Naked City

Dessau Dispute

Transit and traffic concerns prompted City Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas to vote once again to reject a zoning change for a proposed 30-unit, affordable housing development and childcare center on Dessau Road. On Nov. 8, Thomas voted no and Griffith abstained on the project's second reading, leaving project developers Community Partnership for the Homeless a vote short of the six they needed for approval.

Thomas was vexed by the site's lack of bus routes to accommodate residents, who will earn below 50% of the city's median income. However, Cap Metro spokesman Ted Burton said the agency has agreed to help Community Partnership develop alternative transportation programs for the site, such as vanpools and special services for the development's projected 20% disabled population. "Certainly there are viable alternatives [to bus routes]," he said. "Residents could establish their own program."

Community Partnership attorney Michael Whellan believes the real issue is location. "Some council members clearly want this project in Colony Park," Whellan said. "But Colony Park is not a mixed-income neighborhood. We believe it's time for affordable housing to exist in a mixed-income neighborhood." Adds Community Partnership Executive Director Alison Schmidt: "This is a nice, safe, beautiful neighborhood bound by a creek. We're not putting all the poor people with the poor people, where there's very little visual inspiration to better yourself." The nonprofit is raising the project's entire $4.6 million expense and expects to have the full portfolio completed by early next year.

Griffith, who denies suggesting Colony Park over other locations, considers Community Partnership's project "a beautiful concept." But in October, she got a letter from Joe Gieselman, executive manager of Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources, stating that the portion of Dessau Rd. adjacent to the proposed development was situated on a steep grade near a curve in a 50mph speed limit zone. Gieselman also cited poor sight distance at a nearby intersection. "I have voted for every affordable housing project that has ever come up," said Griffith. "Let's do this -- but on safe ground."

Although Gieselman's letter states no one from the county had yet seen project plans, he concluded that the combination of high speeds and steep grades would discourage his department from granting a median break for a driveway leading to the property, or driveway access onto Dessau. According to Burton, Cap Metro reps who actually visited the site also found serious safety concerns with the curve.

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