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On August 19 , 2010, City Council met to consider our neighborhood plan on first reading.  The plan was based on “consensus” decisions from plan stakeholders over the course of three years of meetings, although City Staff has its own recommendations which sometimes departed from “consensus.”  In addition, the Planning Commission reviewed the Plan and made its own recommendations.

Based on Council’s decisions, we had mixed results in achieving the two planning goals we had for this plan:  (1) protecting our existing residential neighborhoods, and (2) planning intelligently for increased density and retail development at the Brackenridge Tract and Austin State School properties.  While we had pretty good success on the first goal,  we are concerned that the Council’s decision to exclude the Brackenridge Tract could have a dramatic and adverse impact on our neighborhood since it would allow an immense and unplanned development, such as the Cooper Robertson proposal which would adding 12-15 million sq. ft of development to the WANG planning area with up to 9,900 residents in 6,645 residential units, increasing our residential density by 124-164 percent!!!  This proposed development would more than double the existing density in our neighborhood, and Council’s decision to exclude the Brackenridge Tract would give us no input on any proposed development at the Brack Tract.

Organization of Hearing:  The hearing began first with an overview presentation by Staff, followed by public input and then a vote by council on 26 separate “disputed” items where there was a disagreement between stakeholders, the property owner, City Staff, and/or the Planning Commission.  Staff provided an overview description of the neighborhood, the planning process, and the resulting neighborhood plan.  However, Staff’s presentation failed to address or acknowledge the importance of the Brackenridge Tract, either as a significant part of our neighborhood or as the single-most important motivating factor for entering into the neighborhood plan process in the first place.  This exclusion resulted from a decision by City Staff halfway through the planning process to exclude the Brackenridge Tract from our plan, even though there are three separate City Council resolutions stating that the plan would “address future development within the boundaries of the Central West Austin Neighborhood Planning Area, including the Brackenridge Tract.”  See, City Council Resolutions 20061214-014, 20081016-037, and 20080306-040.

Public Input:  Notwithstanding considerable confusion caused by the City’s sign-up procedure, a number of neighbors attended to speak about the disputed items in the plan.  By far, the two biggest topics of interest were (1) whether the Brackenridge Tract would be included in the plan and subject to its land use guidance, and (2) what zoning and land use requirements would apply to the Elm Terrace property at 3215 Exposition (formerly part of the Austin State School).  Neighbors also addressed the land use requirements for the Tarrytown Shopping Center, where the property owner (Jeanne Daniels) is requesting “Neighborhood Mixed Use” over the objections of neighbors who wish to have a “Neighborhood Commercial” land use apply.  There were also zoning issues addressed relating to properties on W. 38th Street and in the Deep Eddy Heights neighborhood area (700 Hearn, 2309 Pruett, and 2310 W. 7th).

Council Decisions:  Before the hearing even began, we were notified that the City Council members would not have the votes to support including the Brackenridge Tract in the plan, and would not approve the land use chapter language approved by the Planning Commission for guiding the development of the Brackenridge Tract.  This decision to exclude Brack resulted from meetings held between UT representatives and City Council members where UT voiced its displeasure with the plan recommendations by the Planning Commission and neighborhood stakeholders.  Not only would UT oppose including any Future Land Use Map (FLUM) for Brack, but they also opposed any language in the Land Use chapter that would apply to the Brackenridge Tract.  Basically, UT doesn’t want to be constrained in any way, and was quite alarmed that the Planning Commission adopted our land use chapter proposals for the Brack Tract.

At the council hearing, three council members (Morrison, Riley and Spelman) recused themselves from addressing the Brackenridge Tract issue in the plan.  We certainly expected support from at least some of these council members for including the Brack Tract, but apparently the City’s Integrity Officer instructed Morrison and Riley that they needed to recuse themselves at the last minute.  We were certainly surprised and disappointed by this development since no similar recusals had been required in the past, and were told that the acting City Attorney was also very surprised by the Integrity Officer’s decision, and disagreed with it.  We find the timing of the recusals highly suspicious, and do not agree that recusal was required.

With the recusals in place and council members Morrison, Riley and Spelman off the dais, the council voted unanimously on Motion 3 to exclude the Brack Tract from the FLUM and to use more “general language focusing on working cooperatively with all stakeholders.”  In supporting the motion, Mayor Leffingwell said:

“I intend to support the motion as well, and with regard to continuing to work with the stakeholders and the property owners and so forth, my goal, as a city council member, as mayor, is going to be to work to preserve the historic and residential character of the neighborhood consistent and capacity I believe with surrounding development and with buffering for different uses, diverse uses, with an emphasis on environmental protection and sustainability standards.”

In our view, these platitudes do not adequately address the neighborhoods’ wishes, and it is not sufficient to be told that “we should keep talking” since City Council said for years that there should be dialogue with the University and other stakeholders here, but nothing has happened.  Most importantly, council’s decision (to exclude the Brack Tract) eliminates the neighborhood stakeholders’ vision from the plan and destroys three years worth of work at the neighborhood plan meetings.  To say the least, we’re disappointed, and want the Council to stand up for its constituents instead of bowing down before UT.

Aside from the Brackenridge Tract issue, we were generally happy with the Council’s decisions.  However, there were three decisions that could adversely affect the neighborhood stakeholders.  First, with the council’s decision on Motion 2 (concerning the Austin State School land use language), the neighborhood lost protection of a “single family” buffer along the Austin State School tract, notwithstanding over 800 petitions against multifamily at Elm Terrace buffer location.  Second, the council’s decision on Motion 8 (in granting “Neighborhood Mixed Use” for the Tarrytown Shopping Center) would appear to allow the property owner (Jeanne Daniels) to convert the entire property to residential use, where the neighbors would strongly prefer to keep the property as “Neighborhood Commercial” to preserve the retail/commercial function.  Lastly, the Council voted to remove the Elm Terrace property (3215 Exposition) from the FLUM, so it is not clear who “won” or “lost” this issue.

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