City Hall Hustle: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

City politics and the people way over there

Judging by the chatter on the Austin Neighborhoods Council listserv and an angry AustinPost blog from activist Debbie Russell, it seems the Hustle rattled a few cages last week in referencing our fair city's "homeowner/neighborhood association-dominated body politic." But one need only look at the City Council agenda for this Thurs­day, Dec. 9, to see the impact of neighborhood voices in determining what draws the most attention.

For once, the main event may not even arise on the actual agenda but during council's 3pm break, when the members reconvene to give the Austin Housing Finance Corporation uncharacteristic scrutiny, as they're set to approve $2.5 million in funding for the Marshall Apart­ments permanent supportive housing proposal. As we've written previously, PSH is part of the city's solution to homelessness and housing instability, offering not only housing but supportive services on-site (in the case of the Marshall proposal, not just to the 20 units currently slated for PSH inhabitants but to the entire 100-unit complex as a whole, located at 1401 E. 12th and 1157 Salina).

While the Kealing Neighborhood Association has lent its support, the Robert­son Hill and Swede Hill neighborhood associations have come out against the proposal, citing their fears about introducing an undesirable use into the area. But the proposal has also ripped the scab off festering resentment at East 12th Street's delayed development while its neighbor in the urban renewal zone, 11th Street, is a comparative flurry of revitalization. While the $2.5 million allocation of 2006 bond dollars is a big step in the process, it's not the last; the AHFC is also slated to submit a $6 million private activity bond financing request to the Texas Bond Review Board to further pay for the project, undertaken by Summit Housing Partners and Caritas, setting a public hearing and final approval vote at council's Jan. 13 meeting – although with opponents unable to find traction so far, it's difficult to imagine these actions turning around midstream.

There's more action on the zoning agenda, with the belated return of the Park Planned Unit Development anchoring the items. Originally floated a year or so back, the plot at 801 Barton Springs Rd. – the old Filling Station tract, sandwiched between the Austin Energy building and law offices, and currently home to a few food trailers – raised eyebrows when it was submitted for PUD zoning, which is usually applied to large, omnibus projects, the opposite of the 0.8-acre park parcel. Moreover, the applicants' original 180-foot height request was laughably out of scale with surrounding uses, although their current 96-foot request is still well above the 60-foot guideline in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood plan. Despite staff recommendation not to approve, the Bouldin homies are watching closely.

Having a "homeowner/neighborhood association-dominated body politic" doesn't mean that Jeff Jack wins every argument, that council takes every Planning Commission recommendation as gospel, or that Richard Suttle is reduced to picking up shifts at LegalZoom. It means that issues affecting our landed gentry invariably dominate – even if that means what might be good policy for the whole city is sometimes trumped by the backlash. And looking back, the issues that dominated 2010 – tax breaks for historic homes, comprehensive planning, placement of supportive housing, the tap dance over urban rail, the mobility bonds, even the growth Rorshach test of Water Treatment Plant No. 4 – are all neighborhood ones.

Book 'Em, Dano!

Elsewhere on the agenda: Pay off those library fines for overdue books, because we need the money. Item 30 approves the "Architectural Building Program" for the new Central Library, the document that will guide the building's spaces and amenities. Moreover, it sets the funding amounts for the project, up to $120 million, a bit more than the $90 million approved by voters in the 2006 bond election. The overage is expected to be met by redirecting the city's Block 21 sale proceeds, funds from tech and equipment contracts, and more. Still, construction isn't set to start until January 2013, so you could just renew 'em and pay the fine later ....

Also notable: Item 5, offering $1.5 million in Ameri­cans With Disabilities Act-required sidewalk and ramp improvements, and Item 29, $500,000 to build sidewalks near Metz and Blanton elementary schools – but neither paid for out of the just-approved transportation bond. Three presentations are listed for council's 10:30am morning briefings: Austin Energy's Resource Plan and Affordability Forecast, a presentation from the African American Resource Commission, and an update on the Small Business Workforce Develop­ment Pilot Pro­gram. And rounding out the evening agenda is public testimony and all but certain council action to approve an economic development incentive deal with solar energy firm SunPower – not that this meeting's likely to see too many rays of sunshine.


For an expanded agenda rundown, see the Dec. 7 installment of "The Daily Hustle" at austinchronicle.com/hustle.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Neighborhoods Council, Debbie Russell, Central Library

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