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Reporter’s Notebook: Parting words

Monday, July 1, 2019 by Austin Monitor

When Planning commissioners say adieu… The June 25 meeting marked the end of an era at the Planning Commission. Despite several years of rarely seeing eye to eye when it comes to development, Karen McGraw and James Schissler stepped down from their posts amicably, with an acknowledgment that each has served the city in a fashion that remained true to their beliefs. The commissioners’ departure was met with applause as well as quips about the two’s differing views. Chair Fayez Kazi noted that in the 111 meetings that both commissioners attended together, they voted the same way on 102 items “and that was on a consent agenda.” Each commissioner gave a speech expressing thanks for the opportunity to serve on the Planning Commission. However, in keeping within their camps of the last four years, Commissioner McGraw’s farewell cautioned those remaining on the commission to consider current residents rather than preparing for the predicted onslaught of newcomers in the next decade. “We’re so focused these days on densification and affordability that we’re kind of letting all the other values go by the wayside,” she said. Commissioner Schissler, for his part, gave one last nod to the densification development efforts he has so ardently supported. “We need to guide how growth will occur and not put our heads in the sand and say maybe they’ll all move to Cedar Park or they’ll all move to Round Rock … and sprawl is just not sustainable for the city.”

Historic gets modern… Until now, design standards for historic structures have not been standardized at a city level. Each of the seven historic districts in the city has different standards that they developed when applying for the designation. In an analysis of those standards done by the Historic Preservation Office, however, “they were 95 percent the same,” Deputy Historic Preservation Officer Cara Bertron told the HLC at its June 24 meeting. In order to standardize the minor differences that exist, increase predictability in the historic review process and provide a document that describes design standards in layman’s terms, the Historic Preservation Office created a new comprehensive draft for design standards for which it is accepting comments until July 28. Bertron explained to the commission that staff hopes to have a finalized version by the fall. “It’ll make everybody’s lives much easier,” Commissioner Terri Myers said. Although these design standards will apply to National Register historic districts and local historic districts when they are finalized, the standards for existing local historic districts will not be affected unless they decide to adopt the new version. Preservation Austin does currently have a design standards template, but Bertron explained that this new version is pared down and simplified for a general readership.

Pools update… A June 27 update from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department confirms that summer has arrived in Austin. And the city’s pools, for the most part, are here to help. According to the memo, the opening of the Ricky Guerrero Splash Pad is behind schedule, but it should be up and running this week. Govalle and Shipe pools are undergoing a complete replacement but even so, are expected to open in August (with an extended swim season that will last through September). As for the lifeguard shortage, that continues, but does not appear to be catastrophic. According to the memo, “The PARD Aquatic Division continues to train and onboard lifeguards on a daily basis. The department currently reports having 702 lifeguards who have been properly trained and are ready to work, but needs an additional 48 lifeguards for this year’s summer season. Aquatic staff continue to recruit lifeguards by posting to social media and by advertising in multiple media publications. Should the Aquatic Division experience a lower than average number of properly trained lifeguards, staff will make the necessary adjustments to the operations of the aquatic facilities.”

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jessi Devenyns and Elizabeth Pagano.

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