Postmarks

Development peccadillos and Lost Austin kudos.


Spring Valley & the TDHCA

Editor:

I am writing to respond to your article on Jan. 26, 2001 ["Cleaning House"], regarding my tax credit project, Spring Valley Townhomes. The article, as I have come to expect from your publications, is full of unsubstantiated claims and misinformation. When I bought the land for submission as a tax credit project, my research indicated that we had enough impervious cover to complete the project as a Townhome development based on an approved plat allowing 8.6 acres of developable area. When we discovered other city of Austin rules made it impossible to use the total city-committed impervious coverage area as we had planned, we notified TDHCA of potential problems and made every effort to work with the city to develop the project as submitted. The revised design was the only option that allowed us to proceed with this development after much time and expense working with the city and we are grateful that TDHCA worked with us accordingly.

I have built and developed multifamily and commercial property for over 25 years and assure the development will be completed as scheduled before the end of the year. Current plans have 91 three-bedroom units of which 24 have a study that can be converted to a fourth bedroom. Additionally, 36 two-bedroom units have a study that can be converted to a third bedroom. This development has been approved for Austin's Smart Housing Program that allows for a request for a 15% variance in parking. This variance will allow the development to consist of 103 three-bedroom, 24 four-bedroom, and 103 two-bedroom units. To qualify for 8 points for family housing set aside only 59 three-bedroom units are required. You also reported that eight 1999 Austin projects outscored our project. Your statement is totally false. Spring Valley scored 92 points in 1999. Our revised adjusted score of 87, based on information from TDHCA, is the second-highest Austin project for 1999. The department's recommendations for award are also based on other factors such as locations.

The entire article portrays a total lack of knowledge and understanding of the development process. I am gratified TDHCA staff has the courage to do the right thing in the face of unwarranted accusation, innuendo and factual incorrectness by a reporter who appears to be a willing tool of competitors who lost out in 1999. As I am aware that your reporter is a freelance writer for your paper, I would suggest your paper open an investigation to find out who is paying whom to continually write articles about TDHCA and certain developers that are always false and derogatory in nature.

Sincerely,

David Leonard

Kevin Fullerton responds: Of course Leonard "made every effort" to get TDHCA to agree to a new design -- his profits were at stake. Leonard originally wrote TDHCA that the city's watershed rules had changed after he proposed Spring Valley Apartments -- now he at least admits that he hadn't actually checked the rules. We still don't know why the staff at TDHCA reported that the site contained slopes less than 5% when it is obviously much more hilly.

The latest plans for this project to which I've had access at the city show fewer than 59 3-bedroom apartments and no 4-bedrooms.

[Ed. note: Fullerton is a staff writer of The Austin Chronicle, not a freelancer.]


Developing Woes

Editor:

This letter is in response to your January 26 article "Cleaning House," in which Kevin Fullerton asserts that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) erred in allowing development of the Spring Valley Apartments tax credit property to continue.

I made several attempts to talk to city of Austin officials, specifically Mr. Paul Sanchez, to clarify the conflict between the information contained in the recorded plat of the site and subsequent city of Austin rules which effectively nullified that level of density. When I did not receive a response from city staff, I learned from the project engineer that although the recorded plat allowed a much higher density, other rules severely curtailed the impervious cover due to the slopes on portions of the site. When I inquired as to when the regulations were implemented, I was informed that they were in place about two years ago but that the recorded plat was never changed to reflect current development rules.

The tax credit application requires developers to provide accurate information about the proposed site; however, it is unreasonable to assume that all development rules governing a site will be known in the early stages of the process. Some of the rules governing development may evolve during the time period a project is under review. Other rules may be interpretive in nature, giving city officials the latitude to significantly affect a project's density and design.

This is especially true given the city of Austin's complex regulatory requirements. Developing land in Austin, whether through the tax credit program or not, has always been difficult. I have no reason to believe that the developer withheld any information from the department or acted in bad faith.

Furthermore, the project's density has not changed. It is still comprised of 18.6 acres and qualifies for the same density points as at application. Although the buildings are clustered more closely together, the balance of the site remains green space to be utilized by the residents.

Mr. Fullerton's statements regarding a competing Austin tax credit applicant are based on the false premise that credits returned by one project would automatically go to another project in the same city. This is not the case. Had Spring Valley's tax credits been revoked, they would have been placed back in the general pool for reallocation by TDHCA's Governing Board and could be awarded to another project in any part of the state.

A revocation, in other words, would have deprived Austin of 230 housing units (173 of them affordable) without any assurance that the credits would be reallocated to the city. Only one project in Austin scored higher than Spring Valley during the 1999 allocation cycle and that was by only a single point. This project, which was not funded, was to be located within two miles of 590 existing tax credits units. These factors were taken into consideration while making decisions regarding Spring Valley.

