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Council OKs Dessau Road zoning despite objections

Friday, May 19, 2006 by

Over the continued objection of several area residents and the neighborhood association, the Austin City Council has approved zoning changes on two tracts of land on Dessau Road to be developed for neighborhood services.

Area residents say the location, 11000 and 11801 Dessau Road sitting north and south of Shropshire Lane off a long banked curve, is already a dangerous intersection, and the addition of commercial traffic will only make it worse. They are also concerned about flooding—since the project would be built on the edge of Walnut Creek—and its effect on a neighborhood park.

Ron Thrower, agent for the landowner, said the traffic problems in the area were a product of a speed limit set too high (50 mph), and traffic medians along that stretch of road that often forced vehicles into a u-turn in order to travel in a particular direction. Those problems could be resolved by utilizing better traffic controls in the area.

"This is an opportunity for a development in a neighborhood area without impacting the neighborhoods," he said. "Because of the location, we can provide these needed services to the neighborhood without disturbing traffic in the neighborhood."

Mike Reuss, who lives on Rotherham Drive behind one of the parcels, said because of the location, the businesses would be difficult to access from the neighborhood it purports to serve.

"We are concerned about how it will affect the neighborhood and the creek, including 52 acres of city property we have been developing as a neighborhood park," he said. "The way it is being developed is dangerous and there is just no need for retail in that area."

Lester Johnson with the Northeast Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association is concerned that, little-by-little, new construction is raising the threat of flooding in the area.

"A lot of small projects, taken together, equals flooding," he said. "We are asking you to consider the amount of impervious cover you allow near the creek."

Janet Klotz with the North Grown Corridor Alliance said the geography of the area made it dangerous for traffic to enter and exit the properties.

"The dangers and risks associated with this development are recognizable," she said. "The north tract slopes away from the road, so that traffic coming out the area would be force to make an almost blind turn into traffic. The speed limit along that stretch is 50 mph, and traffic on it runs more like a highway than a neighborhood arterial. We ask that you approve the least intense commercial zoning possible."

Council Members did express concerns about traffic in the area, but were not swayed by the arguments that it could not be altered to make it safer for commercial traffic.

Council Member Lee Leffingwell moved to approve the first of the two parcels with LR zoning, and Betty Dunkerly moved to approve the second, both with overlays to limit more intense types of retail and to control traffic flow, with trip limits to be determined at the time of the site plan.

The zoning was approved on a 4-1 with Council Member Raul Alvarez opposing, Council Member Jennifer Kim absent and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas off the dais.

New wrecker regs approved on first reading

Small operators claim new rules will penalize them

The Austin City Council Thursday gave approval on first reading to a new ordinance regulating tow trucks, raising the fees that drivers can charge for non-consent tows but also taking steps designed to get more wrecker companies to participate in the city's Rush Hour Rotation program to clear wrecks from major freeways within 10 minutes.

One part of the new ordinance, championed by Council Member Brewster McCracken, will require wrecker companies that sign up for APD's non-consent tow list to also sign up for the Rush Hour Rotation program. Wrecker drivers pointed to this facet as their biggest objection to the new ordinance. Smaller companies, they said, could not afford to have their trucks sitting idle along I-35 or US 183 or only handle free tows to remove cars from the roadway to a safe area. "I can't afford to sit…or have some of my guys sit there…and have my other customers penalized because I can't get to them," said Reid Courtney of Finger Towing. The Rush Hour Rotation program, he said, did not need to be made mandatory. "It's voluntary now, and it's working. We’ve been doing it for five years. Work with us."

McCracken said the city was not making participation in the Rush Hour Rotation program mandatory for all towing companies. Companies could choose not to participate, he said, but then they would be kicked off of the list of wreckers called by APD for other police-initiated towing situations. "What we're just asking is to do what Dallas already does, which is to say if you want to be part of our rotation list, and get the enormous financial benefits of being on this taxpayer-controlled rotation list, that you've got to give something back," he said.

Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza confirmed that many companies relied on those routine non-consent tows authorized by APD as a major source of their business. "Based on the information we've reviewed, there's actually a tremendous value of being on the rotation list. In many cases 50 to 80 percent of someone's income comes from being on the non-consent rotation list," he said. "Being on the list is very beneficial."

It was that heavy dependence on the business generated by the regular rotation list, the wrecker drivers said, which made the participation in the Rush Hour Rotation program more mandatory than voluntary. "Y'all say we are not getting forced to do this," said Les Juliano of Assured Towing. "Well…a majority of all these companies are small companies. They need this rotation. You're making them do Rush Hour Rotation to do it. They only have two trucks. They honestly can't afford it. You're going to shut down a lot of companies by doing this."

The new ordinance does include a provision for companies with less than four wreckers to skip every other turn they are assigned in the Rush Hour Rotation program. The Council also made some other changes to the proposal on the dais, increasing the proposed standard towing fee from $130 to $150 and the fee for heavy-duty wreckers used to clear 18-wheelers from $600 to $800. The measure passed on first reading only, giving Council Members the opportunity to address other concerns between second and third reading. Wrecker drivers are also concerned about a provision directing them to accept credit cards and a provision restricting the ability of people with certain criminal convictions to act as wrecker drivers.

