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Parks Board splits vote on waterfront waivers

Friday, October 27, 2006 by

The Parks and Recreation Board split over the a recommendation on the Hyatt Regency site redevelopment project on Barton Springs this week, leading to a recommendation by Chair Linda Guerrero that the board take a second look at the Town Lake overlay.

Community members, including Laura Morrison of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, were on hand at Tuesday night’s meeting to encourage the board to take another look at redevelopment along the south shore of Town Lake. At least three projects were on Tuesday night’s agenda at the Parks Board, all anticipating some type of waiver from the city’s ordinance on waterfront setbacks in exchange for incentives to area residents.

The presentation on the Hyatt site, by Attorney Michael Whellan, was the most extensive to the board, one that had been presented in September. Whellan ran through a quick overview of the Fairfield Development project, which would develop a mixed-use, but primarily retail, project on portions of the Hyatt site to the south and west of the hotel.

Whellan said Fairfield and the Bouldin Creek neighborhood had failed to reach agreement on four points: the exceptions to the waterfront overlay; the community benefit, and specifically, the amount given to support local affordable housing; construction issues with trailers and screening; and the expansion of the Hyatt.

Whellan said Fairfield and Bouldin Creek’s lawyer, Nikelle Meade, had met as late as last Friday. The affordable housing outlay remained one of the major sticking points mainly because of the double jeopardy issue. If the developer gave an incentive to the neighborhood association, it might be forced to give that incentive twice if the city comes up with affordable housing guidelines in the next few months. Giving money once was one thing; giving it twice was something Fairfield couldn’t afford, Whellan said.

Jeff Jack of the Zilker neighborhood said he, and other neighbors feared the precedent the entitlement might set, especially given so many projects in the redevelopment pipeline. The new footprint of the buildings constituted “a huge entitlement,” Jack said.

In Fact Daily reported in early editions that the Bouldin Creek neighborhood was willing to consider an agreement that would allow Fairfield to build closer to the water. But attorney Nikelle Meade said her clients had not agreed to go along with building closer to the water, regardless of the amount of affordable housing Fairfield might agree to build.

Neighbors said that Fairfield was willing to fill in a notch on the shoreline to preserve some of that setback, but Parks Board members frowned on such an entitlement, fearing federal environmental intervention on the project.

The Hyatt property – actually a catalyst for the waterfront overlay ordinance – has been grandfathered from overlay requirements. That means that allowances for the property were far higher than most properties along Town Lake. Whellan told Parks Board members that current zoning on the property allowed two 200-foot towers on the Hyatt site. Some members of the board, like the neighborhood, feared the precedent. Others considered the proposal a viable alternative to the allowable density on the property.

Those voting in favor of the waiver on setbacks included Clint Small, Jeff Francell, Mark Vane and Jeb Boyt. Chair Linda Guerrero, Marilyn Bostick, Danette Chimenti and Hector Ortiz favored the wishes of the neighborhood. That deadlocked the board, which currently has one unfilled seat, in a 4-4 vote. No recommendation was forwarded.

The Planning Commission readily agreed to a postponement request from Whellan after 11pm.

Attorney Richard Suttle made a second presentation for setback waivers on redevelopment of two lakefront sites on Riverside Drive. These were the first presentation on those properties for the board, which must still consider whether setbacks could be waived for the development of property at 222 and 300 East Riverside, in exchange for 1700-feet of parkland dedication to the Town Lake Trail along the lake.

A third project, Lakeshore PUD off Lakeshore Drive, was presented by Stuart Strong in a briefing intended for the board prior to its November meeting. The Lakeshore PUD, also on Town Lake is so large that it would incorporate its own grid of streets, and is intended to be a high-density “urban village.” Developed by Cypress Real Estate Advisors and TBG Partners, Lakeshore PUD incorporates a community of townhomes, 4-, 6- and 8-story flats and mid-rise condos, as well as retail. The site plan is still in its conceptual stages.

