Reporter’s Notebook: (Cont’d)
If forums were homes… South Austin residents concerned about the city’s policies regarding homelessness and plans for opening a housing center in the area are pushing for candid questions and answers at a community meeting scheduled for Tuesday night. The groups Safe Austin for Everyone Project and SafeHorns are emphasizing that the meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Galindo Elementary School on South Second Street will feature no pre-screened questions, with attendees lining up with a moderator to ask panelists whatever they want. Safe Austin members have criticized previous forums on homelessness as featuring questions and talking points favorable to Council members and city staff who helped design and implement the new policies approved in June. In a possible nod to last week’s heated and occasionally raucous panel at St. Edward’s University, the event pages ask all involved to “Please be polite and respectful of other attendees and invited panelists.”
Correction: Council members Paige Ellis, Greg Casar and Ann Kitchen have clarified that they will not be participating in the forum. Given the timing of the forum, which takes place in the midst of city budgeting, it’s a safe bet that they might not be the only Council members to bow out. A previous reference to confirmed guests has been removed, in the interest of accuracy.
Crying foul… With a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for today for a new soccer stadium in North Austin, one longtime opponent of the project is raising questions about possibly unsafe work conditions at the former industrial site owned by the city. Attorney Bill Aleshire has spent recent weeks forwarding documents and attempting to engage the Workers Defense Project over concerns that the McKalla Place site, which at one time was home to a chemical manufacturing facility, might not have been properly remediated and the soil may contain remnants of hazardous materials that construction workers would be exposed to. Aleshire has been one of the most vocal opponents of the privately funded stadium project, which is scheduled to open in 2021 thanks in part to City Council voting last year to lease the land to operators of a new Major League Soccer franchise based in Austin. Aleshire’s communications with WDP focus on whether proper remediation was taken after an explosion at the site in 2003 – after the city had purchased it – caused by construction workers uncovering discarded barrels of volatile materials. In an emailed response Thursday, Jose Garza, WDP’s executive director, told Aleshire that Workers Defense was studying “near 100 pages of material that included technical information. We take the material seriously and are doing our due diligence to carefully evaluate it. I can assure you that we will follow up as soon as we have.” Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez has weighed in on the matter, urging Garza’s group in an email “to either discourage workers from either not working there or demanding all of the protective measures be taken to protect workers.”
‘Equity’ of ZAP rules on postponement requests under debate… Last Tuesday night, the Zoning and Platting Commission discussed possible amendments to Article VI, “Postponement Requests,” in its Rules of Procedure. As Commissioner James Duncan noted during the debate, “We are trying to avoid abuse of the (postponement) process.” According to the commission’s staff liaison, Andrew Rivera of the Planning and Zoning Department, in the last five years 40 percent of postponement requests have come from staff, 35 percent from applicants and 25 percent from the neighborhood. Specifically at issue in the debate was a) whether the ZAP Commission should require a reason for the postponement, particularly from city staff; b) whether the deadline for requesting a postponement should be moved to noon on the Friday prior to the Tuesday ZAP meeting; and c) whether the rules should delete a sentence stating that the commission’s general practice is to allow one postponement for the applicant and one for the resident/neighborhood in the case. A portion of the debate addressed the issue of equity, as some commissioners were concerned that an earlier deadline for postponement requests would penalize those who received late notice of the hearing or who are unfamiliar with the commission’s rules and procedures. In deference to an upcoming meeting about the state’s new “shot clock” bill, which is intended to speed up the development review time and thus could impact postponements, the commissioners voted to, yes, postpone a final vote on the rules until the next ZAP meeting.
This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Chad Swiatecki and Katherine Corley. The homelessness whisper has been corrected.
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City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.