On behalf of the Hyde Park Contact Team ADU committee, and in preparation for the July Contact Team meeting, I’d like to share the results of the recent ADU survey with you.
The ADU Survey Results contains a summary of each question along with a breakdown of the number of responses received, percentages for each answer, and a chart to help visualize the results.
A total of 148 people participated in the survey and, generally, opinion was evenly split between support and opposition with roughly 20% of survey respondents undecided.
A few notes to be aware of as you review the survey results:
- GENERAL: Since responses to questions were not required, there is variation in the totals from question to question
- Q1: qualification to take the survey, answering “No” prevented participation. (Unfortunately, our survey layout permitted two participants who skipped this question to complete the rest of the survey.)
- Q3: only presented to survey respondents who answered “No, but I would like to build an Accessory Dwelling” to Q2
- Q5: contained a weighted scale for answers. Scale: Will Be Worse = -2, Might Be Worse = -1, No Change = 0, Might Be Better = +1, Will Be Better = +2
- Q7: address information is being withheld to protect participant privacy
Questions about the survey and general discussion about the results are welcome and discussion will also be included during the July Contact Team meeting.
The 6th Annual Shipe Pool Party is Saturday, July 12, 7-11 p.m. Bring the family and friends out for tacos and snow cones, take a late evening dip in the pool, and settle in for The Lego Movie in the field after dark. The Shipe Pool Party is presented by Grande Communications and hosted by the HPNA. This event is a wonderful gathering in our cherished public green space and always helps us to build a stronger sense of community.
Note: As this article goes to press, Shipe pool has just reopened after a period of closure due to pump and leak issues. The leak has not been completely repaired, but apparently is in a manageable state. It will be regularly monitored and could cause future closure. In any case, the July 12 event will take place as scheduled; if the pool is closed, the pool party will be more of a pool rally.
This is a particularly important time to advocate for our beloved neighborhood park and pool given the challenges it is facing: in the first month of the pool season, Shipe pool was closed because of the breakdown of the chemical pump and a significant leak in the pool plumbing. Other neighborhood pools across town are closed at press time because of a citywide shortage of lifeguards. Maintenance issues have caused periodic closures of Shipe pool over the last few years.
In 2011, Shipe was tagged by PARD for permanent closure to meet the budget gap the city was expecting (fortunately that was averted and the pool remained funded and open during the summer season). And this year, in the city’s aquatics assessment, Shipe pool was judged to have less than five years of life left given the age and condition of its infrastructure. The city’s final assessment report is set to be released this summer, and it will be the basis for a long-term plan for city pools in Austin.
The key questions on the table are (1) As a community, do we want to make neighborhood pools like Shipe and others a priority or would we rather close them in favor of new, larger regional pools with more capacity and amenities? and (2) If we do want to sustain neighborhood pools, how do we increase funding to the Parks and Recreation Department to rebuild and maintain them?
For a number of reasons then, this summer is a critical time to advocate for our neighborhood park and pool—and all neighborhood parks and pools. Among the best ways to get involved in this advocacy:
Thank you for being engaged and involved in the important advocacy needed at this time to keep the park and pools available for our community!
Friends of Shipe Park
Lee Walker has lived in Hyde Park for the last 20 years, a place that resonates with the high value he puts on family, friends, and community. His professional and public life is a fascinating, inspiring tale not just in the breadth of his endeavors but in the way he has created or seized the opportunities that have led to a host of accomplishments. Among the awards and recognition he has earned are Austin Chamber of Commerce Austinite of the Year (1998), Texas Nature Conservancy Lifetime Achievement (2004), and with his wife Jennifer Vickers, Association of Fundraising Professionals Outstanding Philanthropists (2006).
Pecan Press (PP): You lived in quite a few places before you moved to Austin. Where did you grow up?
Lee Walker (LW): I was born in Kansas; my dad came from a line of independent farmers in Catholic enclaves with a strong sense of morality. I came to Texas at age 10 when he started working in an oil refinery in Three Rivers.
I did experience Austin rather early on, though. Like many other kids in Texas, I participated in academic and athletic competitions sponsored by the University Interscholastic League. If you were good and won in your district, you got to go to the regionals, and if you won there, you came to Austin to compete in state finals. I loved those trips. Austin was quite different from my hot, dusty hometown, and represented to me the epicenter of achievement. It made an imprint in my mind that it was a place I would come to live someday.
