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Commission to ask for facilitator on Concordia site plan

Friday, September 15, 2006 by

With a hearing before the Planning Commission less than a month away, members of a commission subcommittee are asking staff to facilitate discussions between neighbors and the developer on the 22-acre Concordia University site.

Changes to the Planned Unit Development – the first step in the development process – are expected to be before the Planning Commission on Oct. 11. Members of the Hancock Neighborhood Association, however, were at a Planning Commission subcommittee meeting on Wednesday night to plead for more time with the developer, East Avenue IG. East Avenue’s design is described as an “urban walkable village” that will feature a tremendous concentration of apartments, retail, office and a 250-room hotel.

The Concordia team – architect Andy Sarwal, attorney Richard Suttle and planner Alice Glasco – made the presentation to the neighborhood plan subcommittee. While Suttle urged the group to consider the discussions preliminary, the sheer size and scope of the project alarmed neighbors, who wondered what difference a neighborhood plan could make in the development of the dense multi-use campus.

“What I was hoping that we could agree to is that this site is civic now, but now that the college is leaving, it probably won’t be civic anymore,” Suttle said. “That would start the conversation, ‘What is going to be there?’”

But there is a lot of ground between “something other than civic” and what the East Avenue PUD could be, especially given that it is a site far larger than most zoning cases.

When the Hancock neighborhood plan was created, architect Karen McGraw said, it was never envisioned that Concordia University would ever be anything other than Concordia, which left the question of future development unaddressed. Neighbors were concerned that the use of the land could be so substantially, and radically, changed without a full discussion of the project with the affected neighborhood.

The handful of Hancock neighbors, including Terri Myers and association President Bart Whatley, were troubled by so many unanswered questions about the East Avenue PUD. They expressed concern about what this development would look like, especially so close to a mature, traditional single-family neighborhood. Glasco tried to reassure the neighborhood that the process was still far from over.

“Conceptually, we are looking at a mixed-use development,” Glasco said. “Right now we’re creating a framework. Our hope and desire is for you to be introduced to the project, and we want to continue to work with the neighborhood on all aspects of the project, including the height and the use.”

Commissioner Chris Riley expressed sympathy but noted, at this stage of the development, the general framework is being approved, not the site elevations of specific projects. Such was the case of the University Neighborhood Overlay, when it was created, Riley pointed out. Elevations came after decisions were made.

The project on the Concordia site is intended to have dense, taller buildings next to the freeway, gradually stepping back to the neighborhood. According to the traffic impact analysis, the property will consist of 300,000 square feet of shopping center space, 1.2 million square feet of apartments, 732,900 square feet of condominiums, 59,000 square feet of general office space, 250,000 square feet of medical office space, a 250-room hotel, 12,500-square-foot bowling alley and a 14,000-square-foot movie theater.

Commissioner Saundra Kirk suggested the use of a facilitator in the process, an option that the neighborhood jumped on. Whatley said the neighborhood was eager to have someone facilitate the discussion. The subcommittee agreed it would request the use of a city staff member, probably urban design officer Jim Robertson, to facilitate discussions between Hancock and the PUD’s developers.

McCracken touts TOD benefits to RECA

Council Member Brewster McCracken, in an attempt to bust the myths of transit-oriented development, said that TODs are the hottest trend in today’s real estate market and that they that can reap strong returns for the public entities willing to invest in them.

McCracken, speaking to members of the Real Estate Council of Austin Thursday, outlined the seven myths of transit-oriented development. At the top of the list was the myth that Texans would never give up their cars for rail. In other cities, Texans already are riding rail, and Austin could either get on board or lose the opportunity, he said.

“We’re not going to see some massive utopian expansion, but if it becomes part of an integrated real estate strategy – like it has in Addison, Plano or Dallas – we can have an immense return on the value it adds to the community,” McCracken said. “And our community can become a place where there’s more opportunity, as well.”

