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Council struggles with developer's promise

Monday, July 31, 2006 by

Last week’s City Council discussion of zoning changes for Star Riverside Residential related more to when and how the Council could enforce covenants than to neighborhood opposition to the zoning of the northeast corner of Riverside Drive and Interstate 35.

A vacant hotel and surface parking lot currently sits on the four-acre site. Holford Group is combining several tracts to develop a condominium project of between 200 and 250 units, with a limited amount of supporting commercial uses. Staff recommendation was to limit the height to 120 feet, with pedestrian access provided from Riverside Drive to the Town Lake waterfront through a conditional overlay. The pedestrian trail would eventually connect to Northwood Park on the west.

What remained undone – much to the chagrin of Council Member Lee Leffingwell – was an agreement for Brian Birdwell of Holford Group to provide funding to the Town Lake Trails Foundation to build a pontoon bridge just off the property. Leffingwell was concerned that the agreement wasn’t finalized. Council Member Brewster McCracken had even bigger objections, saying that anything not in writing before it went to Council made the promise "unenforceable," especially if property ownership changed.

"This is an unusual lack of specificity," McCracken noted during discussion. "We don’t typically do this on verbal representations of private covenants. That’s why we encourage people to get their deal inked. That’s what we do."

Birdwell argued that the Holford Group could roll its donation into the approval of the site plan, which would follow the zoning change. Assistant City Attorney Marci Morrison, however, noted that nothing held the Holford Group to any verbal promise to include it in the site plan, even if that verbal promise was made at a Council meeting.

During the discussion, Birdwell said that the developer had agreed, in covenant, to a number of important on-site improvements, such as the trail connection to the edge of the property and Americans with Disabilities Act access to the trail. The easements for the trail were in a site plan that was already submitted to the city for review, Birdwell said.

At that point, the Council agreed to roll the case into the consent agenda for zoning cases. The Riverside case was one of only two discussion items on Thursday. Most of the remaining zoning controversies were postponed to August 9 and 10.

More planning sought for core transit corridors

As the Commercial Design Standards make their way to the City Council for consideration next month, the Planning Commission is urging the Council to spell out the rules and guidelines for adding roads to the list of future core transit corridors. Under the proposed design standards, major roadways designated as core transit corridors would be eligible for vertical, mixed-use zoning overlays allowing denser development.

The ordinance heading to Council already includes some roadways designated as core transit corridors, along with others listed as future core transit corridors. But Planning Commissioner Cid Galindo pointed out at last week’s meeting that the density allowed on those roads would not accommodate the city’s expected increase in population.

"As we look at how we can find ways to accommodate more people within our core without imperiling the character of our existing single family neighborhoods, it becomes very apparent that the only we can do that is to identify either core transit corridors or mixed use centers that can be significantly enhanced in terms of the density that they can absorb," Galindo said. "We need another 80 miles of core transit corridor designations to absorb the type of population growth that we’re projecting over the next 30 years. The reality of our growth situation over the next generation is that we need to think a little more expansively about how many more miles of transit corridor we need to add."

Galindo said having clear procedures and priorities for naming those corridors, and for transitioning corridors from the "future" to "active" list, should be established well in advance. Commissioner Chris Riley pointed out that a task force had made a similar recommendation last year, with an additional suggestion that recommendations for future corridors could come from neighborhood planning teams.

Commissioners considered a recommendation to the Council that would have called for establishing procedures for listing new future core transit corridors within 90 days of the vote adopting the Commercial Design Standards. But that idea was set aside in favor of a more general recommendation, urging the Council to consider input from neighborhood planning teams, business and neighborhood coalitions, boards and commissions, and staff when deciding on future transit corridors.

Those corridors could then be adopted by the Council in the form of an ordinance amending the Land Development Code. The Commercial Design Standards are tentatively set for first reading at City Council on August 9, the special meeting called to deal with zoning cases.

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

What we missed Thursday night . . . Wordsmith Rachel Proctor May, formerly of the Austin Chronicle and now an aide to Council Member Brewster McCracken, wrote the following to one of our reporters. "If you stayed to the end . . . you would know that the only speaker at item 153, the public hearing on the lawn parking ordinance, was a barefoot guitar player named Sean. A recently reborn member of the Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Sean used his three minutes to sit cross-legged on the floor to perform an original song called "Freedom." The sunglassed performer had come from the Instruments of Peace rally that had just wrapped up on the Congress Avenue Bridge, and wanted to share with Council his thoughts on Iraq. After the hearing, Sean and his fiancée Jubilee were thanked by several attendees, including Council Member Mike Martinez, Adam Smith of Neighborhood Planning, and Lee Leffingwell's aide Andy Mormon, who told Sean the song was ‘moving.’ Sean, for his part, was humble. ‘My courage comes from God. It doesn't come from Sean,’ he said" . . . In addition to the list published Friday, last week’s appointments to boards and commissions include: Airport Advisory Commission, Lauren Mathews and Philip Rosenbaum ( consensus appointments); Asian American Resource Center Advisory Board, Melissa DeHaan, a reappointment; Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission, John Andrew Green, by consensus and Chad Williams (Leffingwell’s reappointment); Building and Fire Code Board of Appeals, Philip Haught (consensus reappointment); Child Care Council, Timy Baranoff, Susan Bright, Lila Carl, Debra Keith-Thompson, Adrian Smith, (Kim); Community Development Commission., Oktomy Kusuma; Construction Advisory Commission, Calvin Williams (Cole); Downtown Austin Community Court Advisory Commission, Charles Locklin, Ross Powley; Electric Board, David Adamson, (Kim), Ronny Williams (Cole); Ethics Review Commission, Andy Brown (Leffingwell), Velva Price (Cole); Library Commission, Brenda Thompson (Kim); Mechanical, Plumbing and Solar Board, Thomas Combs, Stephen Cox, Gerardo Garza; Music Commission, Jill George (Cole); Parks and Recreation Board, Hector Ortiz; Renaissance Market Commission, Robert Edgecomb; Resource Management Commission, Christine Herbert (Kim), John Hoffner; Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission, Tracy Atkins; and Urban Forestry Board, Larry MacGinnis . . . Meetings . . . The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors meets at 4pm at Capital Metro Headquarters, 2910 East Fifth Street . . . The Planning Commission, Codes and Ordinances Committee meets at 6pm in room 2016 at City Hall . . . Buck Owens B’day event . . . Supporters of the Center for Child Protection, fans and music lovers will gather once again this year to celebrate the late legendary musician Buck Owens. The 15th Annual Buck Owens Birthday Bash will be held on Thursday, August 10, at the Continental Club, A lineup of well-known musicians from across the country will perform live renditions of Owens’ most famous tunes. . . . Bike helmet battle . . . The battle over a proposed city ordinance to mandate bicycle helmets for adults in Austin is heating up, as a group calling itself the League of Bicycling Voters has posted a website to oppose the ordinance. ( On Tuesday, Patrick Goetz, member of the Austin Transportation Commission and co-founder of LOBV, and Bruce Todd, former Austin mayor, public affairs specialist and avid cyclist will debate the proposed helmet law. The debate will take place at 7 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. The admission fee is $8 . . . Peace vigil planned . . . Austin’s religious community, cultural and political leaders, will hold a gathering for peace in the Middle East, at 7pm at City Hall Plaza. The purpose of the gathering is to exemplify peace, celebrate peace and to pray for peace in the Middle East. State Reps. Elliott Naishtat and Mark Strama will co-host the event. Prayers and comments will be offered by Austin’s religious leaders.

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