Naked City

Austin Stories

The City Council last week voted to raise the fees for Downtown parking meters from 75 cents to $1 an hour. This matches the price for street parking in the Capitol Complex; staff estimates this will bring in an additional $526,000 a year, 30% of which will go to fund Great Streets improvements Downtown. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman was the lone vote against the price hike. -- M.C.M.

Michael Dell will give the commencement speech at UT graduation May 17. Ironically, Dell attended UT in the 1980s but did not graduate -- he left to found Dell Computer in 1984. -- Lee Nichols

Calling for a new sense of urgency, the Clean Air Force of Central Texas asks us to take real action on this summer's ozone-action days. Williamson Co. Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein, chair of the CAF, says the upcoming warm season -- during which Austin will be judged by stricter air-quality standards, and the first under the region's new Early Action Compact with the feds -- can make or break Austin's efforts to avoid slipping into nonattainment and taking a huge economic blow. Learn more at www.cleanairforce.org. -- M.C.M.

Two major developers have been added to a lawsuit the Save Our Springs Alliance has filed against the city of Dripping Springs. The original petition, filed in November, claims the city illegally negotiated two private development deals involving 4,700 acres of environmentally sensitive land in Hays Co. At issue are agreements with Cypress Realty Inc. and MAK Foster Ranch LP, now defendants in the case. Cypress plans to build a residential and commercial community called Rock Creek on 2,700 acres atop the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The Foster Ranch agreement involves a 1,600-acre development west of Nutty Brown Road, off U.S. 290. Dripping Springs officials have long defended the agreements, which critics say were backroom deals, with little council discussion and virtually no public hearings prior to their approval. -- Amy Smith

Two weeks ago the Chronicle reported the wrangle that two protesters -- Brandon Darby and Ron Deutsch -- got into with a gaggle of undercover Austin police officers during the March 20 anti-war protest. Darby and Deutsch were both arrested and charged with Class C misdemeanors after trying to photograph undercover cops that they said were photographing other demonstrators. Now the Chronicle has learned that police have upgraded Darby's offense to a Class B misdemeanor -- punishable by up to a $2,000 fine and/or 180 days in jail. Originally facing a fine for the Class C "pedestrian in a roadway" charge (i.e., jaywalking), Darby is now being charged with the similar, though more punitive, "obstruction of a highway, passage, or roadway," says attorney Alex Veltman, who is handling many of the legal cases brought in recent weeks against Austin protesters. "This is not typical," Veltman said of the changed charge. "I think the police have gotten a little exasperated by the ongoing protests." By law, he notes, police have two years to file a misdemeanor charge. "It's legal. Yeah, it's a little scary and no, it doesn't often happen," Veltman said. -- Jordan Smith

Envision Central Texas recently took its planning program to East Austin, where community leaders focused on redevelopment of the Featherlite mattress factory site, at the junction of the Chestnut, Rosewood, and Upper Boggy Creek neighborhood planning areas. Consultants Fregonese Calthorpe Associates will consolidate citizen input and suggestions from the meeting, and will return in a few months with a detailed conceptual plan, to be presented at an open house. -- Lauri Apple

HB 2456, authored by the always-entertaining Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, was set for consideration Wednesday by the Land and Resource Management Committee. The bill, written expressly for Hyde Park Baptist Church here in Austin, would require cities to regulate churches under the "least restrictive" zoning and building standards under which a city allows. In Austin's case, as with most cities, that's Central Business District zoning -- unlimited height, 100% impervious cover, anywhere in town. Neighborhood leaders plan to remind lawmakers that a blanket statewide bill could allow not just good Baptists but unpopular fringe sects to build at will in their own peaceful Republican neighborhoods. -- M.C.M.

A bankruptcy judge has set an Aug. 5 trial date for Gary Bradley and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which is trying to collect on $70 million that the Circle C Ranch developer borrowed but never repaid. Though Bradley took out the loan in the Eighties, the FDIC is focusing its investigation on more recent history -- specifically, the high-dollar transactions and transfers the developer made in the months leading up to his bankruptcy. U.S. District Judge Frank Monroe has given attorneys on both sides until June 30 to produce evidence they intend to introduce at trial. -- A.S.

A proposed hazardous-liquid pipeline ordinance that has been on and off the City Council agenda for the last few months may realize a third and final vote today (Thursday). But first, two key questions need to be addressed: Should builders get a 120-day period to file for building permits under old (nonexistent) rules, or should the law go into immediate effect? And should new "high-consequence" developments (schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) be prohibited within 500 feet of pipelines as originally proposed, or should they be allowed within 200 feet if they pass a safety assessment? -- A.S.

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