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Council puts off vote on vacating right of way

Friday, March 27, 2015 by Jo Clifton

City Council postponed action on vacating right of way on several streets in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood Thursday and sent questions about the development to Council Member Leslie Pool’s Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee. Pool had pulled the item from the consent agenda for discussion.

It seemed at first that the item might go to Council Member Greg Casar’s Neighborhood Planning Committee. Pool said she wanted to give neighbors, who have devised their own plan for development, a chance to work with the developer.

However, Casar objected to that motion, saying he did not want his committee to be a party to slowing down residential development. He suggested a short postponement instead.

Developer PSW is requesting the vacation of several streets near South 1st Street and South 2nd Street in order to facilitate construction of 10,000 square feet of office space, 30 condominium units and 22 single-family detached houses.

Neighborhood advocates object to eliminating one route out of the neighborhood — which the project would do — because they say it would threaten their safety.

Kevin Lewis, president of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, noted that his first complaint is with the city’s process for notifying residents about vacations. In fact, the city did not notify residents until a month after the Planning Commission had approved the right of way vacation. The neighborhood association never received an official notice because that is not part of the city’s process, he said.

Lewis said neighbors are worried about losing one of two exits from the neighborhood, not about the project itself. “It’s a substandard roadway — Copeland and South 2nd Street are too narrow and can’t be widened … and Copeland is visually obstructed at South 1st Street,” he said.

Even though the developer has talked about putting a stop light at South 1st and Copeland, he said he is not sure that that will ever happen.

“It’s not the developer’s fault; it’s a problem with a disparate process,” Lewis said, speaking of how the neighborhood association came to be arguing the case in front of Council.

Glen Coleman, who is representing PSW, said the company does plan to facilitate putting a stop light at that intersection.

Coleman pointed out that PSW filed an application for right of way vacation on Jan. 24, 2013. It took city staff one year to indicate approval, and then there was an additional 90 days for another process. It was sent back to the Planning and Development Review Department because a member of the previous Council had questions about it, he said. The city did not inform PSW about the appraisal until January.

Coleman said PSW has submitted payment to the city for vacation of the right of way Jan. 15, 2015 — nearly two years after it applied. The matter did not appear on the Council agenda until March 26.

In addition, Pool indicated she wanted to send the matter to committee; there was continued discussion about what that might mean for the development.

Council Member Don Zimmerman objected, saying the development has been going in the city pipeline for too long, exacerbating the city’s housing shortage. “We can’t get housing on the market because it takes years and years to get even a relatively small project like this done,” he said.

Casar said, “My support of moving to the committee structure was that we could discuss issues before they came to Council. We could be proactive about talking about issues, and we could work on really big, long, difficult items that might take multiple meetings … that we can work through in a smaller group and not take time of the full Council.

“And it seems to be that this is a case that we have most of the facts,” Casar continued. “So I would much prefer a motion for postponement. … I’m going to be working with my committee on proactive issues or untangling difficult ones.”

Casar said that if they sent the matter to his committee, he would encourage the members not to take a vote on it but to send it back to Council.

Because the discussion included questions about trails and the possibility of flooding, the matter will not now go to Pool’s committee.

The developer has offered a certain amount of land in order to facilitate a trail along Bouldin Creek. However, the neighborhood finds the offer insufficient. Coleman says PSW could have made a better offer, but it would involve getting some land from a neighbor who objected to the plan.

Sara Hensley, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said she had serious concerns about whether the developer had sufficiently engaged with the neighborhood. She said that although her staff has been working with the developer, she had only learned about the project the day before the Council meeting. Even though Hensley praised her staff, it was clear that she thought they should have informed her about the controversy sooner.

Development representatives told Council that they had been trying to talk with neighborhood residents since October, but to no avail. Lewis admitted that he had not been responsive to developer requests for conversation, but said that was because they were unwilling to talk about changing the plan.

Both Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Ellen Troxclair recused themselves from the vote. Tovo owns a rental property close to the proposed project. Troxclair, who sat on the dais for the discussion, recused herself after speaking with Acting City Attorney Anne Morgan.

Troxclair said later that she was concerned because as a real estate agent, she had represented a client who purchased a home in the neighborhood. However, she said, “They have since confirmed that (the recusal) was unnecessary.”




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