Naked City

Austin Stories

You're not gonna believe this: Austin's population actually shrank last year. After a decade of being one of the fastest-growing cities in America -- often with annual percentage growth in the double digits -- the Census Bureau reports that Austin actually lost 1,101 people between July 1, 2001, and July 1, 2002. Travis Co. as a whole gained a whopping 4,858 residents, mostly in the unincorporated county or in Pflugerville. The other four counties in what is now the "Austin-Round Rock" metro area (sorry, San Marcos), and their principal cities, all saw population gains in the 4-5% range. -- Lee Nichols

Monday, July 28, marks a rematch between representatives of KOOP 91.7FM and KOOP founder Jim Ellinger, expected to appear in Travis Co.'s Justice of the Peace Court, Precinct 5 for a trial more than three years in the making. Since the late Nineties, Ellinger has claimed that the radio station's current management owes him about $4,000 in operating expenses he covered out-of-pocket; the KOOP leaders cited in the suit, current station Treasurer Bob White and former President Eduardo Vera, deny Ellinger's accusation. At a hearing in early June, Precinct 5 Judge Herb Evans recused himself from the case after KOOP lawyer Jerry Zunker objected to Evans' friendship with Ellinger as a conflict of interest. Zunker had a previous opportunity to ask for another judge but waited until trial had begun to make his official request. -- Lauri Apple

Also on July 28 but elsewhere in the Travis Co. Courthouse, lawyers for City Hall and the Hyde Park Baptist Church will square off before visiting Judge Pete Lowry as he considers the city's motion for a new trial in the church's so-far-successful lawsuit over the city's 2001 denial of a permit for the Baptists' proposed five-story parking garage on Avenue D. That denial came on an appeal by neighbors, and Lowry, in his initial ruling in HPBC's favor, said the City Council had no power to grant such an appeal -- even though the city argues its own staff had erred in issuing the Baptists a permit in the first place and that both city code and the 1990 agreement between HPBC and the neighborhood specifically allow for such errors to be corrected. The church argues that the latest motion is "nothing more than another strategy to delay a final decision in the case." -- M.C.M.

On July 30, the Capital Metro board of directors will approve a contract enabling San Francisco-based ROMA Design Group, consultants for Mueller Airport redevelopment and the Seaholm District Master Plan, to develop the Saltillo District Redevelopment Master Plan for the transit authority's 11-acre property between I-35, Comal Street, and East Fourth and Fifth. Also next week, Cap Metro and the city -- that together are funding the planning effort -- are expected to make their respective appointments to the nine-member Saltillo District Redevelopment Project Community Advisory Group being created to work with ROMA on the plan. East Cesar Chavez neighborhood activist Lori C-Renteria has applied for a slot on the group, but PODER leader Susana Almanza (Renteria's sister-in-law) feels state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez would be a better choice to represent the ECC Neighborhood Planning Team. Cap Metro and the city have already extended the deadline for applying for SDCAG seats, a move praised by Renteria for giving ECC more time to recruit local business leaders. -- L.A.

The Austin Revitalization Authority gained the first round of approvals Monday on a set of proposed changes to its East 11th and 12th streets Urban Renewal Plan with a vote of approval from the city's Urban Renewal Board. The ARA seeks a number of waivers to its 1999 plan, maximizing square footage in some instances while decreasing building heights in others. The City Council is expected to consider action on the proposed waivers July 31. The ARA is under contract with the city to redevelop more than 30 acres of property between Branch and Navasota streets on East 11th and from Branch to Poquito streets on East 12th. -- Amy Smith

Concerned about the deteriorating condition of the Town Lake hike-and-bike trail, a group of local trail users and supporters has formed the nonprofit Town Lake Trail Foundation to help fund and maintain upkeep of Austin's greenest fitness facility. Foundation Director Dan Garrison says he formed the organization after meeting this past spring with Mayor Will Wynn, who, citing the city's current penury, suggested that private funding might be the best option for concerned trail lovers. The foundation has already netted $20,000 in donations during a weeklong "water stop" funding drive at the MoPac pedestrian bridge, and Garrison and others are meeting with big-dollar donors interested in the foundation's work. On Wednesday, July 30, the foundation will host an organizational meeting from 6 to 8pm at Matt's El Rancho, 2613 S. Lamar. To RSVP, contact frederick@townlaketrail.org or call 302-0608. -- L.A.

On July 14, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded almost $5 million to fund the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, which will help the city, Travis Co., and other partners in BCCP conservation efforts to buy up high-priority tracts that provide habitat for the endangered black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler. Land to be acquired lies adjacent to the existing 26,361 acres of BCCP lands. In 1996, FWS issued a permit to the city and county requiring the protection of at least 30,428 acres for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, designed to protect eight federally endangered species and 27 "species of concern" throughout seven watersheds in western Travis Co. -- L.A.

Hopes, or fantasies, that the University of Texas would develop an Eastside campus were derailed this week when UT President Larry Faulkner announced the school would not buy Motorola's shuttered chip-making plant on Ed Bluestein Boulevard. While the tech giant was offering the 225-acre parcel for a good price, UT officials said, the estimated $10 million annual maintenance cost made the deal unattractive. The university, which has been exploring options for expansion beyond the landlocked Forty Acres, will likely now focus its future plans on the Pickle Research Campus in Northwest Austin. However, UT just announced the sale of a chunk of the Pickle property to Simon Property Group which plans a "lifestyle center" mall project. -- M.C.M.

Trying to navigate South Congress on a bicycle is frustrating and dangerous -- preoccupied fashionistas never look both ways before pulling out of SoCo's angled parking; traffic is heavy, fast, and -- at night or on weekends -- often driven drunk. Sidewalks are narrow or bumpy in many places or simply nonexistent, and there are no bike lanes. The city wants to address these safety issues in its SoCo makeover project. The latest plans feature bike lanes on both sides of the street between Riverside and Nellie -- where the street is wider, but north of the heart of the SoCo strip, where the angled parking takes up an entire traffic lane. City staffers are not warm to an idea advanced by some cyclists for a bike lane between the parking and the sidewalk; other alternatives include "sharrows" (markers on streets advising motorists to "share the road") and reverse-angle parking, which requires cars to back into parking spots in order to face the road. -- L.A.

Budget deficits, the war in Iraq, all-natural toothpastes: What do these topics have to do with Lance Armstrong? Last week bicyclists on the Austin-bikes listserv cited all of the above in a heated back-and-forth about whether to organize a victory parade for the probably soon-to-be five-time Tour de France champ, after one list member claimed it was "morally questionable" to throw a parade for Armstrong because of his friendly relationship with President George W. Bush. Most on the list disagreed, some citing Armstrong's opposition to war in Iraq (a popular stand among European cycling fans), others refusing to put Armstrong in the same league as Charlton Heston or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though victory is still days away, parade plans are going forward, with the celebration tentatively set for Oct. 25 (one day before this year's Ride for the Roses, benefiting the Lance Armstrong Foundation). "I'll pay homage to Lance," wrote an Austin-bikes subscriber named Angela, "not because he's a Republican, but rather because he's a GREAT FREAKIN' BICYCLIST FROM TEXAS!" -- L.A.

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