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State defends US 290 West plans

Wednesday, May 3, 2006 by

Engineer says elevated toll road is best way to deal with projected growth

Last night, the Texas Department of Transportation’s engineer over the US 290 West project through Oak Hill defended the future toll project as the best way to deal with long-term projected growth in the area, both in Oak Hill and through the Central Texas region.

Supporters of an alternative to the project – a six-lane parkway through Oak Hill – took their plan to a TxDOT open house. Moving from a toll project to a parkway, however, would require a revision to the CAMPO 2030 plan, which can only come from CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board.

Don Nyland, the south area engineer for TxDOT’s Austin region, raised questions about replacing the toll project with a parkway on three counts. First, the road must serve a region far larger than Oak Hill, one that accommodates the growth of communities out to Dripping Springs and beyond to Johnson City. Second, the whole purpose of the elevated tollway through Oak Hill is to separate the traffic that just needs to pass through – to and from Austin – from that local neighborhood traffic the community wants to capture.

"It’s much easier to draw lines on a paper and say that it’s going to work," said Nyland, recalling one conversation with the neighbors that included a discussion of elevating William Cannon over US 290. "I asked, ‘What are you going to do with the transmission line on the north side of the Creek?’ They said, ‘What transmission line?’"

Local community leaders have been opposed to the TxDOT plans, calling them too intense and calling on TxDOT to step back and consider community needs. (See In Fact Daily, April 17, 2006.)

"We’re not trying to destroy the ‘Y,’" Nyland said. "We’re trying to take people off the road so that those who live in the area can get on the frontage road and get to the store and back without the traffic. The people who live in the area should not have to compete with those who are trying to get through the area on their way to somewhere else."

This is not just a roadway to accommodate Oak Hill, Nyland said. This is a $90 million project that accommodates both those who have moved out to the Hill Country – and work in Austin – and those who must use important Austin-based services, like trauma care. Nyland estimates that traffic on the roadway sits at 60,000 to 80,000 vehicles a day, about a third of a major freeway but still more than most major arterials.

And, third, parkways have no frontage roads, Nyland said. The creation of a parkway through would require purchasing most of the businesses along the roadway that remain open in Oak Hill and then shutting down those streets that would connect to the parkway. Parkways, like MoPac, do not have multiple exits and entrances.

"They say that there would be no economic impact, but if we build a parkway we have to take out businesses… Heart of Texas Auto Sales, Jack Brown Cleaners, the strip center, the Shell Station," Nyland said. "You look at something like the historic Pizza Gardens. How do you close off a road and close that business?"

Nyland notes that the elevated tollway would provide more east-west access and less environmental impact on Williamson Creek than a parkway. Additional east-west access over Williamson Creek also has required five years of intense negotiations between TxDOT and the US Army Corps of Engineers, Nyland said.

Nyland added that the kind of east-west connection that Oak Hill residents want is not always as it appears. For instance, Freescale and Motorola occupy a good portion of one side of the roadway through Oak Hill. Crossing over to the other side of the roadway – other than to get a sandwich at Subway– is not a big issue for employees.

TxDOT has made concessions to the community during its design process: moving an entrance to the Scenic Brook subdivision; extending the US 290 frontage road to Scenic Brook and Grenada Hills to allow for an additional turn lane; flattening the profile of the road at the bend; and addressing access issues on Candelaria.

The work on the US 290 West project, which will eventually be operated by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority as a toll road, has not been done in isolation.

"We’ve been working on this project for the past five years, going to neighborhood meetings, showing people what we intend to do and taking comments," Nyland said. "Not everyone has liked what we had to say, but we certainly haven’t sat and done our design work in a box, without input from the community."

Planning Commission: Thumbs down for another NACA bar

Commission recommends in favor of hair salon zoning

Last week, members of the North Austin Civic Association convinced the Planning Commission to reject a request for CS-1 zoning, which would allow sale of alcohol, for a space within the Parkfield Plaza shopping center on Parkfield Drive. A prospective tenant wanted the CS-1 zoning in order to open a neighborhood bar, but nearby residents said that was not the type of establishment they wanted in what they described as the heart of their neighborhood.

"In the last six years we have had our fence driven into at least three times," said Gina Almon. "One time a drunk driver took out our light pole and came into our garden. This was when there was a bar in that location. People would come out into the parking lot and play their radios, and they continue partying outside in the parking lot."

NACA President Linda Moore told the commission that while the group would support a restaurant that sold alcohol, and did not object to an existing liquor store in the shopping center, a bar did not fit the priorities laid out in their neighborhood plan. "I lived near this site when it was a bar, and we had to call the police on several occasions late at night because of noise and drunk driving issues," she said, "so we would not like to repeat that experience."

