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Proposed state-city agreement continues to stir debate

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 by Lenna Stahl

The confusion surrounding a proposed interlocal agreement between the City of Austin and the Texas Facilities Commission extended to an Austin City Council committee on Monday.

 

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Laura Morrison expressed decidedly different perspectives about what decisions had been made, which are left to be made and who has the power to make them at Monday’s meeting of the Council’s Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee. More discussion is expected at this morning’s City Council work session.

 

Cole and Morrison also disagreed about how much money the City of Austin would pledge to contribute to the study of state-owned land. Cole assured her colleagues that the city’s financial contribution would end at $200,000. Morrison suggested that the new language for the resolution does not explicitly specify that limit.

 

If approved, the agreement between the city and the state would provide city staff time, money and resources for a Facilities Commission-piloted study of state-owned land in Austin. Rumors have the state interested in developing roughly 500 acres (see In Fact Daily, Nov. 30, 2012).

 

Meanwhile, neighborhood skeptics continue to worry about the deal. Allandale’s Joe Reynolds expressed the ongoing neighborhood concern that deals negotiated by the Facilities Commission would not be subject to city zoning regulations. Reynolds encouraged the Council to postpone any decision until September 2013.

 

John Eastman, president of the Ridgelea Neighborhood Association and Bull Creek Road Coalition, expressed concerns about the Texas Facilities Commission’s authority and operations, citing a state Sunset Commission staff report. The report, part of a Sunset review of the commission, suggests that the Texas Facilities Commission has operated with a lack of transparency, as well as other concerns over its operations.

 

Eastman suggested that the Texas Facilities Commission does not have the authority to act as broker for all of the land included in the proposed study areas, and that the city’s involvement in a study could be premature. “We really are encouraged that the city and the state are working together … to find (Austin) a seat at the table,” Eastman said. “But the table hasn’t been set, it hasn’t even been built yet.”

 

Cole continued to press the idea that city involvement in the study is valuable. “It’s important that we recognize our role as a city and then what the state can, cannot, may do … and what we have control over,” Cole said.  “The short answer is: We have no direct control over what they (the state) do.” 

 

If the city has no control over state decisions, Cole suggested that early city participation is a way to influence the process. “It is important at this stage that we focus on what role we will play,” Cole said. “Is it better to sit this out or is it better to be part of the process?”

 

The discussion will undoubtedly continue today as City Council is scheduled to take up the issue at a work session that begins at 9am at City Hall.

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