FM 150 alignment study open house
Hays County wants your opinions on the realignment of a five-mile section of FM 150, and it is holding an open house next week to accomplish that. Hays County, TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are considering an alignment of the road between Arroyo Ranch Road and I-35 in order to “enhance safety and mobility.” The project now has route alternatives, which attendees will be able to see and comment on at the open house. There will be no formal presentation, and attendees are welcome to ask questions and submit comments. The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 23 at Wallace Middle School, at 1302 West Center St. in Kyle. Those unable to attend may submit comments by Oct. 3 via email or by snail mail at P.O. Box 5459, Austin, TX 78763.
The original version of our story “South Austin development threatens Heritage Trees” , published Sept. 9, listed an incorrect number of protected trees slated for removal by the developer. Developers are proposing to remove 15 protected trees, not 50 as was originally reported. The story has been corrected.
Group presses fight over AustinOaks PUD
A group calling itself “Red White & Bulldozed” continues to fight the AustinOaks Planned Unit Developments. The group is encouraging like-minded anti-PUD activists to attend City Council candidate forums with leaflets explaining PUD and why, in particular, the AustinOaks PUD is worth fighting. The proposed AustinOaks development is located at MoPac Boulevard and Spicewood Springs Road. Though still in the early stages, developers Twelve Lakes LLC have asked for a 225-foot maximum height to build about 610 town homes, 850,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail space on approximately 31 acres in Northwest Austin.
NAAO PAC endorses Council candidates
The political action committee for the Network of Asian-American Organizations has announced endorsements for several more City Council district races. These include Jimmy Flannigan for District 6 and Jeb Boyt for District 7. This group’s endorsement is probably more important in those two districts because of the growing Asian-American population in that area. For example, District 6 had an Asian-American population of more than 13 percent as of 2010. This is the largest percentage among the districts. District 7’s Asian-American population is also growing, and was reported to be 9.6 percent as of 2010. Flannigan seems to be getting a majority of Democratic club endorsements, but he will have stiff competition from one or more Republicans in the race. Boyt also faces an array of qualified opponents, with the Asian-American group singling out Melissa Zone for praise as well. The PAC also endorsed Dewayne Lofton in District 1 and Delia Garza in District 2. Earlier, the group endorsed Steve Adler for mayor, Fred McGee for District 3, Gregorio Casar for District 4, Ann Kitchen for District 5, Eliza May for District 8, Kathie Tovo for District 9 and Mandy Dealey for District 10.
Complaint filed against Robert Thomas
A complaint has been lodged against District 10 City Council candidate Robert Thomas. According to a campaign finance report filed with the Austin City Clerk on July 15, Thomas loaned his campaign $100,000 in June. The rules require that any expenditures from personal funds of $25,000 or more must be reported within seven business days. Democratic precinct chair Steve Speir filed a complaint against Thomas on Wednesday for failing to report his expenditures within the required time frame. Thomas loaned himself the money June 19. He had numerous, relatively small expenditures during May and June. However, on July 1, he paid Stampede Consulting $30,684, which was not reported until Aug. 15, according to the city website. Speir told the Monitor that failure to follow the rules “gives an unfair advantage to one guy, and I don’t think it’s in the spirit of the 10-1 program, (which was) passed to diminish the impact of large amounts of money.” Speir does not live in District 10 and said he does not have a preferred candidate in the race. Thomas did not return a call requesting comment.
Candidate Zone gets into zoning
District 7 candidate Melissa Zone took on the proposed office development at the Crestview Korean Church this week. In a news release about the proposal, Zone wrote that the case is an example of a process problem in Austin, where city staff sides with the developer “despite vocal and active protest from the community.” Zone attached a letter to City Council that asks members to reject the developer’s rezoning request and plan amendment. If you need a refresher on the case, check out our story about the item’s review at Planning Commission last month.
