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McMansion ordinance debuts tonight

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 by

Task force draft set for Planning Commission hearing

A report on the draft version of the "McMansion" ordinance being written by the Residential Regulations Task Force–the result of several months of work—debuts tonight at a special called meeting of the Planning Commission.

The task force was appointed in February when the Council voted to place a moratorium on development of new homes in central city neighborhoods because of complaints that many of the new structures were outsized, dwarfing the homes of their neighbors.

Austin Neighborhoods Council President Laura Morrison, a member of the task force who will be making the presentation, says the panel has worked hard and made major strides in recent days to completing its task.

"We’ve all been working hard to find a solution with as much support on the task force as we could get," she said. "On Friday, we did reach agreement with everyone except one person in the area of regulations, the setback envelope, FARs, impervious cover and so forth. It will be included in our recommendation to the Planning Commission."The task force will recommend policy changes to the City Council on the bulk, mass and scale of structures, including setbacks, planes and FARs; drainage, impervious cover and building coverage; occupancy limits, including a possible grandfather clause; regulations on height, size and grade; demolition, including the permitting process and penalties for violations; code enforcement, including higher staffing levels and increased penalties; and the permit application process.

Morrison briefed the Design Commission last Monday on the task force’s progress, but told In Fact Daily Monday that the panel has agreed upon several more aspects of the report for tonight’s meeting.

The panel was structured to have 16 members—eight from the development community and eight from Austin’s neighborhoods. Morrison said the group first agreed on a set of goals that included preserving the character of the city’s older neighborhoods by making sure new construction is compatible in scale with existing structures, and not increasing existing levels of storm water runoff. The panel also sought to balance the needs of residents, property owners and investors.

Morrison also said the panel also committed to look at the effects of single family and duplex occupancy regulations on neighborhood character, and make recommendations. She said the task force could make recommendations in some other areas, as well.

"Working from what we presented to the Design Commission, we were able to work in a few adjustments that those who already supported what we had in place were still comfortable with," Morrison said, "We were also able to bring some of the other folks on board in terms of supporting it, and now we have near unanimous support for the report."

Morrison said she expects to get some constructive feedback from Planning Commissioners on the elements of the report, and that the task force would take them into consideration.

"But on the other hand, it is a very carefully crafted compromise that we have come to, so we need to be very careful about adjusting it to make sure that we don’t lose some of the support we have worked to gain," she said.

The Planning Commission's Special Called meeting is scheduled for 6:30pm in Room 130 at the Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Rd. Parking will be available in the parking garage behind the building. City staff said they are expecting a large crowd.

The task force’s final report is scheduled to go the City Council on May 25, but city staff tells In Fact Daily it could be June 8 before the final report is presented.

Rules for KBDJ hearing outlined

It only took a three-hour hearing back in January for the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) Board to deny KBDJ Partners a permit to drill a water well to supply its controversial rock crushing plan near Buda.

However, now that KBDJ has filed for a rehearing, the second time around will take longer—much longer. Last night, the BSEACD Board discussed and approved a timetable for the rehearing process that could take up to three months to complete.

In January, both sides in the case— KBDJ and Neighbors Organized to Protect the Earth (NOPE), presented their case, public input was allowed, the board then deliberated and made its decision. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 16, 2006) However, KBDJ protested over several aspects of the process.

Board President Bob Larsen said this time around, the agency wants to make sure things are handled strictly by the book.

"The process may seem a bit formal, but after conferring with all the parties and our attorney, we want to make sure everything is done according to the district’s bylaws," he said.

About three years ago, KBDJ began operating a rock-crusher on FM 967 in Buda. The area is located directly over the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer, and is considered a pollution threat to the groundwater. Local residents also complained about the dust, noise and traffic problems caused by the operation, and formed NOPE in opposition to the operation.

According to a two page summary of the procedures, agreed upon by attorneys for the applicant, KBDJ, the complaining party, NOPE, and the district, the hearing process will begin on May 25, and could end as late as August 29. The summary lays out procedures for submitting both oral and written testimony, taking depositions, rebuttals and cross-examinations. Discovery will be done according to Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to the summary, much of the testimony in the rehearing will be submitted in written form, beginning on May 25. On that date, a short hearing is planned to open the proceedings and allow the parties to begin depositions, but "no substantive testimony will be heard" at that meeting.

