Monday, June 17, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Reporter’s Notebook: Phone home, ETJ

Racial discourse… When Defend Our Hoodz came to the June 11 meeting of the Planning Commission, City Hall was prepared. Protesters opposed to the 4700 E. Riverside project – a development they refer to as the Domain at Riverside – have been frequenting commission meetings. Last Tuesday, they began screaming profanities and calling out commissioners and developers by name as they made their case, albeit in a raucous fashion, about how the development would limit the options for affordable housing. Almost as soon as the protest began, the Austin Police Department was called and protesters were escorted out of Council chambers. Only one individual was arrested. “The Mexican boy who said something actually got handcuffed. (He) was the only one who got arrested,” Susana Almanza, a founding member of the grassroots group PODER, told commissioners, adding that she intended to report the incident to the office of the police monitor. “I see a lot of white young people doing the same thing, but none of them got arrested,” she said. For its part, Defend Our Hoodz tweeted, “Our arrested comrade isn’t Mexican” and later critiqued Almanza’s approach in a Facebook post about her testimony. An article from “Incendiary News Service” expands: “While it is true that the police generally target oppressed nations, DOH and their supporters have faced state repression across racial and national lines. Almanza’s commentary, while speaking against the arrest of the comrade, still showed an opportunistic use of identity while ignoring the broader repression of revolutionary organizations in Austin.” The Austin Monitor contacted APD, which confirmed that there was only one arrest, of a 29-year-old Latino male.

Contentious frat house up for sale… After the Board of Adjustment overrode an applicant’s postponement request in April, they heard that the home at 2311 Shoal Creek Boulevard, which belonged to the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, may not have been properly zoned. The building was zoned single family and staff allowed it to remain that way based on conversations with the property owners that demonstrated compliance with the zoning. However, neighbors and attorney Bobby Levinski insisted that single-family zoning was not appropriate for a house being used for frat parties. Although the owners of the property claimed that the weekly gathering of their student chapter body constituted no more than a study hall, the house was listed on Facebook, its own website and Google as a fraternity and showed photographic evidence of what a layman would call a party. The actual structure sports large Greek letters publicizing its membership with Greek organizations. After a postponement in April to allow the fraternity and neighbors to come to a compromise on the use of the house, the home was put up for sale at the beginning of June. Real estate photos show that the home has been cleaned out and is on the market for $1.1 million. There is no mention on the listing that the house is anything but a single-family residence. The fraternity’s website and Facebook do not indicate any change of address. “They made kind of a last-minute decision to sell the property … they didn’t really tell us the full reason for them wanting to sell,” Levinski told the Austin Monitor. After the Board of Adjustment postponed the case to allow the two parties to work out an agreement, Levinski said he had worked with the property owners and the neighbors to draft an agreement that would allow the frat house to coexist symbiotically within the residential neighborhood. In exchange for allowing the home to remain single-family, the agreement states that amplified sound would be prohibited between the hours of 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. and that noise shall not exceed 60 decibels at any time. Levinski said as far as the neighborhood was concerned, “(The) desire was never to see them go away, just that there was something for code to enforce.” The Beta Theta Pi fraternity was unavailable for comment.

CAMPO dreams big… For those who worry that the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization may be thinking too small for our bustling region, a bit of unexpected news from last week’s Transportation Policy Board meeting may be of help. When presenting the board with a final draft of the 2020-2021 Unified Planning Work Program for adoption Monday, Theresa Hernandez, finance and administration manager at CAMPO, let it slip that language involving an “extraterrestrial jurisdiction” had just been removed from the document. Realizing she had disclosed too much, Hernandez was quick to divert focus away from the blunder. “Extraterritorial jurisdiction,” she promptly inserted. Board members played it cool as Mayor Steve Adler threw in a line about a dramatic expansion of CAMPO’s scope. Mere malaprop? Perhaps time will tell.

This week Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jessi Devenyns and Ryan Thornton.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

CAMPO: The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is the regional planning organization for Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson Counties. Its membership is drawn from the elected officials of those municipalities, as well as various cities that fall within the region, including the City of Austin. CAMPO's focus is on regional transportation issues.

City of Austin Board of Adjustment: The city's Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial body that decides on variances, special exceptions and can issue interpretations of code.

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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