BSEACD chooses Sledge Fancher lobby firm
The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District moved to negotiate a contract with lobbyist firm Sledge Fancher to represent its interests in the upcoming Texas legislative session. District board members approved the firm on a 3-1 vote, as they were both attracted by and wary of lobbyist Brian Sledge’s reputation as a “gunslinger.” Sledge already represents a number of groundwater conservation districts, and district members said Sledge claimed that not a bill passes that he doesn’t want passed — conversely, not a bill is killed that he doesn’t have a part in killing. Craig Smith, the lone dissenting vote, said, “That didn’t sit very well with me … Is he going to work for us or work for himself?”
BSEACD postpones Habitat Conservation Plan vote
The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District delayed its vote on approval of a draft habitat conservation plan for two additional weeks Thursday night. Board members made the move in response to comments during a public hearing. The postponement will give the district’s staff time to address concerns and the opportunity to make changes to the draft. Save Our Springs Alliance submitted a letter Thursday urging the delay. The alliance was concerned about the draft’s distinction between lethal and nonlethal take. Laurie Dries, of the Habitat Conservation Plan Management Advisory Committee, expressed similar concerns.
Board to take comments on conservation plan
The board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will hold a hearing tonight on adoption of a habitat conservation plan designed to ensure a minimum flow of water to Barton Springs for the endangered salamanders that live there, even during a record drought. According to General Manager John Dupnik, the plan has been in development over the past 10 years and includes “a program and system of conservation measures designed to avoid, minimize and mitigate for any adverse effect” that pumping from the aquifer might have on the salamanders. Dupnik added that the board might adopt the plan tonight, but more likely it would postpone action until the next meeting on Sept. 25. Board member Craig Smith, who was hospitalized over the weekend, has returned to work and plans to attend tonight’s meeting. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the aquifer district offices, 1124 Regal Row in Manchaca.
SXSW to lay out economic impact of festivals
Consultant Greyhill Advisors will present a report Thursday on the economic impact of the 2014 South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals on the City of Austin. SXSW officials say the 2014 impact analysis represents the eighth consecutive study to fully assess the nature of the festival and its beneficial economic effect on the city. SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest will present the findings, and Michael Rollins with the Austin Chamber of Commerce will offer remarks. SXSW officials say the festival has brought more than $1 billion to the Austin economy over the past five years. In 2007, SXSW’s economic impact was measured at approximately $95 million, and by 2013, that number had grown to $218 million. The presentation will be at 1:30 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the Long Center.
Zero Waste Commission cancels meeting
The Zero Waste Advisory Commission canceled its regular meeting set for Wednesday this week. The agenda had included discussion and action on proposed revisions to the Private Hauler Program, as well as discussion about proposed revisions to City Collection Services. Both of these items involve revising language in City Code. City Council has postponed its consideration of both items until Nov. 6 in order to allow for an expanded stakeholder process. Texas Disposal Systems’ Adam Gregory sent an email to the Zero Waste commissioners Wednesday, also requesting that they postpone action on the two items “until after the stakeholder process that Council discussed … actually occurs.” The next ZWAC regular meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8.
Hays developer donates ROW for FM 2001
A development company has donated 19 acres of land near Niederwald for the use of Hays County’s planned extension of FM 2001. Canada-based developer Walton Development and Management is planning a major project along the border of Hays and Caldwell counties. Hays County officials say the FM 2001 project will connect Interstate 35 and Texas 130, and relieve the traffic flow into Austin. Under the terms of the deal, Walton is donating the use of the right of way to Hays County, which will control the land but not transfer ownership. The tract is where Walton wants to build Camino Real, a proposed development west of Texas 21.
Citizens for Tax Relief NOW protest budget
The group “Citizens for Tax Relief NOW” drew a crowd of reporters Tuesday at a news conference to address the city budget process taking place across the river. As may become typical in this election, speakers probably outnumbered attendees, with candidates and political figures each making their pitch toward lowering taxes. Speakers included mayoral candidate Todd Phelps, District 6 candidate Jay Wiley, District 10 candidate Bill Worsham, District 3 candidate Julian Limon Fernandez and Travis County judge candidate Mike McNamara. The conference also featured Americans for Prosperity Texas Policy Director Peggy Venable, who released a statement saying that government spending and debt was outpacing Austin’s growth. She wrote: “Local government debt in Texas is a growing threat to our economic freedom.” Highlights of the news conference included a promise from Fernandez to lower property taxes by 20 percent, a promise from Phelps to lower the property tax rate immediately, and a warning from Phelps that Council was planning to ban all cellphones. Though Citizens for Tax Relief NOW identify themselves as a “nonpartisan citizen-led issue organization,” they do seem to share a photographer with the Austin Texas Tea Party, with each of their websites using the same picture of Austin.
