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Villa Muse to get fast review from commissions, staff

Friday, February 1, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The request by the developers of the proposed Villa Muse film studios and residential complex to be released from the city’s ETJ will go to the Environmental Board and the Planning Commission this month for review. At the same time, the city staff will intensify talks with the developers to determine if there is a way the project could be built within the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction.

 

Yesterday, the Council approved both of those approaches, with Council Member Lee Leffingwell, in particular, insisting that the city not relinquish its ability to enforce its environmental regulations on the site.

 

“Our sponsorship of the item is not supporting or denying what we believe to be the proposal,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “It’s telling staff that they have our blessing and encouragement to spend a lot of time and effort over this next month to truly analyze the development opportunity…and advise us on any potential variances to what have been current practices that will enable us to call the question sooner rather than later.”

 

Part of the discussions during the next month will involve the city taking a closer look at the financial arrangements for the project. “What Villa Muse is looking for is a financing tool. At this point they’re looking at is a PID, which is a public improvement district,” said Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, “It allows them to assess properties in order to generate public revenue to pay for infrastructure and other costs associated with the development. So what we’ll be looking at is whether or not that same PID structure could work inside the city limits.”

 

Even if the property near the SH-130 corridor is exempted from the city’s ETJ during the initial development phase it could one day be annexed into the city limits. If the developers decide to create a PID to help finance that development, Huffman said, “probably part of what they would be looking for is a delay in annexation…as to avoid both city taxes and a PID simultaneously.”

 

Huffman also said any action recommended by staff would be in keeping with Council’s existing policies. “We want to look for ways we could make this performance based so that if the City Council agrees to the creation of a PID, we have a mechanism to ensure that the land uses occur in accordance with your policies and that the development happens as expected.”

 

The request for release of the ETJ will go before the Environmental Board at its meeting next week on February 6 and then to the Planning Commission on February 12. The developers are optimistic that both of those groups can have their recommendation back to the City Council by March 6, along with an update from staff about options for keeping the project within the ETJ. “We’re very hopeful that we can get this done in a very fast-paced way. It’s very important that we get in the game,” said Villa Muse CEO Jay Podolnick. “Texas right now is losing market share in the film industry.”

 

Other states and other areas, he said, are offering up significant financial incentives to lure film production away from Texas. He predicted that the state legislature could take action to combat that trend during the next session. “What we’re saying is our incentives are probably going to go up next session,” he said, noting that those incentives would likely be allocated on a statewide basis and not particular to Austin. “We’d better get the facilities on the ground very, very fast. The crews are leaving right now to other competing states and we want to stop the bleeding, basically.”

 

If Villa Muse cannot find a suitable arrangement within the city, Podolnick said, they would consider other locations for the studios. “There’s always a backup plan for something the size of this project. This is a state project, and so we just want to build it here in Austin,” he said. “I’m a native Austinite, and I have a real love affair with this town.”

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