Off the Desk:
Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson's proposed site for a new bank near 18th Street and Airport Boulevard took another baby step forward with last week's council approval on second reading, pending assurances that sufficient walls and foliage will be built between the bank and an adjoining neighborhood. Henderson made a point to thank Councilmembers Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman for their help in pushing the project forward, but neglected to mention Councilmember Eric Mitchell, who ostensibly was backing Henderson's efforts. Perhaps not. After the vote, Henderson confided: "I was going to run for office, against someone, but I'm not saying who..." -- K.V.
If you count yourself as a Bruce Todd supporter then, by golly, you just might be able to count on an invitation to the mayor's big send-off party on June 11 at the UT Alumni Center. Thing is, there'll be some costs associated with the event that you might be called upon to contribute to, but fear not, any cash left over won't be lining anybody's pockets or going toward paying off old debts; it'll go towards stocking the pantry at the Capital Area Food Bank, according to political fundraiser Alfred Stanley, who is helping to orchestrate the affair along with Todd's wife, Elizabeth Christian...
If you're reading this and it's still Thursday (May 15), tune in to cable ch. 10 from 7-8pm for a forum on "Urban Sprawl in Austin," as seen through the aspiring eyes of candidates running for city council Places 5 and 6. The four hopefuls had a chance to do their homework on this one, with questions on the growth issue submitted to them in advance, along with a recent Utne magazine article on this very subject. Austin Community Access Center is hosting the event...-- A.S.
Maple Run Runs Deep
Just when you thought it was safe to stop fretting over the protected Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, Maple Run rises from the dust. Sprawling over 594 acres near Slaughter Lane and MoPac, the residential and commercially zoned land was purchased by Milburn Homes in 1985, long before Austin's water quality became the issue of the day. And now, thanks to an agreement hammered out between the city and Milburn, the development will be allowed to build up to four times more impervious cover than the 15% cap under the Save Our Springs (S.O.S.) ordinance, and six times what is recommended for protecting the endangered Barton Springs Salamander.
Various factors, including water quality ordinances, have kept the land from being developed for the last decade. Even before S.O.S., there were the Slaughter and Williamson Creek ordinances, which will be applied to keep impervious cover in some areas of Maple Run down to 30-40%. But Maple Run is exempted from complying with S.O.S.'s 15% restriction because it is grandfathered out by legislation.
However, except for the predictable protest raised by Councilmember Daryl Slusher, water quality did not seem to be on the minds of most of the council last Thursday when the development's zoning came up for approval. Instead, concern was focused on following through with last year's back-scratching agreement between Maple Run and the city. When Austin was in a court battle with the state over "bracketed" legislation -- that is, laws zeroing in on only certain Austin developments -- Maple Run, which stood to benefit from the state's strategy, joined forces with Austin to oppose the tactic. Austin eventually won out, and to repay Maple Run's loyalty during the battle, Austin agreed that city staff would recommend council approval for Maple Run's zoning preferences.
"These were our friends that helped us in the lawsuit. I think it's important that we realize that," said Councilmember Ronney Reynolds.
"I understand that this was part of a previous agreement by a previous council, but our own staff has said that it will degrade the aquifer," Slusher shot back.
Reynolds' justification for approval is that the Maple Run case helped to set a precedent against bracketed legislation. The city is now using that precedent to argue its own lawsuit that seeks to overturn a 1995 state law that yanked the Circle C development out from under Austin's jurisdiction. "That Circle C lawsuit is sitting out there in front of Judge [Scott] McCown. Maple Run was solved by McCown. If we renege on Maple Run, you don't think Maple Run will go right straight back to McCown, and you don't think that he'll have different thoughts on Circle C?" Reynolds asked.
Councilmember Jackie Goodman asked the council to hold off a week on outright approval for the zoning in hopes that a few provisions for water quality could be made. But Slusher, for one, was not waiting for Barton Creek to become a cesspool before acting. He was the sole dissenting vote in approving Maple Run on second reading. Final approval will likely go off without a hitch next week. -- K.V.
