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Riverside/Oltorf neighborhood plan moves ahead

Monday, November 20, 2006 by

The next step on the East Riverside/Oltorf neighborhood plan is a new three-pronged approach – including a disincentive for multi-family construction – that is intended to both increase home ownership and decrease density in the most heavily populated area of the city.

Most of the remaining vacant land with concentrated multi-family zoning along the East Riverside transit corridor was pulled out of the vote on the contested zoning cases before Council last week. That left some low-level cases – rezoning the Internal Revenue Services site as civic and hearing one civic leader urge the Council to purchase the one-time city golf course back from the Austin Community College – for Council to consider. The Council also hashed out the CS zoning on a nightclub that had added additional floor space to its footprint, setting smaller limits but leaving the door open to discussion.

Neighborhood leaders were not completely happy with the course on multi-family. Other compromises included some small lot amnesty and restrictions on parking placement, garage placement and front yards in the various neighborhoods. Asked to approve a number of contested cases, the Council vote was unanimous, with Council Member Jennifer Kim abstaining because of unresolved issues on multi-family property.

Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey, in a presentation on the approach to deal with the East Riverside/Oltorf neighborhood plan, said the city had a three-pronged approach: designating new core transit corridors; apply a new multi-family zoning “tool;” and then taking the multifamily tool to apply it to additional parcels further from the corridor. Guernsey made a similar presentation of the strategy to a Council subcommittee earlier in the week.

The Riverside/Oltorf neighborhood, as a highly dense and heavily traveled community, would have three transit corridors: the existing Riverside transit corridor, plus proposed transit corridors along Pleasant Valley and Oltorf. Pleasant Valley and Oltorf would be consistent with the traffic and uses of the core transit corridors in the city.

The new multi-family zoning tool would give developers an option to put vertical mixed-use development on property that is zoned for multifamily development. It’s not the single-family zoning that the neighborhood would prefer, but it would apply some of the infill goals set out by Council. As a compromise to appease neighbors, the multifamily tool would require a percentage for condominiums or townhomes, as well as a 10 percent set-aside of units for those who make 80 percent of median family income.

The zoning tool would also set standards for open space, promoting greater community/common space. The majority of the buildings would have to front along the principal street, with the ground floor set aside for commercial uses. Development would be denser – through increased floor-to-area ratio, with reduced site area requirements, additional height allowed and reductions in parking requirements for commercial use.

That density and height would be a plus for the developer, who would trade away some of his multifamily profit under the new zoning restrictions. Guernsey described the type of development as similar to what might occur in either the University Neighborhood Overlay or the Waterfront Overlay.

The tool, if it works well, could be extended beyond the corridors themselves to include land that is within 300 feet of the corridor.

Council Member Brewster McCracken wanted to make sure that design standards were applied to the corridor with no ability to opt out of the new requirements, even if a site plan slipped through the development process before design guidelines were final.

“We’ve run into situations recently where there is some effort to get around (those requirements) – not in these projects, by the way, that I’m aware of – but I would like to specify if we try to build this density, it is a very fair comment that the neighborhood has had that we want mixed use and not multiple choices,” McCracken said. “We need to make sure there is compliance with the design standards ordinance, which is the way we had the consensus of the neighborhood leaders and developers and planners.”

The design guidelines likely would be some kind of conditional overlay, said Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry. McCracken moved that the design guidelines apply to all commercial zoned property within the neighborhood plan. The Council approved the zoning on second reading, giving city staff enough time to draft additional language for any overlay by the third, and final, reading on the zoning.

Water district mulls tougher penalties during drought

In an ongoing effort to stay on top of increasingly serious drought conditions and a growing number of people drawing water, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board Thursday night discussed proposed changes to the district’s rules and bylaws concerning drought impact.

While the board didn’t adopt any of the proposed changes, discussion included proscribed water use and enforcement and penalties during drought. Board members voted to table any action on the proposed changes until their next meeting on Dec. 14.

