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City Hall Hustle: Tweetfully Yours

Can City Council save the trailers, Little Zilker, and Tamale House too?

By Wells Dunbar, October 1, 2010, News

"Bedbug infestation shuts down council chambers, cancels meeting. Just joking, they're about to start. (I should be so lucky.)"

That was my first tweet from City Council chambers as their Sept. 23 meeting got under way. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

"With a minimum of discussion, council passes mobile food vendor/food trailer regulations."

That followed about half an hour later. With a lengthy agenda but no outstanding item of controversy, there was a chance food-vendor regs might spark debate. A smattering ensued: Consultant Paul Saldaña, retained by Snappy Snacks proprietor Tom Ramsey, who had kick-started the re-regulation discussion several months ago, said his client was largely pleased with the proposals (a notarized agreement with an acceptable commissary for food prep, a monthly log documenting its use, proof of sales tax collection, an itinerary, written proof of available restrooms or portable toilets, and fire department inspections), but said there was "still more work to do" in regards to the definition of a commissary. But different vendors require different commissaries, and Ramsey seems to want a definition that addresses only mobile trucks like his Snap­py fleet; one that, for instance, would require grease collection when the truck is cleaned, a requirement that has absolutely no bearing on the majority of stationary food trailers. Unless council and staff specifically delineate between truly mobile trucks and stationary trailers, Ramsey and Saldaña's advice – which Mayor Lee Leffingwell explicitly endorsed – will do nothing but stir the pot and engender more indigestion in the foodie community. (Leffingwell just needs some East Side King grub from regular Chron haunt Liberty.)

Without Further Pretense

"Lil Wayne, Lil Kim – Lil Zilker? Council withdraws Bluebonnet Park naming after neighbors protest, saying it's known as Little Zilker."

Finally, something to really sink our teeth into. This seemingly pro-forma request inspired some agitated speakers and council comment. Recognizing a council member to speak, Leffingwell deadpanned, "Everybody's gonna weigh in on this."

The proposal, to christen a 4-acre park in the Zilker neighborhood Bluebonnet Park, after the street it's on, drew jeers from some Zilkerites. Neighborhood activist Jeff Jack told council the naming process that came before the parks board wasn't "the whole information about the sentiment of the community" – in part, he said, because several residents were weighing in on a zoning matter at a board meeting the night the commission took up the naming. (Surprised, anyone?)

Indeed, in neighborhood nominations, Bluebonnet led with seven, Little Zilker – the "diminutive and endearing" name Laura Morrison knew the park by – was second with three, and garnering one vote each were several other fine names: Jennifer Gale, Bill Bunch, Will Wynn, Sarha Hens­ley (sic), and Pretentious Park ("The area is central to park activists who live in Austin. These activists exemplify those in the community who are consumed with bitchin to and about PARD, yet they never lift a rake to spread mulch," wrote its nominee.)

Council postponed the matter. And while it's cute, the question remains whether Little Zilker might confuse folks looking for Zilker proper. And whether, as one council member asked, it'll be home to Little Austin City Limits Fest.

Keep Your Plans Off Our Tamales

"Second presentation of form-based code for Airport Blvd & still no picture of Tamale House? (The Lammes Candies sign got mad love tho.)"

Presentations from Gateway Planning Group/Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., Design Work­shop, and McCann Adams Studio/Clarion Associates, all vying to develop and implement form-based code planning in its debut along a stretch of Airport Boulevard, took up the rest of the morning. And while a platter of watery, delicious migas didn't grace anyone's PowerPoint, other signifiers of Airport's authenticity – Lammes Candies, Quality Seafood, etc. – did, along with each firm's promises of extensive community involvement.

Because while Airport is aesthetically displeasing and in need of pedestrian infrastructure, no one (hopefully) wants to see its Austin icons close their doors. Moreover, one could argue that in contrast to those in the Mueller development, which was pitched as a New Urbanist wonderland but is practically inaccessible except by car, someone living off Airport can easily walk to a restaurant, the video store, and lots more right now – which FBC proponents might argue make it perfect for the study.

Chris Riley questioned how needed infrastructure improvements (roads, sidewalks, etc.) could be funded before redevelopment (and potential funding mechanisms such as tax increment financing) began, and also highlighted the need for pedestrian safety. Moreover, it was apparent from the presentations that even the form which FBC would take wasn't set, potentially encompassing a supplement to land-based zoning, smart codes, zoning overlays, and more.

Leffingwell had a different line of questioning – why the funding appropriated for the project, $478,000, was so high – calling the allotment "one of the priciest I've ever seen" for planning. However, as Bill Spelman said, while it's "relatively expensive," it's also a pilot program for zoning throughout the city. Council's awarding of the contract is scheduled for Oct. 14, with negotiations and execution slated for November.

That's a bit more than I could squeeze into 140 characters.

Do I really need to tell you I'm on Twitter @CityHallHustle?

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