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Revitalization Authority board removes two members

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Austin Revitalization Authority’s board of directors took the unparalleled action of kicking two members off its board last night, members who also happened to be signatories on a resolution last month that suggested ARA should be removed as the developer of city-owned property on East 12th Street.


Those who were to be removed – Stan Strickland and Rob Seidenberg – got the chance to look their accusers in the eye and make their case for staying.


After some discussion, however, Board Member Lisa Byrd of Pro Arts Collective proposed, and her colleagues on the board agreed, not only to remove Strickland and Seidenberg from the board but also to potentially strike representation of their neighborhood groups on the board. Strickland and Seidenberg were the only objectors at last night’s meeting.


Board members, including President Charles Urdy, criticized recent resolutions circulated by neighborhood groups and passed onto Council, calling a number of their claims patently false. Urdy, who did post the 12th Street resolution for discussion at last month’s meeting, told colleagues it was time to stand up.


“We simply have to stop accepting that,” said Urdy of the board’s passive nature in taking criticism from the media and the public. “We should say, ‘Look, I’m through. I’m not doing that anymore.’”


A resolution of neighborhood concerns, signed by Seidenberg and Strickland, was sent to Council last month. More recently, a second draft resolution, with different signatories, circulated about East 11th Street.


And that was that. The board members present, minus Strickland and Seidenberg, voted to remove the two members and potentially their associations: Strickland represents the Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association and Seidenberg represents the SHNA East 12th Street Committee. Resolution signatory Tracy Witte, president of the Swede Hill Neighborhood Association, sat in the audience last night.


“I represented East 12th street, and I was on this board for five years,” Seidenberg said in his defense after the vote. “In that period of time, I tried often to agitate for more ARA activity and more focus on East 12th Street.”


Which is to say, according to Seidenberg, that this vote was no surprise. In fact, “agitation” appeared to be a key word among objectors last night. Without it, nothing would have happened, Seidenberg said. Strickland said it was that kind of agitation from the neighborhoods that finally raised the level of concern among Council members and got the attention of city staff on the issue.


The original set of city bylaws required neighborhood representation on the ARA board. With the most recent extension of the tri-party resolution, last September, it was the ARA’s interpretation that the requirement to include neighborhood association representation no longer applied.


Exclusion of neighborhood associations was deemed inevitable, but Strickland still expressed his disappointment that the vote occurred.


“I am disappointed that we had to part ways under these circumstances,” Strickland said. “I think, over the years preceding my time on the board, a lot of distrust had developed between the neighborhoods and ARA. In some ways, I would think this situation, and this vote, was inevitable. Of course, I’m very disappointed that it ultimately came to this, and I’m hoping that some sort of resolve can come from this, to the benefit of the area and ultimately all the work.”


Area neighborhood groups have frequently disagreed with ARA plans. For instance, ARA and some neighbors supported the conversion of a block on 12th Street into a nursing home facility. Critics questioned how the proposal fit into the latest neighborhood plan, which emphasized mixed-use projects on that block.


Witte asked why she was the one who had to delve into a substantial review of the nursing home parent company, rather than ARA or local officials. Everyone was eager for a deal, she said, but no one wanted to discuss the quality of that deal.


The two neighborhood association representatives who lost their seats are white and the balance of the members of the ARA board in regular attendance are African-American, people who have felt the discriminatory sting of the white establishment in Austin.


To say tradition and gentrification have not mingled well in Austin, given last night’s action, would appear to be an understatement, although the goals of both groups do appear similar on paper.

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