Principles of Props 1 and 2 may live on in ordinances

Beaten but not defeated

Ordinances proposed by Council Member Lee Leffingwell as alternatives to the failed "Clean Water" and "Open Government" charter amendments will go through several boards and commissions this summer before making their way to Council for review. Leffingwell said at Thursday’s Council meeting that he was continuing to sponsor the measures, although there was no set time frame for bringing them to the full Council for approval.

"We’re going to move on both of these things deliberately and get as much citizen participation and comment as possible," he said. "We’re going to take whatever time it needs to do it right." Critics of Propositions 1 and 2 had blasted the measures as being drafted in secret by a small number of individuals.

Leffingwell has already introduced an ordinance designed to steer development away from the Barton Springs zone, and says he is still drafting a measure that would provide easier access to public information over the Internet.

The city code changes based on some of the ideas in Proposition 2, the "Clean Water" amendment, have already been presented to the Environmental Board and the Planning Commission. The Environmental Board has appointed a subcommittee to study the ordinance, and the Planning Commission has postponed action until that subcommittee report is out. It was scheduled to report this past week, but postponed due to scheduling problems.

The ordinance being crafted as an alternative to Proposition 1, the "Open Government" amendment, will likely go before the Ethics Review Commission and the City Council’s Emerging Technologies Subcommittee. "I can see several different places this one would go, in addition to having public hearings in general for folks to speak to it," Leffingwell said. "We’ll also be putting these up on a web page so people can comment on the drafts as they move through the process."

Colin Clark of the SOS Alliance was at Thursday’s Council meeting to urge members not to interpret the overwhelming defeat of the two charter amendments as a sign that the community also rejected the goals of preserving water quality and making government more accessible.

"There was a message from even the opposition that protecting Barton Springs was important, and Proposition 2 was determined not to be the way to do it," he said. He also requested the Council to stick with the recommendations of the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee on funding in the upcoming November bond package for buying open space and for affordable housing. "It seems like the committee recommendation was tossed back to staff, and viola’, we have new numbers," he said. "It looks like staff is arbitrarily pulling these numbers out.

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

Controversial case postponed. . . At the request of the applicants, the City Council Thursday postponed a hearing on a zoning change that would allow for a 12-story condominium project near the Arboretum. The matter was rescheduled for June 8 . Amelia Lopez-Phelps, the agent for the owners, said the neighborhood had agreed to postpone the case and that she hoped to meet with them on the matter before it comes back for Council consideration . . . Not registered to lobby . . . Lopez-Phelps has appeared before the Council and the land use commissions on numerous occasions on behalf of various developers. She also discusses the cases privately with Council members, their staffs and members of the commissions. It’s those private conversations that constitute "lobbying" under the city’s lobby regulations. The regulations require most folks who talk to the Council for pay to register as lobbyists. There are explicit exceptions, for example, for developers and their employees and property owners speaking on their own behalf. Lopez-Phelps has not registered as a lobbyist, paid the $300 fee, and disclosed the names of her clients. Neither have former Mayor Gus Garcia and former Council Member John Treviño, who have been assisting Lopez-Phelps in explaining the project to Council members and their aides. In Fact Daily asked her Thursday why she had not registered. Lopez-Phelps said she felt that she did not need to register but could not explain why. On Wednesday, Garcia said he believed he did not need to register either but his only explanation was that he was "not working for the developer." . . . Appointments . . . Council Member Lee Leffingwell appointed former Texas House District 48 candidate Andy Brown to the Ethics Review Commission . . . Ralph Weston was reappointed by Mayor Will Wynn to the Electric Utility Commission, and Andrew Donoho was reappointed by Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas to the Resource Management Commission . . . We kinda see the resemblance . . .The Champion sisters, accompanied by Attorney Michael Whellan, were on hand last night to hear attorney Richard Suttle's presentation about his Davenport Village-like retail development on FM 2222. Suttle even noted, in his presentation, that he represented Champion Partners, which had raised plenty of questions from residents whether or not he represented the Champion sisters. The answer was "no." Asked whether he was there to view Suttle’s case, Whellan said no, he was there on another item, but he added that he wanted the Whispers to include his statement, "Suttle is Yoda." Suttle’s project passed on first reading, despite objections from 2222 CONA . . . See cool houses Sunday . . . The Texas Solar Energy Society and the Austin Energy Green Building Program are hosting this year’s Cool House Tour on Sunday. You will see homes ranging from the affordable to high-end luxury, featuring: Solar electric (PV), climate responsive design, Green building materials and concepts, water saving landscapes and rainwater collection systems. For more information, visit the web site: http://txses.org/coolhousetour/coolhouse_2006_brochure.html. . . Memorial Day Flood remembered . . . Saturday is the 25th anniversary of the 1981 Memorial Day Flood. The City of Austin is holding an event where Memorial Day Flood survivors and rescuers can tell their stories. City representatives will explain how this flood in 1981, and a second one in June, spurred Austin to make major advancements in emergency services and flood safety at 10:30am Saturday at Red Bud Isle, 3401 Red Bud Trail Unit Circle.

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