The Save Our Springs Alliance is awaiting a decision by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks regarding what SOS sees as inadequate efforts to protect the endangered Barton Springs salamander. SOS counsel Amy Johnson argued two weeks ago that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in June by reversing its 2001 "jeopardy" opinion that would have required stricter construction limits in the Barton Springs zone to protect the species. Attorneys for FWS and the EPA, as well as for local homebuilders, argued that correcting violations to the agencies' existing rules would be a better remedy than issuing a jeopardy opinion, which would shut down many construction permits. -- L.A.
Looks like the Villas on Guadalupe upscale student housing complex, currently under construction between the Drag and Hemphill Park, will house more residents (and cars) than neighbors had hoped -- or the city had originally permitted. On Thursday, the City Council approved by 5-2 a "corrective" ordinance that allows the developers to build more multibedroom units and forego efficiencies. Attorney Rachael Rawlins, who has represented the North University NA in its long campaign against the Villas, argued that the "correction" was really an illegal rezoning without due process for the neighbors. The new ordinance gives the developers the same density they would have been allowed before they adjusted the Villas site boundaries to circumvent NUNA's valid petition against the project. -- L.A.
Council Member Daryl Slusher and Hays Co. Judge Jim Powers are sponsoring a regional conference, Dec. 6, on protecting Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer. The usual planning and policy topics will be discussed. While the Envision Central Texas effort covers some of this same terrain (both literally and figuratively), Slusher feels that "aquifer issues need quicker and more detailed work" before the Lege reconvenes in January. -- Mike Clark-Madison
Things are pretty gloomy -- new federal security, declining revenue, ugly traffic blockades -- at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, so ABIA brass are quite pleased to report that our li'l airport has one of the best customer-satisfaction ratings in the world. The annual study by J.D. Power and Associates singles out Bergstrom's live music and local shops for praise. Of the 46 airports in the survey, conducted after 9/11, only Singapore's Changi Airport ranked higher than Bergstrom overall. -- M.C.M.
'Tis the season for football, elections, and awards banquets. The Downtown Austin Alliance is bestowing its IMPACT Awards on its favorite downtown people and places -- the Bullock Museum, the Austin Convention Center expansion, 300 W. Sixth, PageSoutherlandPage, the Plaza Lofts, banker and bon vivant Eddie Safady, and the Austin Convention and Visitors' Bureau's heritage-marketing program (day job of Zoning and Platting Commission chair Betty Baker). The awards will be presented Oct. 23. -- M.C.M.
Speaking of 300 W. Sixth, two new tenants -- PricewaterhouseCoopers and Comerica Bank -- have taken leases at CarrAmerica's brand-new, one-third-empty office tower. While the two deals are fairly minuscule -- less than 30,000 square feet -- CarrAmerica is thrilled to be leasing to anyone. Of course, the net vacancy rate downtown is little changed; PWC is moving from One American Center. -- M.C.M.
And speaking of awards banquets, the newly formed Colorado River Foundation is bestowing its first honors -- "Six for the Colorado" -- in November. The six are Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs; state Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake; Camp Longhorn founder Tex Robertson; Bay City conservationist Haskell Simon; Austin educator Elisabeth Welsh; and the Lake LBJ Fishery Habitat Enhancement Committee, working to re-establish native vegetation in the Highland Lakes. -- M.C.M.
At first glance, you might think you're looking at the official Web site of Stratus Properties Inc. (www.stratusprop.com) -- until you spot the telltale signs at www.boycottstratusprop.com. It's no coincidence that the design and layout of the new anti-Stratus site closely mimics its corporate antithesis. Karen Kreps of Net Ingenuity created the anti version as a contribution to the Save Our Springs Alliance effort to stop Stratus from acting on its development endeavors. The company already got a go-ahead from City Council to build on more than 1,200 acres atop the Edwards Aquifer. -- Amy Smith
Next, dogs and cats will lie down together: Neal Spelce, who first delivered Austin TV news in 1958, has retired from daily broadcasting. Spelce had been sharing KEYE-TV's 5pm cast with his daughter Cile, apparently the only such filial pairing on U.S. television. Spelce, who is now K-EYE's "Anchor Emeritus" (oh, come on) will still do guest commentary, election-night kibitzing, and the like. -- M.C.M.
According to prosecutors, Maurice Pierce, the remaining defendant accused of the 1991 yogurt shop murders, will go to trial next year at the earliest. By the time he appears in court, Pierce will have been confined in the Travis Co. Jail for at least 31/2 years. What happened to the "speedy" in "fair and speedy" trial? Attorneys for Pierce wouldn't comment on the case, but one factor holding things up is that the transcript from co-defendant Michael Scott's trial, which concluded last month, hasn't been typed yet. Pierce, whose bail was set at $750,000, never confessed to police that he participated in the 1991 quadruple murder, and no physical evidence links him to the crime. -- L.A.
Developer David Vitanza dodged a bullet this week, cutting a compromise deal on the height of his new Sixth and Lamar project, slated to house Whole Foods Market and its headquarters and (controversially) various national retailers. After reaching agreement with West End neighbors, Vitanza withdrew his request for a variance from the often hostile-to-developers Board of Adjustment. -- M.C.M.
The city of Austin did not hold its "Great Austin Sign-Off" last weekend as scheduled, after the Travis Co. Republican Party secured an injunction halting the cleanup from U.S. District Judge James Nowlin. The city has, with much publicity, been targeting "bandit signs" -- including, of course, campaign signs -- in or near the public rights-of-way. It's that "near" -- within 10 feet -- that irks the Travis GOP, which feels the city sign ordinance violates freedom of speech, and worried that the city's volunteer "sign rangers," including Boy and Girl Scouts, would be unduly zealous in their cleanup efforts. Meanwhile, the City Council is considering amending the ordinance to exempt "noncommercial" signs for lost pets, garage sales, and the like. -- M.C.M.
Early voting: Can't be beat! Get a dollar off your drink! That's the spirit at local clubs participating in Round 2 of a get-out-the-vote drive sponsored by three Austin gay political groups. Early voting starts Oct. 19 and early birds need only present an "I Voted" sticker to receive $1 off the price of a drink at Charlie's, Oilcan Harry's, the Boyz Cellar, the Forum, Rainbow Cattle Co., the 1920s Club, or the 'Bout Time Bar. The first phase of the vote drive succeeded in registering several hundred new voters. -- A.S.
"Columbus didn't discover America -- he was lost!" say organizers of the United East Austin Coalition's 17th annual Diá de la Raza celebration, held Oct. 12 at Red's Scoot Inn. In addition to eardrum-popping, but excellent, música by Salaman, the event featured awards for musician/activist Clemencia Zapata, the A.B. Cantu/Pan American Rec Center, El Buen Pastor Early Childhood Development Center, and Arnold Oil Company. Hispanic Democrats present included state House Dist. 51 candidate Eddie Rodriguez (who emceed), City Council Member Raul Alvarez (who mingled), and a stumping state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos. -- L.A.