Tuesday, August 15, 2006 by

Lost Creek continues annexation arguments

City argues residents’ cost estimates too high

Hundreds of Lost Creek residents met at the auditorium of Westlake High School Monday night for a second public hearing on the possible annexation of their neighborhood by the City of Austin. Members of the City Council and city staff tried—without much apparent success—to alleviate their fears that bringing their neighborhood into the city limits would hurt their utility and public safety services.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Lost Creek residents outlined their concerns about higher taxes and a loss of their Municipal Utility District (See In Fact Daily, August 11, 2006). City department heads made a series of presentations to start Monday night’s meeting directly addressing some of the points raised last week.

Jim Evans, Chief of Staff for the Austin Fire Department, told the crowd that the city would likely contract with the Westlake Fire Department to provide coverage for the area, which is already covered by the Westlake FD. James Harrington, Director of Austin-Travis County EMS, pointed out that his department already provided service for Lost Creek.

Austin Water Utility Director Chris Lippe outlined his department’s plan for providing wastewater service to the neighborhood, which had been a primary objection from residents concerned about the possibility of a sewage spill into environmentally-sensitive areas. They had also objected to the likely cost of running a new sewage line, saying that cost would be reflected in higher bills for the neighborhood.

But Lippe said the highest cost estimate, $24 million dollars, was out of line with the department’s projections. "It assumes numerous properties to be acquired," he said. But acquiring land for right-of-way for the line would be unnecessary, according to Lippe. "We simply will not pursue an option like that. The most likely route….is along an existing utility corridor. It’s at the edge of the greenbelt. We would believe, therefore, that it has the least amount of environmental issues. Being at the edge of the greenbelt, it has fewer properties to acquire, and it has the least cost."

A study commissioned by the MUD estimated the cost of running a pipeline along that route at $14 million, but Lippe said the department’s best estimate was closer to $9.5 million.

City staffers had similar responses to the concerns about street maintenance. Lost Creek residents said last week that Travis County currently maintained their streets to a higher standard than the one set by the city. "In our financials, we have loaded the cost of providing services at a higher level," said Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman. "To the extent that there’s a higher level of service provided in Lost Creek, we will fund that higher level of service."

City Manager Toby Futrell also said that Travis County did not have an official policy of maintaining the streets using the technique preferred by Lost Creek residents, and that the particular method of street repair the county would likely use on those roads in the future was similar in cost and effectiveness to one commonly used by the city.

Huffman also offered a possible avenue for enforcing the neighborhood’s deed restrictions. While that function is currently handled by the Lost Creek MUD, the City of Austin does not enforce private restrictive covenants. Huffman said state law allowed a special limited district to be created to enforce those restrictions, which would help avoid the "neighbor suing neighbor" scenario outlined by annexation opponents.

But few, if any, of the Lost Creek residents at the hearing seemed convinced by the arguments presented by city staff. Several speakers lined up to protest the loss of their community’s identity, the loss of local control, and the higher bills they would face under City of Austin rule. "Taxes for the average household will increase $808 per year," said Bill Flood, a board member of the Lost Creek MUD. "The cost of water service will increase by $111 per year. Wastewater service will go up by $638 per year. That’s a 204 percent increase in the cost of our water."

Former Lost Creek Neighborhood Association President John Rowley compared annexation to an oversized sport-coat he wore for demonstration purposes. "Annexation doesn’t fit for Lost Creek. It’s a good concept. It fits for the right folks, but it doesn’t fit for us," he said, taking off the jacket. "You need to just give this jacket to the person it’s appropriate to. Much like with annexation, you need to give that to the communities where there truly is a mutual benefit between the city and the community."

The Lost Creek residents got some political support from, Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. He led off the string of speakers against annexation, wearing a bright yellow "Annexation – Costs too much" sign like hundreds of other audience members. He urged his fellow elected officials to listen to the will of the community, which was overwhelmingly opposed to annexation.

"I will tell you, it’s been a long time since I’ve been at a meeting where 95 percent of the people said ‘this is what we want to do.’ I would have voted on that so fast and gotten the heck out of town," said Daugherty. "I would just ask you, before you all determine that this something that you’re going to do…really consider the will of the people in this area. I would ask you to do that as a favor for me, as a favor for the people in this audience, and…I think…ultimately as a favor for you all."

Downtown traffic flow questions continue

Future traffic flow through the Cesar Chavez-Congress Avenue intersection continues to vex staff in the city’s Public Works Department and members of the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee (LUT).

The intersection is the key to a plan to convert all of Cesar Chavez to a two-way boulevard between San Antonio and Brazos streets. The City Council approved the project in July, 2004, and staff hired WHM Transportation consultants to study traffic flow.

At Monday’s LUT Subcommittee, staff brought back proposed design changes to the intersection requested by the panel in June, seeking to narrow Cesar Chavez as it approaches Congress from the east. (See In Fact Daily, June 19, 2006) The sticking point appeared to be a left turn lane from eastbound Cesar Chavez north onto Congress Avenue.

