Council: They Saw the Light!
Only 101 agenda Items to go until Christmas!
In its penultimate meeting of the year, the Austin City Council made quick work of a slim agenda. One of the bigger-ticket items, the long-discussed release of 33 acres of Austin's extraterritorial jurisdiction to Dripping Springs as part of a development deal, was postponed to Dec. 13. There's been chatter about that one from environmentalists, but it appears poised to pass once it does reach the dais.
Council did approve Water Forward, the plan detailing how Austin can continue to wet its whistle for the next century, after a few tweaks. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Ann Kitchen teamed up on language instructing City Manager Spencer Cronk and Austin Water to accelerate the implementation timelines for several strategies. These include plumbing code revisions, changes to development standards, and rules and incentives for alternative water sources, as well as conferring with the community on the possibility of aquifer storage, which "is an important component of the Water Forward plan," Kitchen said. "It takes a long time to develop, and it's just important that we have additional stakeholder outreach and involvement, particularly with regard to the location."
Several speakers expressed opposition to amending a legal services contract for the new soccer stadium, raising the total spent to $300,000. Former Travis County Auditor Susan Spataro, an intermittent professional associate of racetrack owner/stadium competitor Bobby Epstein, protested not only the $100,000 increase, but Council taking any action at all while the question of a team remains "in flux." Still, the change passed with stadium foes Leslie Pool, Ora Houston, and Alison Alter voting no.
Despite lingering questions, Council also OK'd the negotiation and execution of a lease with Urban Roots to place a 9.4-acre urban farm at the city-owned Winnebago Lane property near the corner of East St. Elmo and Nuckols Crossing roads. There's no easement allowing for access south to St. Elmo, which troubled Tovo (who called the situation "unfortunate") and Delia Garza, in whose district the site is located. Urban Roots promised to engage the community, especially with respect to access, as it designs its site plan. On the opposite end of town, Council approved on first reading a rezoning for the Asian American Cultural Center on Jollyville Road, which hopes to expand with senior housing and an on-site restaurant. Besides the usual concerns about safety and traffic, neighbors worry the upzoning will put a "bull's-eye" on the area for other developers; one homeowner told Council that allowing buildings over three stories would "ruin our neighborhood," although Jollyville is a core transit corridor. Likely tweaks before final reading will limit heights and the size of the proposed restaurant.
There's no regular meeting this week, but Council will pick up again Dec. 13 to tackle a whopping 101 Items. Among them is an ordinance to apply the city's personnel policies regarding discrimination, harassment, and bullying to members of boards, commissions, and task forces – all previously exempt. Members will also consider the city's federal lobbying program for the next Congress, a pilot program to incentivize the use of public transit, and a performance review process for the city manager.
After that, they've earned a few weeks off until the reconstituted Council, featuring at least two new members, convenes on Jan. 7.