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McCracken, Martinez seeking development bonus ordinance

Monday, October 23, 2006 by

Council Members Brewster McCracken and Mike Martinez are working on a plan to direct Roma Design, which won the contract to develop the new Downtown Plan, to move forward immediately with a development standards proposal that would require developers seeking increased density to comply with new guidelines.

Because it would likely take several months for Roma to write the new ordinance—which McCracken says would apply citywide—the Council is looking at involving the Planning Commission in making interim recommendations on awarding development bonuses. “We don’t want to be on the dais making those decision on the fly,” McCracken said.

Those who abide by city wishes to provide affordable housing and/or “affordable space within the development for local small businesses,” such as the Las Manitas Restaurant, would be “eligible for rule changes and development bonuses,” according to a draft proposal McCracken shared with In Fact Daily.

Although McCracken concedes that ultimately the city cannot force either landowner Tim Finley or prospective purchaser White Lodging (Marriott) to allow the small businesses now sitting on the block between Second and Third Streets on Congress Avenue to stay there, he believes the ordinance should be enacted.

Co-sponsor Martinez said they are still working on the draft language.

“At this point I'm not sure we need an ordinance in the interim,” he said. “I think that information that’s come back in the last 24 hours leads us to believe Roma could come up with their first delivery in a short timeframe. And that’s what we hired them for. So we need to take these values and policies that we have in place and give them to Roma and let them do the work that we’ve hired them to do.”

Martinez said he plans to meet with several people in the development community in the next few days and get their input.

“We may come up with an agenda item that will allow the public to have some input through our Planning Commission and deliver that to Roma as well,” he said.

During development of the University Neighborhood Overlay, the Rainey Street Overlay and the Commercial Design Standards, McCracken said, the city established a policy of using development bonuses to increase profitability for developers in exchange for public responsibilities, such as affordable housing or public open spaces.

The draft resolution would require all new development in the downtown area to adhere to a set of interim standards until the Council adopts and implements the Austin Downtown Plan. Under the interim plan, all developments seeking a rule change or a development bonus would undergo a mandatory review by the Design Commission, and would have to comply with Great Streets Standards.

Responsibilities under the granting of development bonuses may include providing affordable or workforce housing, providing affordable space for small businesses, providing affordable space for child care facilities, and providing pocket parks or other open space accessible to the public.

The resolution instructs the City Manager to have the Planning Commission and the Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee review the interim policy and bring it to the Council by Nov. 30. Martinez pointed out that no project that has already been through the Planning Commission would be required to go back. McCracken said he expects to put the resolution on the November 2 Council agenda.

This ordinance is totally separate from an “iconic business” ordinance authored by Planning Commission Chair Dave Sullivan.

City keeps security grant funds despite state request

The Austin City Council has voted not to turn more than $1 million in federal grant funding for homeland security back to the State of Texas. The state normally receives 20 percent of the funding granted to local jurisdictions through the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Law Enforcement Terrorism and Prevention Program.

State officials have asked the cities and counties that are members of CAPCOG, the Capital Area Council of Governments, to forward a higher percentage on to the state. The additional amount requested from the City of Austin was $1,064,713. “It is our understanding that the state is experiencing a shortfall because they anticipated more federal funding,” explained Assistant City Manager for Public Safety Michael McDonald.

A statement issued by Gov. Rick Perry earlier this month indicated that the feds had cut state funding for homeland security by 31 percent. While the state’s request for the money from local jurisdictions was ostensibly to fund statewide security measures, city staffers told the Council that the state had not been forthcoming as to exactly how or where the city’s money would be used. It is believed that money would be used for programs such as the Texas Data Exchange System (TDEx) and the Live Scan system, both of which allow law enforcement agencies to more easily share data.

“The state could not give exact accounting of how they arrived at the $1,064,713 they’re asking for from us,” said McDonald told the Council. “They can not guarantee that all funds would be spent in Austin. They could not assure us of what portion of the dollars would be spent in Austin.”

While McDonald said the city’s local public safety and emergency management staff thought the state projects were worthwhile, the city has approximately $3 million worth of unmet local needs when it comes to security-related projects and equipment. Those include a new public safety Mobile Command Vehicle, an emergency generator for the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department, satellite telephones for use by Austin Energy during a disaster, and a new training facility for APD’s SWAT team.

The Council voted unanimously to deny the state’s request, with Council Member Jennifer Kim calling on staff to attempt to secure more details from the state regarding the TDEx system.

“Terrorism is something that I take very seriously, and we’re only as good as our information,” said Kim. “Accurate and complete data is essential. I’d like to ask the state to give us more information on what enhancements we would be seeing in terms of the types of information we would be sharing with other jurisdictions… and encourage other jurisdictions to ask the same questions.”

Other jurisdictions may already be asking those questions, as the state requested more than 200 municipalities to turn over their funding. So far, most have chosen to keep their money.

“Despite prioritizing spending of federal dollars on TDEx and Live Scan, local law enforcement agencies have always had the option of choosing whether to use their federal dollars for these programs or not,” said Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw in a statement issued by the Governor’s office, “and we made that clear in the letter we sent local officials.”

Health officials still preparing for flu pandemic

Though concern over a worldwide bird-flu pandemic has faded from the headlines and the News Channel specials, city Health and Human Services officials say such an event is still a possibility, and they continue to develop plans for such an occurrence.

David Lurie, director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, outlined those plans before the Council’s Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee last week.

“What we are talking about here is a pandemic, an explosive global event,” Lurie said. “This is not your annual flu season—which we also take seriously—but a new strain of influenza for which there is little natural immunity and no vaccine that could have a substantial impact, leaving between 30 and 40 percent of the community ill at a given time.”

