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Commission says cut 7th Street tower to 120 feet CLB Partners proposes 400-foot mixed-use project

Wednesday, December 13, 2006 by

CLB Partner’s proposed point tower on West Seventh Street had strong support last night from downtown boosters and civic leaders, but the Planning Commission rejected a staff recommendation in support of rezoning the project site to CBD-CURE, voting instead to for a less intense DMU zoning that limited height to 120 feet.

The bet among the seasoned observers watching last night’s three-hour hearing was that the commission was likely to deadlock at 4-4, possibly sending no recommendation on to Council next month. Instead, commissioners were swayed by the testimony of those who worried that the 400-foot height was too precipitous a jump given the proximity to low-slung historic homes. The property is located at 605 and 615 West Seventh St., across the street from historic homes to the north and partially constrained by the Lamar Bridge Capitol View Corridor.

Attorney Steve Drenner, representing CLB Partners and property owner Michael McGinnis, argued that all those things that people praised about the project – providing two stories of underground parking, keeping Ranch 616 on-site and in business and even providing some step-backs in massing on the Seventh Street side – could only occur if Council grants CBD-CURE zoning, with a floor-to-area ratio of roughly 11-to-1.

The strongest supporters of downtown housing – Cid Galindo and Chris Riley – supported the staff recommendation. Galindo added additional conditions, such as required Great Streets treatment; two stories of underground parking with no-blast excavation; at least 75 percent residential on the upper floors; and at least 75 percent pedestrian-oriented uses on the ground floor. Riley added a step-back provision for the upper floors of the building that faced Seventh Street. Commissioner Jay Reddy supported that motion, which was two short of what Drenner needed to get his recommendation.

Observers said the real decision came down to a very subjective choice: Should high-density high-rise buildings end at Sixth Street or were commissioners comfortable with a high-rise that crept one block north to Seventh Street? Some commissioners clearly weren’t, and Commissioner Mandy Dealey said as much at the final vote. She liked the project, even on Sixth Street, but she couldn’t support the height on Seventh Street.

Commissioner Perla Cavazos proposed DMU zoning on the site, with a condition of Great Streets. Riley went ahead and supported this motion, too, because of his strong desire to see residential density downtown. This time, Chair David Sullivan, Dealey, Saundra Kirk, Cavazos and Riley all voted to support the motion. That will be the recommendation presented to City Council, possibly as early as Jan. 25.

Hays rejects subdivision over water concerns By Kate Harrington

A subdivision in Dripping Springs has some neighbors up in arms about the Hays County Commissioners Court’s procedures for protecting water resources.

Those complaints were sufficient to convince Commissioners Susie Carter and Will Conley to vote against approval of phase two of the North Ridge subdivision. With Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe absent, the motion to approve the final plat failed.

During the final court meeting for outgoing commissioners Carter and Russ Molenaar and County Judge Jim Powers, area residents strongly objected to approval of the final plat.

Several Dripping Springs homeowners came to the podium, saying the legally required water studies haven’t been completed on the subdivision’s second phase, and that it’s been rushed through court.

“I just got done with another lawsuit,” said Steven Shubin, whose land borders the entire proposed second phase plat of the North Ridge subdivision. “If we have to file an injunction we will…I ask the court to adhere to the laws of water tests that need to be done.”

Two other Dripping Springs residents echoed Shubin’s concerns, saying the second phase of this subdivision could potentially bring in hundreds more wells, which would dry up the area even more. Dripping Springs residents relying on well water have battled dry wells for months as Hays County’s drought lingers on.

Although the drought has affected all of Hays County, new developments in the Dripping Springs area have been a target of criticism from frustrated residents who say the water table is being sucked dry by new homes.

Under Powers, the court spent the summer looking into potential solutions to the lack of county-owned water resources. While the county does have a contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) for a pipeline that runs down US 290, individual municipalities in Hays County have traditionally secured their own infrastructure.

County Judge-elect Liz Sumter has said she wants to continue to make a county-wide water and wastewater plan a priority and protect resources.

Barrientos urges civility at CAMPO

Last night’s CAMPO meeting was a low-key send-off for departing Chair Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin), who took his last moments on the dais to bemoan the lack of civility in the last two years of transportation planning and to urge both a reduction in the number of members on the board and a commitment to a transportation plan for the region that would embrace some mix of tolls and managed lanes.

He has been the group’s only chair during its 20-year history.

Barrientos was not the only one leaving the CAMPO board. Five members – Commissioner Frankie Limmer, Judge Jim Powers, Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin) and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner – all served their last meeting last night. Adding others who have departed in recent months – former officials Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, Rep. Todd Baxter (R-Austin), Dwight Thompson and Commissioner Greg Boatright – and 15-member board has shown high turnover in the last year or so.

Barrientos’ comments noted some of the strain on the board, which has been the subject of frequent criticism from toll opponents on the last couple of years. He alluded to many of the attacks of Sal Costello and the Austin Toll Party in his comments.

“I will not rehash the last couple of years, but I will tell you none of those things are true, and I’ll tell you something else,” Barrientos said. “When you call people names and make baseless accusations about their

character, people stop listening to you… We all live here. We’re all in this together. We all have to pay tolls.”

Barrientos, who was presented with a engraved clock, a proclamation and a plaque, thanked his colleagues on the board and CAMPO staff. The word Barrientos and others reiterated frequently was the need to create a balance.

“Just as I strove to do in the Legislature, I sought balance here, and as has been stated, unfortunately, sometimes the only easy part has been making one group or another upset,” Barrientos said last night. “For instance, there were developers and real estate folks that didn’t think we built enough roads. They’d like to pave it all. And some of our friends in the environmental community thought we built too much, that if we didn’t build it, they wouldn’t come. Both camps just know they’re right, and yet, on CAMPO, we are charged with doing enough because people did come.”

