatives fought mightily in favor of single-family zoning at Tuesday night’s hearing, saying it was impossible to promote a cohesive vision for the neighborhood – and for the redevelopment of Riverside Drive – if the city continued to upzone property.

“I think because all of this is undeveloped across from it, this could be some kind of live-work development,” plan stakeholder Gail Goff told the Planning Commission, pointing to areas on the map. “We want to increase home ownership possibilities, and if we use this property, it wouldn’t be isolated.”

The property in question, however, sits directly across from a car wash and a nightclub. Commissioner Matt Moore said he, in good conscience, would have a difficult time supporting single-family zoning – or even the SF-6 the neighborhood supported – when it seemed to conflict with what would be the most logical uses for the property.

Planner Robert Heil’s recommendation was to split the zoning on the undeveloped 4.5-acre property, where the portion north of Woodland Avenue would be zoned LR-MU-CO and the tract south of Woodland Avenue would be zoned SF-6-CO. The conditional overlay on the property would limit the number of trips per day to 2,000.

Without the conditional overlay, the calculated trip limit for the most intense use under LR – which would be a retail use — would be 6,700 trips per day. The applicant agreed to the 2,000 trip-per-day limit in order to bypass a required traffic impact analysis.

Neighbors wanted the zoning case stayed until the full neighborhood plan reached the Planning Commission. Bennett noted that the Riverside plan had been “just around the corner” for about three years, but the argument did win some sympathy with some commissioners who thought the case should be considered in May, with the plan.

Commissioner Cid Galindo called the decision to split the difference – and recognize the commercial viability of the property – “elegant.” He moved for the staff recommendation, with the understanding that MU on the property would not include multi-family development, an exception already moving through the city pipeline in an ordinance that will soon reach Council. Chair Chris Riley, Jay Reddy and Gary Stegeman joined Galindo in his motion. Commissioners Mandy Dealey, Dave Sullivan, Matt Moore and Keith Jackson voted against the Galindo motion.

A motion to delay the case until Riverside neighborhood plan comes to the Planning Commission on May 23 passed on a vote of 7-1. Galindo voted against it.

Notes from the campaign trail

Candidates eye reserve fund to trim bond package

Candidates for Austin City Council are eyeing the city’s budget stabilization fund as they search for ways maximize the number of different projects included in the November bond package. The Council’s General Fund Policy No. 15 set aside a reserve fund which is now $48.9 million, with the provision for spending up to a third of that money on one-time expenses.

Place 2 candidate Mike Martinez told the Austin Arts Alliance this week he wanted to tap into that fund for some projects currently proposed as part of the November bond package.

“The firefighters didn’t break the bank. We’re going to end the fiscal year with a $49 million dollar surplus,” he said. “At the end of this year, because of our policies as a city, $49 million will have to go into a reserve stabilization fund…and we can’t spend it on one-time costs. Costs for things like a swimming pool pump that we’re trying to float a bond for that should be paid for out of the general fund.”

Shifting those routine maintenance issues out of the bond package, Martinez said, would leave more funding available for other projects as the Council struggles to trim the proposal from $615 million down to near $500 million.

The Council’s policy does allow for spending up to $16.2 million on capital projects and one-time costs ( ) such as technology upgrades, vehicle replacements, and public safety equipment. Mayor Will Wynn said he would consider that as the Council reviews the bond proposal.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we have a surplus right now in our operating budget. I am a strong advocate for taking that surplus and challenging what has come forward as the bond package every chance we get on what should be operation and maintenance type facilities, these leaking swimming pools and leaking roofs,” he said. “We should spend the one-time surplus cash on what really should be operations and maintenance…taking a lot of the operations and maintenance debt out of that package will be a prudent thing to do.”

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

Debate tonight . . . The Environment Science and Policy program of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences at St Edwards University will host a debate between long-time Austin environmentalists on proposed Charter Amendments 1 and 2 on the May 13 ballot. The debate and discussion, which is open to the public, will be 6:30 – 8:30pm tonight. SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch and political consultant Glen Maxey will argue in favor of the amendments and former Council Member Daryl Slusher and former Mayor Gus Garcia will argue against the amendments . . . More endorsements . . . The West Austin Democrats met last night and announced endorsements for the May 13 city elections. The group endorsed Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken (Place 5) for re-election, Eliza May for Place 2 and Sheryl Cole for Place 6. The group also voted to oppose Charter Amendments 1 and 2-the Open Government and Save Our Springs amendments-but to support the rest of the charter amendment proposals on the ballot. . . . Neighborhood Planning . . . No Council meeting this week, but the Council, in conjunction with the Planning Commission, is sponsoring a major event on Saturday. A seminar titled Neighborhood Planning in Austin: Next Steps is planned from 9am – 1:30pm will take a comprehensive look at the neighborhood planning process . . . Also…. Don't forget the Bluesy rock 'n' roll of Eve Monsees and the Exiles on stage Friday at the free Live From The Plaza noon concert at Austin City Hall . . . Angel Network . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has created a new technology division and angel investor network to help economic development activities. The technology division will be led by Randy Baker, president and founder of Tuanis Technology. Baker is also vice chairman of technology for the chamber. The new Central Texas Angel Network, or CTAN, will help local entrepreneurs gain access to capital to start their businesses. CTAN will work with the Central Texas Regional Center of Innovation and Commercialization (CT-RCIC), the Texas Technology Fund, and universities to identify opportunities in early stages of development. The chamber's Opportunity Austin initiative, now in its third year, is a five-year, five-county economic development plan to create 72,000 jobs and a $14 billion positive economic impact on the economy. In 2004 and 2005, 47,600 jobs were created . . . "Dump the Pump" wins Telly . . . Capital Metro has announced that its "Dump the Pump" campaign has been recognized by the Telly Awards, which honor outstanding local, regional and cable television commercials and programs. Designed and implemented together with Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, the "Dump the Pump" campaign received two Silver Tellys, the Awards' highest honors, in the categories for best public service commercial and best use of animation. In October 2005, during Commute Solutions month, Capital Metro launched the "Dump the Pump" campaign in response to escalating fuel prices that have forced consumers to spend significantly more money on gasoline over the last year . . . TCEQ gets tough . . . The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a news release Wednesday saying that it is now assessing penalties on a more case-specific basis in an effort to encourage strict compliance over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer. The release said a majority of the development and construction projects in the region comply with environmental regulations, while a small percentage ignore the basic requirement to file a Water Pollution Protection Plan. "We are making everyone aware that we are serious about enforcing the law and rules. Those who violate put human health and the environment at risk and can expect stiff penalties and vigorous enforcement," says Glenn Shankle, TCEQ executive director. The first penalty assessed under the new structure on March 29, fined Countryside Nursery & Landscape, Inc. in Williamson County $6,000 for failing to obtain approval of an aquifer protection plan prior to construction. Under the previous calculation method the violator would have only been assessed a penalty of approximately $750 . . . Morrison tops Coe . . . Ron Morrison beat Gary Coe to earn the Williamson County Republican Party nomination for Precinct 4 County Commissioner during Tuesday's runoff election. Morrison won with nearly 55 percent of the votes cast Tuesday – 1,115 to Coe's 921. In November, Morrison will face Democrat Brig Mireles, who was unopposed for his party's nomination. The winner of the November general election will replace Commissioner Frankie Limmer, who chose not to run for re-election.

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