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Whispers

Monday, December 17, 2018 by Tai Moses

City art gallery extends deadline for submissions

The city’s Dougherty Arts Center is now accepting exhibit proposals for the 2020 gallery season. Each season, an anonymous panel of jurors selects a group of artists to exhibit their work at the center’s Julia C. Butridge Gallery, a multicultural community art gallery with multiple exhibit spaces. Past gallery exhibits exemplify the diversity and scope of Austin’s visual arts culture. Both emerging and established artists are invited to apply. Artists must submit a statement, an exhibit proposal and images of their work. The deadline to submit has been extended to Feb. 17. Submit online here.


Monday, December 17, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Council postpones action on Country Club suit

Arguments over development of the Austin Country Club’s 179-acre tract did not end with last Thursday’s Council meeting as was expected. The item will be back on the second agenda of 2019, on Feb. 7. The country club sued the city when the city’s environmental staff insisted that the club abide by current regulations, as opposed to the limited regulations that were in effect in 1982. After hearing staff members’ presentation about a proposed settlement agreement between the city and the country club, Council still had questions and wanted more time to consider the proposed settlement. Under the 1982 regulations, there were no critical water quality zones, no critical environmental features and no water quality treatment required. The heritage tree ordinance had not yet been enacted and there was limited tree protection. Under the proposal outlined for Council on Thursday, impervious cover, or hardscape, would be limited to 20 percent, as opposed to the 25.5 percent impervious cover limit in the 1982 regulations. The Zoning and Platting Commission had urged Council to “carefully consider the details of the proposed development terms, specifically to emphasize that current code applies unless otherwise specified and to ensure utmost protection from flooding, tree removal, and open-ended development timelines.” According to a memo from Council Member Alison Alter to her constituents, “The terms and conditions recommended by staff seek to strike a balance between the environmental and scenic protections provided under these two different regulatory schemes. Austin Country Club’s property, located off of Loop 360 in Northwest Austin, is approximately 179.67 acres. The proposed conditions would apply to future development of the property, which could include expansion and improvement of the golf course, clubhouse, and outdoor recreational facilities, as well as additional residential and commercial land uses.”


Monday, December 17, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Do you cooperate?

The Austin Cooperative Business Association is looking for researchers to participate in two new investigative projects examining the impact of the local cooperative economy. The first project will look at opportunities for traditional businesses in Central Texas to convert into cooperative models, with research showing the economic impact as well as the best methods and techniques for making the conversion. Sectors of interest include food and agriculture, retail, service industry and restaurants, art and culture, and construction and professional services. The second project will look at gaps in technical assistance for those looking to start or improve a cooperative business in Central Texas. Research will include a compilation of existing resources and finding ways and opportunities to improve the cooperative community. Proposals are due Dec. 31, with full details available here.


Monday, December 17, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Third + Shoal joins downtown PID

City Council voted to expand the city’s downtown public improvement district boundary to include Third + Shoal, a 29-story building developed by TIER REIT Inc. and Cielo Property Group. The development partners formally requested inclusion in the PID in November. The properties in the downtown district, which was created in 1993, are assessed an additional 10 cents per $100 in assessed value (with exemptions) which is more than $8.3 billion. Money captured by the PID (about $7.8 million) is used by the Downtown Austin Alliance, which uses the funds for things like safety, cleaning and promoting growth. In a press release about the new addition, Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance, said he was excited to welcome the property into the PID. “Third + Shoal will be home to many companies that are integral to Austin’s growth as a corporate and technology hub, and we look forward to the partners’ involvement and support of our efforts to create, preserve and enhance the value and vitality of our downtown.”


Friday, December 14, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Should the city continue to have housing restrictions on pets?

At the Dec. 10 meeting of the Animal Advisory Commission, the commissioners discussed changing the pet restrictions that the city Housing Authority has placed on its housing units. “Clearly what we have is a housing authority policy for people who live in Austin regulated by the city of Austin that is grossly inconsistent with city of Austin policies,” said Commissioner Ryan Clinton. He noted that some restrictions include no pets over 30 pounds, no so-called “dangerous” breeds including chow chows, boxers, pit bulls, Dobermans and Rottweilers, and a prohibition on pet-sitting such breeds. The Housing Authority also requires that pets be licensed, a requirement that Clinton said does not exist at either a city or state level. These policies, which were adopted in 2010, are applicable to any units under the Housing Authority including nonprofits and for-profits that provide city-funded projects. “We don’t have authority (to change the rules), we’re just going to have to ask for help,” explained Clinton. The commission voted to begin a working group focused on “reducing or limiting restrictions to pet ownership in city run, funded, or subsidized housing.”


