Thursday, December 20, 2018 by Tai Moses

BFFs Austin and Pune sign friendship agreement

The city of Austin and the Austin-Pune Sister City Initiative celebrated the signing of a formal friendship agreement Monday at City Hall that puts the two municipalities on the path to becoming sister cities. The agreement, which took over a year to negotiate, was begun in 2017 by organizations in both Austin and Pune that identified cultural commonalities in each other’s cities as well as expansion opportunities in India for Austin-based businesses. Pune, which is three hours southeast of Mumbai, is home to India’s most educated population and shares many similarities with Austin, such as challenges with housing, transportation and water. The rapidly growing city is also a musical and high-tech hub. Delegations of Austinites and Puneites have already made several visits to each other’s cities and Austin Mayor Steve Adler has invited Pune Mayor Mukta Tilak to visit Austin to sign the Sister City agreement. Council Member Alison Alter, who visited Pune in September as part of the business delegation, said in a statement, “I am grateful I had the opportunity to be there at the start of what I think will be a long relationship. Pune shares Austin’s creativity, amazing energy, tech savvy, entrepreneurial spirit and concern for our environment. The potential connections span many industries, including health, film, fashion, gaming, and many more.”

Thursday, December 20, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Central Health expands services to the underserved

Central Health has announced plans to use a combination of in-home care, temporary and permanent clinics to provide health care services to underserved communities in East Austin in 2019. In September the agency approved a 2019 budget that includes nearly $3.5 million for care services in Austin’s Colony/Hornsby Bend, Colony Park and Del Valle areas including Kellam Road and Creedmoor. Plans call for a mobile health clinic for Creedmoor operating two days a week beginning in late spring, a permanent health center on Kellam Road that will complete construction in early 2020, a move from increased in-home visits to a modular clinic next to a fire station for Hornsby Bend that will open in July, and a mobile clinic operating three days a week in Colony Park beginning in May. The agency also announced it has moved 228 recipients in its Medical Access Program to private insurance through Sendero Health Plans, the nonprofit health maintenance organization offered by Central Health.

Thursday, December 20, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

St. David’s Foundation shares the wealth

St. David’s Foundation has awarded $18.1 million in grants to local nonprofits focusing on health care issues, the local aging population, health care education, reproductive health and active lifestyles. More than three dozen groups received grants in the latest rounds of giving. Among the top recipients were AGE of Central Texas, with a $4.2 million grant to expand programs in Round Rock and South Austin; Meals on Wheels Central Texas, with $1.9 million for meal programs and equipment; Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, with $900,000 for programs to reduce teen and unintended pregnancies; and Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, with $835,000 to address health care disparities in Dove Springs. The grants were announced less than a week after the foundation released news that its CEO Earl Maxwell will retire at the end of this month. A national search for his replacement will take place in 2019.

Thursday, December 20, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Election results now official

Austin City Council held a meeting, took an important step and adjourned – all within three minutes on Wednesday. It was the special called meeting to canvass the results of the Dec. 11 runoff in which Natasha Harper-Madison, Pio Renteria and Paige Ellis were elected to serve as the Council members for Districts 1, 3 and 8, respectively. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo chaired the meeting and Council members Ora Houston, Leslie Pool, Jimmy Flannigan, Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen attended. There was no discussion and a very small audience that included Tovo’s daughter. The term of office for each Council member begins Jan. 6, with the inauguration the following day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Unpacking Apple’s juicy incentives package

Commissioners in Williamson County unanimously approved an incentives package Tuesday that will bring Apple Inc.’s new $1 billion campus to the Austin area. The Chapter 381 agreement calls for Apple to spend at least $400 million to purchase and develop land in Williamson County (the Robinson Ranch stretch that was a potential site for Amazon HQ2) over 15 years. The tax deal from Williamson County that removes 65 percent of its property tax levy will require Apple to create 4,000 full-time jobs over the course of the agreement, less than the 5,000 jobs that are initially expected at the campus. The company is also eligible for and is expected to receive $25 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Impact Hub supports new teams working on housing solutions

Impact Hub Austin has introduced its latest cohorts of startups and beginning-stage nonprofit groups focused on finding solutions for Austin’s housing and affordability crisis. The seven teams will receive financial support and business guidance to pursue their missions. They are: Austin CityUp’s Affordable Housing Data Hub, which aims to make the search for affordable housing more efficient; MEASURE, a group that bridges gaps through data and public education with the help of local communities; the Tiny Heights, a community that promotes economic prosperity and a smooth success to home ownership; Chicon Micro Units, affordable housing stock in the Chestnut neighborhood; Boomers Collaborative Foundation, which offers housing and business solutions for single adults over the age of 55 who lack family support; Almost Home Financial, a financial services pilot program launching next year; and Build With Humanity, a pilot program examining the connection between health care inequity and affordability issues.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin Parks Foundation pitches in for Norwood rehab

