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Council to hear McMansion proposal today

Thursday, June 8, 2006 by

After three months of long meetings and seemingly endless negotiation and compromise, the members of the Single-Family Regulations Task Force—a.k.a. the McMansions Ordinance Task Force—will present its report to City Council today. Given that there are still some issues to be resolved, it remains to be seen whether today’s version will be a final report.

Tuesday night task force members presented their recommendations to the Planning Commission, who after listening to several hours of public comment, recommended a number of changes in the final report. Noting that there were still several issues yet to be resolved, the commission also voted to ask the Council to give the Task Force more time to complete its work. (However, one Council aide had heard a plea on Wednesday from a task force member that the group not be forced to keep meeting.)

At Tuesday’s Special Planning Commission meeting, which continued through the early hours of Wednesday morning, members heard from Austin Neighborhoods Council Chair Laura Morrison and other task force members on changes made in the recommendations since a previous meeting on May 23.

In the report, major features of the proposed standards include a maximum of the greater of 0.4 FAR (floor-to-area-ratio) or 2,300 square feet; the use of a setback plane or building envelope, created by measuring up 15 feet from the side and rear property lines and extending inwards at 45 degrees; a maximum height limitation of 32 feet; and the creation of a Design Review Commission, which could grant applicants an increase of up to 25 percent on square footage, protrusions through setback planes, height of building envelope at side and rear lot lines, and wall articulation.

The panel also recommended boundaries for the application of the ordinance, to include neighborhoods bounded by US 183 on the north and east, Ben White Boulevard on the South, and MoPac/Lake Austin on the west. Morrison said the Task Force decided to recommend that all neighborhoods in the area be subject to the ordinance, rather than setting up a patchwork of areas.

While members of the task force said they had reached agreement on most elements of the recommendation, there were clearly some members who had not signed off on the final product.

Noah Kennedy said the standards were unfair as they applied to duplexes, commenting that it seemed that the recommendations were biased towards single family homes, and would make it very difficult to develop duplexes within the defined area.

Planning Commission members made several recommendations for the ordinance, including:

• A FAR of 0.4 for single-family structures and a FAR of 0.5 for duplexes and garage apartments.

• Use of the building envelope as proposed by the task force;

• The proposed single-family residential design review commission be comprised entirely of licensed design professionals and that this commission act within 30 days of an applicant’s request;

• Direct city staff to prepare an inventory of possible corridors and tracts that could be suitable for more dense, future development within the urban zones of neighborhoods;

• Revisit the ordinance in 6 months to determine unintended consequences; this includes Planning Commission review; and

• A recommendation that affordability be added as a list of concerns for the SF residential design review commission

The Planning Commission approved the recommendations on a 6-2 vote with Commissioners Mandy Dealey and Matthew Moore voting "no."

Task force members were schedule to meet Wednesday morning to complete a final report and proposed ordinance for the Council to consider. The Council has scheduled a public hearing and possible action for 6pm today.

Yet another delay in Bouldin Meadows case

The Zoning and Platting Commission postponed consideration of the preliminary site plan for the controversial Bouldin Meadows subdivision on Tuesday, calling for more information from the neighborhood on their calculations on how the planned 56-home subdivision would affect the flood plain.

The Galindo Elementary Neighborhood Association has contended that the new homes would adversely affect the surrounding neighborhood, funneling runoff into existing homes. The neighborhood submitted a letter from Sergio Lozano-Sanchez, an engineer with LOC Consultants, supporting their claims.

"If the developer is allowed as currently planned to channelize the flow of this drainage through this proposed subdivision, it will increase the velocity and energy of the water entering the main channel of west Bouldin Creek," Lozano-Sanchez wrote. "This is likely to alter downstream patterns of flooding in a fully developed watershed such as this. In my opinion, this will adversely impact existing homes."

The developer and the city both contend that the site is not large enough to officially qualify as a flood plain. The developer’s position is that the project should be allowed under the city’s regulations, and the city staff has recommended approval of the preliminary plan.

Lozano-Sanchez was not able to attend the beginning of the ZAP meeting on Tuesday evening, so the commission went into executive session for a briefing on the case while waiting for him to arrive. But when it became apparent he would not be available until later in the evening, the commission re-convened in open session to unanimously vote to postpone the case until June 20.

Commission Chair Betty Baker specifically requested additional details on the engineering data complied by the neighborhood and Lozano-Sanchez. "We have every intention of hearing this case on June 20th," she said.

Commissioners get update on road projects

Five-year window not ideal for public-private partnerships

Travis County voters approved seven public-private road project partnerships on the county’s bond election ballot last year, but results vary by project as to how well each is going.

