Naked City

Council Watch

Naked City
Photo By Doug Potter

What Price, Justice?

Downtown residents turned out in force last fall to protest the City Council vote that moved city jail facilities into the county's Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center on West 10th Street. They pointed out the CJC's proximity to Pease Elementary School and the central campus of Austin Community College. They fretted about the traffic, and they questioned the safety of releasing what the city estimated would be 150 inmates -- more than half booked on public intoxication and "nuisance" charges -- into the area each day.

The council nodded and looked sorry and voted for the move anyway. Badly overcrowded into a building nearly half a century old, the city's Central Booking facilities had to go somewhere before the Texas Commission of Jail Standards shut them down.

The justice system center rises anew today (Thursday, April 26), but with not nearly the accompanying venom of last fall, thanks to some mitigating measures the council threw into the mix when it last voted on the issue. At the time, Council Member Will Wynn rushed through a temporary zoning freeze designed to prevent the type of businesses that might encourage recently released inmates to linger in the area once they've gotten their walking papers.

A public hearing precedes a council vote today that would make that temporary freeze a permanent part of the almighty Land Development Code, creating an official CJC Overlay District and settling once and for all which businesses can and cannot hang out a shingle in the neighborhood.

Pawn shops will be out-and-out barred from the area. Liquor stores, "cocktail lounges," and bail bonds services will be permitted as conditional uses -- that is, a proposed liquor store would need the approval of the Planning Commission and, if appealed by neighborhood residents, the City Council itself.

"If they don't extend [the zoning restriction], we're dead," says Lynn Moshier, resident manager of the Regency Apartments a few blocks from the CJC. "That's the least they can do for us. Inside, the facilities may be extremely secure, but once they're released, what about us here on the outside?"

City staff says they haven't heard from anyone protesting the Overlay, just residents who don't think a zoning change will be enough to protect them once the CJC finally opens. "So far, no one has come out and said they were opposed to this," says Neighborhood Planning and Zoning principal planner Gregg Guernsey, who headed up the CJC Overlay District initiative. "I have had some citizens say it doesn't go far enough." One complaint that has surfaced: Lawyers' rights to sell bail bonds from their offices are protected by state law. And that part of town, if you hadn't noticed, is littered with lawyers' offices.

Believe it or not, that's about the most exciting item on this week's council agenda, described by one council aide as "boring, boring, and boring."

Also on deck for Thursday is a presentation by assistant city attorney John Steiner, who will outline Census 2000 data as it relates to single-member districts and other alternative voting methods.

Sparks Are Gonna Fly

But if this isn't enough excitement for you, stick around for the May 3 meeting, because it promises to be a real doozy; the long-debated Bennett Tract and its slew of development proposals for east of I-35 is up for consideration, as is the equally long-debated Capital Metro quarter-cent tax matter. Only this time the issue will rest on the single question: What do we do with the city's portion of that tax money that was supposed to have gone to light rail?

Also, architect Antoine Predock will make a return trip to his favorite town to discuss everyone's favorite topic: the updated schematic design of the new City Hall. Council will chew on his latest offering for a couple of weeks and vote on the matter May 17.

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Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center, Land Development Code, Greg Guernsey, Will Wynn, Capital Metro, Census 2000, Bennett Tract, @META_Description_pols:

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