Off the Desk:
Fri., Jan. 23, 1998
If you care about your library and its future in the book business, then leave Tuesday night (Jan. 27) open to speak your piece on the upcoming library bond proposals. The city Library Commission will call things to order at 6pm at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs... And food is another thing we don't want to do without. That's why we need people like Kathleen Fitzgerald, executive director of the Sustainable Food Center, to keep us abreast of what's cooking on that front. She'll speak at 11:30am Thursday, Jan. 29 in Rm 4.118 of the Texas Union. Call 471-0841 for details... It's good to know that opposing sides in the proposed Triangle development in Hyde Park are talking, even if it is hush-hush and all. We're told the Triangle players - that would be the developers, the state, the city, and neighborhood reps - met privately Tuesday to hash out - what? A settlement maybe? - A.S.
Delay Sought on JPI
Local environmental and neighborhood groups can't legally block JPI's proposed six-story office tower complex near the Barton Creek Greenbelt on the Brodie tract, but they want to delay final city approval in hopes lead developer Art Carpenter can be persuaded to walk away from the project. "We're not unlawfully and naïvely saying that there can be no development on the site, but we are saying there's a substantial financial incentive for JPI to donate the land to the city," says the Sierra Club's Steve Beers.
The Sierra Club, Save Our Springs Alliance, and Barton View Neighborhood Association have asked the Austin City Council for a resolution ordering further negotiation between Carpenter, area residents, and the city. Given the potential environmental destruction and general ill will invoked by crowding Austin's green space, the groups say, Carpenter's best bet for a productive long-term relationship with the city would be to give up the site. The Brodie Tract is transected by an underground fault that drains directly into Barton Springs, and it's also habitat for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. The groups also want the city to study the impact of adding thousands of cars to daily traffic on Loop 360.
Opponents say Carpenter can easily afford to donate the land, pointing out that JPI bought it for $1.4 million in 1994 and sold an eight-acre parcel to TxDOT for $3 million shortly thereafter. A donation, furthermore, would prevent JPI having to pay tax on the site when it sells to another developer, which Carpenter says he plans to do. But Carpenter says that a "straight gift to the city, unfortunately, isn't possible." He says JPI has been open to all possible solutions that would appease environmental and neighborhood resistance, but that "none of the suggestions that have been made work from a tax standpoint." Carpenter says he thought the current deal, whereby he adheres to S.O.S. restrictions and gives 60 acres of the tract for city parkland, was a "home run solution." Environmentalists dispute Carpenter's magnanimity, saying the developer had been advised by the city before buying the Brodie tract that it was governed by the S.O.S. ordinance. Councilmember Daryl Slusher, who with Beverly Griffith helped negotiate the JPI development down to S.O.S. proportions, has said that while he agrees that ideally nothing should be built on the site, Carpenter has "negotiated patiently and in good faith." - K.F.
S.O.S. Wins One
Last week, the Save Our Springs Alliance won a battle with the Austin City Council over the application of the Texas Open Meetings Act. But it remains unclear how the ruling will affect the ongoing lawsuit over a 77-acre development project known as Deerfield. The meetings issue is one facet of a lawsuit that began in 1996 when Deerfield's owners sued the city for insisting that the tract was subject to the S.O.S. Ordinance and therefore could have a maximum of 15% impervious cover. The landowners contended that because they had filed a permit application with the city prior to the 1992 S.O.S. election, they were not subject to the ordinance.
Last May, in an executive session, the city council voted 5-1 to settle the Deerfield lawsuit. The settlement allows the tract - which lies in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone near Brodie and Davis Lanes - to have about 30% impervious cover, twice what would have been allowed under S.O.S. After the vote to settle the suit was made public, the Alliance intervened in the suit, charging that the city had violated the Open Meetings Act because it had not fully disclosed on its agenda its intention to settle the Deerfield case. On Jan. 15, Travis County District Court Judge Suzanne Covington sided with S.O.S., saying that the lawsuit was "a matter of special public interest," and that the "notice given by the City of Austin regarding the settlement of the lawsuit was insufficient."
Walter Williams, an attorney who represented homeowners adjacent to Deerfield, said he was disappointed by Covington's ruling. He said his clients were satisfied with the settlement. "We wanted to enforce the settlement because we felt it was fair and effective for everybody impacted by that property," he said. But Bill Bunch, chief counsel for the S.O.S. Alliance, called the ruling "a win for open government and anyone who is interested in following city business."
