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Architect presents Block 21 concept drawings

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 by

By Kimberly Reeves

Architect Arthur Andersson presented the conceptual drawings for Block 21 to the Design Commission last night, outlining plans that include the city’s W boutique hotel, as well as new digs for the Austin Children’s Museum, KLRU and Austin City Limits.

The Design Commission, which typically confines itself to the broader design issues of projects, focused on some of the key points: the east-west orientation and massing of the building; sufficient parking spaces for both the hotel and condos; and the placement of parking and valet parking along the side of the W Hotel.

Shorter buildings will be placed to the front of the property. The condo-hotel tower will be at the back, or north end, of the property. Andersson said the placement of the buildings is intended to take advantage of the southeasterly winds off Town Lake. Materials will be local Leuders limestone, cast-in-place concrete and, for accents of areas around the KLRU studios, a milled-finish aluminum.

“We want materials that are going to improve, to have a patina with weather and age,” Andersson said after the presentation. “It’s very hard to do that until you’ve experimented some with the various materials you want to use.”

The numbers on the tower – how many hotel rooms and how many condominium units – are still somewhat fluid, expected to settle somewhere around 250 for each. Massing currently puts retail at somewhere around 24,000 square feet. The Austin Children’s Museum will be about 30,000 square feet, with about 10,000 square feet for Austin City Limits and another 10,000 square feet for ancillary space for KLRU. One of the key features of the property will be a JumboTron of the Austin City Limits performance over the plaza, which will provide real-time music performances during show tapings. At this point, about 600 parking spaces have been set aside for the project.

Commissioners had questions about the orientation of the building – east to west instead of north to south – and the fact it did not fill an entire block. Commissioners also questioned where, and how, valet parking will take place. Some questioned whether the on-site parking would be sufficient to handle the full range of the project. They also raised questions about two other aspects of the project – the protection and possible relocation of existing trees and the walking experience along all edges of the block.

Last week, the Planning Commission voted to recommend CBD-CURE zoning for the project with a conditional overlay. The City Council is scheduled to take up the matter on Thursday.

Andersson said groundbreaking is expected in May or June of next year with the building to be open sometime in 2008.

ZAP puts off hearing on new Concordia site

The Zoning and Platting Commission last week postponed until Dec. 19 a hearing over changes to the planned development agreement covering the site of the former Schlumberger campus on FM 620. Concordia University is buying most, but not all, of the site, and needs to have the college/university use added to the list of permitted uses under the PDA.

“There are some issues the environmental staff would like to continue working with the applicant on regarding protection of some critical features on the property,” said NPZD staffer Tina Bui. “We do need to work out some minor details regarding sign regulations and noise regulations. Those are addressed very explicitly in the existing PDA and the applicant would like to amend certain parts of that.”

In addition, the seller of the property is retaining part of the tract, and would like to add single-family residential, multi-family, and congregate living uses to the list of allowed uses under the PDA.

Richard Suttle, who is representing Concordia University, had originally requested a postponement until Dec. 5. That delay, he said, would allow time to present the proposed changes to the Environmental Board. While that board’s approval is not officially required, it is allowed to review changes to a PDA and make recommendations.

“We have had difficulty getting to the Environmental Board,” said Suttle, who requested that if the case were to be postponed, the ZAP schedule it for Dec. 5. The next meeting of the Environmental Board is scheduled for Dec. 6. “We don’t have a problem going to the Environmental Board,” Suttle said, “it’s just that the Environmental Board is starting to drive the schedule of getting to you…if we can get a set time that we’re going to them, and a set time we’re going to you, that would solve our problem.”

While Commission members did discuss the possibility of hearing the case on Dec. 5, allowing the Environmental Board to send its recommendations on to the City Council separately, they eventually decided unanimously to postpone the case until Dec. 19, giving the Environmental Board the opportunity to hear the matter first. .

The case is set on this week’s Council agenda but without a recommendation from either commission it is almost inevitable that the matter will be postponed until January.

