"Public comment is one week? Who the hell do you think you people are?" That was the testiest among more than 110 citizen comments received by the city of Austin regarding the five developer proposals for the Green Water Treatment Plant site Downtown. After public presentations May 22, the city allowed one week – extended to 10 days – for community input (via an online form) on its fast-tracked selection of a developer for the huge project. Was this approach to community input sufficiently inclusive? As Mayor Will Wynn observed from the dais, there's no way to know which comments might be orchestrated (or directly submitted) by competing developer teams, several of which included PR firms. A number of respondents evidenced a sophisticated knowledge of urban design and architecture. Others stated they were Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association members. Taken as a whole, the comments provided no clear consensus. The inclusion of an HEB (by the Stratus team) seemed to be the single most popular idea. But a grocery store could become part of any developer's project. City Council members and the staff review team got a printout of all comments, but their evaluation matrix assigns no "popularity points." To read anonymous comments grouped by proposal, see www.ci.austin.tx.us/seaholm/green.htm. For the original comments grouped by submitter, download "Public Comments on Redevelopment Proposals for Green Water Treatment Plant Site." Council is scheduled to announce a selection June 18. – Katherine Gregor
How a molehill becomes a mountain: A little country landfill in Williamson County may indeed become Mount Hutto, a regional trash-opolis taller than the UT Tower, now that self-appointed operator Waste Management of Texas Inc. has won a key court victory exempting it from the bid process. On Friday, May 30, Williamson Co. District Judge Burt Carnes granted WMTI's motion for summary judgment, disposing of a lawsuit brought by plaintiff Williamson County (as well as "intervenors," primarily the Hutto Citizens Group) fighting to have the current contract voided and an expansion permit application scrapped. Carnes' ruling, duly reflecting the ongoing war of semantics, disagrees with the county that the contract is a "purchasing agreement" or "lease" and concurs with WMTI that it's an "operating agreement," not governed by bid statutes. In response, HCG announced an appeal is likely; the group will also continue to oppose the pending Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permit, which lists WMTI, along with WilCo, as the official "operator" and allows landfill expansion from 202 acres to 575 acres. While Carnes' recourse for plaintiffs is to change bid laws at the legislative level, HCG urged commissioners at their June 3 meeting to terminate the contract and to pull the permit application to regain control of "its own landfill" – the court directed counsel to explore the latter. Immediate cause for alarm, among activists and officials alike, is that WMTI plans to import 100,000 tons of trash per year from Killeen to WilCo come October, demonstrating the company's "true intentions," according to HCG. – Patricia J. Ruland
Master developer Catellus has announced the establishment of the Mueller Foundation, to provide long-term support for the Mueller Affordable Homes Program. They expect the foundation to generate more than $35 million over the next 10 years. It will continue in perpetuity after the development is fully built out, ensuring that homes at Mueller remain affordable even as they appreciate over time. Foundation funding comes primarily from builder fees, a fee assessed on all commercial and residential properties at resale, and proceeds from home resales, under the shared-equity provisions of the Affordable Homes Program. Catellus says it's one of the first private developers in the country to implement a shared-equity program. Purchasers of affordable homes – 25% of all houses built – essentially enter into a partnership with the Mueller Foundation, which provides an interest-free second lien that funds the difference between the purchase price and the actual market value of the home. Local nonprofit PeopleTrust is servicing the shared-appreciation mortgages. "Catellus didn't have to take these extra steps to keep affordability going at Mueller," said Mueller Neighborhood Coalition leader Jim Walker, "but it's this kind of deliberate planning and collaboration with engaged citizens that yields benefits we can all be proud of and which extend beyond Mueller's official borders." Also eligible for foundation funding will be schools and educational programs, open space and parks, sustainable development, job training, and efforts "consistent with the community values that support Mueller's award-winning master plan." – K.G.