Bunch further contends that Covington's ruling invalidates the settlement between the city and Deerfield, and that therefore the S.O.S. ordinance should be applied. "We hope we can work out a settlement that provides something for the developer that doesn't involve an S.O.S variance," he said. But a line from Covington's order indicates uncertainty as to the applicability of S.O.S. The judge wrote that the material presented did not "include sufficient evidence for the Court to determine, as a matter of law, whether the S.O.S. Ordinance applies to Plaintiff Deerfield's development project." Assistant City Attorney Connie Ode was also unclear about what impact the ruling will have. "I just received the order and haven't had a chance to meet with the city council," she said Tuesday. More on this later. - R.B.
Speaking on the University of Texas campus Monday night, Kweisi Mfume, executive director of the NAACP, told an audience of several hundred people that while "the dream of a better America is very much alive," there is still a long way to go before America fully realizes the dream that shaped the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mfume's talk capped a weekend-long commemoration of the civil rights leader, who would have turned 69 last Thursday.
In his talk Monday in the LBJ Auditorium, Mfume wasted no time chastising America's "malignant neglect" of inner-city poor African- Americans and Hispanics, who suffer a disproportionate rate of infant mortality and life-threatening diseases, and a declining lifespan. "We have to close the gap between what we say and what we do. We must close the difference between those who have and those who have not," Mfume said. "Close the difference between you and I, who live in relative comfort, and those raising a generation of disadvantaged.
"Education is always a good place to start," he said. Mfume also hinted at last year's controversy surrounding UT law school professor Lino Graglia's remarks about minority students, reminding UT officials not to allow race and nationality to divide the university's population. "The faculty must be tolerant in their remarks, careful in their stereotypes," he said. - W.C.
Alan Taniguchi, the creative force behind such downtown revitalization projects as the Waller Creek hike and bike trail, died January 14 after a battle with pneumonia. He was 75. Taniguchi taught at the University of Texas, where he became dean of the School of Architecture in 1967. His skills as a teacher and architect quickly won him fans among students and colleagues alike. Taniguchi didn't rest on the laurels of the quiet respect he commanded within academia, choosing instead to extend his vision beyond university grounds to head city revitalization projects.
One of his first major contributions came in the late 1960s, when Lady Bird Johnson chose him to head the creation of the Town Lake master plan. Downtown revitalization drew much of his interest, spurring what many consider one of Austin's most important planning documents - the Waller Creek trail plan. "It's one of the best planning documents the city has ever seen," said Larry Speck, dean of the UT School of Architecture. "Downtown was made a part of the way of life in Austin."
The Waller Creek plan, drawn up by the firm Taniguchi, Shefelman, Vackar and Minter, created one of the first of many trail connections between Town Lake and other parts of downtown. Tom Shefelman, Taniguchi's partner in the firm, said this was one of the first attempts to identify Austin's inner-city topographical features, and determine how they might be affected by further urbanization, particularly along the city's waterways. "Taniguchi had a socially conscious approach toward everything about architectural design," Shefelman said.
After resigning as dean in 1972, Taniguchi continued his involvement at the city level, serving as chair of the Downtown Revitalization Project, and contributing to ongoing efforts for downtown historic preservation and the future use of Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. Especially important, said Shefelman, was his sensitivity to placing Austin's natural features first while heading different revitalization efforts. "He was not only design-sensitive, but also a very good listener," Shefelman said. "That was a very important part of his role as urban design team leader and dean of the school of architecture." - L.S.
Don't Let Her Die
If you stood at the south edge of the Capitol grounds, facing the south steps at noon on Saturday, Jan. 17, you would have seen fewer than the 500 people expected to attend an anti-capital punishment rally held to voice anger over the scheduled Feb. 3 execution of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be executed by the state since the Civil War. What was lacking in numbers, however, was made up for in the ardent earnestness of those assembled, an ardency at least somewhat articulated on the backs of some protesters' T-shirts: "Why do we kill people who kill people? To show that killing people is wrong?" "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." "Execution is not the solution. Don't kill for me."
Some of the speakers noted that the crowd had not gathered due to the publicity surrounding Tucker's case, which even William F. Buckley has taken time to weigh in about, nor because of the religious conversion Tucker has experienced in her 15 years on death row, but because of their collective opposition to the death penalty. But judging by the huge phalanx of television crews covering the rally, the case will remain steadfastly public, at least until Gov. George Bush makes a decision about Tucker's fate. In fact, that's one reason for all of the media attention; the decision is a high-profile one for Bush, especially since the brother of one of the murder victims, Ron Carlson, has openly declared his wish that Tucker's life be spared, as have former state legislator Sissy Farenthold and various religious figures. See this week's "Postscripts" for a related item on the Tucker case. - C.S.
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