Council Watch

Intel secures $15 million in incentives to locate its facility downtown, saying only $2.5 million of that consists of actual "incentives"; the council votes to annex the property owned by the Regents School, whose sports facilities have annoyed neighbors in the nearby Travis Country subdivision.

Council Watch
By Doug Potter


Intel's Inside Job

Intel, Intel, how do we incite thee? Let us count the ways. We won't include the free water and sewer mains laid just for you at your proposed downtown office site -- that's a loan, not a gift. Nor that darling little chilling plant we're building in the state parking garage at Fourth, or those backup generators -- those will pay for themselves. Waiving fees for street closures shouldn't count, either, since it's only fair to let you build as cheaply in the Central Business District as you could in the hills.

What's that leave? Why, only $2.5 million in waived building and permitting charges. You didn't expect us to go all squishy just because you're the biggest chipmaker in the world, did you? Besides, money's not the issue. What's important is that your employees and our downtown are together. We're not complete without you.

Love,

The Austin City Council

Supporters of Austin downtown development and Smart Growth will probably find the above needlessly sarcastic. After all, the incentive package City Council approved last Thursday, May 18, in hopes of luring yet another expanding corporation away from the watershed is, in revenue terms, smart policy -- no pun intended. Whether one calculates the size of the city's offerings to Intel Corporation at $15 million or $2 million, the property and sales tax receipts generated by the nine-story office towers proposed between Fourth and Fifth streets ought to pay off the investment many times over.

Perhaps that's why no one showed up at the meeting to protest the deal. But the council felt compelled to publicly review the numbers anyway, with Council Member Bill Spelman meticulously eliciting from city staff just what portion of the total $15 million in expenditures constituted true giveaways, eventually paring the figure down to $2.5 million.

But like the controversial incentive deal put together to draw Computer Sciences Corporation downtown in 1998, the significance of this initiative is not the public dollars at stake, nor even protecting the aquifer. The aquifer site originally proposed for CSC's new campus, the Terrace in Southwest Austin, is now being developed by other interests, and one assumes the same will happen to Intel's tract on Loop 360, even if the company follows the city's carrot to Museum Park.

Rather, the deals are symbolic demonstrations that big businesses accustomed to suburban settings can get cozy in the downtown environment. As Mayor Kirk Watson pointed out during Thursday's meeting, the city's "incentives" are essentially a means to cancel out higher construction costs in the urban core so the area can compete with outlying areas. Council Member Daryl Slusher added that aggressive recruitment seems to be a necessary part of Smart Growth planning. "In an ideal world, [businesses would locate downtown] because they want to support the city's goals," said Slusher, "but that's just not the way it works." The City Council proposal now awaits a response from Intel.

Regents School Resolution?

You wouldn't have known it by the expression on everyone's faces, but the yearlong feud between the Regents School in Southwest Austin and residents of the Travis Country subdivison reached a resolution of sorts Thursday. The council voted to annex the school campus, which the neighbors had requested to force Regents to comply with stricter building limitations, but the location of a new football field remained unresolved. The neighbors had complained that the glare from the stadium's lights, along with heavy traffic on game nights, would be an intolerable intrusion.

Before the council met on the item Thursday, Travis Country residents, including neighborhood president Alan Seal, milled around a new campus site plan that they said they'd never seen before, one which moved the football field away from the neighborhood, but also added a baseball diamond and more buildings. Regents representative Richard Suttle later explained that the school had opted to buy a tract adjacent to the campus on the west and expand further than originally planned. Council Member Spelman, who has guided the negotiations thus far, accepted the Regents' site plan solution, which he wanted to add as an amendment to the motion to annex, but Beverly Griffith, Gus Garcia, and Jackie Goodman did not, effectively downing the proposed amendment. (Council Member Willie Lewis was absent.)


Impervious Cover Quandary

Council members learned in a briefing from the Watershed Protection Department that the city currently has no effective means to monitor or enforce impervious cover limits in new subdivisions. Meanwhile, the predominance of bigger homes may be throwing off the city's assumptions about how much impervious cover is actually being built. WPD director Mike Heitz suggested that in the future, site plan inspection of residential developments may be needed in order for the city to get a handle on the problem.


This Week In Council:

There's no meeting until June 1, at which time the City Council will formally accept the report prepared by the Police Oversight Focus Group, which recommends civilian review of the Austin Police Department. A briefing is

tentatively scheduled for 5:45, followed by a public hearing at 6:00. To read the executive summary of the focus group's report, go to

www.ci.austin.state.tx.us.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Intel, Regents School, Bill Spelman, Computer Sciences Corporation, Kirk Watson, Daryl Slusher, Regents School, Travis Country, Alan Seal, Richard Suttle

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