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Commissioners get tangled up on Master Plan policy

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

A key component of Travis County’s Master Plan – a massive realignment of workers, buildings and valuable real estate holdings – remains grounded after staff signaled on Tuesday that it wasn’t quite ready for takeoff.

Before the County Commissioners Court during its weekly voting session was a proposed policy framework to help guide the county on possible ground leases at several properties. The Master Plan envisions for these properties innovative arrangements to bring in new revenue streams, create affordable housing units and build a second, temporarily private tower just to the south of the proposed civil and family courthouse.

Staff showed up on Tuesday to recommend that the commissioners both approve the framework and give the greenlight to preparing two requests for proposal – one for the tower, and another for the North Campus project on Airport Boulevard.

However, the item’s wording created unforeseen turbulence from the north side of the dais, where Commissioner Ron Davis demanded answers about the North Campus project.

County planners have been cooking up a proposal to build a mixed-use project there that would include offices and several affordable housing units. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt divided the item on Tuesday into two “requests for direction” to staff regarding the second tower at the proposed courthouse as well as the North Campus project.

“I don’t want to make apples and oranges up here,” said Davis. “That North Campus project has been around for a long time. We’ve been dealing with that for a long time. Many, many years.”

Davis said that the commissioners told staff last year to prepare to solicit bids for the project. Now it appeared to him that that work had been delayed in order to accommodate the courthouse project.

“I want to make sure that (the North Campus project) is separate and distinct from anything else going on, because there’s been a lot of years invested into that project, meeting with folks there and talking to them at that particular site and surrounding neighborhoods,” Davis said.

Staff tried to explain to Davis that the requests for proposals, or RFPs, for the site couldn’t be sent out until the county had developed the ground-lease policy that had only recently been cooked up by the county attorney’s office.

After further criticism of the delay, Davis demanded to know when the RFP for the North Campus project would be ready to go. County Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes explained that her target is sometime before Thanksgiving.

After more back-and-forth from both the dais and staff, the commissioners voted unanimously two times to direct staff to begin preparations for issuing two separate RFPs for both the North Campus project and the second tower at the proposed courthouse.

But there remains one more hurdle the court must overcome before those RFPs go out – because Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols told the commissioners that the ground-lease policy framework was still in fact only half-baked. The final version will appear before the court at its next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Photo by Nic McPhee made available through a Creative Commons license.

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