Friday, December 14, 2018 by Tai Moses

Vision Zero intersection improvements underway

The Transportation Department has begun planned safety improvements at the intersection of Slaughter Lane and South First Street. The $2 million project, which is expected to take six months to complete, will include new dual left-turn lanes, upgraded medians, enhanced crosswalks and green arrow left-turn signals on Slaughter Lane. Improvements completed over the weekend to Slaughter and Cullen lanes include upgraded signals and more space for vehicles waiting to turn left on Slaughter. These safety and mobility improvements are funded by the 2016 Mobility Bond, which dedicates $15 million to improving the city’s most dangerous intersections.


Friday, December 14, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Workforce housing fund acquires new properties

The Austin Housing Conservancy, a recently formed local investment fund created to preserve workforce housing, has acquired two more properties in cooperation with Austin Affordable Housing Corporation. Late last month the fund completed deals for The Place at Terracina, located off MoPac Expressway in North Austin, and Northwest Hills on Greystone Drive. Enterprise Community Partners and the Community Development Trust were partners in the acquisitions, which give the fund three multifamily properties in its portfolio, with 792 total units in North and Central Austin. The fund was created earlier this year and intends to keep rates in its properties at a level affordable to Austin’s middle- and working-class residents, who are at risk of being priced out of the city as property values continue to climb. Conservancy leaders aim to acquire 5,000 total units in the next five years, and plan to have 10,000 units in the portfolio in the next decade.


Thursday, December 13, 2018 by Tai Moses

Chamber names 2018 Austinite of the Year

The Austin Chamber of Commerce has conferred its highest honor, Austinite of the Year, on local businessman Ray Wilkerson in recognition of his decades of community and civic leadership. Wilkerson, the CEO of commercial real estate investment firm Ray Wilkerson Companies Inc., is known for his philanthropy, his strong ties to the community and his dedicated civic involvement. He is the co-founder of the HeartGift Foundation, which has provided critical surgeries for more than 400 children around the world who were born with heart defects. He also serves on several boards and commissions, including the Colorado River Land Trust and the Greater Austin Crime Commission. “Austin is better because Ray Wilkerson stepped up in so may ways,” said the chamber’s Board Chairman Phil Wilson. The chamber will present the award at its annual meeting on Feb. 5.


Thursday, December 13, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Hope springs eternal

After a court ruling, Austin is in the position of “asking nicely” when it comes to not using single-use bags. But yesterday the Texas Campaign for the Environment spread the word that state Representative Gina Hinojosa of Austin has filed a bill that would restore the right of local governments to regulate single-use bags. “Bag pollution is bad for Texas, and if the state government isn’t going to take action to eliminate it, then they need to stand out of the way of local governments ready to lead on the issue,” said Andrew Dobbs, legislative director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. “Texas businesses and taxpayers foot the bill for these unnecessary products, and HB 514 will help our local leaders save us those resources.” A press release about the filing noted that “(a) similar bill filed by Rep. Hinojosa in the 2017 session, HB 3482, passed out of committee and out of the House Calendars Committee on bipartisan votes. It did not get a House vote because of procedural deadlines.”


Thursday, December 13, 2018 by Ryan Thornton

County to stop ignoring needs of female inmates

Travis County is considering using Certificates of Obligation to fund construction of a women’s facility at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle. County Sheriff Sally Hernandez has cited numerous structural and design flaws with the complex that prevent the county from meeting the specific needs of female inmates. Apart from the physical deterioration of several buildings within the complex, a report presented to the court outlined several inherent design flaws including inadequate housing capacity, location of beds for women scattered across four buildings, a lack of on-site OB-GYN health services and insufficient gender-specific programming addressing the needs of female inmates. A new women’s facility is included as part of the Travis County Adult System Master Plan and may offer a wide variety of benefits to the prisoners resulting in improved physical and mental health, better relationships between incarcerated mothers and their families and more effective rehabilitation. Benefits are also expected to extend to the staff through a better work environment. The Commissioners Court discussed plans for the new facility Tuesday afternoon and mentioned a possible vote in April that would allow the county to move forward with construction without need for a public-approved bond.