The owners of the property offered to require an early closing time for the bar of midnight, instead of the 2am cutoff normally imposed by state liquor laws. "Our intent is to serve the neighborhood," said agent Rodney Bennett. "The traffic will be mostly coming from the neighborhood. We don’t feel it would increase traffic very much". Agent Jim Bennett told the Commission that many customers would be able to walk to the establishment from the neighborhood, further minimizing the possibility of intoxicated drivers.

But the Commission was not convinced, and voted to reject the CS-1 zoning request 8-0. "This was part of my bike-to-work route, so I’ve spent hours and hours on Parkfield Drive," said Commissioner Dave Sullivan. "This is an area with many large families, there’s a large immigrant population in this neighborhood. There’s a lot of commercial activity at this node here." Sullivan said the existing GR-NP zoning should allow for a wide variety of uses. "I don’t see the need for CS-1 at this location, and I also see a negative created by it. The need at this location is a family restaurant, coffee shop, ice cream shop, etc."

The Commission looked more favorably on a zoning change request elsewhere within the North Austin Civic Association. The owner of a single-family home at 1101 Kramer Lane wanted permission to convert the building into a hair salon. The property had been re-zoned from SF-3 to NO-NP as part of the neighborhood planning process, but the home’s owner wanted GO-MU-NP to allow him to live in the house and operate his hair salon at the same location.

"What I’m trying to bring to this is a small studio," said owner Luis Muñoz. "It’s just three or four chairs. It’s not going to bring more traffic to that area. It’s going to be very small." Munoz said he had sought advice about the prospect of opening a salon before purchasing the home, and had been assured it would not be a problem.

Some of the most immediate property owners were in support, but the official NACA position was to oppose the zoning change. NACA President Linda Moore pointed to the neighborhood plan, which did not call for GO zoning at that location. The NO uses, she said, would be more compatible with the neighborhood. "There are many locations along Lamar where a hair salon can go in where the zoning is already present," she said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to support a zoning change to GO-MU-CO-NP on the lot. The conditional overlay will limit the GO uses to only personal services, which will allow the hair salon but prohibit most other uses not normally allowed under the NO zoning category.

Questions raised over Prop 1 & 2 signs

Opponents cry foul over wording on SOS-backed PAC’s disclaimer

All the blue and white SOS signs around polling places clearly advise voters to support Propositions 1 and 2 on the May 13 ballot. There is little question that they are political advertising but unlike the numerous other signs touting various candidates, these lack the disclaimer required by the Texas Ethics Commission. Instead they say… "Brought to you by the Clean Water Clean Government PAC."

Tim Sorrells of the Texas Ethics Commission said, "The statue says it has to indicate in the advertising that it’s political advertising….It has to say ‘political advertising’ by…whoever it is."

Campaign finance watchdog Arthur DiBianca believes the wording on the signs is a problem. He notified SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch and representatives of the PAC of his concerns on Monday by email, noting that the PAC web site also lacked the magic words.

The web site’s language was changed on Tuesday. However, changing the wording on all the signs would be much harder and more expensive.

Campaign consultant Glen Maxey wrote the following response: "All Clean Water Clean Government PAC signs and other campaign advertising spell out the name of our political action committee, its address and its campaign treasurer designation. This meets the full intent of the law for identifying the source of political advertising." However, he added, "To remove any doubt about this fine point of the election code, we are adding "Pd. Pol. Adv." designation to all remaining signs and other materials."

DiBianca said, "If I were going to run a campaign saying that other groups need to be more open and follow the rules I would make it my first order of business to follow the rules. They apply one standard to themselves and another standard to everybody else."

Jim Cousar, attorney for a group which opposes the propositions, said, "These people want to tell the City of Austin how to run their complete information system and litigation and economic development and water quality protection—and they can't even comply with the most basic requirements regarding their own organization. Every JP candidate in Texas knows you put ‘political advertising paid for by’ on your signs. Everybody who works in campaigns knows you put the political disclaimer on your signs."

The team of Elliott McFadden and Marcus Sanford make up Ignite Consulting, which was received nearly $6,500 from the PAC for mail and website design consultation. Designer Graphics of Tyler was paid more than $4,600 for signs.