The bottom line is that Austin is the most expensive rental market in the state with the least number of units affordable to low-income tenants. When faced with the certainty of developing apartments -- rather than the planned townhomes -- and the uncertainty of developing any at all, TDHCA acted in the best interests of the program in light of circumstances beyond the control of the developer.

Sincerely,

Cherno Njie

Manager, Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs


Credit Where Credit Is Due

Editor:

I am enjoying the Lost Austin issue [Jan. 26], but it would have been nice if I had been properly credited for the material that had been lifted from my writings. At least a dozen of the events listed in the timeline came originally from the "History and Fun Facts" section of my Austin guidebook, first published in 1984 by Texas Monthly Press. Over the years, I have given permission to the American--Statesman, Third Coast magazine, and other publications to excerpt tidbits from the Austin guidebook. Modern knowledge of the servant girl annihilator also came from the book. You may read most of this "History and Fun Facts" material (which Gulf Publishing cut from the Austin guide several years ago) at my Web site, www.io.com/~xeke.

And while I'm at it, my history of Austin beer gardens written 10 years ago, "Days of Beer and Pretzels," gives the proper history of Scholz Garten, which began in 1862. This essay is also at www.io.com/~xeke.

One final note: Austin's first bluebonnet bloomed on Wednesday, Jan. 24. It is located in the Shelly family plot in Oakwood Cemetery, which always has Austin's first bluebonnet bloom.

Cordially,

Richard Zelade

[Ed. note: Given the scope of and number of contributors to the Lost Austin issue's "Sordid and Assorted Austin Timeline," we decided not to include a list of sources. However, given the distinctiveness of his writings (he indeed corners the market on weird Austin history), it was an oversight to leave the facts we gleaned from Mr. Zelade's work uncredited. The Chronicle regrets the error.]


Totaled Recall

Robert Faires:

Re: "Sign of Other Times"

In January 1975 I totaled my car against a pole after happy hour at Fajita Flats so the joint was there at least that long ago.

Onward TTF

Jim Wucher


Going Up Hill on Memory Lane

Editor:

I am e-mailing you about an article in the "Lost Austin" issue [Jan. 26, 2001]. There is a small bit on Hill's Café with a lot of incorrect information. My name is Jessica Gartman and I am the granddaughter of Samuel A. Hill, the man who owned and operated Hill's Café. The restaurant was named after my grandfather, not because of "high ground." My grandfather bought the land from Merle Goodnight, who was a silent partner. Sam Hill opened the restaurant as a hamburger joint. Sometime around 1958 Mr. Hill sold the restaurant to Charles Goodnight.

Thank you,

Jessica M. Gartman


Not Lost Austin -- Gone Austin

Editor:

The "Lost Austin: Revisiting the City That Was" issue [Jan. 26] was one of the most captivating in recent years, and made me wax nostalgic for many of the old Austin haunts which I knew in my early years in Austin. Although it is redundant to reiterate that the culture and landscape of Austin have changed significantly since I moved here in 1976, I feel compelled to express dismay at the rapid pace of destruction and change in the past few years. Many old Austin institutions which expressed the charm and small-town folksiness of Austin culture have been bulldozed without a second thought, and real estate and rent prices have escalated to such astonishingly high levels that it is increasingly only those with high-paying jobs who can afford to live here. For many years, Austin was a city which resisted the corporatization of its culture and institutions, but it appears this is an element which is rapidly being lost amid the frenzied growth. It's like watching the death of an old friend.

Sue Fawcett


Fond Reminisceneces of Calle Ancha

Editor:

Great story by Ms. Belinda Acosta ["Mapping Calle Ancha," Jan. 26]. Sorry to read that she completely overlooked one of my (our) favorites, Palm Park. If you couldn't swim in the pool, then there was Waller Creek. Great!! Plus, across the street was La Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana. The late Oswaldo "A.B." Cantu's parents lived directly behind this church. Going north on La Calle Ancha, the "Squeeze Inn" was located just east on La Calle Seis, on the corner of La Calle Siete was the best hamburger joint in town, "Somewhere's Drivein" nobody owned a car, that I knew, etc. Still headed north, just past El Parejian (now the city jail) you found La Iglesia Metodista Mexicana. Not to mention the good and bad dudes that resided on this popular La Calle Ancha, "Ben Blue," comes to mind. Hangout numero uno was this wonderful "Calle." We resided at 1410 Calle Tres, in our beloved East! Thanks for reviving some good memories! Mil gracias por todo!

Moses P. Saldana


Tarnishing the Violet Crown

Editor:

Thanks for the "Lost Austin" issue [Jan. 26], which brought back many good and bad memories of a simpler Austin that we'll never see again.

As an Austin resident since 1959 (with stints in Houston and New York) I have to agree that the Austin I once loved is gone. While the "new" Austin is still the best (and only) place to live in Texas, I sorely miss what once was ... and hope together we can work to preserve what is still left while welcoming the new.

