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Hays OKs work plan for conservation habitat

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 by

Hays County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a work plan for establishing a habitat conservation area, their first concrete step in creating a protected area for endangered species.

Although commissioners have been talking for more than a year about the idea of establishing a habitat like Travis County’s Balcones Canyonlands, approving a work plan moves the idea from theoretical to actual. The work plan will use part of the $753,000 the county won in a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2005 to develop a recommendation for a locally appropriate conservation habitat, Cliff Ladd, chief environmental engineer at Loomis Austin said.

Loomis Austin is partnering with Hays County to create the conservation plan. According to Ladd, the county is home to at least two known endangered species, the Golden-Cheeked Warbler and the Black-Capped Vireo.

Commissioners said they like the idea of creating a conservation habitat with input from local residents, scientists and elected officials.

“We get to specifically look at Hays County as local elected officials instead of folks in Washington, D.C., and we get to determine what our future will be,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley.

The budget for the conservation plan is $1 million, and Ladd said he anticipates getting a permit from the USFWS by the end of 2008.

Ladd pointed out that because Hays County’s population grew 49 percent between 1990 and 2000 and since it is situated between two fast-growing metropolitan areas, the sooner county officials act to protect endangered species and water resources, the better.

“There’s a lot of population growth, the county has grown very fast, and there’s a need to protect endangered species,” Ladd said. “Land use exchanges are occurring quickly and that both drives the need for a plan, and the plan itself. It can help manage land development proposals.”

Commissioners haven’t yet discussed details about the size of the county’s conservation habitat or a potential location.

'Alley houses' will have to depend on owner's intentions

The Historic Landmark Commission is asking the leaders of the Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church in East Austin to make a good-faith effort to find a new location for three homes on property owned by the church. The homes, described by Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky as prime examples of “alley houses,” were moved onto the lots at 1181 and 1183 Chicon and 1900 Pennsylvania Ave. sometime between 1950 and 1955, but actually date back to the 1920’s.

While not associated with any particular historical figure, Sadowsky said the primary occupants of the homes were African-American and Hispanic residents of Austin in the early part of the 1900s. “Alley houses used to dot the back alleys all over the city, but predominantly downtown and the east side. They were rent houses, generally for African-American or Mexican-American families, located behind the main house. They were almost always of this size, of simple construction such as this, and while we don’t have any definite proof that these are alley houses, they certainly bear every indication that they were.”

Finding three such houses in good condition, Sadowsky said, was significant. “Alley houses have disappeared off of our geography faster than anybody has ever noticed,” he said. “What they represent to the city’s culture and history is really invaluable. Alley houses were as integral to the development of Mexican-American and African-American life as the churches, the schools and the social institutions. These houses were very much crowded in on the back alleys, and alley life became the way of life for the vast majority of minorities in Austin. So these houses represent a very integral part of the cultural development of Austin.”

Sadowsky’s recommendation was that the HLC require a preservation covenant on the homes or, in the alternative, a clause in the sales contract requiring the new owner to re-located the homes instead of tearing them down. But church representatives protested, saying those restrictions would make it more difficult for them to find anyone to purchase the properties. “Obviously it affects us. It affects our ability to profit from that which we perceived ourselves as owning and having the ability to sell,” Rev. Gaylon Clark said. “The suggestion to have a preservation or donation and relocation clause really hinders our ability to sell this property. To keep them as-is…they’re only 430 square feet. That would obviously hinder our profitability. These homes are fragile. Where would we move them? How would we move them? This certainly hinders our agenda in making East Austin a better place, and our role as we perceive it, is leading people out of a kind of ‘alley existence’.”

The church already has a prospective buyer for the homes, but the agent for that buyer was not able to say what steps, if any, her client would be able to commit to in order to preserve the homes. “She’s out of town and I have not spoken with her, so I have no idea what she would be willing to do in that regard,” said agent Cathy Coneway with Stanberry & Associates, who represents a prospective buyer. Her clients’ intent, said Coneway, was to leave the three homes in place as income-producing rental properties for the next year, although “she does intend to build on that property after that time.”

Commissioners had discussed a resolution urging the church to spend between 30 to 90 days to seek out a buyer willing to move the homes, but word that the new prospective owner had no plans to immediately demolish the structures appeared to reassure a majority of the commission. They voted 6-3 to merely request that the owner and the buyer make a good-faith effort to find someone willing to move or preserve the houses. The commission did require documentation of the current condition of the homes, equivalent to the Level 2 standard set by the Historic American Building Survey. That standard includes photographs, a site plan, a sketch plan, and measured drawings of the houses. Those records will be kept at the Austin History Center, the church, and the Carver Library.

Although a majority of the commission was agreeable to allowing the church to sell the property without formal restrictions, three commissioners were opposed. Jean Mather, J oe Arriaga, and Timothy Cuppett all voted against the motion. “I don’t think that’s enough protection for the houses,” said Cuppett. “I think the church should find a buyer that is willing to move the houses. I don’t think documentation is enough.”

