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Reporter’s Notebook: Red tread redemption?

Monday, January 27, 2020 by Austin Monitor

Red dawn(s again)… Austin Transportation and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority are partnering up this month to add more red lanes – or “fresh Elmo,” as they’re called by transit advocates – to the city’s central transit spine. Beginning last week, work crews are painting existing bus priority lanes red on Lavaca and Guadalupe streets from Third Street up to 15th and 17th streets, respectively. “Establishing red lanes increases clarity of use for all road users and Capital Metro reports improved on-time performance for transit riders,” said Transportation Director Robert Spillar in a press release. The city’s first go at red bus lanes last year provided as much confusion as clarity when the bright red paint quickly began to fade to black after only a few days of intense heat and bus traffic. This time, the department is going with a different paint choice, presumably one that is more resistant to Texas summer heat and a steady stream of rubber tires. Also unlike last year’s project, these lanes will continue to function as “bus priority,” meaning they will still be used by right-turning vehicle traffic, and in some segments, bicycles. Bus lanes will be closing one block at a time until the project is finished, in approximately two months.

The fate of the 22-foot fence… After the Board of Adjustment rejected a variance request from StoryBuilt founder Ryan Diepenbrock to increase the impervious cover on his property and retain his concrete fence at his personal residence at 504 Sunny Lane, not much happened. At last drive-by from our reporters, the fence is still standing. A query about the subject revealed that although Diepenbrock was allowed to file a reconsideration for the case within 10 days of the denial on Nov. 7 of last year, he did not. A Board of Adjustment liaison told the Austin Monitor via email that “If they choose to go back before the board they would need to submit for a new BOA variance.” That still left the question of next steps. According to a spokesperson for the Planning and Zoning Department, staff will be contacting the owner of 504 Sunny Lane to discuss next steps to bring the property into compliance. A meeting for that process has not yet been scheduled. Once the meeting is scheduled, the property owner will have 90 days to submit a site plan exemption with details showing the property’s impervious cover and fence height within code parameters. If that site plan is not filed within 90 days and the work is not completed within a reasonable time frame, the case will be referred to the Austin Code Department. In the meantime, the non-code-compliant fence remains standing.

We are gathered here today to… The normally staid and all-business atmosphere of the Urban Land Institute’s monthly membership breakfasts had bit of a shake-up last week when Cody Cowan, executive director of the merchants association for the Red River Cultural District, delivered a kind of metaphysical sermon to the room full of developers, real estate brokers and planning professionals. As a panelist discussing ways the real estate community could integrate creative spaces into new projects, Cowan answered a question about the importance of the topic to Austin’s overall cultural fabric by channeling his best Allen Ginsberg and in some ways besting a similar bit of oratory he delivered to the same gathering in 2017.

“The last time I was here I was asked to start at the beginning. So I’m going to start before the beginning. Before the beginning there was a vast emptiness, a void. And in that void a beat emerged (**begins pounding chest a la Matthew McConaughey in ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’). And that beat was a heart. But that beat didn’t know it was a heart. So it asked out into the void, ‘Who am I?’ and no answer emerged. And in that emptiness a longing built … a longing like the longing of a breakup, a longing like the loss of everything that we have known and we have built. In that a longing to be known became present. And then that heart asked, ‘Am I loved? Am I a lover? Am I loving?’ And then the void answered back, ‘Yes.’ And in that moment the explosion had been building within the heart, to be released in the heat of a howl of a moat of life that was more powerful than 10,000 exploding suns. And the longing was met by the void and embraced with the gravity from which the beginning emerged. And in the beginning there was song. And that song was love. So, here we’ve come to the heart of the matter, which is, what is important about art, music and creativity? Why is it important about finding purpose and finding reality … being in touch with reality, in touch with the process of creation, being in touch with love? This is the importance to me of recognizing and finding, really, nonmystical, brass-tacks ways of not just preserving those elements of our city of which I was born and raised in, but that identity of being Austinites, why we came here, why there is opportunity here for us to develop and explore. Also, who are we and why are we here at all? That is my answer.”

The thoroughly bewildered crowd applauded Cowan’s early morning bit of showmanship. Co-panelist Christine Maguire, manager of the city’s Redevelopment Division, preceded her own answer to the same question, “I hate to say something that’s going to ruin the mood, so Cody … preach, preacher, preach.”

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

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