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Council amends Canyon Ridge PUD agreement

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 by

Attorney Richard Suttle managed to win first reading approval from the City Council on a laundry list of amendments to the Canyon Ridge Planning Unit Development on FM 2222 last week—a mighty feat given that he faced firm opposition from 2222 CONA to any plan amendments.

Suttle asked for more than a dozen amendments to the PUD, which was negotiated between the neighborhood and the Baird family back in 1991. The fact that Suttle wanted variances from some of the Hill Country Roadway requirements and water quality ponds raised the neighbors’ hackles. The possible inclusion of fast food was the coup de gras.

In his corner, Suttle managed to have positive recommendations from both the Environmental Board and the Zoning and Platting Commission. In his closing speech, he told Council that his client was simply tired of negotiating with the neighborhood. After eight months – and a changing list of concerns – his client was ready to take it to Council to get some final determination on the issues at hand.

A well-organized group of neighbors divided the list of concerns about the amendments, noting that the chief concern was the fast food drive-thru issue, but that they would support no amendments if more negotiations did not take place. Suttle argued his variance was for drive-thru lanes of one coffee shop. Neighbors said the language of the amendment appeared to give Suttle unlimited carte blanche on drive-thru fast food.

Attorney Brad Rockwel noted that the variances that Suttle requested did not rise to the level of necessity that was noted under the code. Exemptions from the Hill Country Scenic Roadway ordinance set a higher bar than a simple inconvenience to the developer, Rockwell said. A developer, in such a situation must demonstrate the fact the project could not be completed any other way, he said.(See Whispers.)

Neighbors also noted the hard toiling – a year of negotiation – over the original PUD, as well as the outdated traffic impact analysis, clustered restaurant design and the fact this development, they said, did not look anything like Davenport Village, as promised. They pictured retail space with more of a Second Street restaurant row than fast-food alley.

For his part, Suttle said fast food was not prohibited – he simply wanted a drive-thru lane, that a number of neighbors already had endorsed the plan and that there were no plans for outdoor music, as some of the neighbors feared. And he noted that variances and exemptions were anticipated when the original PUD was filed back in 1991.

Members of the city staff, the Environmental Board and the ZAP approved the variances, with additional recommendations. Staff wanted a one-story on-site garage, wider sidewalks, screened driveways and a vegetative buffer off FM 2222. ZAP limited the drive-thrus to a single one. And the Environmental Board asked for an on-site kiosk to discuss the importance of the nearby Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

Council added additional conditions and directions to staff. Council Member Brewster McCracken wanted the property pattern to more closely follow the grid pattern recommended by the FM 2222 study. He also wanted to look at the placement of the garage. New language will be drafted, and considered, on the fast-food issue within the PUD. Council Member Lee Leffingwell noted some concern about whether the pavers and wider sidewalks added to impervious cover, but McCracken said sidewalks are not part of the cover calculation.

HLC says 2 buildings should be called historic

The Historic Landmark Commission deemed two structures – one well-known and well-preserved and the other less well-known but associated with significant East Austin educators – as being worthy of historic designation at last night’s meeting.

Both projects were brought to the commission for historic designation and both won recommendations on a unanimous vote with no opposition. The Norwood Towers, the city’s earliest downtown skyscraper, was one applicant. The home of E.F. and Clara Dennis on East 12th Street was the other.

The Norwood Tower, which will be featured on an upcoming segment of Downtown on KRLU, is owned by LBJ Holding Company. Owners Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin, with the assistance of Phoebe Allen, presented a meticulous 32-page history of the 16-story Gothic revival tower that debuted just as the stock market crashed in 1929.

On a street of one-, two- and three-story buildings, the Norwood Tower was ambitious, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said. The only other large buildings on Congress Avenue other than the Capitol were the Littlefield Tower and the Scarborough Building. The building was the original home of the Austin Club, KNOW Radio, the early Brown & Root and the law offices of former Governor Dan Moody.

The Norwood Tower, cast concrete on a steel frame, was the city’s first major office building for doctors and lawyers, Sadowsky said. The building – called the "frozen music" building by Lady Bird Johnson – is known for its Gothic arches, finials, quatrefoil tracery and adornment such as gargoyles and a clock façade.

Johnson and Turpin, who bought the building from Carr America Realty in 1997, moved into the top-floor suite two years ago. Johnson told Downtown that it was impossible to support downtown living while living in the suburbs.

The E.F. and Clara Dennis House, in somewhat poor condition on East 12th Street, is two-story four-square house built in 1908 and owned by the Dennises for more than 40 years. Both taught at Tillotson College. E.F. Dennis also served as principal of Olive Street School and Anderson High School during the years of segregation.

