City Hall Hustle: Small Council, Huge Agenda

Maybe they could use a few more members after all ...

So much for easing back in.

With the new City Council assembling for its first meeting after summer break, the agenda's an incredibly dense, 137-item affair – and that's not including the unveiling of the city manager's proposed 2010 budget, which was bumped up to a Wednesday work session (see "City Budget" for more). So let's dive in ourselves – that's the only hope the Hustle has of covering all this ground.

The Austin Water Utility weighs in with the first banner item: Item 7, purchasing (in a joint venture with Round Rock and Cedar Park) Brushy Creek's regional wastewater system from the Lower Colorado River Authority. Ultimately, Leander is slated to join in the waterworks. Cost to Austin? $13 million.

On the expansive list of Contract and Land Management items, the jewel is approval of the "scoping framework" for the long-coming Comprehensive Plan, designed to guide land use, transportation, environmental matters, affordability, and more. With approval of Item 17, comp plan firm Wallace Roberts & Todd can finally get the ball rolling, but expect citizen comment (and council comment, too). Also on the construction-rich agenda: stimulus-funded improvements to the city's East Austin and South Austin clinics (Items 15 & 16), Brazos Street repairs Downtown (Item 24), West Campus waterline improvements (Item 27), long-delayed improvements to Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park (Item 28), naming eight firms to the city's $4 million "architectural services rotation list" to design city projects (Item 32), and authorizing $3.8 million in additional funding for the city's joint Public Safety Training Facility, bringing the total to $17.8 million (Item 18). The extra expense is in the pistol range, burn building, and driving track. (What, no miniature golf?)

Emergency Medical Services' Item 34 would ratify the wage concessions recently offered by the EMS union for the upcoming budget year. As in the Austin Police Association's new contract, there would be no raises this budget cycle, but a 3% boost is still scheduled for the 2010-2011 cycle. Also like APA, the new contract will protect department employees from furloughs. Item 56 ratifies the APA's new contract; in addition to the provisions above, the agreement also bumps retiring officers' sick-day payouts from 1,400 to 1,700 hours, which will surely make the Statesman editors very happy. Pleasing civil libertarians equally is Item 52, which will funnel Depart­ment of Jus­tice dollars into "less lethal weapons" – i.e., more Tasers.

Elsewhere, the council is tasked with approving the city's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development five-year plan, as required by the feds' Department of Housing and Urban Development (Item 46), while a Parks & Recreation item inks a $2.5 million agreement for Austin City Limits promoters C3 Presents to reimburse the city for turf improvements, irrigation, and more at Zilker Park (Item 50). Then it's on to Items 58-91, a staggering shopping list from the Purchasing Office including stacking chairs, lightbulbs, and a "self-propelled man-lift," among other items. Transport­a­tion matters include Item 92, a request from the Batfest promoters to close the Congress Avenue Bridge Aug. 22-23 for the festival – which engendered much debate last year.

The items from council members begin with board and commission appointments (Item 96), which, due to a massive number of expirations, could take a near-eternity. Other council initiatives include adding the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board to the list of boards requiring financial disclosure statements (Item 97); waiving deadlines related to the delayed selection of a new city auditor (Item 98); rechristening the Land Use and Transportation Committee the Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee, codifying its involvement in the comp plan (Item 99); and developing a registration program ensuring that multifamily rental properties measure up to city standards (Item 100, from new Council Mem­ber Bill Spelman). Briefings include both a 10:30am session on water conservation strategies and 2pm updates on Water Treatment Plant No. 4 and affordable housing and density bonuses in the Downtown Austin plan.

Winding down, council faces several high-profile zoning cases: The East César Chávez neighborhood addresses changes to its future land-use map and opting in or out of vertical mixed-use zoning (Items 121, 122); the Chestnut neighborhood also mulls its FLUM and VMU options (Items 123, 124); the Fault, a bar hoping to open in the Planet Fitness/Hobby Lobby shopping center along Research Boule­vard, makes its case (Item 130). Finally, sprawling across the public hearings (and the rest of the agenda) is the Heartwood zoning saga, which encompasses four – count 'em, four – items: Items 136 and 137, public hearings both, pertain to owner Ruben Rodriguez's quest to build a retaining wall for his home on Heartwood Drive, which backs up to Williamson Creek; the Board of Adjustment denied his previous variance request. They might be moot, as Item 95 would allow council itself to establish site-specific development regulations for the property. They even take it up in executive session (Item 112).

Don't forget to breathe.

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City Council, Public Safety, Development, Comprehensive Plan, Austin Water Utility

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