Friday, February 27, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council takes small step in Garza case

Though they were only deciding one small detail of a decades-long fight over what was once the Garza Ranch, City Council members took hours to contemplate how many trips per day should be allowed on the last piece of land.

In the end, it was a chaotic finish, with motions, suggestions and compromises flying across the dais. Council voted to approve a cap of 13,000 trips per day on first reading, with plans to discuss the case further in executive session Tuesday. It also plans to take up the case again at the March 5 meeting.

The vote for the 13,000-trip limit was 6-5, with Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Greg Casar, Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Delia Garza voting in opposition.

Council members also took a second vote on whether they should approve the limit on first reading. That passed 9-2, with Tovo and Casar voting in opposition.

Owner Ranco Garza, Ltd. was asking for an increase in the allowed trips per day from the current 6,000 to 16,204.

The case faces opposition from those concerned about developing the land, which is in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the city. Others are more concerned with the trip limit itself, and what putting that many more cars on the roads might mean for traffic in the area.

The Garza family still owns the tract, and their representative, Dan Wheless Wheelus, warned Council that if it approved a lower limit on first reading, the development deal could fall through. Brandywine Realty currently under contract to develop the land.

That did not sit well with Kitchen, who advocated for a first reading approval of 10,000 trips.

“I feel like I’m being pushed to the wall to negotiate with your client over something that he wants, and I’m being told to take it or leave it,” said Kitchen. “I’m not comfortable with that.”

During the extensive conversation about the case, there was a great deal of debate over whether the current trip limit of 6,000 was a “placeholder” or something that was set in stone along with the settlement that the previous Council agreed to in 2013.

Tovo said that, to her recollection, the agreement struck in 2013 was a done deal.

“I want to affirm that there was not any discussion either from the staff or on the dais about this discussion happening later,” said Tovo. “To the contrary … there were several assertions by staff and others that this was going to put to rest a long case.”

However, Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd said that, at the time of the 2013 amendment, it would not have been legal to adjust the trip amendments, and it would have always had to be done at a separate time.

The Planning and Development Review Department’s Jerry Rusthoven agreed that the city did not intend for it to be a permanent trip cap. He said that, in hindsight, he would have put a restrictive covenant on all three tracts, tying them together and putting a 2,000 trip limit on all three to make it clearer that the limit was a placeholder.

Likewise, Council indicated their intention to use Thursday night’s decision as a placeholder. They will take the next week to take a closer look at the case.

“It’s going to be arbitrary, whatever we do tonight,” said Mayor Steve Adler.

The proposed uses for the land include 566,450 square feet of general office, 87,450 square feet of retail, 27,725 square feet of dining, and 208 apartment units on the 32.8-acre parcel located at William Cannon Drive and the MoPac Expressway.

This story has been changed to correct the spelling of a name.

Conceptual drawing of the proposed development found on the City’s website

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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