Beside the Point
I've packed my bags, boned up on emergency-landing procedures, and sealed all my liquids, gels, and aerosols into terror-proof 3-ounce vessels. In other words, I'm ready for vacation.
The mail's rerouted, and my dog is dead, but there's still something I'll need you to look after in my absence: this June 18 City Council meeting. It falls on Wednesday instead of the usual Thursday (in deference to Juneteenth), but scheduling aside, it's remarkable for its size and breadth; as it's the last meeting for Betty Dunkerley and Jennifer Kim before the new council's sworn in at the end of the month, there's a bunch of unfinished business. A whole bunch. (You do love it when I skip town, dontcha?) Below, a checklist:
• Redeveloping Green: The current council clearly wishes to retain sway over the Green Water Treatment Plant redevelopment. This being the farewell assembly, we'll see which one of five competing development teams gets the nod. Will it be the city staff-recommended Trammell Crow – whose presentation was long on Austin-weird pictures of ethnically diverse disc-golf players and the like, but otherwise uninspired, designwise? (And really, do you trust the team that took years just to begin construction on the Spring Condominiums tower to build five high-rises?)
• Planning PUD: This revamp of the planned unit development ordinance was punted from the last meeting. PUD is the large-site zoning granted to huge developments like the Domain or Concordia, when council feels the benefit and scope of a new project should free it from standard regulations. However, it's often exploited by developers looking to free themselves from zoning constraints without offering adequate benefits in exchange. This long-in-the-making revision should make builders work harder for PUD designation and its concomitant benefits – if the Real Estate Council of Austin hasn't gotten to it first.
• Just Visiting: Also forwarded from the last meeting, "visitability" rules – championed by retiring senior citizen Dunkerley – would improve access to Austin homes for the disabled and elderly by making certain construction standards mandatory, e.g., stronger bathroom walls capable of handrail installation. Yet some proposals are being met with quiet resistance by Austin home builders. Last meeting, Dunkerley announced that the two most controversial provisions – a "no-step" entrance to homes and making all first-floor doors 30 inches wide – were being returned to a task force "to see if they can come up with a voluntary, incentivized approach for them." The ordinance returns for approval Wednesday, making Austin homes safe for the Hoveround set.
• Billboard Brouhaha: The belabored billboard ordinance staggers back in a weakened form for second and third readings. While banning mobile billboards, building a database of billboard information (like specific locations' life spans), and requiring energy-efficient lighting, the measure stops far short of more ambitious proposals – like instituting the Planning Commission's visionary call to eventually remove all billboards from the city. For something that doesn't even do that much, it sure has taken its time.
• Culture Flash!: Before he and his colleagues approved the CreateAustin cultural master plan last meeting, City Council Member Mike Martinez floated the creation of a city Department of Arts and Culture. While conceding that "we are in a difficult budget year," Martinez said he would likely bring an item this week for the city to "start looking into it." (See "CreateAustin," for more.)
• Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Public hearings include testimony on adopting the interim update of the Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan, the map for the city's growth that hasn't been updated for literally decades.
• Zoning: If that list wasn't already enough, you're probably screwed here, too.
Good luck! See ya later!
Wells Dunbar returns the week after next, once he clears airport security. In his absence, he's asked Richard Whittaker to house-sit "Beside the Point." Send your itineraries to email@example.com.