The Austin Chronicle

Council: I Hear a Lotta Buzzin'

By Michael King, November 9, 2012, News

So you thought Formula One was all about souped-up cars going around in circles? Turns out this week it's all about helicopters going around in circles. Commercial plans to use temporary helipads at spots around town (more in the 'burbs) to ferry high rollers over traffic to the Circuit of the Americas have hit a wall of neighborhood opposition. The Barton Hills Neighborhood Associ­a­tion is raising sand over a landing site planned for South MoPac (on Barton Oaks Plaza, near Bee Cave Road), as is the Plaza Con­do­minium Association, which informed the city it had not given its approval – the building owner reportedly jumped the gun. Another landing site is planned for the roof of the Embassy Suites at 300 S. Congress.

The copter problem appears as Items 51 and 52 on today's (Thursday) City Council agenda, with Council Members Laura Morri­son and Kathie Tovo responding to neighborhood complaints by proposing an ordinance that would impose limits on helicopter sites and flights. Judging from Tuesday's work session, it won't be an easy sell, at least not quickly – other members were skeptical that they knew enough yet to regulate the process and, even should such an ordinance pass, it could not take effect in time for this month's race.

Particularly alarming to Morrison was that there seemed to be no certain count of how many flights were being planned, within a reported range of 50 to 200 takeoffs and landings on each of the three race days. The draft ordinance proposes a limit of 18 round-trips at a given site.

Meanwhile, copter companies have apparently been eagerly booking flight packages without first getting city approval, the domain of Aviation Department Director Jim Smith. Smith, laconic and unflappable, told council members he was still awaiting documentation from the various parties before he could act on any permits – so we can add that to the growing list of first-year uncertainties surrounding the race, after the not terribly orderly "dry run" footrace, Formula Run, which took place in the fog last weekend. Whatever happens this time, it won't be the last such debate – in addition to the annual F1 contests, motorcycle races and other events are starting to fill the COTA schedule.

What else might fire up today's meeting? The ongoing sound and curfew war between Cheer Up Charlie's and its neighbors – still unresolved by mediation – returns with public hearings in Items 87 and 88 (that the matter requires two separate hearings is not a harbinger of a potentially happy resolution).

Item 3 would codify the several pages of rules to govern single-use carryout bags after the bag ban ordinance takes effect next March 1 – it's on the consent agenda, but I'm betting somebody will pull it for discussion of the dirty details. Items 27 and 28 would resolve to annex the land at COTA and nearby (welcome to Austin, Elroy!); and Item 58 would direct city staff to enter into discussions over how best to collaborate with beleaguered Emergency Service District 11 (and other jurisdictions) over public safety at the track and surrounding area. Item 16 would approve the city's lobbying agenda for next year's 83rd Legislature – heavy on supporting municipal authority and defending against Austin/city bashing.

The zoning agenda includes several items (92-97) addressing the East Riverside Cor­ri­dor Master Plan and the related "Regu­lat­ing Plan" – and all things East Riverside are generally accompanied by neighborhood point and counterpoint.

Finally (on the agenda, but not likely in the evening), the 5:30 music is the country blues duo Mayeux & Broussard, and among the proclamations are both National Diabetes Month and Pancreatic Cancer Month. Step up and support your disease.

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