Several more deadlines are listed: on June 9, parties must provide certain disclosures; on July 7, KBDJ files direct testimony and exhibits; on August 4 NOPE and district staff file direct testimony and exhibits; and August 21 is the last day for depositions.

The actual hearing on the merits of the case will be on August 26, a Saturday, and is scheduled to last from 8:30am to 5pm. If necessary, the hearing will be continued at 6pm on August 29, after which the board will deliberate and render a decision to take a selected action or not to take any action.

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

Nothing keeps her down . . . Deputy City Manager Joe Canales said Monday that his boss was calling him every five minutes. Normally, City Manager Toby Futrell would be too busy to call Canales so often, but since she was recovering from an emergency appendectomy, evidently she did . . . Costello claiming victory in West Lake Hills . . . Sal Costello of the Austin Toll Party put out a press release Monday claiming victory in the defeat of West Lake Hills Mayor Dwight Thompson, Vice Chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). Like Pct. 2 County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, who lost her seat in part because of the anti-toll sentiment, Thompson won the eternal enmity of Costello and company by voting for the CAMPO toll road plan. Costello boasts that his group’s efforts made the difference in the race. Newcomer Mark Urdahl won the race with 603 votes (55 percent) compared to Thompson’s 495, with about two-thirds of voters casting ballots prior to Election Day. The latter fact is significant because the toll party claims "The election night results show we impressively moved the race by 15 points in less than 2 weeks" . . . In Austin, incumbent Council Member Brewster McCracken easily beat three opponents, including one whose only issue was opposition to toll roads. Mark Hopkins came in second with less than 14 percent of the vote. However, he did beat Kedron Touvell, who had the toll party endorsement. Touvell, who is already planning another run, got less than 9 percent . . . Meetings . . . The Council Audit and Finance Committee meets at 10:30am in Council Chambers . . . The Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee meets at 3:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall. It will hear a report on City of Austin and private efforts to provide rent and utility assistance to low-income residents, particularly those who came to the city as a result of hurricane evacuations . . . The Airport Advisory Commission will meet at 5pm at 2716 Spirit of Texas Drive, Room 160 at ABIA. Members of the Texas Aviation Association expect to address the panel on the hazards of birds attracted to nearby landfills . . . Walk with the Sheriff . . . Sheriff Greg Hamilton, along with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Austin, are planning a "Walk with the Sheriff" at Palm Elementary this week. Sheriff Hamilton will be walking with be Palm Elementary students who are currently waiting to be paired with a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and students who are already participants in the BBBS program. A Youth of Promise Grant was recently awarded to BBBS of Central Texas to specifically provide mentoring services to children located in the 78744 zip code of Austin. Through a partnership with Palm Elementary, BBBS of Central Texas will pair children with mentors through their community-based program. The event is set for 1:30pm Thursday on the school track at Palm Elementary, 7601 Dixie Drive . . . STAR Flight celebrates . . . Professionals from the STAR Flight helicopter program, noting more than 20 years in the community, will celebrate EMS Week 2006 with an Open House at the Travis County STAR Flight Hangar facility on Wednesday. Since its first day of operation in 1985, STAR Flight has logged almost 14,000 flight hours; recorded more than 68,000 take-offs and landings; traveled over 1,300,000 miles; and transported nearly 19,000 patients. The STAR Flight Open House is planned from 5 – 8pm Wednesday at the STAR Flight Hangar, 7800 Old Manor Rd. . . . Williamson official dies . . . The Williamson County and Cities Health District (WCCHD) on Monday announced the death of Board member Scott D. Evans. Evans served as one of the Williamson County representatives to the WCCHD Board of Health for more than eight years. He was the first Chair of the Board of Health when the public health department was re-organized as a public health district in 1990, and served as chair from January 1990- January 1993. WCCHD offices will close at noon today to honor Evans and allow staff to attend services.

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