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Virus impact grabs attention from transit, land use at panel for NW Austin Council members

Monday, March 16, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Even with long-term issues such as local transit and the city’s proposed new Land Development Code up for debate, three City Council members representing the Northwest Austin area couldn’t get away from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic during a Wednesday panel discussion.

Organized by the Austin Chamber and the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the northwest business council meeting at the Archer Hotel in the Domain brought Council members Jimmy Flannigan, Leslie Pool and Alison Alter together to discuss the larger issues facing the city. Following lengthy monologues from each of the three, who are up for reelection in November, the discussion turned to how the city has handled the threat of the virus being introduced via large events.

Alter said the goal of canceling or restricting large events is slowing the pace of introduction and transmission of the virus in order to prevent local hospitals and clinics from becoming overwhelmed.

“(A massive caseload) is not here as of now, but what we know from looking at the data and analysis from the past epidemics is if you can wait a little bit longer for it to hit, and you can take precautions so fewer people get it, your health system will stand the test this pandemic will put it to,” she said.

Asked if Council will pass the Land Development Code within the next 12 months, Pool said an existing court challenge on the ability to upzone most of the city will play a part in what gets passed. She and Flannigan challenged each other on the data and semantics of which portions of the city would see the most dramatic density changes, which is one of the main objections that she, Alter and fellow “no” votes Kathie Tovo and Ann Kitchen have expressed.

“It is clear there are seven votes to pass the existing version of the Land Development Code. First reading was a 7-4 vote and second reading was a 7-4 vote,” she said. “The four of us … represent the central part of the city, which is bearing two-thirds of the bulk of the upzoning property changes, which is why the four of us have been very deliberate and careful and listening really intently to our residents in our neighborhoods, because we are seeing the majority of the changes.”

The new code is expected to have its third and likely decisive reading later this month or in early April.

Looking toward the multibillion-dollar transit referendum headed for the November election, Alter said the city and Capital Metro are working toward a management and funding structure she thinks will provide the accountability and transparency she expects the public wants to see.

In picking apart the differences between a tax revenue election and a more traditional bond election and the need to generate revenue for operations and maintenance needs, she asked the business leaders to lobby state and federal officials to direct more money to local-level transit.

“We also need a transparent and well-constructed financial plan. We are moving towards that. We don’t have all of the details ironed out but we have moved mountains in the last six months in that regard and we have a plan that covers our (operations and maintenance) and not just the capital by looking very forward,” she said. “I’m focused on making sure we have a solid financial plan and the transparency needed so we know what we’re getting from that. We’re getting much closer to where we need to get to.”

Photo by Matthew Rutledge made available through a Creative Commons license.

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