Executive Manager Joe Gieselman and Public Works Director Steve Manilla updated commissioners’ court this week on the progress of each project. All told, county voters agreed to put $29.6 million toward the projects. Because the projects were expected to be an even split between the county and developers, the goal was approximately $60 million in mobility improvements for the $30 million the county put on the table.

The problem the county now faces is not too little activity on the projects, but too much. Developers are eager to get the projects underway as soon as possible, but the county’s funding of those projects is staggered over a five-year period. Commissioners, who have seen the price of a number of bond projects increase in recent months, also are eager to see dirt turned as quickly as possible on the road extensions and improvements.

Here is the status report on Tier I projects as presented to the court by Gieselman and Manilla:

Decker Lake Road between FM 973 and SH 130 – A change in ownership on the property may require a plan amendment, but the new owner also is committed to the road project. The new owner has requested an alignment change. Manilla said that adjustment would be considered, as long as it doesn’t add to the project’s costs. County officials say the cost of the project is too high to extend it past SH 130.

Howard Lane from Harris Branch to east of SH 130 – The private partner has declined to participate financially in the project – a reversal of prior negotiations – saying that right-of-way dedication should be enough. The partner has until the end of this year to either change his mind or the county will move on to a second-tier project, which is allowed under the terms of the bond election.

Braker Lane from US 290 to Parmer Lane and Parmer Lane from US 290 to Braker Lane– In both cases, the projects are moving swiftly, with the private partner offering to take the lead on engineering and construction. The county is waiting for confirmation from the city to fund one-third of each project’s costs.

Slaughter Lane from Bluff Springs Road to McKinney Falls Parkway – The private partner would like to take the lead on this project, too. The project may have to be scaled back, given a limitation on funding. The county also has approached the city to share in the cost, since a small portion of the project actually falls within the city limits.

Wells Branch Parkway from Boulder Ridge to Cameron Road – In this case, the developer would like to change the scope of the project. The private partner would put in the same amount of money, but would prefer a two-lane (rather than four-lane) road across his property, then an extension out from Cameron Road to Interstate 35. This is permissible under the bond terms and the county thinks it meets a higher safety standard.

Pecan Street from Pflugerville City Limits to SH 130 – The private partner has negotiated with the City of Pflugerville to pick up the partner’s share of the project costs. This is permissible under the bond agreement. The private partner’s commitment is now limited to the donation of the right-of-way within his control.

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

Joining the team . . . Christopher Attal, who works for Martin & Salinas Public Affairs, has added his name to the list of folks lobbying the city on behalf of Sustainable Water Resources (SWR). SWR is the consortium lead by Pete Winstead which plans to supply water to the SH 130 corridor from the Carrizo Wilcox Aquifer. Attal also registered to lobby for Constellation Property Group, which is seeking to build a condominium project on Town Lake at I-35. The zoning request for the project is one of several that will likely be postponed today because of the City Council’s extremely crowded agenda . . . No jake brake zones for Austin . . . First, In Fact Daily had to ask what is a jake brake? If you are not the driver of a large diesel rig, you may never have heard the term. According to word-detective.com, this is a shorthand term for " Jacobs Engine Brakes, manufactured by the Jacobs Vehicle Systems Company in Connecticut." The special devices, used on tractor trailer rigs, slow down such large rigs by converting engine power into brake power. This system is particularly used when a trucker is carrying a heavy load downhill. The problem, according to Council Member Lee Leffingwell, is that the folks who live close to Airport Boulevard are being disturbed by the noise created by jake braking. According to the word detective, "Jake brakes make a distinctive staccato racket when in use (although the Jacobs folks say they don't if they're used properly)." http://www.word-detective.com/100699.html. Leffingwell and Council Member Jennifer Kim have an ordinance on today’s agenda establishing the city’s first "no jake brake" zone along Airport Boulevard. More streets will be added to the prohibited areas as neighborhoods register complaints, said Leffingwell . . . Conservation report scheduled . . . Among the many items on today’s agenda is a 2pm briefing on "water supply strategies." But that does not mean a return of the discussion on where to put a new Green Water Treatment Plant. A representative of Alan Plummer & Associates is expected to tell the city how much water can be saved through conservation measures. The Council can be expected to ask how long the city can postpone building either Green or Water Treatment Plant #4—or both. The answer could mean millions in savings . . . The other John Lewis . . . Local developer John C. Lewis wants to make it clear that he is not suing his friend, former Austin consultant Sarah Crocker. Dallasite John Michael Lewis filed the suit . . . Rock crusher permit rehearing . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board will hold a public hearing tonight, on a request for reconsideration for a well drilling permit by KDBJ Inc. A large crowd is expected ,so the meeting will be held in the multi-purpose room (Building D) of the Hays Hills Baptist Church, located at 1401 N. FM 1626 in Buda.

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