From Voticky's View
That master of the last-minute deal, developer Michael Voticky, was back at council last week trying to wiggle his property at 17th and Lavaca into zoning that would allow him to build a 175-foot apartment and retail complex on the site. Voticky was up against a protest about the building's height from the State of Texas and nearby Cambridge Towers. Because the petitioners were within 200 feet of the proposed development, a three-quarters majority of council was required before Voticky could move ahead with his plans.
As usual, Voticky was prepared to bargain from the podium and offered to go down to 165 feet. The State of Texas was asking for a height of 120 feet to preserve the view of the Capitol complex. The two dozen elderly Cambridge Tower residents in attendance, whose legendary view of downtown and the hill country would be forever destroyed by Voticky's proposal, were up in arms.
"We lose the view 100 percent," said Barbara Hankins, representative of the Cambridge residents, many of whom have lived in the building for 25 years and more. "Does that mean we can't build any new buildings?," Voticky angrily quipped when asked about the view. City staff is not much concerned with the Cambridge view either. "There are no views that are guaranteed within the city of Austin except the Capitol View Corridor," says Antonio Gonzalez, city case manager for the project with Development Review and Inspection. "We are aware of it, but we want to encourage mixed development in the central city and reverse the trend towards urban sprawl. If you do that, you're gonna be blocking somebody's view."
Voticky was frustrated by the city's mixed messages about downtown development. "The city wants downtown housing and I finally found an area that's not environmentally sensitive," he begged, though he was not willing to concede to the state's 120-foot request.
Voticky needed six votes to override the petition, and with Councilmembers Beverly Griffith and Gus Garcia voting against his proposal, the votes were not there. -- K.V.
Tax Reform Taxing
Gov. George Bush is tight-lipped about what is quickly becoming a severe gutting of his preliminary tax reform proposal in the Senate. Publicly, he says he's pleased with the progress underway in both sides of the Legislature. But even if all he wanted was "progress" in order to avoid a special session, he may be out of luck.
Democrats in the House did approve a tax bill that's pretty close to what Bush originally wanted, including total reform of the state's tax structure, significant cuts in school property taxes, an end to "Robin Hood" public school funding, with an expanded sales tax and franchise tax to pay for it. But in a surprise move, the Republican-controlled Senate approved a version of the tax bill that just barely follows the governor's lead.
Both versions will be debated in a joint House/Senate conference committee -- a process which could take up the remaining three weeks left in the session, and then some. To hammer out a final version in conference committee will take extraordinary compromise on all sides, particularly from the governor, who is not likely to get the high property tax cuts he wanted this session.
The Senate bill is milder than what the governor and the House proposed in all aspects, including adding new tax revenue of only $1.4 billion, compared to the House's $3.8 billion in suggested new revenue.
Both bills manage to broaden the current franchise tax base to all businesses, but that is nearly the only similarity. The Senate bill offers only a 12% reduction in school property taxes, compared to the 45% decrease proposed by the House. Also, the Senate bill does not do away with the "Robin Hood" method of school funding, something the governor dearly wanted. Instead, the bill would reduce from 95 to 69 the number of "property-rich" districts required to share their wealth with poorer districts. In a key move on that issue, the Senate proposes only a slight increase in the state's responsibility for school funding -- from the current 47% to 53% (the remaining cost is shouldered by property owners) -- whereas the state would need to take on at least 70% of public school funding to eliminate"Robin Hood." Also, while the House bill would keep school tax rates from creeping up in the future with a cap of 75 cents per $100 valuation, the Senate version includes no such cap.
In keeping with what they call a fairer bill, Senate co-sponsors Ken Armbrister
(D-Victoria) and Teel Bivins (R-Amarillo), resisted attempts by a few colleagues to abate school taxes for businesses and big property owners. An "unfriendly" provision placed in their tax bill to grant an abatement for any amount over $1 billion for industries investing in a new plant, and an abatement for any new additions over $500,000 by existing industries in the state, was passed, despite Bivens' vociferous opposition. -- L.C.B