Guy Herman to retire as probate judge
Travis County Commissioners voted Tuesday to accept the resignation of longtime probate judge Guy Herman, who has announced his retirement. Commissioners named Herman’s associate judge, Dan Preshner, as interim probate judge until a permanent judge is in place. Commissioners may call a special election to fill the seat.
Council reduces fees for street patios
One of the last changes to City Council’s budget session Tuesday came at the behest of Council Member Chris Riley. That change will reduce the fee for businesses to install “street patios,” which is a new category for the city that allows downtown businesses to use their street parking as outdoor patio space. After the approval, participation in the program will cost $2,400 per space per year, instead of the proposed $4,000. Though the $4,000 fee was based on the revenue that would be lost from the absence of a space, Riley argued that there was a public benefit that should be taken into account, as is done with valet spaces. The concept was tested as part of a pilot program at the Congress Avenue location of Royal Blue Grocery. The rate change passed unanimously.
Orshalick to launch Mayor campaign
Mayoral Candidate David Orshalick, who has been fairly quiet since getting on the ballot in August, will officially launch his “bold mayoral campaign” tonight. In a news release, Orshalick announced that he will kick off his campaign at the Upper District 7 Candidate Forum, which is taking place at 7 p.m. at the St. Albert’s Church on Metric Boulevard. In his news release, Orshalick promises to “shake things up” at City Hall, writing, “Austin is worth saving. The time has come to move away from the ineffective, nonresponsive City government that led us to this precipice … Together, we can create and implement a plan that leads Austin into a vibrant and viable future where residents and visitors alike can experience the affordable high quality of life we deserve.”
City imposes burn ban on parks
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department is temporarily prohibiting the building of fires and smoking in all city parks, greenbelts and preserves due to the dangerous fire hazard conditions that currently exist in the Central Texas area. This includes the use of wood or charcoal BBQ pits/grills/smokers. Propane stoves are allowed in designated picnic areas only. PARD is working with park police and park rangers in the enforcement of the fire-building and smoking ban in order to provide for the public’s safety. Violations of this burn ban may result in a fine between $300 and $500. PARD will evaluate conditions to determine when to lift the ban.
Funding to restore public library hours
Among the many budget items City Council approved yesterday was $507,000 for Austin public libraries. That money will go toward restoring library hours that were cut in prior budgets. The money will allow the libraries affected by cuts to reopen on Thursdays and Fridays. The money is a boon for library patrons, as it was not requested by Austin Public Library director Brenda Branch, who had planned to request the money in conjunction with the opening of the new, downtown Central Library.
BoA meeting shifted to break room
Ongoing renovations at City Hall continued to take a toll last night. The latest victim? Arguably, everyone who attended the Board of Adjustment meeting, which was stuffed into the Austin Energy break room at the last minute. The meeting was held among the buzzing vending machines, but the board may hold a surprise meeting next week, in a room more suited to the purpose. Of course we will keep you posted if that happens, in addition to covering the break room meeting held last night.
Stonewall Dems pick Adler, Garza, Renteria
After listening to the candidates for mayor and four of the new City Council district seats, the Austin Stonewall Democrats made the following endorsements last week: for mayor, Steve Adler; District 2, Delia Garza; and District 3, Sabino “Pio” Renteria. There were dual endorsements in two of the races. In District 7, the group endorsed Leslie Pool and Melissa Zone. In District 9, they endorsed both Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo. According to Rich Bailey, endorsement chair for the Stonewall Democrats, the threshold for an endorsement is 60 percent, but no candidate reached that threshold in the two races, so the group decided to issue the dual endorsements.