Among the other myths McCracken addressed in his brief presentation:

TODs are a niche market. – Sure, people want a big house on a quiet street, but that’s just one part of a larger real estate market, McCracken said. He pointed to Arlington, Va., as a place where a TOD strategy had worked and quoted a report from Price Waterhouse Cooper this year that pegged TODs as one of real estate’s hottest trends.

Arlington’s “bull’s eye” concept, concentrating development around train stations, has thrived. Of the 30 million new square-feet of development in the last decade, 75 percent was clustered around Arlington’s TODs. About 33 percent of the region’s tax base is now located on the 7 percent of the land around the transit-oriented stops.

The best thing next to transit is transit. – Parking lots are out next to TOD stations, McCracken said. This is a real estate development, not a train depot. The most successful TOD projects use wide sidewalks and small plazas to create a pedestrian orientation, one that attracts traffic. Successful TOD stations consider the necessities for travelers – a place to drop off a child at day care or laundry at a dry cleaners or seniors for a day of activities – when designing the TOD development.

TODs make so much money they don’t need public investment. – McCracken said he’s only been able to find one TOD done entirely with private money. In almost every case, public investment is needed for public infrastructure — parking garage, roads and sidewalks. The return is tremendous, McCracken said. Austin agrees to put $50 million in infrastructure on the ground at Mueller and gets a $1 billion tax base.

TODs are filled with tall buildings. – TODs can be either urban or suburban, McCracken said. In places like Addison, tall buildings make sense. In other TODs, in places such as Englewood, Colo., a two- to four-story building is more logical. Downtown, The Domain and Lakeline are built for tall buildings. The Saltillo and Martin Luther King stations will have lower-profile buildings more in keeping with their neighborhoods and more in tune with surrounding development.

The transit agency is not responsible for real estate development. — Transit agencies can, and do, get into the development business, McCracken said. The whole purpose of TODs is to create tax base along with travel options. Transit agencies in Dallas, Washington D.C. and Denver are all doing the basics that developers do: providing marketing materials, serving as equity partners and providing development services to those businesses that want to locate in TODs.

Buses are as good as rail in creating real estate value. – There aren’t a lot of examples of good bus TODs, McCracken said. The rate of return on a bus – and where it stops – is far less than rail. Rail creates a destination, and a destination creates opportunity if the real estate development is focused. In a place like Portland, the city put in $88 million in infrastructure, getting out $2.3 billion in real estate investment. At Mueller, it’s $50 million in exchange for $1 billion on the tax rolls.

“I’ll do that deal any day of the week,” McCracken said.

District declares critical stage drought

For the first time, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors has declared a Critical Stage Drought in the portion of the Edwards Aquifer it regulates. The district provides groundwater to part of southern Travis County and northern Hays County

District staff report that the two trigger points have both fallen below drought levels for the required 10-day period. The average flow at Barton Springs has been measured at 19.9 cubic feet per second (CFS), and the depth of the Lovelady Monitor Well near Buda has averaged 192.87 feet deep. The drought triggers are 20 CFS at Barton Springs and 192 feet at Lovelady.

"This is the first time in our history that we have declared a Critical Stage Drought," said Board President Bob Larson. "Let’s all pray for rain." The district was created in 1987.

The declaration means that all permitees in the district must now conserve 30 percent of their permitted use volume on a monthly basis. The district has been in an Alert State Drought for the past few months, forcing permitees to cut back 20 percent on their allowed water usage.

The board approved one exception to the Critical Stage regulations, allowing the use of a hand-held hose to water shrubs, gardens and small patches of lawn as long as it has a nozzle attached that automatically cuts the flow of water when not being used.

Board members also approved a new process to deal with users who consistently exceed their permitted pumpage amounts. The guidelines, which take into account the permitee’s history and how well it responds to notices from the district, don’t substantially change any of the districts rules, but spell out a consistent mechanism for dealing with customers.