PP: You’ve been engaged in a wide range of professions requiring constant retooling and learning. Did this love of learning start when you were young?
LW: Yes. When I was 7, I discovered a set of the Encyclopedia Americana in my basement. I was constantly hiding out there reading it. As a result, I got to know a lot of stuff early, and that triggered interest in a lot of other things.
PP: Why did you choose Texas A&M for your undergraduate work?
LW: With no money for college, I went right to work the summer after high school as a roustabout in the oil industry. One morning while we were pulling a well, a car drives up with the Shelby Metcalf in it. This legendary Texas basketball coach invites me to attend A&M on a full basketball scholarship. I leapt at this opportunity, but was surprised because I wasn’t that great a player. Although being 6’9”, I did have my height going for me. For three years, I sat on the bench, pretty much a nobody. But just as the season got underway in my senior year, I started to play really well and was named Honorable Mention All Southwest Conference Team as A&M won second place in the conference.
PP: You majored in physics and Russian. Those are challenging subjects. Tell us a bit about why you chose those majors and if they had an effect on your life.
LW: I chose physics because I thought it was the hardest course of study to take, and also the most fundamental thing you could study—it’s about how things work. I selected Russian because I needed a scientific language to go along with physics. Physics plus Russian plus my final success in basketball changed everything in my life and opened up the world to me. I was awarded a NASA fellowship for being a top national physics student. That three-year program was a fast track to a PhD in nuclear physics.
PP: At some point you decided to get an MBA at Harvard? Where did the interest in business come from?
LW: I had zero interest in business, probably even a negative view of it. On the other hand, physics wasn’t enough for me. The nature of a physics career requires you to keep specializing—and that was not interesting to me. I met someone who had just graduated from Harvard Business School and told me he was already running a business for DuPont. That sounded like something worth trying.
PP: Your initial job after Harvard was at Union Carbide. There’s quite a story about your time there, right?
LW: Yes. I quit after one year out of a sense of moral outrage. My boss took me out for a drink; he’s celebratory because he felt I was headed for the top. Then he became sad, in tears because he wouldn’t be going there with me because he was Jewish. No Jew could get to the top of Union Carbide at that time. So I just quit, with no job in the offing.
PP: Wow, that was a courageous and daring thing to do. What were the repercussions?
LW: That move turned out to be crucial for my entrepreneurial career. A few days later, the phone rings and it’s Union Carbide, with a job proposition for me that would not involve being part of their company. It had a 20 – 30% investment in an oceanographic company that was failing and immediately needed a chief financial officer to save it. They said the job could be mine despite my lack of experience. I took the challenge. It turned out it was not so difficult to turn the company around. After 2 years there, I moved on to a series of other successful businesses ventures.
PP: What was so engaging to you about being an entrepreneur?
LW: Several things. I loved the sense of not working for anyone else, being independent—probably something I valued from my family’s roots in a farming community. Also I liked the fact that imagination is at the core of entrepreneurship.
PP: So at what point did you finally move to Austin?
LW: In 1978 I fulfilled my early dream of moving here. At first it was a period of early semi-retirement. However, by 1986, a friend of mine introduced me to Michael Dell, who as a young man had just started his PC business. With Michael was the man who I thought was going to be the first president of his company, which was then called PCs Limited. I’m not sure what happened but several days later Michael offered me that job. At first I said no, but upon more reflection became worried that his company was going to fail. So I changed my mind, becoming the first president of Dell Computer. Over the next few years we were able to break out of the pack to create the beginnings of a huge company. In less than 4 years though, I become very ill with meningitis and had to stop.
PP: That’s a serious illness. Did that change things for you?
LW: Very much so. Not only did it take substantial time to recover, it’s like my master switch was flipped. Living in an expensive home and driving a fancy car had been important to me, but now I moved to a houseboat on Lake Travis and drove a pickup truck. More important, I changed the setting of where I applied my values and skills, moving from running businesses to teaching university students.
PP: Was one of those changes moving to Hyde Park?
LW: Yes, that was part of a flow of change. Moving here was like coming home. Like many who live here, when Jen, my wife, and I first drove through, there was an instant click, a sense of connection to others. At bottom for me, the most important things are family and friends. Hyde Park taps that universal desire for connection.
