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Water tower design still up in the air

Friday, April 7, 2006 by

Council wants hard numbers on cost of four possibilities

Members of the Austin City Council want more information before committing to a design for a new water tower at the Robert Mueller Airport redevelopment site. (See In Fact Daily, April 6, 2006.) The Council approved spending extra money on an engineering contract with Camp Dresser and McKee, Inc. in order to get solid cost estimates for the design recommended by a neighborhood stakeholder group. The tower is the first of six—standing at 170 feet—that will be spread throughout the city to facilitate recycling reclaimed wastewater for irrigation and industrial uses.

The unanimous vote occurred after an angry Council Member Brewster McCracken suggested that Water and Wastewater Utility Director Chris Lippe had misled him on the type of information the Council would be receiving before voting on a design.

The Water and Wastewater Utility had presented four separate designs for the tower, along with preliminary cost estimates. While the utility recommended that the council proceed with more engineering work on an option that would cost about $500,000 more than the standard water tower, the stakeholders group had recommended the most expensive option because of its aesthetic superiority. See the designs:

“I want to note the value of having a neighborhood group not say ‘move it somewhere else’. The neighborhood group is saying it’s okay to have it here, we just want it to look good for four generations,” said Jim Walker with the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition. He urged the Council not to dismiss the neighborhood’s preferred design despite the preliminary estimated price tag of $4.75 million, which is substantially higher than the $2.3 million for a standard tower. “I do want to thank the utility for engaging in a community process that resulted in a preferred solution, the situation now is how to we close the deal on it,” Walker said. “What we need is for there to be a better cost estimate on so we know what actually what the real gap is.”

Lippe acknowledged in his presentation to Council that the utility did place some value on aesthetics. “We’re very pleased with the neighborhood involvement and the involvement of this committee helping us look at something more attractive, something that could be a landmark in the area,” he said. The recommended design, he said, “would look great during the day…and have a unique lighting scheme at night. This is something that you would be able to see at some distance.” But he also concluded that the Utility would also need to take the cost of the project into consideration.

McCracken was dismayed that the utility had brought forth a recommendation without putting out a Request for Proposals for each of the different options. “We apparently have had a miscommunication, because when you came to my office about a month ago, you committed to me that we would actually submit the proposals for hard bids for the designs…including the one that was the preference of the property owners in the area who will be affected by the infrastructure decisions we make,” he said. McCracken called for a real estate appraiser to be involved in the generation of a new set of cost estimates, taking into account the impact on the surrounding property values that an unattractive piece of utility infrastructure could have.

“Industrial infrastructure located right next to where people live affects quality of life and it affects property values,” he said. “So for the life of me I cannot figure out today why I’m getting a surprise…to see that we are not getting a hard bid on the water tower design that will protect property values and quality of life. At a minimum I expect we will get a hard bid on the hundred-year piece of infrastructure smack dab in the middle of these folks’ neighborhoods to know what it really cost, he said.”

The Council voted 7-0 to add $100,000 to the amount originally listed for the extension to the professional services contract with Camp Dresser and McKee so the firm could get solid figures on the cost of the utility’s preferred design and the neighborhood’s preferred design. The goal is to have the Utility present those figures to the Council within 90 days. “I do see this as a precedent, but a precedent in an appropriate way. I think design does matter,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “The ability to create a design legacy with something as utilitarian as a water tower is personally important to me.”

Other Council members warned that the cost of the tower would play a significant role in their final decision. “The $2 million increment is very troubling to me,” said Council Member Jennifer Kim. “I’m going to reserve my judgment until we see that cost estimate. I don’t think the Utility will have to pay for the extra…it’s going to have to come from the general fund. That’s a lot of money in terms of the services our city needs.”

Council OKs mixed-use on 15th Street

With help, developer overcomes neighborhood objections to CBD zoning

On Thursday, the City Council hammered out a compromise between developer Jimmy Nassour and his neighbors on Nassour’s plans to build a multi-story mixed-use building at the corner of 15th and Nueces streets on the edge of downtown Austin.