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

Sadly we note the passing of Richard Cilley . . . Cilley, 55, died suddenly on Sunday, leaving behind his wife of 33 years, Barbara, as well as many friends. Cilley was devoted to education, having earned a BA and MA in Classics from the University of Texas. He was employed as a senior historian with Ecological Comm. Corp. Prior to that he was a marketing consultant and a translator. While employed at the architectural firm of Page Southerland Page, Richard translated from English to Arabic drawings for the new airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Many remember his work to secure the ACC South Austin campus which is currently under construction. St. Elias Orthodox Church, 408 E. 11th Street, will hold services for Richard at 7pm tonight. Graveside services will be at 10am Thursday at Assumption Cemetery, 3650 S. I-35. In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations for a scholarship to Austin Community College Foundation, 5930 Middle Fiskville Rd., 78752, or to St. Elias . . . Campaign watch . . . Robert Morrow, who last year attacked runoff City Council candidate Margot Clarke, has chosen Place 6 candidate Sheryl Cole as this year’s target. Even though both Darrell Pierce and Cole support the passage of Proposition 6 to allow domestic partners of city employees to sign up for city health insurance, Morrow portrays Cole alone as "a water girl for the radical homos!" The flyer urges voters to support Pierce but Pierce disavows both Morrow and his sentiments. Pierce notes that one of his supporters is Celia Israel, who is assisting with the Pro-Proposition 6 campaign. Citing the anti-gay rhetoric, the PAC Healthcare for Austin sent an alert to supporters yesterday, urging them to attend a fundraiser tonight. The event is set for El Sol Y La Luna Restaurant 1224 S. Congress from 5:30-7pm . . . Three downs and out, again . . . The political football that the proposed Bouldin Meadows housing development has become got booted up in the air one more time last night, as the Zoning and Platting Commission postponed action on the project until June 6. The project, which is a preliminary subdivision plan, has become a hot potato for the city because of a dispute over its location in what may or may not be a flood plain, depending of who you ask. City staff says the preliminary plan meets all city and state land development code requirements, which normally means that the ZAP must approve it. However, residents from the Galindo and other neighborhood groups have brought a large amount of evidence before both the ZAP and the Environmental Board, which heard the case last week, showing that drainage patterns in the area used for the preliminary plan are inaccurate, and that the area is already flood-prone, even before 56 single family housing units are added. FEMA’s proposed new flood plain map has only muddied the issue. ZAP members met in executive session for about a half-hour last night before voting in open session to continue the case, according to Chair Betty Baker, because Commission Member Joseph Martinez was absent, and Member Keith Jackson was going to be out for the next meeting. Kathryn Kawazoe with the Galindo Neighborhood Association said she was disappointed in yet another delay in the process . . . Why Austin? . . . The big news in town this week is the World Congress on Information Technology, putting Austin in the world spotlight as it hosts the meeting. And who better to tell the story of just how Austin landed this international feather in its cap than its "chief proponent" (according to the news release) Mayor Will Wynn, who just happens to be running for re-election. Look for the big story on tonight’s local news as Hizzoner holds a "Why Austin" media event at 1:30pm this afternoon in the WCIT press room at the Austin Convention Center . . . Meetings . . . The Austin Commission for Women meets at 6:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission meets at 6pm in Room 104 at Waller Creek Plaza . . . NeighborFest . . . The city is planning the 8th Annual NeighborFest, a free event for the public where people can learn about the services offered by the City of Austin and other vendors, including: Reasonably priced housing; home repair services; homebuyer education; public safety; fire safety; and energy and water conservation. Fire extinguishers, door prizes, face painting and children’s activities will be available. The event is planned for 9am Saturday at Widen Elementary, 5605 Nuckols Crossing . . . Early voting for May 13 . . . Early voting for the May 13 City Election has drawn a fair amount of ballots during its first two days. According to the Travis County Elections Division, 3,699 ballots were cast by end of business on Tuesday. We’re not sure if the election issues or double coupons brought them in, but the leading location was the Randalls in West Lake Hills with 414 votes cast, twice as many as any other location. Early voting continues through May 9. In addition to the items on the Austin ballot, nearby Rollingwood has a hot mayoral race, no doubt accounting for a good number of Randall’s voters . . . A different point of view . . . Mike Clark-Madison, a member of the city’s Bond Election Advisory Commission, takes issue with the city staff’s lumping of a couple of bond projects under the heading of "citizen initiated." (See In Fact Daily, May 1, 2006) Clark wrote to In Fact Daily: "The Asian-American Resource Center and Austin Studios were not part of the BEAC recommendation to Council. They're apparently being added back in, at the request of Council members. Every presentation we heard on the AARC asked for $5 million. The $8 million is a new number here. The skate park and BMX park were already in the PARD staff recommendation, so while there was certainly a lot of citizen support for them, they're not exactly citizen initiatives." Clark-Madison said the city’s bond package "is clearly different from what we (the BEAC) recommended."

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