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Council debates confidentiality of East 12th Street property sale

Thursday, February 27, 2014 by Michael Kanin

At Tuesday’s work session, Council Member Bill Spelman dove back into the issue of confidentiality in relation to a pending sale of land by the city’s Urban Renewal Board. Council members, who have limited options other than a straight thumbs-up or down over the purchase, postponed a vote on the matter last Thursday pending more information about the deal.

 

They did so as stakeholders, including neighbors in favor of another plan for the a stretch of property in the 1100 and 1300 blocks of East 12th Street and the developers behind that plan, offered their own concerns about the project. Those concerns included the appropriateness of the density proposed by the winning bidder, Butler Equity Holdings. The company is owned indirectly by the family of the late Mayor Roy Butler.

 

Opponents of the plan also raised concerns about the process used by the Urban Renewal Board to award the project to Butler Equity. They suggested that the procurement matrix had been constructed in secret, and that the rationale behind the board’s decision was also confidential.

 

If consummated, the deal would transfer 13,200 square feet of property at 1120 East 12th Street to Butler Equity in exchange for $491,000. It would also send 26,206 square feet of property from the 1300 block of East 12 Street in exchange for $901,000. Butler Equity has promised to build a five-story mixed use development that reserves 10 percent of the residential units for families making less than 60 percent of the Median Family Income for the Austin region.

 

The building in the 1300 block would be similar, and would include what staff calls a “grocery tenant.”

 

Council members remained focused Tuesday on the appropriateness of the secrecy surrounding the decision-making process conducted by the URB. Spelman took the lead.

 

“I understand how the matrix has to be set in executive session by the URB…it’s not the sort of thing that should be done in public,” he said. “Having made their decision as to which of these proposals is the best one, it seems to me that it would be perfectly appropriate for that to be made public—and certainly should be made available to all Council members before we have to make a decision to review that decision of the URB.

 

“Why can’t I make this public?” Spelman asked.

 

Attorney Charles Zech of Denton, Navarro, Rocha, Bernal, Hyde & Zech represents the URB. “The biggest concern that the board would have at this time is that until the City Council approves the sale, it is possible that they would have to reject all of the bids and go back out for competitive-sealed bids again,” Zech told Council members. “The release of those competitive sealed bids prior to doing that again could result in competitive advantages to others, based on what was submitted to the URA. That’s the main issue that the board is concerned with at this point.”

 

Spelman noted that once City Council approved the deal, he was under the impression that they could make the scoring public.

Zech confirmed that this is the case.

 

The sale items are back on today’s Council’s agenda.

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