It turned out to be a fantastic place for us to raise our daughters Gabriella and Giulia. It’s been idyllic having Lee Elementary close by as a neighborhood school and being able to walk to restaurants and coffee shops and bike from home down Avenue H to Tom Green to the classes I teach at UT. And Austin has been a wonderful place as well for my two older daughters Amanda and Suzanna, and my grandchildren Sam and Jasmine.
PP: In the time since your illness you have striven to serve—students through teaching and citizens of Austin as chair of the board of Cap Metro. Let’s start with the latter. What prompted you to take that on?
LW: In 1996, Laylan Copelin at the Statesman was writing about scandal after scandal at Cap Metro. The Legislature ended up firing the entire board, creating a new one of five elected members and two citizens at large. My thought was that if Austin was to be a great city, it had to have great transportation. I was also thinking it would be misery to take this job on, and I hesitated to the very last minute to apply. Shortly after doing so, though, I became chair of the board for 11 years up to 2008.
PP: After serving as the board chair, you submitted a resignation letter in which you wrote, “I see a growing understanding that transit is about land use and how we shape a different future from business as usual.” Can you elaborate on that?
LW: To me, we had to envision the future, do a virtual flyover over central Texas, 20 or 30 years hence. It was not hard to imagine the growth. You could see the choking traffic coming. Having a university, capitol, and emerging downtown all in close proximity made Austin unique, and linking those up by rail to my mind would have helped bring badly needed transit to Austin. In 2000, though, the light rail proposal failed to pass, losing by an average of just one vote per precinct. To this day I still regret that I was not able to provide the level of leadership needed to accomplish passage. Its passage would have had a dramatic impact on traffic and land use and would have contributed to Austin’s becoming a grown-up modern city. We did however pass the commuter rail in 2004 by a substantial margin.
PP: Without specific training and experience, how did the path to teaching open up for you.
LW: That’s another one of those stories. When I recovered from meningitis, I was invited to substitute teach a summer class in the graduate business school at UT. As it turned out, I was voted best teacher in the business school for that summer and was invited back, and the awards and teaching continued. A few years later, I met Ronnie Earle, the longtime district attorney in Austin, who told me his dream was to teach a course on community in Plan II, the liberal arts honors program at UT. I offered to help him with that, suggesting we approach UT to co-teach such a course. And so it happened. Eventually Ronnie had to bow out, and I remained and reshaped the course, which I’ve continue to teach to the present as a Senior Research Fellow.
PP: Can you tell us a bit about that course?
LW: It’s called Pathways to Civic Engagement, and it’s all about using the imagination to create solutions, opening up the lens through which we see possibilities for improving the civic community. One of those lenses is entrepreneurship. For example, civic engagement can happen when a group of people says it would like to have new urbanism up the street at the Triangle in lieu of a sea of asphalt and big box stores. Or create unique partnerships to save Westcave Preserve where I chaired for over 30 years. Or join with other neighbors to keep garbage pickup in our alleys so as to preserve our alleys. Or create a political movement to Save Our Springs. In my class, I can bring to bear all my experiences in helping my students explore solutions. My focus is on issues like health care, education, and the way we design our places, anything that has social justice implications.
PP: You’re now 72 and given your impressive list of accomplishments, I can’t imagine you without goals for the future.
LW: For the next 20 years plus I hope to continue to be biking along Avenue H and Tom Green, on my way to and from teaching my class at UT.
The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan Contact Team (HPNPCT) has established a committee to explore further the potential benefits and disadvantages for reducing to 5750 sq. ft. the residential lot size on which accessory dwelling units (ADUs) would be allowed in Hyde Park. The ADU topic was introduced at the April quarterly meeting of the HPNPCT. On June 12, the Austin City Council approved a resolution to reduce regulatory barriers to ADUs that are less than 500 square feet, including but not limited to eliminating parking and driveway requirements. Council has directed the city manager to convene a stakeholder process for additional recommendations, which could include allowing ADUs on lots larger than 5750 sq. ft.
While it is not clear at the time of this writing exactly how the resolution would affect Hyde Park, it seems likely that the Hyde Park NCCDs would need to be amended through a Contact Team amendment process if residents choose to adopt those changes, regardless of any new citywide changes.
Addressing ADUs is thus a timely issue that compels both the HPNPCT and HPNA to express preferences. It would be beneficial to have a coordinated response from the two groups.
