Council: If You Come to a Fork ... Take It

Council faces choices on land use – and land use

Although City Council's 2015 motto seems to be never to do today what can be sent to committee next week, there are a couple of Items on today's (April 23) 54-Item agenda that may be inescapable. A Burnet Road zoning case (Item 40) has been simmering for months – in neighborhood and commission meetings long before it arrived at the dais – and while the project, a multi-family residential complex at 8528 Burnet Rd., has made it slowly through two readings, the 7-4 votes to approve reflect a split among the members – and in city politics.

At issue is MF-6 zoning for a development (by Sackman Enterprises) that could reach 60 feet in height and as many as 300 units – although in earlier stages the developer dropped the density to 225, while warning that would also shrink the number of affordable units. The North Shoal Creek Neigh­bor­hood Association prefers MF-4 zoning (for a tract that is currently commercial – auto repair and plumbing supply), arguing for less density, less traffic, and smaller projects in the Burnet Corridor.

The persistent nay votes have been Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo (District 9), D1's Ora Hous­ton, D5's Ann Kitchen, and D7's Leslie Pool (it's a D7 tract). Pool hoped to facilitate at least one more negotiation between developer C.J. Sackman and the NA, but at last week's Council meeting, both sides appeared dug in – the quick return for a vote is a fish-or-cut-bait moment. Members voting to approve the project (e.g., D10's Sheri Gallo and D3's Pio Renteria) emphasized the city's desperate need for more housing at all levels (hence Mayor Steve Adler's recent call for 100,000 units over the next 10 years); opponents say a middle ground would be preferable to what they see as overloading the neighborhood.

If Council works its way through that argument, they might eventually arrive at Item 46: the Decker Lake/Long Metropolitan Park golf project, a 50-year licensing agreement for two golf courses and related facilities (and the promise of a PGA event as well as economic development for Northeast neighborhoods). The two sides also seem dug in on that one – though on the dais, only Houston, in whose district the land sits, appears to be in full-throated support of the proposal; on the other end, Pool and Tovo have been strongly opposed, the others middling to mostly dubious. It's the city's latest Hobson's choice, especially over parkland: either accept the privatization of a large chunk of undeveloped city land, with recreational (and some financial) benefits to the city – or leave the land fallow, as it has been for decades, until public money materializes ... from somewhere. Looks like a double bogey either way.

Other Items of Note:

Item 16: The $328,000 buyout of a flood-prone home in Barrington Oaks, whose elderly owner staff says is endangered; at work session, some CMs wanted to know why this purchase is a priority over other flood-damaged properties, and might punt to committee.

Item 28: $150,000 contract with Lone Star Riverboat lake cruise services; Council has been somewhat dubious of the safety record of said service, but is likely to approve.

Items 29-31: Extending taxicab franchises for Austin Cab, Lone Star, and Yellow Cab; could be pro forma, although ride-for-hire services have been roiled by entrance of Uber and Lyft, and now an announcement by the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin that – in alliance with Cooperation Texas – they are organizing a union cab co-op. Could get interesting.

A few pending contracts were microscoped at Tuesday's work session – no telling if that will continue today.

It's International Jazz Day, National Small Business and Infant Immunization Week (no, it doesn't cause autism), and National Window Film Day (that's what it says) – proclamations all around. The day's musical honoree is Bavu Blakes: "Even with all the ills of our nation, [he] can still feel full appreciation...."

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City Council 2015, Decker Lake, Long Metropolitan Park

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