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

Slow week ends . . . After Monday's budget vote, Council offices saw little in the way of excitement to finish the week. Council Member Sheryl Cole said she has spent some of her time interviewing candidates for Municipal Court Judge and considering an ordinance to change judge's terms from two to four years as voters directed in the May charter election. Cole said, "It's great for municipal judges to have a four-year term," so they will not be looking at their reappointment so frequently. Presiding Judge Evelyn McKee said there are currently seven full-time and 12 substitute judges plus a community court judge. The Council is looking at hiring one additional full-time judge and three new subs. McKee said two of the new substitutes would be dedicated to working the overnight shift at the county jail . . . It's a small world … Mayor Will Wynn designated himself as treasurer of the Unity PAC, to support all seven bond propositions, which total $567.4 million. ( http://www.7steps4austin.com/) The Unity PAC has raised about $100,000 so far. The Mayor's campaign consultant, Mark Nathan, appointed Ted Siff as treasurer of the "I'm for Four PAC," which is to support cultural facilities such as the Zachary Scott Theater and Mexic-Arte Museum. http://www.imfor4.com. That group has raised $44,000 thus far . . . Siff, a publisher and former Executive Director of the Austin Parks Foundation appointed Valarie Bristol of the Nature Conservancy of Texas as treasurer of Yes on 2 and 3, the propositions related to parks, open space and drainage projects. Bristol said supporters have raised about $20,000 for that campaign so far. http://www.austinparkbonds.org M ike Blizzard is the consultant on the parks campaign…. David Butts, who has worked for numerous successful City Council candidates, including Mike Martinez, Sheryl Cole and Jennifer Kim, is assisting Nathan with the Unity PAC . . . Former Council Member Raul Alvarez is also working with the Unity PAC. Nathan is consulting on the cultural bonds package as well. In Fact Daily erred on Thursday in reporting that Butts and Alvarez were working on the Proposition 4 campaign . . . Since he left the Council this summer, Alvarez has been assisting some non-profits and is involved on a pro bono basis with a group hoping to save Las Manitas Restaurant and Escuelita de Alma daycare, which may disappear if plans for a Marriott on the site are not changed . . . Sharon Watkins of Chez Z and Geronimo Rodriguez of Seton Healthcare Network are helping to raise funds for the Libraries for Austin PAC, which has hired Lynda Rife and Mike Clark-Madison. Rife, who has worked for numerous campaigns, including the Capitol Metro commuter rail campaign, said the pro-library group just started raising money and only had about $10,000 this week. Clark-Madison is a longtime supporter of libraries http://www.librariesforaustin.com . . . Mark Yznaga, chair of Liveable City, is assisting with the campaign to pass the housing bonds, along with Elliott McFadden and Marcus Sanford for Ignite Consulting. Frank Fernandez is the treasurer and former Mayor Gus Garcia is the chair of the campaign committee. "We feel very good about the way things are going," said Yznaga. The PAC has raised about $15,000 and is having a fundraiser tonight from 5-7pm at Nuevo Leon. "I wish I could convey the wonderful emotion around the housing bonds," Yznaga said, noting that the group's slogan is "There's no place like home." http://www.housingworksaction.org So far, there is no PAC to specifically support Proposition 1 for transportation or Proposition 7 to build new police and EMS facilities . . . Voters approved $150 million in bonds for roadway construction and $13.4 million for open space purchases in November, 2000. Those proposals garnered 79 percent and 66 percent approval, respectively. In November, 1998, voters approved more than $712 million for a wide range of bond propositions . . . Services set for Ann Richards . . . Services for former Texas Governor Ann Richards will be Monday (September 18) at l2 Noon at the University of Texas Frank Erwin Special Events Center. Speakers for this service are: U. S. Senator Hillary Clinton, former Mayor of Dallas Ron Kirk, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and syndicated columnist Liz Smith. Richards died Wednesday at her Austin home. She served as Governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995. Former President Bill Clinton will join the Richards family as the casket of Governor Richards is brought to the Texas Capitol Rotunda on Saturday. She will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda from 9:30am to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday. Both days are open to the public. A private burial is planned in the Texas State Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorial gifts be made to the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders at www.austincommunityfoundation.org.

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