To that end, a newly-formed ADU committee of Hyde Park residents has agreed to participate in a process to help focus discussion, listen to concerns, provide information as it becomes available, and ensure that all stakeholders within Hyde Park have an opportunity to be involved. The members of the committee include Pete Gilcrease (HPNPCT chair), Kathy Lawrence (HPNA co-vice president), Adrian Skinner (HPNA co-secretary), and longtime residents Steve Franke, Coral Franke, Teresa Griffin, and Larry Gilg.
The committee has identified a number of items to address over next few weeks:
• Understand the full implications for Hyde Park of the council resolution on ADUs and communicate them to Hyde Park stakeholders
• Create an online survey to help identify stakeholders’ concerns related to ADU. The survey is now available. The survey is intended for all stakeholders in Hyde Park, and will be instrumental in the decision-making process. Stakeholders are encouraged to take a few minutes to log on and complete the survey.
• Model “real-lot” scenarios. Take two or more specific lots in Hyde Park (or use similar but fictitious lots) and analyze whether an ADU could be built, assess restrictions based on current regulations, and forecast the quantifiable costs and benefits
• Develop a process that fosters input from all stakeholders
• Set the agendas for Contact Team meetings that will discuss ADUs.
The next contact team meeting will be at 7:00pm on Monday, July 28 at Trinity Methodist Church. The agenda is as follows:
• Update on city council ADU resolution
• Presentation on scenarios
• Presentation on results of survey
• Open discussion of issues
• Other business.
This is a section of an old and beautiful—and for Central Texas—unusually large and healthy magnolia tree that can be seen on the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Avenue G, where the Burtons have lived since the early 80s. Also to be seen on the north side of the front yard is a catalpa tree, an ordinarily short-lived tree that has probably been around since 1917, the year the Austin photographer William Oliphant built this house for his son.
How these trees were able to thrive, even with the house being vacant and abandoned for over 15 years at one point, only became known in the year 2000 when an underground spring on the property was discovered. In October of that year, it rained virtually every day resulting in the buckling of the front porch. When a plumber was called to find and fix the leak that was causing the buckling, he informed the Burtons that the cause was no leak, but an underground spring that had been recharged because of the heavy rains. A fan has been installed under the porch for use in periods of heavy rains, but the magnolia and catalpa trees, green and healthy, just keep getting bigger and bigger. This is a site to check out and behold!
(response to R. Haas)
These are the dog days
Don’t cats lie around, prostrate from the heat?
We do not have cat days
Cat houses, cats eyes, catsup
No cat days
Mist rising from soaked lawns
Well, cats would not lie around on a soaked lawn
Especially if the mist would rise
Blurring sight in a cats eyes
Whatever it is would spur a change
In literature that spans a range
Of time and custom that oft depends
On adages, old saws, and phrases
Featuring animals, pets and such
Let a sleeping dog lie, tethered, or not
The end of day unties what those of us who choose
To let the animal lie, or not
Would you tie up a cat?
No wonder they have not days,
Who said to my child: “let’s play…
Must not have been having a cat
or dog day.
New Hyde Park Community Garden To Serve Those in Need: The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association in partnership with the Trinity United Methodist Church has developed a plan to operate a community vegetable garden on church grounds aimed at providing folks in need with fresh, healthy produce. A grant has been applied for from the City of Austin, Office of the Mayor’s “Love Your Block, Austin!” program, to get the project off the ground. The Hope Food Pantry, currently operating at the church, will distribute the food. Opportunities for volunteer participation in the project will be announced in time for the first planting in the fall. For more information contact Mark Fishman of the HPNA’s Park & Public Space Committee.
* * * * *
Celebrate the New Trail at the Ney: The last few months has seen the creation of the Western Trail addition to the Elisabeth Ney Museum’s Historic Landscape Recreation. Connecting an opening on Avenue G near the Waller Creek Bridge to a spot along the carriage drive in front of the museum, this trail allows visitors a first-hand experience of the landscape, a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. Residents are invited to a gathering on Thursday July 17at 1:00 p.m. to thank the many parties involved in its creation: the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association; Friends of Shipe Park; Boy Scout Troop 1936, sponsored by the First English Lutheran Church and its supporters; new Eagle Scout Sean O’Connor; The Texas Conservation Corps, a Division of American Youth Works; and of course the Austin Parks Foundation, which funded the majority of the work. Refreshments will be served.
