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Reporter’s Notebook: Free the trees

Monday, November 6, 2017 by Austin Monitor

What it all boils down to… Will Congress Avenue be getting a new pocket park? Members of the Historic Landmark Commission hope not. The pocket park in question would be established in the right of way at 823 Congress Ave., on the street. In addition to landscaping and installation of a wall and public seating, as part of creating the park, landscapers will free the trees on the streetscape from their concrete sleeves, which are currently “effectively bonsai-ing the trees,” said landscape architect Daniel Woodroffe. Commissioner Beth Valenzuela noted that, despite the current existing character of Congress Avenue, the Texas Historical Commission does not recommend trees on historic streetscapes, both because they tend not to thrive and because canopies are a more typical shade device. “I would hate for this to set a precedent for historic buildings along Congress Avenue, because it really disrupts the relationship between the street and the pedestrian level and the view,” said Valenzuela. Commissioner Kevin Koch agreed, despite the fact that he liked the plan from other perspectives, saying, “From a historical point of view, I just don’t see how we can say we are in favor.” Because the landscaping will be in the Congress Avenue National Register Historic District, the commission was asked to review and comment on the plans, though its approval is not required and no vote was taken.

Substandard housing case in limbo… Last month, City Council rejected a settlement in the city’s case against Walter Olenick for housing code violations at his property at 1127 E. 52nd St. and 1205 E. 52nd St. Last week, in lieu of a Nov. 1 compliance hearing, State District Judge Karin Crump chose to suspend future compliance hearings in the case. According to city spokesperson Bryce Bencivengo, the judge based her decision (which happened at a separate hearing 10 days earlier) on the fact that all tenants had moved off the property, although Olenick had not completed the requested repairs. Crump encouraged the city and Olenick to collaborate on preparing the property for sale to a third party. The 250th Civil District Court’s administrative office said that the date for the next hearing in the case had not been set. The Olenicks could not be reached for comment.

A very special ordinance indeed… The city’s long-delayed (to put it lightly) Special Events Ordinance is going to gestate for a little bit longer. That’s the word from Ray Baray, chief of staff for the city manager, via a Nov. 1 memo that states the ordinance that was first introduced in 2014 will be considered for its third and final reading at the Dec. 7 Council meeting. In September, it appeared the ordinance would be back for approval by early October. Baray’s memo states “due to the many special events that were held in September and October (e.g. Pecan Street Festival, Austin City Limits Festival, among others), staff was unable to devote the time necessary to draft the rules until late last month,” which has thus far kept staff from holding a stakeholder meeting to review recent changes to the ordinance. Though not mentioned in Baray’s memo, the Austin Center for Events also received a wave of bad publicity in September when program manager William Manno was reprimanded for avoiding contact with female co-workers. Manno has gone on record disputing the reprimand. The ordinance in question is intended to draw clearer lines between small community events and large festivals such as South by Southwest, and better align regulations and allocation of city resources for event management.

Shipe happens… In other news, those hoping to swim at Govalle or Shipe pools next summer are likely out of luck. A Halloween memo from Parks and Recreation Acting Director Kimberly McNeeley to the mayor and Council states that the goal to have both pools operational by the 2018 swim season will not be realized. The memo states that renovations for both are now expected to be completed between December 2018 and February 2019. McNeeley explains that delays at Shipe Pool were caused by accommodating more community input and a needed right-of-way vacation that could take up to six months. At Govalle, the site review process has taken longer than expected and the lack of site documentation for the pool has also held things up.

This article has been changed to reflect Ray Baray’s correct job title. This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Chad Swiatecki, Elizabeth Pagano and Joseph Caterine. Rendering by dwg.

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