Thursday, December 13, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Hemphill Park case granted reconsideration

After several months of contentious discussion between the Board of Adjustment, members of the North University Neighborhood Association, and the developer of the property at 2713 Hemphill Park, in November the board approved the request to grant a variance for minimum lot size. However, the neighborhood association came back at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting to request a reconsideration of the case. Specifically, Mary Ingle, who was speaking on behalf of the neighborhood association, requested that the board remove the reasonable conditions attached to their initial ruling. In a Nov. 19 letter to the board, Rick Iverson, the co-president of the North University Neighborhood Association, requested the removal of conditions associated with the University Neighborhood Overlay in order to be replaced with conditions that aligned more closely with the neighborhood character. Gregg Andrulis, representing the original applicant for the variance, said that she “supports the recommendation for the removal of the condition.” The neighborhood association requested 4-foot sidewalks instead of 12-foot sidewalks, 15-foot setbacks, appropriate landscaping for the area, and no required lighting. After reopening the case, the board unanimously re-approved the motion to approve the lot size variance “using the findings we previously used at the last meeting” with the conditions itemized on the letter from Rick Iverson.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Study examines link between homelessness and rising rents

new study from the real estate research outlet Zillow takes a look at the link between rates of homelessness and the price of local rents. The data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show that communities where residents spend more than 32 percent of their income on rent experience a rapid increase in homelessness. The 32 percent threshold is the most dramatic tipping point in the ratio of income/housing cost, with a notable but less pronounced uptick when rents represent 22 percent or more of an individual’s total income. On average, U.S. renters spend 28.2 percent of their earnings on housing, an increase from the historical average of 25.8 percent. The bad news for Austinites comes from GoBankingRates.com which shows that the cost to live comfortably in the city has risen by $18,531 in the past year to a total income of nearly $80,000 per year. That increase made Austin second in the study in total cost increases. And finally, the folks at RentCafe tell us local rent prices and square footage of apartments are moving in opposite directions. From 2008 to 2018 the average apartment in Austin has shrunk from 955 square feet to 878 (an 8 percent drop) while monthly rents have grown by 55 percent, from $869 per month to $1,347.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

SCOTUS declines to hear Zimmerman case

The Supreme Court of the United States has declined to hear the case of former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, who sued the city over provisions of its campaign finance law that limited individual donor amounts and how much candidates could raise from donors outside the city. Zimmerman’s federal lawsuit took several turns since its initial filing in 2015, while he was still on Council, with lower courts agreeing with him that so-called “blackout periods,” which prohibited fundraising long before an election, were a violation of free speech rights. After an initial six-month window of allowed fundraising was struck down, the city instituted a one-year fundraising period that remains in place. In February, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the limits on individual and non-Austin contributions. While Zimmerman is disappointed his case won’t be heard, he said he’s glad that the blackout dates in the city’s laws were struck down. “We’re batting .500 against the city’s campaign finance curveballs, so that’s not too bad,” he said, adding that he’ll likely pursue a state Legislature seat instead of running for the District 6 Council seat he lost to Jimmy Flannigan in 2016. “The city seems determined to turn even harder to the left, and so I’m looking at a possible House District 47 run.” He added that he expects conservatives to mount more legal challenges to expected liberal policies from Austin’s City Council, and said he will file to have some of his legal fees in the lawsuit covered by the city as some of his claims were found to be valid.