Architect Donna Carter, who made the presentation to commission, said that she discovered two years ago, in the process of rehabilitating the structure for use as a local education center, that the materials inside the home were in surprisingly good condition. The two-story staircase is intact. The varnish is still in its original condition. The first layer of wood in the roof is still in its original condition.

The owners still are seeking funds to rehabilitate the building. Construction could start as early as next year, if all goes well. Carter re-emphasized a point that Sadowsky made – the importance of educators in Austin’s African-American community – and noted that a full review of buildings in the area would certainly show relevance of many buildings in the area to education in the community.

The Historic Landmark Commission approved both projects, enthusiastically, for historic designation. The Downtown program with the Norwood segment will run on KLRU (PBS, Ch. 18) on June 1.

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

New lobbyist registrations . . . Last week, In Fact Daily reported that former Mayor Gus Garcia and former Council Member John Treviño were assisting Amelia Lopez-Phelps in explaining the need for a zoning change to Council members and/or their aides. On Friday, Lopez-Phelps did turn in the appropriate forms and pay her registration fee, so she is now registered. She listed her own company and SDN, Inc. as her employers . . . Glasco joins lobby . . . Former director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department Alice Glasco, has also paid the fee and filed documents as a lobbyist. Glasco’s client list includes the Austin Children’s Shelter, CLB Partners, CRSA Development, Schlosser Development/Whole Foods Market, Walters Southwest and John Wooley . . . Surprise entry . . . Brad Rockwell, who worked as an attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance for several years, has registered as a lobbyist for the 2222 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. He spoke on their behalf at last week’s Council meeting . . . McMansion ordinance slows down . . . After an extended discussion of points such as massing and height, among other issues, the Design Commission decided to take more time to review the ordinance changes proposed by the Residential Regulations Task Force, otherwise known as the McMansions ordinance. Tina Bui of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning said the Council recommendation would be delayed from this week until June 8. The Planning Commission presentation also will be delayed until June 6. It appears the task force also is wrestling with the issue of boundaries on the ordinance. Once intended to apply to all subdivisions before 1974, the scope of application may now apply to boundaries within the city, such as the area south of US 183 and north of Ben White Boulevard and such. The final meeting for two members of the current Council is June 8 . . . A number of workshops are scheduled on the McMansions ordinance over the next couple of weeks. One, for task force members, is set for 3pm to 5pm on Tuesday. Another, for stakeholders, is scheduled for Wednesday, from 9am to 11am. A "real life" application session is set for June 9. For more information, call George Adams at 974-2146 . . . Design panel expresses concern . . . The Design Commission tabled a vote on a recommendation on the UT Meeting and Conference Center at last night’s meeting. Commissioner Juan Cotera said the subcommittee had yet to finish its work on the recommendations. The commission also reviewed a letter on the Fifth and Congress high-rise, which included "several deep concerns" regarding the sky-bridge between the building and the parking garage, the request for an alley closure, the placement of the garage at a corner (creating dead space) and a need for reassurance the developer will comply with the Great Streets plan . . . Weekend activities . . . Many people, including most City of Austin employees will have a three-day holiday this weekend. On Sunday, the Alliance for Better Living, which provides re-entry assistance for recently released incarcerated persons, will hold a "Better Living Bash". Proceeds will help build ABL's ReEntry Resource Center. Food, fun, and great music are promised at Threadgill's World Headquarters at Barton Springs and Riverside Drive from 4-9pm on Sunday. For more information or to reserve tickets, please email your name and the number in your party to Mikail Davenport ( and you can pay at the door. Or you can call Ginny Ballard at the ABL office, 506-9005 . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Austin City Council meets in a special called session to canvass the results of the May 13 election at 10am in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 6:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am at the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive . . . New McCracken Aide . . . Karen Gross in Brewster McCracken’s office is departing for law school and Austin Chronicle reporter Rachel Proctor May is taking her place. May begins learning her role at this Thursday’s Council meeting . . . Symphony season-ender . . . Austin audiences will continue to "Experience the Excellence" of the Austin Symphony's 95th concert season this Friday and Saturday when Maestro Peter Bay and the ASO close the Classical Concert season with an evening of heroic works. Pianist Diane Walsh joins the ASO for a night featuring works by Beethoven, Bartók and Strauss. Charge tickets online at Tickets are also available at the Austin Symphony Box Office, 11th and Red River or call 476-6064 or 1-888-4-MAESTRO.

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