Just as he did a number of years ago, Barrientos floated the idea of cutting the CAMPO board from 23 to 15, noting that proxies represented too many members on the board at too many meetings. Cutting the number would work, Barrientos said, as long as the proportion of the members – by county and jurisdiction – was maintained. Board members should come to meetings, even if they are unpleasant, Barrientos said.

Barrientos also asked members to continue to work to pass the commuter rail district’s work, which would improve the quality of life in the region. Barrientos and fellow Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) authored the legislation that created the commuter rail district, which earned an endorsement from the CAMPO board last night.

Barrientos also urged his colleagues to cast their votes on the region’s toll plan with confidence and a thorough review, possibility creating a version that mixed both free, managed and tolled lanes. Finding that mix between free and tolled – portions of SH 71 and US 183 already are paid for – can make the region’s money go further, he said.

The resolutions that the CAMPO board passed back in 2004 on the toll roads – including ones that sought free alternatives and the use of toll revenue only in areas that are willing to toll themselves – are still good guidelines to follow, Barrientos said.

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

Council hears more about Wal-Mart . . . Council staff got an earful yesterday about the proposed Wal-Mart at Northcross. While those in opposition have been well-organized and vocal, some citizens who identified themselves as retired people on fixed incomes said they would welcome a Wal-Mart in the neighborhood. Members of Liveable City will be visiting Council offices today to urge the Council to vote in favor of restrictions on future big box stores. On the other side presumably, members of RECA will also be talking to Council about the proposed ordinance, one of several controversial items Council has on its Thursday agenda . . . Dunkerley applauded . . . The Real Estate Council of Austin Tuesday bestowed on Council Member Betty Dunkerley its yearly Commendation of Excellence Award, which RECA has renamed the Gary S. Farmer Commendation of Excellence Award. RECA cited her "tireless work" for the citizens of Austin, and her expertise in health, public safety, housing, taxes, water, the environment, and her specialty, municipal finance. Farmer was a founding member of RECA and is still active with the organization. He served as president in 1993. . . Under their trees . . . One group has sent enormous platters of cookies and fudge with raspberries and blueberries scattered throughout to all the Council offices this week. But Armbrust & Brown has sent a unique Christmas gift to every Council staffer, a board game, much like Monopoly, but called Austin. The law firm paid extra for a square on the board, a la Park Place, named Armbrust & Brown . . . Meetings . . . The Austin Public Safety Officers Association Meet and Confer session meets at 9:30am at the Learning and Research Center, 2800 Spirit of Texas Dr. . . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission meets at 6:30pm in Room 104 of Waller Creek Plaza . . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors meets at 4pm at headquarters at 2910 E. Fifth St. . . . HAAM benefit . . . The Waterloo Ice House Restaurant Group will present the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) the proceeds of its "30 Bands in 30 Days" anniversary celebration that marked 30 years of business in Austin. The ceremony will be at the Waterloo Ice House at Sixth and Lamar today. On hand will be Waterloo Group co-owner Scott Hentschel, store manager Laura Magoon, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians Board of Directors chairman Robin Shivers, HAAM Benefit Day Committee co-chairs Erin Almanza and Cami Hawkins and local musician Carolyn Wonderland. Proceeds from this event and HAAM Benefit Day (Oct. 3) and foundation grants will allow HAAM to expand program capacity for primary medical care through Seton Family of Hospitals, basic dental care through St. David's Community Health Foundation and mental health services through the SIMS Foundation for member-musicians and future members of HAAM. For more information, see http://www.waterlooicehouse.com and http://www.healthallianceforaustinmusicians.org. . . . Commanders Forum . . . The Austin Police Department holds Commander Forums to share and discuss issues and concerns with residents and business owners to improve the quality of life within the area commands. A forum is planned for 7pm tonight at the Southwest Area Command, Clinton Hunter Substation, 404 Ralph Ablanedo Dr . . . Design Standards meetings . . . Two meetings today and tomorrow will offer an opportunity to learn more about the city's new Land Development Code Design Standards and Mixed Use Subchapter. Meetings are planned for 6pm today in Council Chambers at City Hall, and 1:30pm Thursday in Room 325 at One Texas Center. The sessions will familiarize residents and members of the development community with the new ordinance, which goes into effect Jan. 13. Both presentations will cover the same material. . . . VMU meeting . . . An informational meeting on the city's Vertical Mixed Use (VMU) Opt-in/Opt-out process will take place today from 6 to 9pm at the Region XIII Education Center located at 5701 Springdale Rd. A VMU overlay would allow property owners to develop non-residentially zoned property in a new way, possibly using the first floor of a building for commercial purposes and the top floor(s) for residential use, such as condominiums. All organized neighborhood groups have been asked to participate in the VMU Opt-in/Opt-out process. This week's meeting has been organized specifically for all individuals who live, work, or own commercial or residential property in neighborhoods surrounding the Mueller development . . . Economic outlook for 2007 . . . The Greater Austin Chamber hosts its Annual Economic Forecast today. Four of the leading economic experts will provide local, state and national outlooks for 2007, including predictions on consumer confidence, employment trends, the housing market and retail sales. Speakers will include: Ray Perryman, President of The Perryman Group; Billy Hamilton, Chief Deputy Comptroller of Public Accounts of Texas; Jon Hockenyos, founder of Texas Perspectives; and Daniel Kah, Research Director at Angelou Economics. The Greater Austin Chamber's Annual Economic Forecast is set for 5pm at the Alamo Drafthouse, 1120 South Lamar.

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