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Staff may help redesign Zilker site

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 by

The Council has offered the assistance of city staff to reconfigure a multi-family property on Bluebonnet Lane, just off South Lamar, to fit more appropriately into the Zilker neighborhood.

Former neighborhood association president David Ward has struggled to come up with a multi-family configuration on his property at 2215 Bluebonnet that would please his neighbors. Having failed to win initial approval from the Planning Commission while he had the property under contract, he finally bought the property with the thought that he could come up with a plan that would receive a more favorable hearing before Council.

By the time it reached Council, Ward had a plan that did win the approval of staff and the Planning Commission, with the caveat that he provide an initial 25-foot setback, then a 30-foot, or two-story, limit on the first 75 feet of property.

Though it sounds complicated, it’s intended to give the property a type of "residential look" that would be compatible with the Zilker neighborhood. As Lorraine Atherton and other neighborhood leaders pointed out, however, a multi-family property, regardless of configuration, would clash with the surrounding properties, including Goodrich Place, the city housing authority’s low-income duplex complex on the same block.

Ward said his property was intended to be affordable living near downtown. The property, as Ward designed it, would be 10 units. Of those, eight units would be two-bedroom units and two would be one-bedroom units. Ward admitted it would be difficult to turn a fire truck around at the end of the narrow property, given the configuration.

Atherton did agree that a multi-family property – a compatible use – was down the street, but noted that next door business, Three-Ring Service, was a nice brick-stone house. The character of the surrounding neighborhood was single-family homes or duplexes, Atherton said.

What makes this case interesting is the fact that compatibility standards are not triggered on Ward’s property. Goodrich Place chose to build 40 units of duplexes, but the property was zoned MF-3. Greg Guernsey told Council that it’s the zoning — not the eventual build-out on a property — that will trigger compatibility standards.

Ward’s plan, which has not met with neighborhood approval, was a two-story addition on the front, with three-story units behind it.

That left Ward with the ability to build MF3 – with his zoning change –and a neighborhood that was unhappy with the decision. Council Member Brewster McCracken attempted to step into the breach and propose using the city’s urban design staff to meet with Ward and come up with a more pleasing design.

Council approved Ward’s zoning change – from SF-3 to MF-3 –on first reading. McCracken expressed hopes for a new design by second reading.

Oak Hill residents discuss planning, traffic

City leaders heard many of the consistent themes of Oak Hill during a town hall meeting last night: Oak Hill residents value their trees, their neighborhoods and the idea of reconfiguring the community around a town center.

Last night’s meeting, – attended by Council Members Jennifer Kim, Mike Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley – was a chance to discuss the city budget and November bond issue with local residents. For Oak Hill, that means more code enforcement and graffiti abatement, as well as the opening of a Circle C fire station and imminent opening of a companion emergency medical services station in the next year, City Manager Toby Futrell told a small group at Southwest Community Church This fall, city staff will move to make improvements to Dick Nichols Park, including new restroom facilities and a heated pool. The city has added new connections to the veloway through Slaughter Creek Metropolitan Park and opened new fields and a skate park at the South Austin Soccer Complex and Skate Park on William Cannon. Futrell said the city also is looking at improvements to Will Hampton Library Branch in Oak Hill.

The Oak Hill community–with 11,000 acres and 24,000 residents—is the biggest neighborhood plan the city has undertaken to date and will be the first suburban neighborhood plan to be completed in the city, Futrell said. In fact, two neighborhood plans are being completed at the same time: Capital Metro’s transit-oriented station plan and the city’s neighborhood plan for the community. Capital Metro intends to serve Oak Hill with rapid bus service, although local residents would prefer light rail.

As is the case in other areas – Crestview, Saltillo, Highland Mall and Martin Luther King – the neighborhood planning team and station planning team are the same.

Kim asked the group to consider the concept of planning known as clustering – planning growth around particular nodes in Oak Hill – as a way to meet some of the goals of the regional water quality plan. By clustering, Oak Hill can focus development in high-intensity nodes and leave larger pieces of land undeveloped. The concept, which was well-received by the group, would require additional effort from city staff.

