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Planning Commission says no to MLK condos

Monday, August 14, 2006 by

The Planning Commission has rejected a request for a zoning change to build up to 24 apartments or condominium units at 1230 and 1232 W. Martin Luther King near Lamar Boulevard. Michel Issa, through University Realty, Inc. had requested an amendment to the conditional overlay on the site to allow the construction..

The tract had been zoned GO-MU-CO-NP as part of the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan. The conditional overlay limited the residential portion of any mixed-unit project to one unit each for both 1230 and 1232 W. MLK.

“In the planning process, this owner came into the process rather late,” attorney Nikelle Meade told the Commission. “The neighborhood was really at the final hour at Council when a proposal was made to develop this property as residential, and the neighborhood had no desire to stop their process. So at the suggestion of one of the Council Members, the zoning was changed to include the mixed-use component, but to restrict it to what was the status quo.”

That included the option for one residential unit at each address. By restricting the residential capacity of the lots through a restrictive covenant, Meade said, the owner was allowed to seek a change to that conditional overlay before the normal two-year waiting period required for changing the base zoning of the tract that had been adopted as part of the neighborhood plan.

The property owner’s proposal called for a total of 24 condo-style units on the two tracts, but did not rule out the possibility of also building retail or office space in the mixed-use development. “We are not asking to restrict our ability to do office, and obviously we’ll do as much as the market will carry,” said Meade.

Neighborhood representatives had a much different version of the events surrounding the decision to put the “mixed-use” designation on the tracts. “We wanted an office project there, we didn’t want any multi-family or mixed use or anything like that,” said Jim Damron. He said Meade, acting on Issa’s behalf, “came to me and said ‘if we’ll agree to your GO, will you agree to come back later and talk to us about the possibility of mixed-use.’ The CAN-PAC planning team is a team that will talk to anybody about anything. My understanding was that the property would be zoned GO…and GO contains the right to one accessory residential unit.”

Damron said that office was the only acceptable use for the site, and the neighborhood had never intended to discuss any apartment or condo construction. “The way we ought to be approaching this right now is if this were an application to go from GO to GO-MU. We ought not be trying to start with the proposition that this MU is appropriate.”

Damron and other neighborhood residents summed up their objection to apartments at the site in one word: students. Since the site is less than three-quarters of a mile from the UT Campus, Damron said apartments or condos in the area “invariably wind up being filled with late-night revelers who like to party till 5 o’clock in the morning, who drink heavily before the age at which they’re capable of maintaining any control of themselves when they do, and making more noise than you can imagine for people who have families and are trying to sleep at night.”

Instead of drunken revelers, Damron said the neighborhood would prefer quiet grown-ups or families. “The purpose of the neighborhood plan is to start moving in the other direction, to try to get these kids back over on campus…where if they make noise, nobody cares because they’re all doing it. It’s to bring back adults, families, people who live and work in Austin or professors who teach at the university, but people who have the kind of lifestyle compatible with single-family residence. We know from experience with mixed-use and multi-family projects in our area that they’re just not compatible.”

Several other neighbors explained the ruination that UT students would bring to the area. “It will be another nail in the coffin of our neighborhood,” said Mary Sanchez. “Our neighborhood has a lot of beautiful, historic houses…and the problems we are facing with these kinds of developments are making it impossible to preserve the neighborhood. Basically, you cannot live where you cannot sleep. To allow a development like this that will increase our noise level at all hours of the night and further prevent us from sleeping will keep people moving out.”

A nearby multi-family complex called Caswell Lofts is already under development, and neighbors said they wanted to see how that property affected their neighborhood before allowing another. Meade pointed out that her client had agreed to the same restrictions imposed on Caswell Lofts that were designed to attract older occupants. Those restrictions included a maximum unit size, allowing the units to be for sale only (not rental) during their first six months, prohibiting the sale of more than one unit per person, and implementing noise restrictions on the property. “We felt like it came just about as close as you could come,” she said. “I don’t think you can really prohibit…but it would discourage students from being the primary occupants of the property.”