Nassour, represented by agent Ron Thrower, wants to put a mixed-use 60-foot building that contains office, retail and residential components on the site of what is now a hair salon just across the street from St. Martin’s Lutheran Church. The change in zoning would have been general office (GO) to central business district (CBD), with a long list of uses excluded by the Zoning and Platting Commission, including drive-through uses.

While the church had no objections to the proposal, a heavy-hitter list of neighborhood groups that included the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, Judges Hill Neighborhood Association, Five Rivers Neighborhood Association and University Area Partners expressed a preference for DMU-CURE zoning on the site to enforce compatibility and limit height, although the real issue for the case was height.

Under DMU-CURE zoning, though, the height of Nassour’s building would be limited to 52 feet, although neighbor Richard Hardin pointed out it would still allow increased density. Density was not the issue. This was a group of neighborhoods that had supported the high-density proposal of the University Neighborhood Overlay.

“We support density in this area,” Hardin said. “What we don’t want to see is spot zoning of CBD… When the United Bank Towers went up, it was the only block of CBD surrounded by very few tall buildings. We’re not interested in big vertical boxes.”

The staff recommendation on the zoning was for CBD on a variety of grounds: it fit in with other uses along 15th Street; the site was adjacent to core downtown zoning; the CBD zoning would waive compatibility requirements to permit the encouraged mixed-use structure; and the developer agreed to participate in the Great Streets program.

Thrower, laying out Nassour’s case, said it was impossible to build a full mixed-use project on what was just under 9,000-square-feet of space under the DMU-CURE zoning, especially if parking was included in the structure. And setbacks on the property would have been the same under DMU-CURE or CBD zoning.

Belinda Moore, speaking on behalf of Carl Parker’s law office, also raised concerns that another building with ground-level retail would bring heavy traffic and parking issues to a street already burdened by the Austin Community College’s Rio Grande campus. Parking plans in the building, however, appeared to make that concern moot.

Council Member Brewster McCracken

, with a green light from the neighborhood groups, moved forward with staff recommendation of CBD on the zoning, with the conditions set forth by the Zoning and Platting Commission, if the height of the structure was limited to 60 feet. Council Member Betty Dunkerley offered a friendly amendment to make that height 70 feet, which McCracken accepted.

The zoning was approved unanimously on first reading only. McCracken also asked that the new vertical mixed-use provisions, which borrowed from the UNO overlay, be applied to the property. And the property’s trips were limited to 2,000 per day.

Struss outlines parks facilities' repair needs

Department asking for $55 million for renovations

In its continuing march towards completing the bond package for the November election, the Austin City Council heard a report from the Parks and Recreation Department Thursday on facility renovations.

Warren Struss, PARD director, opened his presentation with a reminder that Austin’s park system has been declared “world class” by several rating organizations, but reminded them that very little money from the past two bond elections has been spent on renovations.

“In the 1992 bond election, we only earmarked $25.7 million, or 15 percent, for parks renovations,” Struss said. “And in 1998, the city only spent 2 percent on renovations. We have some catching up to do.”

The Parks Department is asking for $55 million for facilities renovations this time around. He noted that there are 167 buildings with a total of 1.2 million square feet of property in the parks system. That includes 26 recreation centers, 48 pools and more than 117 miles of trails.

“We prioritize our renovations based on health and safety considerations, federal, state and local regulation, and the facilities,” Struss said. “We also take geographic equity into consideration.”

Of the 21 major recreation facilities, more than half were built before 1980, Struss said, noting that the average life expectancy for a commercial roof and HVAC system is 15 years each. Struss said $25 million of the bond money is being earmarked for improvements for buildings and facilities.

Some of the oldest structures—and needing the most repair—are the city’s swimming pools. Pools, Struss said, are the cornerstone of the city’s park system.

“We have the largest number of municipal swimming pools per capita of any city in the country,” he said. “But many of them are is serious need of repair and renovation. Some of them were built as far back as the 20s, 30s and 40s.”