Police monitor candidates tout experience

The three finalists for the position of Police Monitor laid out their qualifications and priorities for the job Thursday at a pair of community meetings at the Palmer Events Center. The City Manager will collect feedback from the few dozen participants through Tuesday of next week and will take those comments into account as she chooses the person to lead the Office of the Police Monitor.

Acting Police Monitor Susan Hutson is one of the finalists. She’s been in the position since Ashton Cumberbatch stepped down in January, and Thursday night’s meeting allowed her the opportunity to discuss some of her accomplishments while in office. Working with the Citizens’ Review Panel, she said, the office had reviewed several use of force cases in the 6th Street entertainment district downtown. Some recommendations regarding policy changes on the use of force will be forwarded to the Chief’s office, and Hutson said she was optimistic that they would be adopted. And although the OPM is a city department, Hutson said they had also worked recently with representatives from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.

Having been on the job for ten months, Hutson has also had time to develop some frustrations with the limitations of the position. “We’ve made a lot of recommendations, but not all of them have been adopted. It’s frustrating when we are not listened to, when we provide good advice that is not followed,” she said.

Attorney Cliff Brown said his experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, plus his work with community groups, made him the right candidate for the job. Brown recently left the Travis County District Attorney’s office, where he was a special “community prosecutor”. The primary duty of that office was not to prosecute crimes, but instead to work with community groups and citizens to solve neighborhood problems.

After hearing from residents of APD’s North Central Command area that they did not have a neighborhood recreation center, Brown said he coordinated with those groups to eventually have funding for such a center included in next month’s bond proposition.

Brown told the crowd he believed the Police Monitor should have a much higher profile in the community, performing more community outreach to disaffected groups and building relationships with all parts of the city. “There is a great deal of work that can be done, even within the confines of the structure that is there now,” he said. “So rather than focus on what we can’t do, I believe it’s incumbent upon us to focus on what we can do. I think that a Police Monitor has to be pro-active and outside in the community in a visible way. You have to be in the high schools, you have to be in the colleges, you have to be in juvenile facilities, you have be interacting with young people whose mind-set is being shaped and formulated with respect to how they deal with police officers.”

He also called for the Monitor’s office to have a greater role in training officers during the police academy, specifically using role-playing scenarios based on real-life examples of interactions between officers and citizens. “They can see how those situations could have been handled differently so there might not have been a complaint in the first place,” he said.

The third candidate, former Laredo City Attorney Jaime Flores has experience in dealing with public safety unions during negotiations on meet-and-confer contracts. “Those were difficult negotiation sessions, but they taught me a lot,” he said. “I think those are skills I can bring to bear…it’s the same kind of skills, mediation, negotiation, understanding what the need is on the other side. I don’t see this as a position of pure advocacy. It’s not representing the community only or the police department only, it’s understanding the concerns of the community that the PD may not otherwise think about.”

Along with a fresh perspective, Flores said he would bring his problem solving and communication skills to the Office of Police Monitor. Flores is also bilingual, which he said would help him reach out to the city’s growing Spanish-speaking population.

