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Planners endorse Town Lake high-rise project

Thursday, November 30, 2006 by

After intense negotiations that lasted right up to the time their case was called at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, Fairfield Residential and the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association reached an agreement on the proposed PUD for two new high-rise buildings next to the Hyatt Regency on Town Lake. The commission endorsed the plan – in which Fairfield granted several of the neighborhood’s requests to alter the project – on a 6-0 vote.

The biggest sticking point during the discussions over the past few months had been Fairfield’s plan to build part of one of the buildings 15 feet into the area normally protected as a set-back from Town Lake as part of the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance (see In Fact Daily, October 5, 2006).

While the developer had previously indicated that pushing the building back 15 feet to comply with the standard set-back was not feasible, at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting Paul Johnston with Fairfield Residential said that was now a concession his company was willing to make. “That portion of the building that would have been in the set-back was pulled back. The issue is really the width of the area that we’re left with, and it will make for a less efficient building, so to speak, but that’s just something that we agreed to figure out a way to make work,” he said, adding that the primary change would be to redesign the parking garage associated with one of the new structures.

A second change to the plan involved reducing the proposed height of the second tower from 200 feet down to 90 feet. “Our neighborhood association does not support the increasing demands from developers to bring what we feel are downtown heights south of the river,” said Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association President Kathie Tovo. “However, we felt that on this particular tract, in this particular location on the tract, we could consider an increase in height from 60 feet to 90 feet if there were significant community benefits attached to that.” That tract is along Barton Springs Road.

Those community benefits will include fees contributions to a non-profit affordable housing group and to the Town Lake Trail Foundation. The affordable housing contribution was directly linked to allowing the 90-foot height instead of the 60-foot level preferred by the neighborhood, and will total slightly more than $425,000. “We feel very good about that and believe that will do some good in our neighborhood,” said Tovo.

The contribution to the Town Lake Trail Foundation is based on the number of residential units in the towers. The agreement calls for paying $200 per unit to the foundation, along with $200 per unit to the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department for trail maintenance and improvements.

With an estimated 500 units in the project, that amounts to $100,000 to the foundation as well as $100,000 city. “While the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association didn’t achieve all of its aims in this project, and I suspect Fairfield did not as well, the revised PUD is really more respectful of the community values to protect the shoreline and to prohibit encroachments into the waterfront overlay,” said Tovo.

“We’ve met…I don’t know how many times,” said Fairfield’s Paul Johnston. “Both sides have made a really hard push. We made a commitment to the process, Bouldin made a commitment to the process. They lived up to their commitment to be receptive to considering things and going back and forth and they’ve been a good partner in this process.”

Michael Whellan of Graves Daugherty represented Fairfield, while Nikelle Meade of Brown McCarroll represented the neighborhood group.

HLC initiates historic zoning on Rainey Street homes

The Historic Landmark Commission caused developer Stephen Maida a moment of panic on Monday night with a discussion of zoning for two houses on Rainey Street historic.

Maida rushed to the Council Chamber as the commission members talked about the history of the homes at 70 Rainey and 72 Rainey, right behind the Mexican-American Cultural Center site. One home, at 70 Rainey Street, was built in 1885 and was one of the first two houses on the street. The home belonged to a stonecutter and mason who might have been involved in the work at the state capitol. Hubert Thetreau also served as the head of the city’s masonry department.

The other home, a stucco frame house at 72 Rainey Street, was built in 1917 and belonged to Herber Weigl, who founded Weigl Iron Works and was responsible for most of the ornamental wrought iron in the city. Weigl Iron Works opened at Enfield and Exposition and moved to First and Colorado in the 1920s. Thus, this is the iron works noted in the barbecue joint that now sits on the former iron works property. The home may be historic, but it is not considered part of the Rainey Street National Register District because it was moved to the site on Rainey Street about 35 years ago.

When the permits were pulled on the homes, the cases were brought forward for historic zoning consideration. On Monday afternoon, however, agent Mike McHone brought a compromise – lots in East Austin that could be used for two of the three homes. The third home is not considered historic. Given the nature of Rainey Street – which is being pulled down piece by piece because of Council direction to zone the land on the street for high-density development – the prospect of relocation was a fairly palatable one.

As McHone pointed out, the properties are behind city land and adjacent to other property that will soon be home to high-density condos.