During a brainstorming session, local residents outlined their top concerns, a number of which were pulled out by a facilitator as being key interests of the community: redesigning the SH 71/US 290 interchange with a smaller footprint at-grade level; fixing the US 290 bottleneck; clustering development to encourage open space and mixed use; and creating a pedestrian-oriented community focused on local small business.

Other goals included preserving the small town appearance of Oak Hill; resolving incompatible or questionable zoning around neighborhoods; using automated signs at various intersections to note speeds of vehicles passing through the neighborhood; and fixing the dangerous ramp off US 290 onto Joe Tanner Road. Neighborhood representatives were appointed to serve as liaisons to track each issue.

During a question-and-answer session, area residents expressed other issues: the lack of a traffic light at the new Costco on William Cannon; the need to track and use developer fees for park, trail and traffic improvements; the need for a better bus stop on Old Bee Caves Road and some improvements to street medians and fire hydrants.

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WTP4 conversation continues . . . Last week, the City Council gave the Travis County Commissioners Court until September 27 to make a decision about whether they would agree to take the Cortaña tract out of the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan so that the city can build a water treatment plant on the site. One thing the city agreed to do "out of an abundance of caution" was to hold a hearing under Chapter 26 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code. It now appears that that hearing will be set for September 28, the day after the county's final day to act. While this may seem like curious timing, it makes perfect sense to Council Member Lee Leffingwell, who said Monday, "If the county makes a decision not to join us, we won't have the hearing." He then reiterated the city's position that if commissioners do not agree to Cortaña, the city would proceed to build the plant at the more sensitive Bull Creek site. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said the Court would receive legal advice today on whether it also needs to hold a Chapter 26 hearing. Such hearings must be advertised for three weeks in a row before the hearing date. Commissioners may decide to hold the hearing even if there is not a legal requirement to do so, she said. Sonleitner repeated her position that the process is a complicated one, that the city has had a year to study the matter but commissioners have had only a few weeks. Even though the city would like everything to be "wrapped up with a neat bow," Sonleitner said, that was not going to happen . . . Final hospital district interview today . . . Travis County Commissioners will conduct the third of three interviews in their search for a new member of the Travis County Hospital District board this afternoon. Last week, commissioners interviewed Jason Earle and Dr. Eduardo Sanchez. They will interview Kathy Ryder this afternoon and hope to make a decision after that . . . Meetings . . . The Austin City Council will meet at 6:30pm at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 3201 Windsor Road, to conduct the second of two public hearings on the city’s proposed annexation of the Peninsula area on Lake Austin . . .The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am at the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners Court meets at 9am at the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos . . . City jobs get an online upgrade . . . The city has launched a new online employment application system called eCareer that will offer a variety of benefits to applicants to city jobs. eCareer allows applicants to more easily post their resume and monitor the hiring process, while city employers will be able to screen applicants more efficiently. eCareer can be accessed at http://www.austincityjobs.org/ or from the city’s home page at http://www.cityofaustin.org. The service is available online 24 hours a day, seven days a week . . . More flights, bigger jets at ABIA . . . The increase in passenger traffic at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has motivated airlines to increase frequency and/or aircraft size to six nonstop destinations coast to coast. The largest plane serving Austin-Bergstrom passengers, a 216-seat Boeing 757-300, is now being used by Continental on some Houston nonstop flights. On Sept. 6, Continental will add a third nonstop flight to Newark. In addition, Continental added an 11th nonstop to Houston and upgraded its second daily Houston departure to a 757-300. The 216-seat 757 has up to 22 first class seats. Previously, Continental used a 167-seat 737 with 18 first class seats. A larger plane will soon be put to use on American Airlines Austin-San Jose route. American will upgrade two of its San Jose flights from 136-seat MD 80s to 188-seat Boeing 757s beginning Dec. 14, 2006. American will add a 15th departure to DFW on Sept. 6. Also on Sept. 6, United Airlines will add a third daily nonstop to Dulles and a fifth nonstop to Denver. Frontier will add a fourth daily nonstop to Denver on Oct. 9. At 4.8 million passengers from January to July 2006, Austin-Bergstrom passenger traffic is up 8 percent year-to-date over the previous record breaking year 2005. Monthly traffic records have been set in each of the past nine months.

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