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

Bond campaign going up on the air … Seven Steps for a Better Austin, the pro-bond campaign being led by Mayor Will Wynn, is going up TV staring this weekend. In the spot, Wynn urges Austin voters to approve all seven bond propositions, offering a new, but classic tagline: "Austin is what you make it." The campaign has also sent a direct mail piece to around 100,000 Austin households encouraging a yes vote on all seven propositions. The campaign is online at www.7steps4austin.com. . . Proposition 6 gets extra boost . . . Wynn's Unity PAC appears to be firing on all fundraising cylinders as Wynn handed over a $25,000 check to the Libraries For Austin PAC to help fund that group's effort to pass bond Proposition 6 this week. While bond supporters seem confident that all the other proposals will pass, there is some nagging doubt about the library, a stand-alone item on the ballot with a $90 million price tag . . . Giving constituent service new meaning . . . Wednesday night's Texas Municipal League reception at City Hall featured an unexpected display of heroism by City Attorney David Smith and Council Member Mike Martinez, who both came to the rescue of a choking victim. Smith and Martinez each administered the Heimlich maneuver to the woman, a TML conference attendee, whose face was quickly turning blue as she gasped for air. Martinez, a former firefighter and trained EMT, finally delivered the thrust that dislodged the object, along with much of the woman's dinner. Though shaken by her close call and obviously embarrassed by the scene, the woman recovered and was seen dancing with gusto later in the evening. In Fact Daily commends applauds Smith and Martinez, and also recommends learning the Heimlich Maneuver: http://www.heimlichinstitute.org/howtodo.html.. . . Cole out and about . . . Council Member Sheryl Cole will speak about women in government at the Texas Municipal League breakfast set for 7:30am today at the Convention Center . . . She is also scheduled to talk to members of the Holy Cross Catholic Church at 11:30am Sunday on the importance of proposed city bonds to the East Austin community and will answer questions those in the audience may have. The bonds will help with development of an African American Cultural and Heritage Facility, including the renovation of the historic Hamilton-Dietrich home at 912 East 11th St. and constructing an approximately 3,500 square foot cultural facility adjacent to the Hamilton-Dietrich home. The city-owned facility would house community non-profit organizations as well as provide information and exhibits on the proposed African American Heritage District. Cole added that she would also point out the importance of Proposition 2, which will, among other things, fund the Boggy Creek flood control project and Proposition 5 for affordable housing . . . . Life on the beach. . . Council Member Jennifer Kim is in South Padre Island for the Southwest Regional Economic Development Districts Conference. She is scheduled to speak today on regional economic development, with an emphasis on Austin . . . Rejoined the ranks . . . Former Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, who retired from APD in order to take his seat on the Council in 2000, is working part-time as a community liaison for the Northeast part of Austin. Thomas notes that the job, which started in mid-July, is classified as temporary and includes no benefits. Thomas recently told In Fact Daily he plans to run for Mayor again in 2009 . . . Our error . . . The Council did not reappoint Millie Chu to the Asian American Resource Center Advisory Board because there was not unanimous agreement on that appointment. We regret the erroneous report . . . Meeting. . . The Water Conservation Task Force meets at 2:30pm in the Boards and Commissions room at City Hall . . . Pickets are back . . . Word is that the protesters are back on weekends again at the gates of the Belterra development in northwest Hays County after a promise by developers to work with environmentalists fell through. Environmentalists and other groups, including the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, have challenged a permit application by Hays WCID No. 1 to dump up to 800,000 gallons of effluent a day directly into Bear Creek. BSEACD Directors said at last night's meeting they are taking a two-pronged approach to dealing with the threat to the aquifer. They will be working with State Rep. Patrick Rose and other local legislators to try and get the law changed to ban direct discharge of effluent. They will also be working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to make a similar change in its regulations. Talks are low-key at this point but look for some high-profile announcements later on. . . . Early voting continues. . . Travis County voters are casting early ballots at a steady pace, with 6,271 cast on Thursday. More than 25,000 voters – 4.61 percent of all registered voters have cast ballots in the first four days of early voting. That puts early voting on a pace for some 75,000 early votes, or about 14 percent of voters by next Friday. Voting sites drawing the most ballots include the Randalls on Research with 2,248 votes; Northcross Mall, 1,899; Randalls South MoPac, 1,731; and the University of Texas, 1,671. . . . Graduation Luncheon . . . The Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GAHCC) and the Mexico Trade Center will hold a Graduation Luncheon at 11:30am on Nov. 15 at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, 300 East Fourth St. The luncheon will honor students that successfully completed the Mexico Trade Canter's International Trade Certification Program. The keynote speaker will be Luis Medina, CEO TechBA Austin. For more information, please contact Nayeli Gallegos, Director of Mexico Trade Center, Tourism, and Events at 411-1930 or ngallegos@hispanicaustin.com.

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