Council Watch

Business as Usual: After Bradley, Council Moves on to Other Things

Council Watch
By Doug Potter

For those of you having trouble keeping up with the council's itinerant meeting schedule, relief is on the way. After a last-minute move to the airport last week discombobulated a group of Southpark Meadows neighbors who planned to storm the LCRA building and oppose the project (the item was ultimately postponed), Mayor Kirk Watson said he would direct City Manager Jesus Garza to schedule all future meetings at the LCRA's Hancock Building, and to hold all morning sessions at LCRA as well, instead of at City Hall. So this afternoon (Thursday, April 6) and until future notice, the Austin City Council will be ensconced in the far-more-convenient-than-Bergstrom, though perhaps more politically complicated, board room at the LCRA's Hancock Building on Lake Austin Blvd. (The second half of Watson's edict apparently hasn't been processed, however, as this morning's set of briefings will be held, as usual, in Room 304 of our City Hall.) Council action last week was minimal, a relief after the stamina test provided by the weeks-long Bradley settlement discussions. There were some council actions of note, however:

In the land-acquisition department, the council approved the expenditure of $6.9 million to purchase the Freisenhahn tract -- 60 acres at the oh-so-desirable intersection of MoPac and Loop 360. The property's owner will receive impervious cover credits renewable for development in other parts of town, including a technology park in Oak Hill; the rest of the credits will be usable anywhere outside the Drinking Water Protection Zone. The city has also negotiated the rights to buy 1,740 acres of property in Hays County, known as the Dewhurst Tract, for a sum just over $10 million. There's a catch, though. The city is looking for private donors to come up with a large chunk of the cash. (This privately financed purchase option was the same principle involved in previous negotiations with Bradley to get purchase options on Spillar and Pfluger Ranch, which have since gone the way of the dinosaurs because the city couldn't live with the terms Bradley offered.)

The two transactions were the source of a minor controversy last week, when news of them first surfaced publicly during council deliberations on the Bradley settlement. Opponents of the settlement, including Bill Bunch and Mike Blizzard, refused to have their objections mollified by the promise of land preservation in other, non-Bradley-controlled portions of the aquifer; Blizzard's criticism of the announcement led to a dispute between him and his longtime ally, Council Member Daryl Slusher, in the pages of the Austin American-Statesman. After the Bradley vote on March 23, Blizzard said the announcement of the land purchase on the night of the Bradley vote was "a gimmick." Slusher responded with, "If it's a gimmick, it's a gimmick that the citizens of Austin will be able to enjoy in perpetuity." Blizzard says that it's not the land purchases themselves that he felt were gimmicky, but rather their presentation simultaneous with the approval of the Bradley settlement.

The Numbers Game

Minority contracting associations and CSC are continuing to disagree about the company's level of success in getting minority participation in its downtown construction project. Minority and female contractors' associations continue to insist that they aren't getting the 32% share of the $60 million construction project that they were promised when the CSC deal was approved. Council Member Gus Garcia has taken issue with the way CSC is calculating minority participation in the project, claiming that instead of the 24.7% participation the company claims, they've actually only achieved 0.1% participation. As you might guess, the two sides are using two different formulas to calculate participation. CSC says they're doing it in accordance with the contract they signed with the city, and a deal, as they say, is a deal. So the saga continues.

ARA Contract Renewed

The Austin Revitalization Authority will live to build another year, due to its unanimous contract renewal by the City Council last week. Though Council Member Willie Lewis had made noises about not supporting the contract due to the ARA's lack of progress on actually turning dirt along East 11th and 12th streets, he was appeased by the repeated promises of the ARA board that progress is indeed imminent. The first round of activities is to include the upgrading of stormwater runoff infrastructure, and the conversion of Shorty's Bar to an office facility -- not, as previously contemplated, a restaurant.

This Week in Council

In its morning session, the council will hear briefings on the Homeless Resource Center, the Town Lake Animal Shelter, and the progress toward redevelopment of the Rainey Street neighborhood. Allegiance on Rainey Street has reportedly coalesced behind Robert Knight and Perry Lorenz, the local developers who want to market the area for a downtown-type, commercial, or mixed-use development. The Homeless Resource Center briefing will be followed by a big-ticket action item, in the form of a $3.9 million, 40-year "forgivable loan" to the Salvation Army for construction and management of the new downtown homeless shelter. The council will also consider waiving water/ wastewater and development fees for the new shelter, to the tune of a little over $100,000. Other much-anticipated agenda items include:

Traditional Neighborhood District

The council is considering items that would move the city toward establishing a Traditional Neighborhood District (TND) amidst the destination parks on Austin's northeast side, east of Dessau Lane between Parmer and Braker. Milburn Homes is on deck to develop the TND -- a "liveable," affordable community of mixed-use residential and business developments. And today the council will consider directing the city manager to negotiate and execute a contract with said developer. Today's items also include about $4.3 million in water and wastewater infrastructure for the project, as well of the waiver of about $1.5 million worth of development fees.

Mueller Redevelopment Authority

This week the council will also consider the formation of a Mueller Redevelopment Authority to ensure that the master plan for reuse of the old airport is honored -- and not, for example, thrown over in an (albeit well-intentioned) attempt to save more of the aquifer land imperiled by legislative grandfathering. Mueller Neighborhood Coalition leader Jim Walker said in an e-mail to council this week that he continues to support the appointment of a redevelopment authority and recommends, in light of recent events centering on a possible land swap with Stratus Properties, that one be created "right now."

Mayor Kirk Watson assured the neighborhood at last week's council meeting that a master plan-circumventing land swap with Stratus was not in the works. "Based upon the conversations I've had, there is unanimous consent that ... we need to have the master plan completed, we need to hear back from ROMA, the experts, before we start making final decisions on anything." Watson also said that people should feel free to kick around proposals for Mueller, including, presumably, the Stratus example. "The council needs to be able to discuss ideas, concepts, and proposals for a variety of reasons," said Watson. "For example, it may make future ideas, concepts, and proposals better because we've analyzed something -- and maybe even rejected it -- but it's been analyzed."

Speaking of ROMA, they aren't the only noted airport-reuse consultant in town these days. EDAW, the consultants working on the design for Town Lake Park, are consulting with the city of Denver on the reuse of its old Stapleton airport, closed to make way for the once-controversial new facility. Though the situations may not be identical, one council source said that the Stapleton example supports the argument for a redevelopment authority at Mueller to ensure the implementation of the principles of the master plan. Instead of being driven by factors external to the airport situation (the need for land preservation elsewhere in the city, for example), Denver instituted a nationwide search for a master developer and "had over a dozen major league developers" bid on the project. Denver is now negotiating with a short list of three of those developers.

Hyde Park Baptist Church

Hyde Park Baptist is back on the agenda this week as well -- this time at the behest of Council Members Beverly Griffith and Bill Spelman, who whittle down the size of its proposed parking garage to something more compatible with the historic neighborhood.

The council will also schedule a public hearing to amend the Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan with the adoption of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan. Thursday, April 13, at 6pm, is the suggested hearing date for this hot item, so pencil it in on your day planner. end story

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city council, csc, computer sciences corp., traditional neighborhood districts, mueller redevelopment authority, hyde park

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