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Thirty story condo planned for 7th and Rio Grande

Thursday, October 19, 2006 by

Another high-rise residential development—this one stretching to 30 stories if developers get the density requested—is headed for Downtown Austin, at Seventh Street and Rio Grande.

Dallas-based CLB Partners will be partnering with land owner Mike McGinnis to develop the project, which will back up to the Ranch 616 restaurant. Attorney Steve Drenner, who represented the developers at last night’s Downtown Commission meeting, described the 400-foot tower as the right kind of urban infill for downtown. He compared the project, in scope and size, to the nearby Spring condo point tower.

Still in its conceptual design phase, the Seventh and Rio Grande project would start with ground-floor retail followed by four floors of garage space. Atop that would sit 25 floors of condominiums. The developers intend to dig into bedrock to provide two additional levels of underground parking for the project, which will feature 158 condo units.

CLB Partners is the developer of the Austin City Lofts. In Dallas, the group is known for its hip upscale loft projects on McKinney and Cedar Springs avenues. CLB Partners is also behind the 104-unit Bridges on the Park, which is under construction on Lee Barton Drive in South Austin incorporating the Paggi House. Units in the six-story condo project will start in the low $300,000s.

The Capitol Corridor for the Lamar Bridge clips the edge of the property, Drenner said. That’s one reason why the floor plates for the retail and parking garage will be slightly larger than the actual condominium tower, although it’s not quite a point tower.

Drenner described, at length, the developers’ desire to enhance the Ranch 616 restaurant next door, providing both parking and clientele for the restaurant. The project will relieve the restaurant of the tax burden of its parking lot that ended up costing $100 per space in property taxes each year, Drenner said.

CLB Partners originally proposed a waiver for 12-to-1 floor-to-area ratio. Drenner said it would only be necessary to seek 11-to-1 FAR. Questions on the project were few except for those that are offered on most projects: Teresa Ferguson of the Music Commission wanted to make sure the building, close to semi-open music venues like Opal Divine’s, was properly sound-proofed. Richard Halpin wanted to make sure the building was going to provide sustainable construction.

The Downtown Commission approved the project, with its waiver, unanimously.

Board hears ideas on how to reduce flooding caused by new building

Impervious cover increases threaten central city areas

Through the process of political compromise, the Residential Regulation Task Force set aside a set of proposed regulations regarding impervious cover mitigation in order to get its main Residential Regulations Ordinance to the City Council with as many backers as possible.

Backed by a 15-1 vote of the task force, the McMansions Ordinance was approved by Council and took effect Oct. 1. Now, both city staff and some from the task force are taking a second look at the options for mitigating the impact of new construction and additional impervious cover from remodeled homes to prevent causing flooding in the city’s older neighborhoods. The city Environmental Board heard a presentation Wednesday night on their proposals.

“There was a great deal of discussion about impervious cover by the task force,” said co-chair Laura Morrison. “However, there were widely varying opinions on how to mitigate impervious cover with higher density. It was a deal-breaker for some task force members, so we set it aside.”

Impervious cover under the new regulations is set a 45 percent, while task force members estimate that in most of the areas where the new ordinance applies, it has traditionally been about 35 percent. Flooding has become a problem in several areas of the city because the drainage systems are overloaded primarily due to the additional runoff caused by larger building footprints, loss of tree canopy and other factors.

The task force studied several systems designed to mitigate the higher impervious cover levels, according to Matt Hollon with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department.

“The problem is, how do you protect the storm drain infrastructure that was not designed for the size of the runoff from these lots?” he said. “In many cases, the water is draining directly into the street without an opportunity to drain into the soil. There are no flood control mechanisms or water collection devices to slow it down.”

The staff looked at three possible solutions: a drainage equivalency table; limiting impervious cover; and Green Building education.

Drainage equivalency is designed to mitigate the runoff from a property with 45 percent impervious cover to the pre-1977 levels of 35 percent. It uses a point system for the incorporating various features such as porous pavement, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, rain gardens, French drains and tree preservation.

Hollon said by adding a combination of those building features to new or remodeled homes, the runoff from a two-year storm event could be kept at the pre-1977 levels.

He said that the task force discussed but never seriously considered limiting impervious cover because a consensus of members was opposed to it. Green Building Education was the approach most favored by the task force.

“We felt it would be best to educate builders and developers to improve the drainage on a voluntary basis,” Hollon said. It would include many of the features discussed in the drainage equivalency table, but made voluntary, rather than mandatory.

Environmental Board Member May Gay Maxwell, who also served on the task force, said that a great deal of time was spent looking at the flooding problem.

“It would be a great benefit if we could come up with new ways of dealing with the flooding,” she said. “We are dealing with a very outdated infrastructure in the central city, and it is causing major problems.”

Environmental Board members took no action on the proposal but encouraged city staff to further develop the ideas presented and report back to them with a possible plan to take to the Council in the future.

City to appeal judge's ruling on smoking ban

Attorneys for the City of Austin say they will file a motion for reconsideration with Federal Judge Sam Sparks in the lawsuit over the voter-approved smoking ban. Earlier this month, the judge issued a ruling prevented the city from ticketing bar owners who allowed their customers to continue smoking, provided they had removed all ashtrays and posted ‘no smoking’ signs.