"The whole turning left thing kind of depends of who is making the turn," said Council Member Brewster McCracken. "Is it someone who lives in Austin and is commuting during morning drive to a location on Congress Avenue, or is it a tourist from out of town who wants to sight-see on Congress?"

Staff made several recommendations to smooth out the traffic pattern at that intersection. Public Works Director Sondra Creighton noted that in Sept. 2005, City Council directed the staff to set up the intersection with two lanes going in each direction, with single left turn bays at Lavaca, Congress and Brazos and remove on-street uses between Congress and Brazos. Other suggestions included removing a right turn lane and removing a through lane at the Congress intersection.

Staff estimated that removing the left turn at Congress would cut traffic congestion by 3 percent, removing a right turn bay would increase delays by 23 percent, and removing a through lane would increase delays by 39 percent.

LUT members debated whether or not to leave the left turn lane at Congress, noting that the plan could offer a number of other streets to enter the downtown area.

Architect Sinclair Black suggested that the left turn be allowed in the morning and prohibited during the rest of the day. "It’s one of the things we learned in the Great Streets program," he said. "Don’t compromise the downtown grid."

Planning Commission Member Cid Galindo said potential problems at the Congress intersections could be avoided by better intersection design before motorists get there.

"Look what’s happening with eastbound traffic at Guadalupe," he said. "If traffic can make an easy left turn there, there won’t be a backup problem when they get to Congress."

Subcommittee members seemed to agree that keeping the left turn at Congress was the best idea, but did ask city staff to go back and make some additional changes to the plan for what they hope will be a final approval at next month’s meeting.

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

McMansion amendments to Planning Commission . . . Code amendments proposed by the Residential Development Regulation Task Force (McMansions Commission) will get a first look by the Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee tonight. The code amendments now proposed include: a reformat of the new residential development regulations that are to go into effect on October 1 by Clarion Associates; an expansion of the list of uses subject to the new regulations; amendments to regulations governing height measurement; amendments to regulations governing how non-complying structures may be modified or maintained, and when and how they can be restored if damaged or destroyed; and clarification that demolition is not allowed by a building permit and when a demolition permit is required. Though notice has been sent out to also include possible discussion and action on residential occupancy limits, use and site development regulations for flag lots, and modification of the new residential regulations in neighborhood areas other than neighborhood plan zoning districts, the Task Force has deferred discussion of these items. For more details, see a summary and draft ordinance online at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/sf_regs.htm. Following tonight’s meeting, the recommendations will go before the full Planning Commission on Aug. 22, and the City Council for a public hearing and action on Aug. 31. . . Meetings . . . The Council’s Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee meets at 3pm in the Boards and Commissions Room . . . The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee meets at 6pm in room 1034 at City Hall to take public comment on Revisions to the MBE/WBE Procurement Program Rules . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11ths St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am in the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in the County Courthouse in San Marcos. . . . RECA hosts Mid-Year Forecast . . . The Real Estate Council of Austin will host its 6th annual Mid-Year Economic Forecast at 11:30am at the Four Seasons Hotel, featuring Texas A&M Real Estate Center’s Dr. Mark Dotzour who has promised a twelve-month forecast with predictions on Austin apartment, office, retail and industrial markets. Also providing statistics will be Capitol Market Research and NAI/CIP. The luncheon will be at the Four Seasons Hotel, 98 San Jacinto. . . . PODER protests toll roads . . . About a half-dozen members of LULAC and PODER staged a protest outside of Monday night’s CAMPO meeting, accusing the toll road plan approved by the organization of being based on economic racism. "It is a great injustice that people on the other side of town in West Austin will be able to drive on the expressways for free while in East Austin people will have to pay," said Susana Almanza of PODER. While Almanza said that "we have seen all the toll roads in West Austin removed from the Phase 2 plan and the toll roads in East Austin remain," a representative of the CTRMA distributed a map showing US 183-A and SH-45 in Phase 1 of the toll road plan and Loop 360 and parts of US 290 West and TX 71 West in Phase 2 of the toll road plan. All of those roads are west of IH-35 . . . Careful driving . . . Council Member Mike Martinez, Police Chief Cathy Ellison, and Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza joined AISD officials on Monday to ask teen-agers to drive carefully as school starts in Austin today. Driving while distracted or intoxicated, said Garza, too often proves to be deadly for teens. "Young people should not be killed on our roadways, and we all need to make a difference," he said . . . Kincheon recovering . . . Janice Kincheon, a former aide to Mayor Will Wynn who now works in the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, continues to recover from surgery for breast cancer. Kincheon tells friends she is doing well and is looking forward to returning to work as soon as her doctor will release her. We wish her a speedy and complete recovery . . . Meeting set for Arab American lobby day . . . What is billed as an "emergency town hall meeting" to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon will be held at 7pm Wednesday at the Asian American Cultural Center, 11713 Jollyville Road. The meeting is being held in conjunction with the National Arab American Lobby Day, organized by the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC. Local organizations endorsing the meeting include the Green Party of Texas and the Central Texas Association of Lebanese Americans .

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