As an artist, though, I am delighted to sell my paintings to the dot-com rich, I reluctantly have to admit that their wealth -- and the wealth they have attracted and engendered -- has had its toll on our city.

The beauty I miss most is why Austin was lovingly called the "City of the Violet Crown" by O. Henry. Framing the skyline and scientifically known as the Balcones Escarpment, this chain of green hills abruptly rises to the west and marks the beginning of our fabled Hill Country. Often turning purple at sunset, they do form a violet crown. To a boy escaping from the pancake-flat Texas coast, seeing those hills as I drove into town to attend the University was awe-inspiring. They were mountains!

Today, with Austin's dot-com boom, those green hills are fast disappearing under an ugly mantel of palatial trophy homes and office buildings that overlook Austin's sprawl. My "mountains" have been conquered and given an all-too-human scale. I suppose they weren't so tall after all.

Claude M. Gruener


From the 'Under Our Noses' File

Editor:

Your "Lost Austin" historical review was thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating. The issue should serve as a valuable reference for years to come.

Within the many gems, Robert Faires' "Signs of Other Times" was particularly fascinating and nostalgic. Still, I'm amazed that a particularly intriguing moment right in your own back yard was apparently overlooked. Only one short block from Chronicle offices is the forlorn Williamson-Gilbert stone entrance monolith dated 1939 and matched with its sister stone across Wilbert Street. So what's the story on this long-forgotten piece of Austin history?

Mike Gerald


More Waxing Nostalgic

Dear Editor,

I enjoyed your articles on the Lost Austin [Jan. 26]. At the past-2am open mike, the After Hours was the first Austin stage I played on and the Split Rail was the first place I saw a Kerrville Folk Festival poster and fell in love with a cowgirl.

A brief note on the etymology of the "Fajita Flats" sign ["Signs of Other Times"] (I don't remember eating there either, but I did frequent the Steak 'n' Eggs that preceded it). I always considered it a take-off on the great "Taco Flats" music club (circa 1979, partly owned by Gary P. Nunn), which had its own special sign, "Over 5,000 tacos returned."

Yours,

Ky Hote


From the Non Sequitur Files

Editor:

" ... a lot of fierce slamming" at a Huns show ["The Dead Club Crawl," Jan. 26]? What a joke!

Cindy Melbie


Stroll Down Motel Memory Lane

Editor:

Re: Cactus Courts ["Signs of Other Times," Jan. 26]

Yes, there was a motel by that name, along with Murray's Motel, all in a row with the Bluebonnet Motel. The first two were taken down (I'll accept the sidewalk artist's date, since I can't remember) to make way for the small office complex there now. I don't know much about the history of the two MIA, but I did some research a while back on the Bluebonnet. It was established in the Thirties, at a time when enough Americans were vehicular to bring a need for motels. I would presume the others began about that time -- believe me, they looked it. Guadalupe and 45th would have been the edge of town around that time. I think it's wonderful at least one of them survived.

As for your list of 35-year-plus restaurants ["Second Helpings"], I can't believe you left off Jaime's Spanish Village, which opened the year my mother was born.

Elaine Blodgett


Vintage Liquor

Editor:

I very much enjoyed reading your chronological history of Austin. However, as I came upon the year 1939 I noticed a glaring omission. On the corner of Sixth Street and West Avenue (right next to Hut's Hamburgers) Sammie Joseph Sr. opened the first liquor store in Austin. 62 years later it is still in the same location and is run by Sammie Joseph Jr.

I think that is rather significant. We are the oldest liquor store in Austin and one of the oldest in Texas.

Sincerely,

Robert W. Jenkins,

Employee, Favorite Package Store


In Two Words: No Development

Editor:

Considering the in-depth stories you've published in the past about the Bennett Tract battles, we were disappointed to read Emily Pyle's shallow characterization in last week's "Naked City." Although it's true that some people believe, as Ms. Pyle stated, that the 1991 upzoning for a 1.3 million-sq.-ft. shopping mall would "revitalize East Austin," the vast majority of city staff and Eastside residents opposed the zoning change. Certainly someone on your staff recalls the intense neighborhood opposition to the zoning in 1991, and the even more heated warfare after the Planning Department initiated a zoning "rollback" in 1993. Katherine Poole, from the Blackland neighborhood, aptly described Bennett's zoning proposal as "a boondoggle riding on the blade of a bulldozer" (American-Statesman, August 1993). Guadalupe neighborhood folks warned that the upzoning looked like a land-flipping scheme. Now, 10 years later, the flip is happening. Bennett's legacy has been lies and broken promises, yet they may be on the verge of cashing in on a zoning gift that dramatically inflates the value of their land.

