Public Notice: Good City, Bad City
City staff does some things right, some things wrong
The Austin City Council has punted a good bit of its regular business for a few weeks, while they hammer out the fine points of the annual budget and settle the long-simmering Austin Energy rate case in such a way that – improbably – everyone walks away satisfied (see "Austin Energy: Rate Cuts Solve Everybody's Problems," Sept. 2). And I think it's safe to say that the one issue they most didn't want to be thinking about this week is the proposed Grove at Shoal Creek PUD, the controversial development of the formerly state-owned tract on Bull Creek Road that has caused a bitter divide in Northwest Austin and will likely decide two City Council races this November.
So the last thing anyone wanted to see this week was the steaming turd that the Austin American-Statesman dropped on Council's doorstep Monday morning, in the form of a story by Nolan Hicks, detailing how the Austin Transportation Department flubbed a March report on the project's Traffic Impact Analysis. In particular, ATD management "officials repeatedly struck or discounted concerns brought by the city's engineers about the Grove's traffic," Hicks wrote, to the point where at least one engineer asked for his name to be removed from the study, after protesting against "changes to the transportation department's findings."
The implications are ugly – not just for the Grove, whose critics have complained all along about the traffic impacts of adding large-scale commercial components into what was supposed to be a residential development – but more broadly for City Hall, whose critics have long complained that upper-level city staff play fast and loose with the information they pass on to City Council. Thus far there's been little public reaction, but expect to hear a lot more about this when the Grove returns to Council Sept. 22 – with a new TIA one of the major points of contention – and on through the fall, as Sheri Gallo (pro) and Leslie Pool (anti) both face re-election challenges from the other side of the proverbial street.
Among all the city departments, Development Services and Austin Code are among the most frequent targets of citizen complaints such as the above, so, major kudos to them both for the recent launch of the Austin Code & Permit Tracker, a nifty new online search tool that lets you find building permits and/or code enforcement complaints on an interactive map. You can search by neighborhood or street name, making it easy to find something even if you don't know the exact address you're looking for. And there are analytics features that let you filter by time or activity type, see all the permit or code violations issued for a specific address or area within a given time frame – including their current status – and even request email updates for selected properties. For example, a search for the Hancock neighborhood (where the Chronicle office is) shows that there have been 83 permits and/or code complaints in the last 60 days. These are shown on the map as dots and if you click on one, it'll tell you what the permit/complaint was for and the current status.
The Tracker is still in beta testing, but seems to work pretty well as is; check it out at www.austintexas.gov/department/austin-code-case-tracker.
Talking About Transportation
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is now working on amendments to the four-year Transportation Improvement Program and the long-range CAMPO 2040 Plan. You can see those proposed amendments, and provide comments, at one of a series of open houses (Wed., Sept. 7 at Cepeda Branch Library, 651 N. Pleasant Valley; Thu., Sept. 8 at Buda Public Library, 303 Main St.; Tue., Sept. 13 at Lake Travis Community Library, 1938 Lohmans Crossing), or at CAMPO's online open house; public comments will be accepted until 5pm, Monday, Sept. 26. More info at www.campotexas.org/get-involved.
SXSW Eco is hosting Lightning Talks: Discover Austin's Future, a pair of discussions in September about "the future of transportation and place-based design in Austin." The first one is Austin's Transportation Future, at which transportation experts, including Austin Transportation Director Rob Spillar, will discuss the next steps in implementing Austin's master transportation plan. Co-hosted by Rocky Mountain Institute. Thursday, Sept. 8, 6-8pm, Impact Hub at Vuka, 411 W. Monroe. Then, coming up in a couple of weeks, is Programming Austin's Public Space: "a collaborative discussion about place-based design and public space," co-hosted by AIA Austin Design Voice. Tuesday, Sept. 20, 6:30-8:30pm, at Urban Co-Lab, 1818 E. 12th. See www.sxsweco.com for more info.