The Austin Chronicle

Council: We Like Everybody, Except ...

By Michael King, February 8, 2013, News

City Council's next meeting is on Feb. 14 (bring your sweetheart!), and the early agenda – unless there's something buried in the zoning cases – as yet anticipates little obvious melodrama. The embattled Little Wood­row's proposal for Burnet Road (Item 54) may yet squeak through; last meeting it garnered a 4-3 vote on second reading, heading for a third one next week. (Doubt that's the last we'll hear of it.) The morning briefing will feature Austin Energy's quarterly report, which might begin to answer questions about just how well the new rate structure adopted last year is beginning to work.

There was plenty of excitement at last week's meeting, beginning with Council Member Bill Spelman's testy withdrawal of his proposal to allow "lobbyists" (who wear scare quotes like a crown of thorns) to serve on the advisory committee assigned to guide the rewrite of the Land Develop­ment Code. Spelman said volunteers meeting a few hours a week were hardly going to dominate the revisions of the code – which is in the end a professional staff project – but more pointedly argued that such a committee needed representatives of all stakeholders, "not just the ones we like." But he pulled the item in deference to opposition, both public and on the dais. (See "Council: Raise Your Hand If You're Running for Mayor.")

Almost as contentious was the discussion of CM Chris Riley's proposal to open three hike-and-bike trails (Lady Bird Lake's and two others) to 24-hour use – beginning to recognize the trails as part of the permanent transportation infrastructure. The Council is split on whether that should mean a substantially increased police presence (with associated costs), or if the program could at least begin (as a pilot) with minimal public safety precautions. Riley argued the latter and insisted that, in weeks of discussions with staff, expensive police and park ranger presence (at an estimated cost, including overtime, of $3.7 million annually) was never mentioned. APD Chief Art Acevedo was on hand to argue for the added officers, strongly supported by Mayor Lee Lef­fing­well. In the end, Council voted to approve the plan but not yet fund it, pending further discussion; the final shape is still up in the air.

A bit surprisingly, the proposed Austin Hotel at Eighth and Congress, asking for zoning, setback, and other variances, bit the dust, 7-0. In its journey to the dais, the project had acquired staff approval but Planning Commission rejection, and a valid opposition petition from business neighbors along Congress, nervous about its sight lines and a risky plan to do without on-site parking. (There were also inside Downtown politics; see "Hotel Project Sparks Downtown Skir­mish," Jan. 18.) Presume that project will circle back in some form; meanwhile, Hickory Street lives!

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