Beside the Point

Affordable? If You Have to Ask ...

Marc Ott
Marc Ott (Photo by Jana Birchum)

This is the way the Tobyocracy ends.

Not with a bang but a whimper.

That was the lesson learned Thursday, as Toby Futrell's reign over City Hall's Dream Kingdom came to a quiet, not entirely silent twilight. Although the outgoing city manager expressly forbade any flowery words on her behalf, council scheduled a stealth appearance from troubadours Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison to wish Futrell "Happy Trails." (Likely whistling "Take This Job and Shove It," Council Member Mike Martinez was up and gone from the hoedown, as was Jennifer Kim, ill all day with the flu.) Pleased with his skill at subterfuge, party planner Brewster McCracken marveled at the pains he took to keep Futrell in the dark, boasting that no one in her office knew, while other staffers were secretly assigned to keep her on the premises. Ah, the pains one must take to ensure an employee shows up for a half-million-dollar separation check.

Welcome Marc Ott: For thine is now the kingdom.

Beyond this tender farewell, council plowed through longstanding development conceptions: A protracted PowerPoint presentation reviewed the still-in-progress Downtown Plan from ROMA Design Group, while later, council took more definitive action on the Green Water Treatment Plant. Assistant City Man­ager Laura Huffman walked council through some recent changes to the request for proposals for purchase and redevelopment of the plant, a few blocks west of City Hall; if financing the move of an Austin Energy electric control center on the site didn't excitedly speak to Austin's shared community values, etc., maybe the affordable-housing provisions did. In addition to using 40% of the city's sale profits on affordable housing in the "urban core," the request for proposal is slated to contain 10% affordable rentals for those earning 80% of median family income, plus the allure of "public-private partnerships" to potentially go even lower.

"It will likely be the biggest development in the history of Downtown Austin," McCracken said. "It will be a development that's for every­body." Much like the massive infill development of Mueller, it raises the impertinent question: If you can't build affordably in this town on government-owned land, where in the hell can you? "It's not going to be shopping for rich people, housing for rich people. It's going to be for the entire community," McCrack­en continued, carrying the varietal boho sampler reliably referenced as comprising the State of Downtown to Come: "musicians and filmmakers and artists," plus some city employees lucky enough to walk to work (i.e., with his temporary residence at the AMLI, the Marc Ott commute). Can it happen this time? Council has one ace up its sleeve: McCracken spoke of the need for an "anchor retailer that's there for everybody ... the kind of place that the entire community would be able to shop at." Maybe if Wal-Mart moves to Green from Northcross, the condo aesthetes will scramble, leaving vacancies in their wake.

There was less-welcome development news for Webberville, in eastern Travis County: Worsening months of Webbervillian worries that Austin would use property it owns out there for a landfill, Austin's now eyeing a landfill and/or a wastewater-treatment plant, if not a power plant. Nothing's near finalized, but a presentation from Community Ser­vices Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbrer­as made clear the capital city is anticipating heavy infrastructure on the 3,000-or-so-acre site – and not giving Webberville's buyout offer on the tract as much as a courtesy flush.

Lastly, passed on consent was language setting presentation and public discussion of charter-amending single-member districts for the next council meeting, Feb. 28. Council Member Mike Martinez favors a scheme of six districts plus two at-large seats (bringing the dais to a manageable nine, counting the mayor – hardly the bureaucratic cluster bomb the Statesman cowers in fear of). While never igniting public debate in ways Martinez imagined, a town hall meeting on single-member districts this Tues­day perhaps means the debate won't quite end the way this item was passed – without discussion.

The single-member district town hall takes place Tuesday, Feb. 26, 6pm, at the Austin Energy Building, 721 Barton Springs Rd.

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