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Council approves rules for Mueller commission

Friday, May 8, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

There was a time when just about anyone could get an appointment to the commission that advises City Council on the Mueller development. That time has passed.

As part of the city’s commission transition, Council voted Thursday to limit the commission’s membership to residents of Mueller and 24 surrounding neighborhoods.

Mayor Steve Adler suggested an amendment that would expand the membership to people who do not live in the area but rent, work or own property or businesses there. In a vote of 5-6, Adler and Council Members Ellen Troxclair, Pio Renteria, Don Zimmerman and Sheri Gallo voted in favor of the amendment, which was not enough to adopt it.

The ordinance itself passed in a vote of 8-3, with Adler, Troxclair and Gallo voting in opposition.

The primary charge of the commission is to make recommendations about implementing the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Master Plan, which dictates the creation of the Mueller development. The commission will dissolve when the city terminates its Master Development Agreement with Catellus, which will likely occur in 2020.

Gallo said she supported Adler’s amendment because it would broaden participation in the group “in the correct way.”

“I think it’s important for us to remember that the entire city has invested in the Mueller development,” said Gallo. “Many people don’t realize that the property taxes from the entire tax base from the Mueller development goes into a TIF (tax-increment financing zone) and not into the city’s general fund for 30 years. Those (taxes) are being reinvested into Mueller.”

Dennis Mick is a current member of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission. Mick explained that the steering committee of the Mueller neighborhood voted unanimously to support the unamended ordinance.

Mick also pointed out that the commission is the only direct line of contact to Council. Because of the nature of Mueller, which has a master development agreement instead of a neighborhood plan, it does not have a planning contact team. Unlike other neighborhoods, the Mueller development is a joint project between the City of Austin and Catellus Development.

“We in the Mueller development take very seriously our role as a part of the East Austin fabric,” said Mick. “While we recognize that business owners certainly have a say, they aren’t the same as … people that actually live there.”

Troxclair disagreed with this line of reasoning and argued in favor of Adler’s amendment. “People who own businesses in that area are also very invested in what happens there,” she said.

Questioning the restrictive nature of the committee proposal, which limits membership to residents, Adler pointed out that there are contact teams in the city that include businesses.

Adler also noted that neighborhood decisions affect the city as a whole and that fact is particularly true in the Mueller development, in which “the city has invested so much of its capital and its time and its investment and its focus.”

Tovo said the committee was not, in fact, a neighborhood contact team. She urged her fellow Council members to “respect the multiyear work that has gone on to develop the vision, and allow the residents of that area — surrounding Mueller and within Mueller — to shape the implementation of that.”

“At some point, Mueller will have a neighborhood contact team, but we aren’t at that stage yet,” said Tovo.

Tovo further explained that Adler’s amendment, as written, proposed adding members who would not be allowed to participate as voting members in a neighborhood planning contact team.

Mueller resident James Nortey, who also serves on the city’s Planning Commission, spoke in favor of the ordinance as-is, and asked Council members to reject Adler’s amendment.

“We need to respect the historic practice of how Council has usually appointed members from (East Austin) communities to the (Plan Implementation Advisory Commission), and not just anyone and everyone,” said Nortey.

Nortey pointed out that the commission is fundamentally different from a contact team because its members are limited to 11 appointments, unlike the unlimited potential membership of contact teams.

The changes to the commission will go into effect July 1, which is when Council will transition to its new commission structure.

Mueller lake park and hangar 2014” by Larry D. Moore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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