Council: From Soup to Nuts ...

Ora Houston (Photo by John Anderson)

Following the sylvan frivolities of spring (and spring festivals), and after a couple of relatively lightweight meetings – featuring only a few touchy Items, like the community digital outreach contract and the winnowing of the municipal judge slate – heavyweight matters resume today, March 22, with a vengeance, at 99 Items and counting.

Council's week actually began Monday, with Ora Houston's press conference marking the 90th anniversary of the 1928 Master Plan (which officially segregated Austin into white, Negro, and Mexican districts) – not exactly a happy occasion, and one likely to further polarize arguments in the current battles over land use. ("Point Austin: In Search of a Plan, Not a Master Plan," March 23) Today's proclamations will include Houston on the same subject.

Heavyweight matters resume today with a vengeance.

Items include the usual slate of always unpredictable zoning matters, 20 or so, more than a few already accompanied by staff postponement memos. Lurking near the bottom (Item 91) is another Champion Tract (1C) rezoning, for which the various stakeholders (not including the Zoning & Platting Commission) appear resigned to a convenience storage facility, no doubt the highest and best use that would be tolerated by the nearby neighborhood associations. The tortuous staff backup memo dimly suggests the serpentine negotiations, and catalogs the ponderous list of uses to be forbidden.

If that's not engaging enough, the intermittently dueling NAs, the Friends of Hyde Park and Hyde Park Neigh­bor­hood Association, go toe-to-toe over the potential redevelopment of the Baker Center (AISD's Avenue B property, Item 84, and see "It's Baker Center, Not Baker Homes," March 23), which the Alamo Drafthouse hopes to turn into a headquarters plus something. How much of that something will involve affordable housing remains under dispute, and if the discussion isn't punted down the road to another day, the collision of the NAs should be interesting.

Alongside that case is the Rosewood Courts matter (Item 89), where the continuing debate on the historic public housing is over how much to upgrade, how much to maintain historicity. The residents have been waiting long and patiently for modernizing to current living standards.

Overall, the agenda presents a portrait in time of Council's current policy landscape. The day leads, arguably, with victory money, a dozen or so contracts awarding a couple hundred million in mobility bond funding to support work on major road contracts, particularly on the various corridors. The not unrelated issue of flood protection is the subject of a couple more allocations, major funding ($25 million plus) for Onion Creek housing buyouts. Next to those big checks, a half-million for Austin Police Department "tactical carrier vests" (SWAT-grade bulletproof clothing) seems like an afterthought.

Continuing in the APD vein, as official budget deliberations approach (budget forecast April 4), Houston and others are carrying a resolution (Item 47) directing the city manager to begin filling officer positions that have been previously approved but never funded. That might get a bit of dais pushback over how best to promote public safety, but is likely to pass. Meanwhile, an interim version of the EMS Employee Association meet-and-confer agreement is up for approval (Item 16), as is a potential extension (with renewals) of the contract covering legal services for immigrants (Item 21), which occasionally generates conservative backlash.

That barely scratches the surface of today's festivities, nor lists some of the hot buttons currently roiling local social media: e.g., pondering a potential Major League Soccer stadium at McKalla Place (Items 48 and 99 and see above). And the Big Tsunami approaches: Item 60 would schedule public hearings regarding CodeNEXT, with tentative (all-day) dates of May 30 and 31. Something to look forward to.

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City Council, Ora Houston, 1928 Master Plan, CodeNEXT

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