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

Goodbye to a really old friend . . . Those old enough to remember Austin politics in the 1960s and 1970s will likely remember a firebrand Democratic activist and staunch union supporter named Henry Holman. Holman, a carpenter by trade, died this week at the age of 93. A celebration of his life will begin at 3pm today at the Austin Saengerrunde Hall, 1607 San Jacinto, (next door to Scholz Garten) where Holman attended many political events. The family requests that in lieu of flowers those who wish to do so make a contribution to the National Democratic Committee or a local Democratic candidate . . . Seeking a retraction . . . Three Austin City Council members are taking issue with an editorial that ran in Monday's American-Statesman regarding defining an icon by city ordinance. The editorial states erroneously that Council Members Brewster McCracken, Lee Leffingwell and Mike Martinez asked the Planning Commission to craft an ordinance to protect local iconic businesses like Las Manitas. As In Fact Daily reported on Monday, McCracken and Martinez planned to ask Roma Design for help on guidelines for downtown density bonuses. Leffingwell is not part of that effort although he joined Martinez and McCracken in asking the Marriott to come up with a design that would not force several businesses, including Las Manitas, to move. It is Planning Commission Chair Dave Sullivan who floated the idea of an ordinance to protect iconic businesses. Martinez said he called members of the Statesman editorial board and asked them where they got their information concerning directions to the Planning Commission. He said he agrees that defining an iconic business could prove extremely difficult. "That doesn't mean I don't think that's a good conversation to have-but I think what we're talking about is how do we do that….while welcoming and fostering the economic development that we know is going to come to downtown Austin. But we can't do that when misrepresentations on such a large scale are being made. We can't have honest dialogue." . . . Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken will among those in attendance at today's Capital Metro work session. Leffingwell will probably ask the transit agency staff why he did not get the answers he was seeking about use of Cap Metro drivers on future train routes sooner . . . After the meeting, Leffingwell will take off for Washington, D.C. to lobby the US Corps of Engineers for money to assist the city with flood protection work. Those funds would be used in addition to bond money awaiting voter approval . . . Bond campaign report . . . Dozens of environmentalists and parks supporters partied at the Zilker Clubhouse Tuesday night to raise money for the "Yes on 2 and 3" campaign. "This is our last chance to save a major portion of the recharge zone of our aquifer," said Valerie Bristol of the Nature Conservancy of Texas. "Eight years from now, when our next bond package comes up, it will be way too late." Proposition 2 includes $145 million for drainage and water quality protection, while Proposition 3 would set aside $84.7 million for new parkland and park improvements . . . Meetings . . . The Council Committee for Emerging Technology and Telecommunications meets at 3:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors meets at noon in a work session at Capital Metro Headquarters, 2910 East Fifth St. . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission meets at 6pm in room 104 at Waller Creek Plaza . . . Prop 6 Bond support . . . Austin Mayor Will Wynn will join BookPeople owner Steve Bercu in front of the Faulk Central Library today at 11:30am to announce their support for Proposition 6 on the City of Austin bond election. That proposal calls for setting aside $90 million for a new Central Library. The Council has already designated the Green Water Treatment Plant site as the preferred location for that building, should voters give their approval . . . Clean air price tag . . . Travis County Commissioners will vote next week on whether to join the Texas Cities for Clean Air Coalition. That group of 20 cities and counties is funding research on emissions from coal-fired power plants. Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, who founded the coalition, said the number of permits for new plants being considered by the TCEQ could adversely impact the air quality of Dallas and Austin. She's asking for each city that joins the coalition to contribute $10,000 for an independent consultant to perform modeling of the cumulative effect of all those new power plants on air quality. Instead of standard coal-fired power plants, she's urging the power companies developing those plants to use a lower-emissions technology known as coal gasification. . . . Back to the drawing board . . . The Parks Department has rejected all bids and will be sending bids back out on the proposed Turner-Roberts Recreation Center, Warren Struss told the Parks and Recreation Board last night. The department had envisioned a Sept. '07 dedication. That's likely to be year-end now. . . . Early voting remains steady . . . Early voting for the Nov. 7 General Election continued at a steady pace Tuesday, with 5,999 ballots cast. Locations drawing the most votes included the Randalls on Research with 541; Northcross Mall, 485; Randalls South MoPac, 476; and University of Texas, 443. Early voting will continue through Nov. 3 . . . Parks cash in on the Stones . . . The Rolling Stones got good reviews from the Parks and Recreation Board members who were on hand for Sunday night's concert. Director Warren Struss reported some complaints – noise, shuttle and traffic issues – but nothing the department couldn't address. The Parks Department gets $300,000 from the concert, plus $1 per ticket. Half of that will go to Zilker, the rest to other parks in the city. Commissioner Mark Vane said the concert – and its success – really raised the bar for the Austin City Limits festival.

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