The intention of the commission, if poorly articulated, was to work out the details of documenting and preserving the homes on their new site, either through the preservation covenant or zoning the land at the new sites historic. That would require pulling the trigger on a historic zoning case. Maida, who was at home watching the proceedings, rushed to the meeting in a panic when he heard the commission’s intentions. Maida told the commission his contract on the properties expired in eight days.

“I thought I was doing a favor to everybody to develop and remodel these homes. These structures are dilapidated. And now my contract expires in eight days,” an out-of-breath Maida told the commission. “I don’t have the luxury of time to wait until the next hearing to get this resolved. I’m out of it, and the big developer who comes in behind me is not going to do as good of work as I’m doing.”

Chair Laurie Limbacher tried to sooth Maida’s nerves, apologizing for the confusion but saying that the intention was to properly document and preserve the houses. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky noted that the lots proposed for the relocation had not been examined yet and that the full history of the homes had not been documented, although some documentation of the homes took place about 15 years ago.

Sadowsky said he would hate to see a relocation permit released if it might mean that the ultimate preservation of the two homes would mean vinyl siding or metal windows. That may not be what Maida intended, Sadowsky said, but it was important that the city and the Historic Landmark Commission protect its options in such a situation.

The Historic Landmark Commission settled on a motion to initiate historic zoning, with the caveat that their intention was to support relocation to a new site. Limbacher specifically noted that relocation was “a viable alternative.” The case will come back to the commission next month.

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

Cantu joins URS . . . Engineer Reynaldo Cantu, former Assistant Director for Engineering of the Austin Water Utility, has joined URS as Senior Project Manager in the Water/Infrastructure section. Cantu left his job with the city in September and joined URS a few days later. The company announced hiring Cantu in a mailing received this week. After 16 years with the city, including a stint as director of the Small and Minority Business Resources in the 1990s, Cantu became an assistant director at the water utility in mid-1997. He said Wednesday that the company has sent him to New Orleans as part of repairing the broken levies and to El Paso to see what could be done to alleviate damage from summer flooding. He added, "The one project I have been assigned to in Austin is the ADA sidewalk rotation project." . . . Dull meeting on tap . . . Most of the 18 zoning cases on today's agenda will pass on consent or be postponed except for the case of the Redeemer Lutheran Church. The case is up for second reading, with East Austin neighbors and the church lined up on opposite sides . . . Northcross meeting . . . Opponents of a new Wal-Mart at Northcross Mall will gather tonight to discuss their plans to bedevil the retail giant despite the fact that the store has the zoning and site plan approval needed to proceed. Hope Morrison, a leader of the group Responsible Growth for Northcross, said the group would meet at 7pm at Grace Church of the Nazarene, 1006 W. Koenig Lane, to discuss how the group might try to stop Wal-Mart from locating on the site. Asked how the group expected to stop the big box retailer, Morrison said the city had failed to notify all the neighborhood associations within 300 feet of the site when the site plan was filed. "But the bottom line is there were rumors and nobody would ever confirm rumors," so now neighbors are being told "it is a done deal. That is a classic Wal-Mart tactic…they tell you that so they don't fight it and we believe there is something we can do about it." Council Member Jennifer Kim said she is not sure Anderson Road was designed to handle the truck traffic that a new Wal-Mart might generate and that the store may also bring in more than the number of trips allowed per day. She said she had asked A ssistant City Manager Laura Huffman to find out how the city deals with questions of trip generation once a site plan has been approved. Richard Suttle, attorney for Wal-Mart, said he has arranged to meet with neighborhood associations around Northcross. "We're going to be looking for input if there are ideas on how to improve the plan," Suttle said . . . GM to produce plug-in hybrid . . . General Motors has announced it is beginning work on a plug-in hybrid power system for its Saturn Vue sport utility vehicle. GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner made the announcement Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Wagoner also said GM will start offering versions of its Hummer models that could run on bio-fuel within three years. The City of Austin is a major backer of plug-in hybrids, including providing $1 million in seed money for purchases and a commitment to add them to the city's fleet when they become available. GM already produces a hybrid Saturn vehicle, the Vue Green Line SUV, which the automaker says gets 27 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. The comparable traditional-engine Vue is rated at 22/27 mpg. The plug-in hybrid version could get up to 70 mpg. Wagoner gave no date for when the new Vue would be available.

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