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Reporter’s Notebook: Cool for cats?

Monday, August 7, 2017 by Austin Monitor

It is in Austin!… During a discussion of the Aquatic Master Plan during a City Council work session last Tuesday, Council Member Delia Garza highlighted the dearth of public pools in her southeastern district, which includes parts of Del Valle. She noted that there are no existing pools in Del Valle and apparently no plans proposed to add one to the rapidly growing suburb, which Garza pointed out is lacking in a number of city services. “I think our staff is great, I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus but oftentimes when I ask about Del Valle, the response I get from staff is, ‘That’s not in the city.’” In fact, pointed out Garza, much of Del Valle is in the full purpose jurisdiction of the city of Austin. Ray Hernandez, the project manager for the master plan, tried to explain how the master plan determines where pools should go. “The criteria that was used throughout this process rated all of the areas within the city limits. We also at one point thought of expanding it to the jurisdictional area,” he said, before getting cut off by Garza. “OK, it is the city limits,” she said. “Del Valle is the city limits. Just to be clear.”

The “disastrous period” in Clarksville… The Clarksville Community Development Corporation is a proud organization that touts itself as fighting to maintain the historic character of the neighborhood, both by defending existing architecture and by leasing 10 properties to low-income families who could otherwise not afford to live in the increasingly affluent area. Its website pays homage to those who founded the association four decades ago, with photos of longtime members of the group. However, one of those longtime members, Malcolm Greenstein, makes clear in his bio that the group hasn’t always been a force for good. To wit: “Except for a disastrous period when the Board was controlled by a group of self-serving individuals, Malcolm has been a member of the Board, and often its attorney, since the CCDC’s inception.” The group’s president, Mary Reed, concurred with her colleague’s assessment. “I very much agree with Malcolm’s statement,” she said in an email, “because I was instrumental in ending that ‘disastrous period.’”

What’s a ‘community cat’?… Pat Valls-Trelles, a one-time chair of the Animal Advisory Commission, told City Council on Thursday that Austin’s no-kill policy was being warped in a way that is not friendly to felines. Generally, the policy of the Austin Animal Center is to spay and neuter stray cats that are brought in and then return them to wherever they were found. “When we passed the no-kill plan, there was an item that said ‘community cats,’” she said. “Everyone assumed community cats meant feral cats. They did not know that we would start taking a thousand friendly adoptable cats and kittens and putting them back on the street.” Valls-Trelles recounted a recent incident in which she found a two-and-a-half-pound kitten in a storm drain near the intersection of South Lamar Boulevard and Oltorf Street. Had the kitten been a half-pound heavier, she said, Animal Services would have returned it to the drain. David Lundstedt, the current chair of the Animal Advisory Commission, was unmoved. Returning cats is “something that we support 100 percent,” he told the Austin Monitor. In many instances, he said, the cats that are brought in actually belong to people. The Animal Center wants to give the animal a chance to get back to its owner. “An owner who didn’t fix their cat, all of the sudden they have a fixed cat,” he said. “It’s good for the community, it’s good for the cat and it’s good for the owner.”

Un-conditional love… It was a generally easygoing meeting for Council’s first day back on Thursday, as members quickly settled into the routine again after a summer break. And yet the first zoning agenda did not move completely smoothly, as Council Member Jimmy Flannigan opposed almost every motion to add conditional overlays that came up. (Conditional overlays add on specific conditions or prohibitions to properties, such as building height restrictions or changing the usage of a development under certain requirements.) For example, initial approval of a downtown mixed-use conditional overlay onto the general office base district of a rezoning property on 1202 San Antonio St. caught Flannigan’s attention, given that the property is already within a criminal justice overlay. Flannigan noted there are already some similar restrictions in the larger, existing overlay such as restrictions on bail bond services, cocktail lounges, liquor sales and pawn shops. “Criminal Justice Overlay already provides restrictions on these uses, so I don’t see a need to further complicate individual property zonings by including these COs,” Flannigan said. He added that “there is value to simplicity in the zoning” and that he does not want CodeNEXT, the city’s Land Development Code rewrite, to result in more multilayered overlays across the city. Flannigan opposed four out of seven of the zoning items, all of which were ultimately passed by Council. Flannigan told the Monitor he voted against the conditional overlays to set a precedent for Council to make general policies on conditional overlays instead of negotiating between property owners case by case. Flannigan said city staff could then follow those policies for approving conditional overlays for different cases, which could be a method used for future cases after CodeNEXT is established. “It seems pretty clear to me in the charter that Council should be having policy conversations and not debating or deliberating on individual decisions on individual items,” Flannigan said.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jack Craver and Lisa Dreher.

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