Ms. Pyle's claim that Riata planned to develop an "office park," whereas "some neighborhood leaders now would prefer affordable housing" is misleading. "Office park" sounds so quaint. Riata actually wants a million square feet of leaseable commercial space, which will require parking for over 500 cars. Like Bennett, they have requested heights of 220 feet, and all of Riata's proposed housing will be multifamily rental (no ownership) and likely 95% of it at market rates (not affordable). Guadalupe neighborhood representatives have repeatedly stated that we would appreciate "any percentage of affordable housing," and that we understand a healthy mixed-use, market-rate development is more probable. In early negotiations facilitated by city staff, representatives from Bennett and Riata agreed to a minimum of only 5% affordable housing. We want more, but are willing to accept only 5% if we can agree on other elements. This is public record to which you have access.

We have worked for nine months to reach a compromise. As long as there is hope, we don't mind if City Council postpones the rezoning 1,000 times. But, you can know that we will oppose any development proposals with uses, heights, traffic patterns and other elements that will devalue the quality of life in our wonderful historic neighborhood.

Sincerely,

Mario Renteria, President

Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood


A Mistake & a Half

Editor:

I enjoyed your recent piece on Jerry Wexler ["A Man and a Half," Dec. 1, 2000]. However, he made a mistake. A guitarron and a bajo sexto are not the same.

Yours truly,

Jay F. Brakefield

Irving


Free Jazz Not So Free Yet

Dear Editor:

Thank you for publishing Pedro Moreno's letter titled "Zorn, Others Keeping Jazz Alive" ["Postmarks," Jan. 26]. Mr. Moreno points out how the Chronicle hasn't mentioned the output of musicians like John Zorn but I would like to also point out the absence of local free jazz musicians from the Chronicle's pages. Austin has a small but important free jazz scene local musicians are familiar with but is unknown to most local music fans. Any press from the Chronicle would help us and would also promote a more diverse musical culture here.

The problems a free jazz musician faces in Austin are many. I have been playing free jazz in Austin for eight years and in doing so have been banned (musically) from places like Ruta Maya and Empanada Parlour and can't even get gigs at places like Thirty Three Degrees and other venues that claim to have a "diverse" musical lineup. The mention of free jazz to most local club owners, promoters, and producers send them searching for the nearest pop/rock band. Any press addressing local free jazz would help people realize how important free jazz is to modern American (and Texan) culture, show free jazz's link to jazz's past, and show a side of Austin highly overlooked in these times.

When we get our Texas Jazz Museum in Ft. Worth it will be even more apparent how Texas culture (Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman, etc.) has helped to shape the free jazz of today.

Carl Smith

tenor saxophone


Pontificating Pekar

Editor:

Objective music criticism is nearly impossible without missing the point -- subjective experience, but Harvey Pekar illustrated criticism's weaknesses especially well with his presumptuous "here's what Ken Burns would've done if he were me" piece on Burns' recent Jazz documentary ["Better Than Nothing," Jan. 12].

Pekar's Cuban music piece ("Cubana Be Cubana Bop," same issue) is a great template for how knowledgeable critics can pass on info, share discoveries, and broaden horizons with recommendations. It's clipped for the next trip to CDLand.

But his Jazz piece was dismissive, unproductive, and boring. Why not just say "I know more than Burns and I don't like Marsalis, so here's a list of great jazz musicians Jazz omitted you might want to check out?"

Pekar's reasoning and conclusions are flimsily personal. Yes, Burns condenses 1960-2000 into one episode, but the "who wasn't covered and shoulda been" list is more a scroll down Harvey's "look how many jazzers I know about" menu than a list of those who should, or could have been covered in the time allotted.

Few critics, given opportunity, would produce a documentary people would watch and learn from. But it would be people's fault, comes the whine, because they don't know, or care, as much as Harvey and the true jazzbos. As if one pontificator (in Rome) weren't enough!

Look at documentary-making objectively, understanding its limitations. Just to cover the players omitted, without contextualization, would take many more episodes, and millions [of dollars]. Burns didn't make the Jazz I'd have made, nor Harvey's, equally fortunately. It's an incomplete picture, as 19 hours covering 100 years must be.

Post-Fifties jazz diverged, developed, and expanded, wandering in and (mostly) out of acceptance. Ever more passionate partisans, from kind of blue to defiantly black and white, grouped and griped. No matter what Burns covered, there'd always be a hundred Pekar-heads to argue.

Rick Erichson


Props for Pekar

Dear Raoul Hernandez:

Please convey to Harvey Pekar my admiration and appreciation for his "Better than Nothing" article about the Ken Burns Jazz series on PBS [Jan. 12]. Mr. Pekar certainly articulated my feelings about the subject -- not for the first time, either, because I have been reading his writings off and on for about 40 years, by now.

Thank you,

John Litweiler

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