While the judge ruled that the provision of the ordinance requiring bar owners to take “necessary steps” was too vague, Assistant City Attorney Anne Morgan says the city has taken extensive steps to provide guidance to business owners. “Most people do abide by the smoking ordinance,” she said. “Most people who are owners of establishments know how to enforce the smoking ordinance, it’s very similar as to how they would enforce the alcoholic beverage rules. When the smoking ordinance was first passed, the Health and Human Services Department spent a lot of time educating owners about what steps they needed to take. There’s nothing about this that the city intends to be a surprise.”

Morgan says the goal is to get Judge Sparks to revise his ruling, and once again allow the city to ticket bar owners if their customers light up. “The people who drafted the ordinance were citizens, it was voted on by the citizens, and so the city feels like it needs to follow the will of the citizens who drafted and voted for the ordinance.”

Should Sparks decline to revise his original ruling, the city’s next step would be to take the case to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney Marc Levin, who represents several of the bar and nightclub owners who brought the original suit, said he hopes the city will instead choose to abide by the judge’s decision. “We’re very disappointed,” he said of the city’s motion for reconsideration, “and we think it’s a waste of taxpayer resources to continue fighting this. I think the judge’s opinion was well-reasoned and very clear. It’s clear that ‘necessary steps’ is unconstitutionally vague. I don’t believe that this has any merit.”

Since many of the plaintiffs’ in the suit are small business owners, Levin said, the continuing legal battle is proving to be a burden. “My clients have lost a tremendous amount of resources because of this. Certainly, it’s been a tremendous financial challenge for us to bring this case. I had hoped that Judge Sparks’ decision was the end of the road,” Levin said. “If there’s going to be further action in this area, that should be through another citizen initiative or through the Council taking it up. It is unfortunate the city has chosen to prolong this litigation, but I’m confident that we’ll continue to prevail.”

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

Talk about awkward… Last night's back-and-forth between the Downtown Commission and Dave Sullivan of the Planning Commission did have a certain amount of built-in awkwardness. Sullivan was on hand to present the "iconic ordinance" proposal to the commissioners, what many consider to be a thinly veiled attempt to save Las Manitas and eclectic businesses like it. Tim Finley, whose family owns the Las Manitas block, however, sits on the Downtown Commission as the representative of the Downtown Austin Alliance. At least twice last night – as the conversation veered dangerously close to mentioning Las Manitas by name, Finley asked whether he needed to recuse himself from discussion, but Sullivan assured him the ordinance was intended to be far more general than just one situation. Commissioners, including Finley, fired plenty of tough questions at Sullivan, which Sullivan said he appreciated. Members of the commission intend to present Sullivan with ways to tweak his proposal and asked for a return visit after Sullivan has visited various chambers of commerce. Finley and Beth Ann Sprengel of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce declined to participate in a final vote on a motion to discuss the project in the future, both saying their organizations had yet to take a position on the iconic ordinance proposal . . . So there, State of Texas!. . . Council Member Lee Leffingwell explained Wednesday why he will be supporting a resolution on this morning's Council agenda electing NOT to send more than $1 million in local Homeland Security grant funds to the State of Texas for statewide projects. Asked to explain his reasoning, Leffingwell said, "It's the same old thing. The State of Texas has certain obligations. They need money to do what they're supposed to do but instead of raising their own money, they abrogate their responsibility and pass it off to the local governments. As I understand it, this time we have a chance to refuse, so I'm going to jump on it with great enthusiasm" . . . Also on today's agenda . . . The Council is scheduled to hear a report on the decommissioning of the Green Water Treatment Plant at 10:30am. There are also numerous contested zoning cases, including the potentially historic house owned by former UT quarterback Peter Gardere. Leffingwell feels that the home is a prime example of "demolition by neglect," which he calls, "a growing problem," especially in West Austin near Downtown . . . Downtown elections postponed . . . Heading into the fourth hour of its meeting Wednesday night, the Downtown Commission agreed to postpone election of officers until November. Chair Jeb Boyt, currently completing his first year as chair of the commission, was selected to provide a slate of officers and warned that he would suggest the same slate of officers that served this year. The recent history of the Downtown Commission has been for officers to serve two-year terms . . . Annual Police Ball . . . Supporters and members of Austin's Finest will gather Saturday night to celebrate the contributions of Austin Police Officers at the Austin Police Benevolent Society's 2006 Austin Police Officers' Ball. The black-tie dinner and ceremony is being held from 6pm to midnight at the Hilton Austin Hotel. This year, the Society will honor 25 Austin Police Officers. A complete list of award recipients can be found at http://www.austinpolice.com. . . AMD donates to Conservancy, Land Trust . . . AMD announced on Wednesday that it will donate $800,000 to the Hill Country Conservancy and $700,000 to the Trust for Public Land's Texas Heritage Land Fund. The HCC will use the donation to help secure $3.6 million in matching funds from the City of Austin and the federal government. The company's donations are the first half of a planned $3 million to preserve open space and environmentally-sensitive land in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer and throughout Central Texas . . . District 50 heats up . . . Incumbent Mark Strama is getting ready for a TV ad blitz in his campaign to hold on the District 50 seat in the Legislature. Strama's campaign is rallying supporters to help put the newly produced ads on the air, with a variety of giving levels. For a sneak peek at the new ads, go to http://markstrama.com/pub_media_tv.php. . . Meanwhile, his opponent, Jeff Fleece, is holding a campaign fundraiser tonight from 5:30-7pm at the home of Lindy and Edmund Buckley, 9625 Rainlilly Ln. The guest of honor will be U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith. For more information or to RSVP, please call 458-6171.

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