The proposed changes to the district’s bylaws and rules come after two town hall meetings that drew numerous public comments, said BSEACD General Manager Kirk Holland. Those who still wish to comment may do so in writing until Nov. 30 by mail or email. The district has provided a tabular summary of the proposed changes on its website at

Among the changes that board members have proposed are new sections to the rules and bylaws that specify how excessive use is defined in times of drought. The proposed new section would state “domestic use in excess of the larger of 20,000 gallons per connection per month or 4,000 gallons per capita-month during alarm stage…is presumed excessive use.”

In Fact Daily erred in its original publication earlier today concerning changes to definitions. General Manager Kirk Holland sent us an email stating, “As has been publicized many, many times, a Critical Stage Drought may be declared by the Board when Barton Springs flow drops to 20 cfs or below. The proposed Rules were referring to an Emergency Response Period, deep within a Critical Stage Drought, that would be triggered by Board Declaration if Barton Springs flow fell to 14 cfs or below.”

A proposed new subsection to the rules and bylaws also establishes a range of penalties for rules violations during an alarm stage drought, which would be doubled in a critical stage drought. Some of those penalties include a $50 to $250 fine per day for failure to accurately report meter readings, and $500 to $1,000 per day for falsifying meter readings.

Some in the audience didn’t think those penalties are severe enough for the current conditions, though.

“I applaud the board for taking these steps,” said Dan Gildor, staff attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance. “But these rules embody too much discretion and are too permissive…the penalty schedule should be higher. This is serious business.”

Board members acknowledged the severity of the district’s drought and the strain that a booming population puts on the available groundwater. There is also a concern that some wells in the western part of the district might go dry.

“People need to understand that we have to take the low level of water in the aquifer seriously because there are so many more people depending on it for their drinking water than there were 20 or even 10 years ago,” said Board Member Craig Smith after the meeting. “During the great drought of the 1950s, it’s estimated that there was the equivalent of less than 1 cubic foot per second pumped from the aquifer. Now it’s close to 10,” a 10-fold increase. “That’s reflected in the fact that the aquifer level has declined so sharply from being at near record high levels in January 2005 to today, when Barton Springs flow is only about 20 cubic feet per second, which is not far from the historic low.”

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

Board and Commission appointments. . . Council members named these people to city boards and commissions last Thursday: Parisa Fatehi, by consensus to the Day Labor Community Advisory Committee; Bryan Ruiz Cady by consensus to the Downtown Commission; Don Pitts by consensus to the Music Commission; Heidi Goebel by Council Member Brewster McCracken to the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission; and Liz Cunningham by consensus to the Resource Management Commission. . . Meetings . . . The Arts Commission meets at 6:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Parks and Recreation Board, Sub-Committee meets at 10am in room 1033 at City Hall . . . Interim Commissioner . . . Valerie Covey, Williamson County Precinct 3 commissioner-elect, will be sworn into office at 3pm today in the 277th District Courtroom in the Williamson County Justice Center, 405 MLK, in Georgetown. Congressman John Carter will conduct the ceremony. The public is welcome to attend. . . .Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant will join with the Governor's and Mayor's Commissions on Disabilities, the Austin Marshall's office and ADAPT this morning to urge shoppers to be especially mindful to leave handicapped parking spaces for the people who really need them. County and city officers and handicapped parking enforcement volunteers will be patrolling shopping area parking lots throughout the holiday season. Fines for violations are $250 plus court costs for a first offense. The news conference is planned at 11:30am at Highland Mall. . . . Election returns still up in air . . .Williamson County elections officials report that it does not appear that a recount of early voting totals will affect the results of the Nov. 7 election, said County Public Information Officer Connie Watson. She said election officials are almost finished re-loading early voting totals to check for discrepancies reported by election judges in precinct-by-precinct totals. The county's Elections Administrator, Debra Stacy, resigned Friday, the same day the Williamson County Elections Department received a court order to re-open the early voting ballot boxes. The order came after the department found procedural errors in counting those ballots. According to Watson, the elections officials found some precinct totals changed "due to procedural errors in loading the data." But Watson's statement adds, "the outcomes of any candidate races do not appear to have changed." The Williamson County Commissioners Court is scheduled to canvass the election today.

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