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

Guitars unveiled . . . Mayor Will Wynn and Asleep at the Wheel singer Ray Benson Monday unveiled most of the 10-foot-tall Gibson Guitar statues that will be placed around town within the next week as part of Austin GuitarTown. The sculptures are part of a public arts project similar to one done first in Nashville, which calls itself Guitar Town. Local visual artists, including cartoonist Sam Hurt, imaginatively designed all of the guitars. Hurt, creator of the Eyebeam comic strip, said he had less than two months to design and complete his whimsical creation, which can be viewed at the Austin Children's Museum. Next fall, the sculptures will be auctioned off to benefit four local charities: The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the Austin Museum of Art, American YouthWorks and the Austin Children's Museum. The Mayor said he would get his friend, RunTex owner Paul Carrozza, to design a special running course allowing runners to trot past all of the guitar sculptures. Nine of the 35 guitars were still seeking sponsors as of Monday. To learn more about the project or to become a sponsor, visit www.austinguitartown.com or call 692-4191 . . . Former ACTV director sentenced . . . Frank Villarreal, who pleaded guilty to embezzling $354,000 from Austin Community Television between 2000 and 2004 when he was the organization's director, was sentenced to 7 years in prison yesterday by a state district judge. Villarreal told authorities that he spent much of the money on leasing cars, paying off student loans and buying University of Texas season tickets. A 2005 city audit discovered the missing money in the ACTV account. A new contract was awarded in October 2005 to Public Access Community Television to run the city's access channels . . . No stopping Wal-Mart . . . Although she has received numerous emails about stopping the Wal-Mart planned for Northcross Mall, Council Member Sheryl Cole said Monday that the retailer has the appropriate zoning to construct a new store on the Anderson Lane site. Cole is sponsoring an ordinance that would require "big box" stores to get a Conditional Use Permit for future sites but since that ordinance is not in place, the City Council does not have the authority to stop this one, she said. Cole said she expects a hearing on the proposed ordinance on Dec. 14 . . . Meetings . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am in the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . Christmas helpers . . . Brown Santa opens its headquarters today at 5555 Airport Blvd. To donate or volunteer, call Tracy Hill-Dorty, Chair of Brown Santa, at 563-1422 or 24SANTA. . . . APD's Blue Santa Program is also looking for volunteers. The program will open for business on Wednesday at Blue Santa Headquarters at 1801 East 51st Street (first driveway east of the intersection of Berkman Drive and 51st Street). For information, log on to http://www.bluesanta.org or call 220-BLUE (2583) . . . Not finished until you do the paperwork . . . The Kreisle Building at 412 Congress may have looked like a historic building and the owners may have acted like they had a historic building, but no one had processed the paperwork to make it a historic building. The owner filed that paperwork once, but it was lost in processing way back in 1991. The Historic Landmark Commission made the "historic" status official at last night's meeting…. Mapping out Downtown . . . Michael Knox presented the downtown map at last night's Design Commission meeting. The map notes the blocks available for development and redevelopment in order to pave the way for 25,000 residents to live downtown. Chair Eleanor McKinney said the commission looked forward to offer the commission's input into the consultant recommendations on housing under the downtown planning process…. Rockin' City Hall . . . The lobby at Austin City Hall was rocking last night as the National Black MBA Association mixed and mingled. Dell and the City of Austin hosted the reception for the newly constituted group, and Dell presented the Austin Chapter of NBMBA with a check for $25,000 to underwrite the group's networking efforts. Council Member Sheryl Cole also addressed the group… Day of Community Reflection . . . Liz Watson will be the keynote speaker at the third annual Day of Community Reflection conference today at the University of Texas J.J. Pickle Research Campus, 10100 Burnet Rd in the Commons Building. The purpose of this conference is to raise awareness of hospice services and grief and loss resources. The program is open to the general public. Continuing Education Credits will be offered to Physical Therapists, Social Workers and Nurses. Registration and breakfast will begin at 8am. The program begins at 8:45am.

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