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Reporter’s Notebook: What lies beneath

Monday, August 5, 2019 by Austin Monitor

SoClose… Tourists scrambling to get their photos taken at Jo’s Coffee were unaware of how close they came to a lurking danger, but the city’s Watershed Protection Department sure was. In a July 31 memo to City Council, Watershed Protection Interim Director Jose M. Guerrero explained that ongoing construction at South Congress Avenue and Academy Drive recently revealed a rather hazardous situation. Guerrero writes, “Upon review of the video evidence, the existing 24-inch pipe located beneath S. Congress Avenue was observed to have several areas where the bottom half of the corrugated metal pipe was corroded, was missing, and was located at a depth ranging between 8 feet to 35 feet below the road surface. Visual observation of the surface of the road near the area indicated that the road had experienced some localized settlement and movement. The soils which were excavated in the local area were visually observed and are generally described as fill soils containing landfill trash and debris. If storm water was not contained within the pipe, erosion of the soils surrounding the pipe would continue and form voids that could develop into a sink hole. Given this information, WPD determined that the conditions required immediate action.” The immediate action came with a price tag of $79,163, which City Council will be asked to approve this Thursday.

Water ho!… Next week, highs in Austin are expected to hover in the three digits, making the timing of a resolution from Council Member Kathie Tovo rather fortuitous. The resolution asks the city manager to come up with a plan for installing public water fountains around the downtown area. If approved, thirsty Austinites could enjoy drinking from at least 10 water fountains downtown in the near future.

Additions don’t diminish… With only eight members on the dais on July 22, the Historic Landmark Commission nearly missed the chance to hear a case about recommending historic zoning against an owner’s wishes. Fortunately, Commissioner Alex Papavasiliou arrived in time to put the case back onto the agenda. “I think it warrants special consideration,” Commissioner Terri Myers said of the home at 1216 E. Seventh St. Myers sits on the Certificate of Appropriateness committee, which evaluates the suitability of designs for historic structures. She explained that the owner of the property attended the meeting and discussed his designs, and she “felt assured that his intent was to preserve the house.” The designs for the East Austin home include a 2,200-square-foot addition to house in order to display a 300-piece Hispanic art collection. The owner, she said, was not interested in pursuing a historic designation at this point, but did not rule it out for the future. However, she said that while this iteration of the commission feels the planned addition is a sensitive design, the committee warned that “future commissions might not consider alterations as sensitive and may not allow him to pursue historic zoning in the future.” Nevertheless, the commission moved not to recommend historic zoning for the time being. Papavasiliou abstained from the vote and commissioners Beth Valenzuela and Kevin Koch were absent.

Convention decision ahoy… The high-profile item on most calendars connected to city policy today is the presentation of the proposed city budget, but there is one possible action item for the Council session scheduled for 2 p.m. at LifeWorks Sooch Foundation Youth & Family Resource Center on North Pleasant Valley Road. In what is expected to be a brief consideration that will result in no action, Council will consider a proposed ordinance that would require, among other things, a public vote to decide any planned improvements to the Austin Convention Center costing more than $20 million. The ordinance is the product of a successful petition drive by the Unconventional Austin political action committee, which opposes a proposed $1.2 billion expansion of the convention center and is pushing for the city to reallocate the way it spends much of its share of the Hotel Occupancy Tax funds generated locally. If today’s resolution doesn’t get a passing vote from Council, the proposed ordinance will go to a vote in a general election to possibly make it part of city code.

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

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