This whisper has been corrected to clarify the original court ruling on the case.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Runoff election today

Today is election day, and the Austin Monitor formally invites all of our readers to join the proud few to vote in this runoff. Representation for City Council Districts 1, 3 and 8 will be decided tonight in addition to one at-large Austin Independent School District trustee and Place 8 for the Austin Community College Board. A list of voting locations is available on the Travis County Clerk’s Office website. Approximately 18,000 Austinites cast ballots in early voting, which represents just 2.71 percent of eligible voters.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018 by Tai Moses

City holds virtual open house to collect comments

If you have an opinion about the new pedestrian and bicycle crossing planned for Lady Bird Lake and Longhorn Dam, there’s still time to get your two cents in. The city is using a virtual open house to collect comments on the design process for the bridge, and this phase of the comment period ends Sunday, Dec. 16. You can provide your feedback in English or Spanish. Alternative designs for the crossing will be shared at a spring 2019 meeting, followed by a final recommendation to come in fall 2019. To catch up on the history and background of the whole Longhorn Dam improvement project, go here.

 

 


Tuesday, December 11, 2018 by Tai Moses

Call for artists to beautify bland utility boxes

Are you tired of looking at those dreary metal utility boxes – aka traffic signal control cabinets – that dot the intersections of Austin? We sure are, and finally, someone agrees with us. The Austin Transportation Department, in league with UP Art Studio, has issued a call for local visual artists to transform the city’s traffic cabinets from bland and boring eyesores into bold and beautiful works of art. “The Artbox program is just one way we are moving to make Austin streets more people-oriented,” said Katherine Gregor, ATD’s coordinator for the program, adding that the installations will help “express the special character of our community.” The first four Artboxes will be funded by the Transportation Department. The program is seeking sponsors to fund additional installations. Qualifying artists will be invited to create a mini-mural on a traffic cabinet and will be compensated $1,000. Application guidelines and more information can be found here. The deadline to apply is Sunday, Dec. 30.


Monday, December 10, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

… back to Ohio

The recent announcement that Austin will likely be the recipient of a Major League Soccer expansion team makes the legal wrangling in Ohio over the fate of the Columbus Crew franchise decidedly less high-stakes, at least as it concerns the proposed construction of a 20,000-seat soccer stadium on city property in North Austin. Still, last week’s decision by an Ohio judge provides lots of legal wiggle room for Precourt Sports Ventures, owners of the Crew, in its attempt to relocate the team to Austin. Judge Jeffrey Brown’s decision was that the state’s “right to buy” opportunity for a local group to buy and keep the Crew in Ohio doesn’t equate to a right of first refusal for the local interests. Austin Sports Law has an in-depth look at the finer points of the ruling. Here in Austin, PSV and the city are still in negotiations to finalize the lease agreement for the McKalla Place property. City Council approved the basic term sheet for that agreement in August on a 7-4 vote, and now it appears the Austin team will make its debut in 2021.


Monday, December 10, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

This space for art

Local artists and performance groups have until Saturday to apply for space in the 2019 slate of the city’s Artist Access Program, which was created to more fully use four local cultural centers as a resource for the creative class. Eligible artists, who must become cultural contractors with the city, have until midnight Saturday to submit an application and enroll in the panel evaluation process in January that ranks submissions as part of the space negotiation period that begins in February. Spaces are available from Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020. The program’s guidelines and application are available here.


Monday, December 10, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

New MUD for Austin?

In the farthest reaches of West Austin lies a 124-acre tract of land whose owner has requested to become a municipal utility district (MUD) of the city of Austin. Although the land borders the cities of Lakeway and Bee Caves, the parcel is part of the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and is surrounded by Austin’s Lazy Nine MUD on three sides.  The acreage of this un-annexed outpost is currently undeveloped. However, this request, if granted, will allow the MUD to become a part of Austin and provide utility services for a future large-lot single family development. According to city staff, Austin Water would not provide water to the development; instead, it will be in the Lake Travis Watershed and subject to the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance and the city of Bee Cave’s water quality ordinances. Both city staff and the Environmental Commission recommended the annexation to City Council for approval. The request will appear before City Council on Dec. 13 for a final decision.


Monday, December 10, 2018 by Tai Moses

Govalle Park parking lot closed this week

The Govalle Park parking lot at 5200 Bolm Road will be closed the week of Dec. 10-14 for the installation of a natural gas line. Visitors to Govalle Park or Southern Walnut Creek Trail are advised to enter at the ballpark parking lot, just east of the closed paved parking lot along Bolm Road, and then take the pedestrian bridge across Boggy Creek to access the playground or bike trail. The new, modernized Govalle Pool facility is under construction and is set to open in summer 2019.


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