He said the life expectancy of a pool without a major renovation is 30 years, and several pools are suffering from surface cracks, leaks and corrosion. Some $20 million of bond funds would be used for pool renovations.

The third major area of need is park infrastructure, Struss said. The city’s parks have 117 miles of trails, 155 playscapes, and 181 sport courts

“A survey we took lists trail-related activities and the Number One recreational pastime in the Austin area,” he said. “Many of our trails are crumbling and badly in need of repairs. We are also taking steps to make sure all of our playscapes are brought up to CPSC and ADA standards.”

He said $10 million in bond funds is planned for trail, playscape and sport court renovations.

The PARD numbers brings the Council to the halfway point in deciding the number for the bond election. The subtotal for Infrastructure Projects is at $253.1 million of the proposed $500-$530 million for the total program. The Council will hear a report on plans for New Facilities and the Central Library at its April 20 meeting. There is no Council meeting next week..

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

List nobody wants to join. . . The Texas Ethics Commission recently updated its list of lobbyists who are delinquent in filing reports required by the state agency. The list shows that Water and Wastewater Commission Chair Michael J. Warner did not file a monthly report due on May 10, 2005 or for any month thereafter through January 2006. Warner told In Fact Daily that he is no longer working as a lobbyist and was not aware that his name had been listed as delinquent. He said he stopped lobbying and went back to school but would check on the matter today. The commission chair also said he returned to the University of Texas in September to finish his degree but plans to lobby the Legislature during the 2007 session. To see the entire list of alleged delinquents, click here: . . City group heading for Big Apple . . . Council Members Betty Dunkerley, Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken and City Manager Toby Futrell plan to visit NYC Monday and Tuesday to talk with officials of the three bond rating companies. Dunkerley said they hope to convince the bond companies to raise the rating for Austin Energy bonds . . . Council backs tax cut measure . . . The Council approved a resolution Thursday asking the Legislature for authority to protect homeowners from spiraling property tax appraisal increases. Current law allows homestead tax appraisals to increase by up to 10 percent a year. Initiated by Council Members McCracken, Dunkerley and Leffingwell, the Council is asking state lawmakers for a measure that would allow them to limit increases to as little as 5 percent . . . Task Force . . . The Task Force formulating recommendations on residential regulations is meeting at 1:30pm today in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall. Members will hear reports from several work groups studying various aspects of a possible ordinance, and will decide what to put in an update report to the City Council. . . . Filing due. . . Members of the City Council, department heads and members of certain commissions are required to file a financial statement with the City Clerk’s Office by the end of April . . . Appointments . . . The Council appointed the following yesterday: Mary Lehman to the Urban Forestry Board and Kimberly Buck to the Commission for Women . . . Sierra Club endorsement . . . The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has endorsed Kedron Touvell, who is running for Place 5 on the City Council. Touvell, 29, is a software engineer and student. Touvell is hoping to replace incumbent Brewster McCracken . . . . Candidate forums . . . HousingWorks Action is hosting a City Council candidates' forum at 6pm Friday to learn more about candidates' views on affordable housing. The forum will be held at 2907 Gem Circle, 78704 (turn at El Gallo Restaurant on South Congress). . . The Mueller Neighborhood Association Forum begins at 10am Saturday at the Cornerstone Church, 1101 Reinli St., between IH-35 and Cameron Road. University Democrats and CAD Forum will hold a forum at the Graduate School of Business 2.124 at 2pm Saturday. . . Ozone season is upon us . . . Warmer temperatures in Central Texas signal the beginning of a new ozone season and the Clean Air Force of Central Texas will hold an event on the 2nd floor deck of Austin City Hall Monday to encourage public awareness. Congressman Lamar Smith will be the guest speaker. Other speakers at the press event will be Travis County Judge Samuel T. Biscoe, Chair, Clean Air Force; Austin Mayor Will Wynn; and Captain Danny Knauth, Department of Public Safety. Ozone season runs from April 1 through October 31 when temperatures, and as a result ozone levels, are at their highest . . . Finally . . . New site coming soon . . . In Fact Daily will have a new look in the very near future.

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