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Planning decisions delay release of RFP for Block 16

Thursday, September 18, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

After a string of long and loud gatherings, Monday night’s Urban Renewal Board meeting was fairly tame, given the commission’s recent dissatisfaction with the Austin Revitalization Authority’s performance on blocks it has been given to redevelop on 11th and 12th streets.


In fact, the only public decision that appeared to be of real consequence was the delay, once again, of the release of the Request for Proposal for a developer on Block 16, the block closest to Interstate 35 on East 11th Street.


The Planning Commission was scheduled to consider a package of amendments on East 11th Street – decisions on Blocks 16 and 18, as well as the uses of a block where a gas station-convenience sore now sits – but the items were not put on its agenda this month.


Given the Planning Commission’s time frame – the first potential meeting for a decision would be October 14, the items will not get to Council for approval until November. That pushes the timeline for actual action to release the RFP until April.


Chair Kevin Cole asked how much that would affect the timeline on getting an RFP for Block 16 out on the street. The schedule was October approval and the choice of a developer in February. That is now pushed back to December and April. Sandra Harkins told the URB the city staff will know more next month.  She estimated that the delay would cost the project another month.


“Delay, delay, delay,” said Cole, almost under his breath.


The Urban Renewal Board was set to consider a criteria matrix for considering proposals on Block 16, but Margaret Shaw, director of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, and her staff have delayed that decision. Harkins said it was the city’s opinion that it would be unwise to put the matrix out in the public arena too early and give developers an unfair advantage.


In other actions, ARA Executive Director Byron Marshall was out sick and unable to give the commission an update on the East 11th and 12th street projects.  Attorney Susan Rocha, who advises the URB, also was absent from the meeting.


Commissioners were provided with copies of the unified restrictive covenant, which tied the development of blocks 16 and 17 together on East 11th Street. Shaw said it was her opinion, after a review of the document with legal staff, that the covenant was a hurdle, but not a deal breaker to the redevelopment of the block.


Attorney Gregory Miller, who represents the city, said the agreement was intended to consolidate the land uses and land use controls into one document. That way, entitlements and expectations would be set out in advance.


However, like any good deed restriction, getting out of the covenant requires all three parties of the tri-party agreement to agree to waive the covenant. That includes ARA, which would prefer to be the developer on both Blocks 16 and the balance of Block 17, which is the half of the lot behind the Sneed Building.


While Shaw downplayed the importance of the document – saying that the city went through untangling similar situations on any number of its own affordable housing projects — Commissioner Daffney Henry was dissatisfied that the URB had a document in front of it that required that ARA sign off on another developer being picked to develop the back end of Block 17.


Commissioner members also were less than satisfied with a decision on the historic house located on Block 16. The city wants to remove an unsafe addition to redevelop the property. Given little choice but to approve the city’s decision, Cole complained a bit that the city was tying the commission’s hands to assess the situation.

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