The Austin Parks Foundation announced yesterday that it will award $250,000 in a matching grant to the Norwood Park Foundation to pay for the ongoing restoration of the 1922 Norwood Home, which overlooks the south side of Lady Bird Lake just west of Interstate 35. A press release from the Austin Parks Foundation notes that the first phase of the project has been completed. “At present, the project is in permitting, and NPF is focused on raising the funds needed to complete Phase 2, which is the main construction and renovations of the property. If the Austin Parks Foundation grant is fully matched, it will take the project from permitting into being ‘shovel-ready.'” Restoration of the house is expected to cost between $6 million and $7 million, and will serve as a community and event space when completed. “This is a stunning property that serves everybody, no matter what district you live in,” said Colleen Theriot, president of the Norwood Park Foundation. “We have carefully crafted the Norwood project in response to the public input process conducted by PARD (Parks and Recreation Department) in 2011, and we’re putting forth an inspired vision that everyone can enjoy and donors can believe in. In restoring and repurposing the Norwood House, we will save this precious, historic place for our kids and future generations, and we’ll celebrate the incredible view from the cliff – all while renewing a public park asset that pays for itself!”

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 by Tai Moses

Local talent showcased at People’s Gallery

The People’s Gallery, an annual showcase of regional artistic talent, will launch its 2019 exhibition with an opening reception on Friday, Feb. 22, from 6 to 9 p.m at Austin City Hall. The more than 140 artworks in the exhibition include painting, sculpture, drawing and other media by 113 Austin-area artists. The reception will feature light refreshments and live music and a chance to meet and mingle with participating artists and hear remarks by Mayor Steve Adler. A project of the city’s Cultural Arts Division, the People’s Gallery exhibit is designed to spark public understanding and enjoyment of visual art. More than 350 artists submitted 1,250 entries for this year’s exhibit, with the final selections chosen by a panel of three professionals from the local arts community. The exhibition will be on display at City Hall through Jan. 1, 2020. Visitors are encouraged to walk, bike or use public transportation, if possible, as parking is limited in the City Hall garage.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

AISD renames Fulmore

The Austin Independent School District’s Board of Trustees voted Monday to rename Fulmore Middle School after Sarah Lively, who was a teacher in the district. The school’s original namesake, Zachary Taylor Fulmore, was a private in the Confederate Army. AISD and the city of Austin have been evaluating the legacy of Confederate names for more than a year. As a result, trustees voted in February to change the names of five schools: Lanier High, Reagan High, Eastside Memorial High, Fulmore Middle School and the Allan Center. So far, the board has changed the name of the Allan Center, which is now named after Anita Ferrales Coy, and Fulmore. The others retain their Confederate-era names.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 by Tai Moses

Chamber board announces change of leadership

The board of directors of the Austin Chamber of Commerce has selected C. Brian Cassidy to serve as the chamber’s 2019 board chair. Cassidy is managing partner of the Austin office of Locke Lord LLP, where his practice focuses on the development of transportation and utility infrastructure by public and private entities. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig T. Enoch will serve as the chamber’s chair-elect. Enoch served as a judge for 22 years on all three levels of state courts. The chamber has also named the members of its incoming executive committee. Said outgoing board chair Phil Wilson in a press release announcing the leadership changes, “I am proud of the accomplishments of our community in 2018, especially the work we’ve done to create and attract new jobs to Austin and implement smart public policy that will improve the lives of the two million people that live in our region. I know the Chamber will be in the most capable hands in 2019 under the leadership of our incoming Chair Brian Cassidy.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 by Tai Moses

Affordable Parking Program to the rescue

Has this ever happened to you? You have to be at work in 10 minutes, so you hop in your car and rush downtown – only to circle the block a dozen times because you can’t find a parking place near your job. If you work downtown in the evenings, you should consider signing up for the Affordable Parking Program, a brainstorm from the city of Austin and the Downtown Austin Alliance intended to make life easier – and more economical – for Austin’s service and entertainment industry employees. The program, which began with a single garage and a few users, now comprises two dozen parking garages across downtown and more than 200 users. You can park your car at monthly rates ranging from $30 to $65, starting as early as 3 p.m., and you can leave your car parked as late as 7 a.m. during the week. Depending on the garage you sign up for, you can park for up to 24 hours during the weekend. Now the Affordable Parking Program is expanding beyond downtown to include UT and the Rainey Street District. The interactive map of parking garages includes all the info you need to sign up.



Tuesday, December 18, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

AHA! housing complex fully funded

Austin Community Foundation has invested $250,000 in the Texas Impact Housing Fund to cover the remaining construction on AHA! at Briarcliff, an accessible housing complex in Northeast Austin. The investment allows the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation to increase financing for the Briarcliff project to $995,000, a $300,000 increase, with a 2.5 percent interest rate over a two-year construction period. The three-story complex will feature 27 units, half of them accessible for those with disabilities and the other half adaptable. Units will be priced for those with incomes at less than 50 percent of the Austin area’s median family income, and construction is expected to begin early next year. Accessible Housing Austin, the nonprofit group developing the project, has secured $3.7 million in additional financing from the city of Austin, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and an affordable housing grant from Frost Bank of Dallas. The project will be exempt from local property taxes through a partnership with the city Housing Authority.

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.

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