Lurie pointed out that, as of yet, there have not been any reports of bird flu being transmitted from person to person, but a such a mutated strain would likely spread very rapidly.

To prepare for that possibility, Lurie’s staff has prepared a 5 point plan to deal with the possibility of a pandemic.

• Planning and Coordination: The city is developing plan prior to any event and for the use of an integrated command system during an event. It is also planning for the continuity of critical city and business services during an event.

• Situation Assessment and Monitoring: The city is developing plans and systems for surveillance of human and animal disease patterns.

• Prevention and Containment: The city is planning to encourage individuals who are exposed or moderately ill to isolate themselves in their homes for a week to 10 days to curb the spread of the disease.

• Health System Response: Planning to make sure the health care work force can remain viable in order to deal with the pandemic. Also, the city is coordinating a surge capacity plan for local medical providers to handle the overflow of serious cases that could easily outstrip the number of available hospital beds, and

• Communications: To position the city as the prime resource for information in a pandemic, ensure people receive accurate and most recent information via news media; respond proactively to emerging issues, provide information to slow disease transmission and decrease the social and economic disruption to the area.

Lurie emphasized that the communication component was the most important part of the plan prior to any pandemic event by making sure the public, businesses and other stakeholders have plenty of information. He added that his agency is also working with area social service agencies to create business continuity plans to make sure their services would continue through an emergency situation.

The city will hold a two-day exercise Nov. 6-8 to familiarize city officials and other area stakeholders with pandemic flu strategies and issues. The exercise will have both a Public Health and a Medical components, both of which will focus on how to organize the community’s response.

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

Early voting starts today . . . Check your ballot carefully, especially if you live in one of the newly redrawn Congressional districts, where a straight-party vote will not mark an X for either the Democrat or Republican running in those races. Likewise, there are seven bond propositions at the end of the ballot that deserve the attention of city voters. . . A new board is born . . . Among several other board and commission appointments made by the City Council last week were the initial members of a newly-created commission: the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission. The commission was created out the process of the McMansions ordinance. It will review requests for variances to the new ordinance. Members appointed are William Burkhart (Mayor Will Wynn), Keith L. Jackson (Council Member Sheryl Cole), Chris Krager (Council Member Jennifer Kim), Chuck Mains (Council Member Betty Dunkerley), and Karen McGraw (Council Member Brewster McCracken). There are still four vacancies. The City Clerk's Office would be happy to receive more applications. No word yet on when the first meeting is planned or when the other members might be appointed. The Council also reappointed Millie Chu by consensus to the Asian American Resource Center Advisory Board; Lora Ann Gerson to the Commission for Women (Leffingwell); Holly Kincannon appointed to the Design Commission (Kim); Lisa Tsai confirmed to the Ethics Commission (Kim). Council Member Sheryl Cole appointed her former opponent, DeWayne Lofton to the Human Rights Commission. Kim appointed Alvin Washington to the Urban Forestry Board and Council Member Mike Martinez appointed Dale Gray to the water and Wastewater Commission . . . Meetings . . . The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 7pm at Council Chamber at City Hall . . . The Design Commission meets at 5:45pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Human Rights Commission meets at 5:30pm in Council Chamber at City Hall . . . It's good to have friends . . . Some of Carole Keeton Strayhorn's friends from her days on the AISD Board of Trustees are offering their endorsement for her campaign for Governor. "I'm a Democrat, but I'm supporting Carole as an independent, because I think she's the best thing for the state of Texas," said former Austin Mayor Gus Garcia, who joined Strayhorn for the announcement outside of ACC's Rio Grande Campus. "The issue in this election is education, and I don't know anybody in the race that knows more about how to improve education in this state than Carole," he said. Other former elected officials backing Strayhorn include former City Council Member Dr. Charles Urdy and former State Rep. Wilhelmina Delco. . . Barton Springs master plan . . . The City Council last week unanimously approved bringing in an outside consultant to help draft a long-term master plan for Barton Springs Pool. City Manager Toby Futrell said that plan would likely include a structural analysis of the dam which helps create the pool, in addition to aesthetic improvements. Robin Cravey, President of the Friends of Barton Springs Pool at http://www.friendsofbartonspringspool.com. "It's a compact between the city government and the volunteers, the swimmers, and the Friends of Barton Springs Pool…and everyone who loves the pool that we are going to write a plan and we are going to carry out a plan," said Cravey, "and we pledge to work with you." . . . Hidden talent found tonight . . . The Travis County Democrats will be putting on a FUNraiser talent show tonight from 6 – 8:30pm at Momo's, 618 West 6th St. Democrats will celebrate the start of early voting and the hidden talents of several Democratic candidates. Candidates Sarah Eckhardt and Representatives Mark Strama and Elliott Naishtat signed up to perform but their hidden talents will remain a secret until showtime. Money raised will go directly towards TCDP's award-winning coordinated campaign, True Blue Travis ( http://www.truebluetravis.com) . . . Bond Program fundraiser . . . The Yes on 2 & 3 PAC is sponsoring a fundraiser tomorrow at 5:30pm at the Zilker Clubhouse. Come support City Bond Propositions 2 & 3, which include: $50 million to preserve land to protect water quality; $20 million for New Parks, Natural Areas and Greenways; Improvements to Parks, Pools and Trails Citywide; and Flood Control, Erosion Control and Water Quality Controls across the city. The fundraiser will feature appetizers from Tacodeli, locally-brewed beer from Live Oak Brewing Co. and music by the Bouldin Creek Bobkats (featuring SOS's Colin Clark!). Call 481-8048 for more information.

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