But Damron said Issa had refused to meet their additional conditions, and the location on Lamar was too close to established single-family housing. “To have us putting 24 units down below some of the nicest homes in the subdivision is taking a risk with a whole neighborhood,” he said.

Planning Commissioners agreed, with varying levels of enthusiasm. “I do want to respect the neighborhood planning process. I guess it doesn’t look like the neighborhood is ready to put more multi-family housing units in the neighborhood,” said Commissioner Perla Cavazos, who moved to deny the requested change in the conditional overlay.

“I will say that I think that this could well be an appropriate site for mixed use that would include residential under the appropriate circumstances,” said Commissioner Chris Riley. “I would encourage all parties to stay open to a range of possibilities for this site.” Commissioner Mandy Dealey agreed. “I think it’s a perfect site for mixed use. As a single adult, I would love to be able to find a terrific condominium in this neighborhood. If there was some way to assure that these condominiums could be built for sold to professionals I think it would satisfy the neighborhood and satisfy the property owner,” she said. “The trouble of course is there’s no way to do to that. I think if the property owner would be wiling to go back to the drawing board and design the kind of units that really wouldn’t be appealing to students, but would be appealing to adults and professionals and maybe empty nesters, that this would be a good compromise.”

The Commission voted 7-0 to reject the requested change, with C ommissioner Matthew Moore absent and Commissioner Jay Reddy away from the dais.

State pulls Enterprise funds from Cabela's

Cabela’s in Buda remains the only business that has returned funds to the Texas Enterprise Fund because of a failure to meet its hiring targets.

Once hailed as a tremendous economic boost to the Kyle-Buda area, Cabela’s has yet to live up to its full promise. Back in 2004, the retailer put 126 acres under contract and built a 175,000-square-foot hunting, fishing and sportsman’s paradise that was expected to pump $80 million into the local economy and create 400 jobs.

At the time, Mayor John Trube was so enthused about the deal that he created a tax-increment finance district around the site, at the corner of Loop 4 and Interstate- 35, in order to fund exit, overpass and access road improvements to the site. The Texas Enterprise Fund kicked in $600,000 toward the project to ensure its success.

Two years later, Cabela’s has been forced to return $28,000 to the state and forfeit the remaining $200,000 promised from the Texas Enterprise Fund. At a hearing before the House Economic Development Committee last week, fund officials said the company had provided only 314 of the 400 jobs agreed to under Cabela’s contract with the state.

That makes Cabela’s the only business, it appears, that has failed to hit the mark set out by the state under the Texas Enterprise Fund, created by Senate Bill 275 during the 78th legislative session. Aaron Demerson, who heads the Economic Development and Tourism Division in the Governor’s Office said the “clawbackclaw back” measures – the ability to pull back funds when a company has not met the terms of an agreement – has always been in place and that a compliance officer closely scrutinizes enterprise fund agreements to make sure that businesses are holding up their end of the deal with the state.

So far, the Texas Enterprise Fund – often referred to as the “deal-closing fund” has disbursed $308 million. That $308 million has gone toward companies that have agreed to create over 42,000 jobs in the state and created $9.3 billion in investment, according to Demerson . Demerson addressed the House Committee on Economic Development last week, as the committee reviewed its interim charges.

During its review of the Texas Enterprise Fund last week, the House Economic Development Committee was concerned primarily with two issues: proper oversight and scrutiny of the fund by elected officials and the use of undocumented workers.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst(R-Brenham), a former economic development executive, said the Texas Enterprise Fund could, and should, be scrutinized by elected officials. Kolkhorst carefully questioned staff on various projects and the due diligence on those projects.

“I think we have an obligation to monitor this fund as elected officials,” Kolkhorst said. “As we move forward as a Legislature, this fund should be coming up every session for review, and it behooves you, as a group, to continue to have light shed upon it. That always brings about a pretty good process. I think you should have fairly good open records to offer to the public, so they can access and see where this money is going.”

Rep. Rafael Anchia(D-Dallas) wanted to make sure that enterprise funds were not going to companies that used undocumented workers, either directly or through subcontractors. A number of committee members agreed that the terms of “no undocumented workers” should be written into the condition for awarding enterprise funds.

Demerson said the enterprise funds are rewarded only in those situations where a location in the state is competing with other deals out of state. While the state uses the fund to close deals, it does not throw money at projects, Demerson said. The fund is used to make the state’s best offer, not to best a state that may be throwing money at a business.

Other factors considered in awarding the enterprise funds include the number of new jobs created, including wages and benefits; how capital can be leveraged; the level of community involvement in the project; and the secured financing for the business.

Anchia asked whether health care benefits were considered when awarding funds. Demerson said benefits were considered when evaluating quality of the jobs created by the business but a “yes” or “no” was not based on whether benefits were guaranteed.

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

Belterra, neighbor agree to study effluent plan . . . The Hays County Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) No. 1 and its downstream neighbor have reached a tentative agreement over a controversial plan for the Belterra subdivision in northeast Hays County to dump effluent into Bear Creek. A number of entities, including the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and the City of Dripping Springs claimed the plan would result in polluting the creek, which flows into the Edwards Aquifer. Nearby property owners had regularly protested outside the subdivision in recent weeks. Last week, the WCID board agreed to work with the property owners on developing another plan and said it would notify the TCEQ that it would seek another method of dealing with its effluent discharge. Property owners said they would call of their protests-for the time being. . . . IT opportunities for vendors . . . Information Technology, one of the largest areas of procurement by the city, presents many procurement opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses, according to Peter Collins, the city's chief information officer. Collins made a presentation last week to the MBE/WBE and Small Business Council Subcommittee to brief its members on what is available for the area's high-tech small businesses through the city's Communications and Technology Management Department. "It's important that companies interested in doing IT business with the city understand what we need," Collins said. "For instance, we don't do large-scale internal software development. We are looking for other types of hardware and commercial software." Collins said there are 138 COA MBE/WBE certified vendors registered for IT procurement commodities, 44 of which have been utilized by the city. He said 30 percent of eligible MBEs and 34 percent of eligible WBEs have been used by the city . . . The MBE/WBE and Small Business Council Subcommittee is made up of three members: Mike Martinez, Sheryl Cole and Jennifer Kim. Having a full year's seniority on the Council, Kim was elected Chair last week. . . . Meetings . . . The City Council plans a Special Called Meeting 6:30pm at Westlake High School, 4100 Westbank Dr., to hold a public hearing on the possible annexation of the Lost Creek neighborhood . . . The Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board meeting is at 6pm at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center on the UT campus . . . The Council's Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee meets at 3pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Urban Transportation Commission meets at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . City funds non-profit housing groups . . . The Austin Housing Finance Corporation Board of Directors (a.k.a. the City Council) approved funds last week to support two area non-profit organizations to create affordable housing for military veterans and those with mental disabilities. AHFC will provide $123,163 to Community Partnership for the Homeless, Inc. to help with the rehabilitation of four properties that will house 15 very low-income homeless military veterans. AHFC will also provide $250,000 to NMF VII, Inc., a newly created non-profit established by Austin-Travis County Mental Health and Mental Retardation, to assist in the acquisition of a 20-unit multi-family property for low-income individuals with mental disabilities . . . Build-A-Backpack program . . . Austin City Manager Toby Futrell last Friday announced the names of the winning backpack entries for the Build-A-Backpack contest benefiting needy students. The backpack project, an initiative of the City of Austin Mentor program, supplies Austin Independent School District students with necessary supplies for the new school year as well as a new backpack. More than 300 backpacks were submitted from departments throughout the City of Austin. The "Think Pink" backpack submitted by the Austin Public Library, Spicewood Springs Branch was named winner of the Elementary Division. The "UT Championship Pack" submitted by the Austin Public Library, Daniel Ruiz Branch, won for the Middle School Division. The "Survival Kit Pack" submitted by the City Manager's Office won for the High School Division. The backpacks will be delivered to Austin area elementary, middle, and high schools in which the city employees mentor beginning today. For more information on how community members can mentor please visit the Austin Partners in Education Web site at www.austinpartners.org.

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