* * * * *
Graffiti Patrol: This group conducts quarterly graffiti cleanups in Hyde Park as a group, with.several members also doing considerable work on their own. Thanks are owed to George Wyche, Liz Lock, Doris Coward, Adrian Skinner and Kate Musemeche for participating in cleanup efforts on March 29 or May 17 or both. Those interested in participating in the future should contact Lisa Harris.
During the past several months, while the Contact Team has been discussing the possibility of amending the Hyde Park NCCDs to allow accessory dwelling units on lots between 5750 and 7000 square feet, one thing that has become apparent is that, despite efforts at explanation, many Hyde Park residents are not clear about just what the Hyde Park Contact Team is and what its relationship to HPNA is.
The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and the Hyde Park Contact Team are two entirely separate organizations. While HPNA has an official liaison who attends the Contact Team meetings and keeps HPNA informed about the actions of the Contact Team, neither organization is a committee or functionary of the other.
In 2000, Hyde Park created a Neighborhood Plan under the direction of the City of Austin. Other geographical areas did the same, although in all other cases, the geographical areas were not one individual neighborhood like Hyde Park but larger areas consisting of several neighborhoods. Hyde Park is the only individual neighborhood that has its own Neighborhood Plan. Several years later, the City of Austin created Contact Teams to handle those neighborhood plans. Just as Hyde Park is the only individual neighborhood with its own plan, Hyde Park is the only individual neighborhood with its own Contact Team.
The mandate of the Hyde Park Contact Team, according to its bylaws, is “to review and make recommendations on all proposed amendments to the adopted Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan.” The purpose of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, on the other hand, is to “foster a closer, more genuine community of neighbors and to preserve the historic and unique character, amenities, and ecology of the community of Hyde Park.”
The Contact Team and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association differ in the following ways:
In practical terms, what does this mean? For one thing, it means that if you want to be able to have input into the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan, you need to join the Contact Team. This isn’t difficult; just show up at the next meeting (July 28). Your voting rights will be secure for the following nine months and you will receive agendas of upcoming meetings, so you can attend those that announce votes on topics that concern you. For another thing, because the constituencies of the two groups differ, it is possible for the HPNA and the Hyde Park Contact Team to come down on different sides of the same issue.
The best thing that you, as a concerned Hyde Parker, can do is to become a voting member of both groups and attend meetings for both groups. It is the only way to be sure that you have a say in any and all issues that arise in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
–Kevin Heyburn and Lorre Weidlich
Lorre Weidlich, co-president of HPNA, called the meeting to order at 7:02 p.m. The first order of business was a proposed resolution consisting of a membership-requested letter to Austin City Council in which the city was asked avoid in the future the kind of zoning errors made during the permitting process for The Adams House Bed & Breakfast. A motion to accept the draft resolution was seconded and time was provided for a reading of the resolution. A proposed amendment to change the tense of the word “supports” to “supported” passed by a majority vote with one no vote recorded. An amendment to remove “precedent” language in favor of “and should not be used by the City of Austin as a reason to grant future variances” was also passed. Finally, a requested amendment to change references of “The Adams House” to the address of the property also passed. The final amended text of the resolution passed by a vote of 20-0-3 and can be found at http://www.austinhydepark.org/2014/06/hpna-resolution-june2014.
Kathy Lawrence led the second order of business: a discussion of infill tools focusing on reduced lot sizes for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). In April, neighbors heard a presentation at the Hyde Park Contact Team meeting related to the city infill tool that allows ADUs on lots larger than 5750 sq.ft. Larry Gilg provided a summary of the Contact Team meeting discussion. (The minutes of the meeting were summarized in June’s Pecan Press. The primary motivation to modify the neighborhood plan to allow ADUs on smaller lots is to help homeowners stay in their homes. Neighborhoods continue to lose longtime residents to gentrification and increasing property taxes. There is a need to ensure that measures are in place in any adopted plan that would prevent developers from building inappropriate structures.
Sharon Brown shared her thoughts on some questions about what this could mean for Hyde Park. “We all want what’s best for the neighborhood. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan identifies areas for density such as along the Guadalupe Corridor. Would accessory dwelling units on smaller lots bring new unwanted stealth dorms and duplexes? How will ADUs positively impact affordability? Who will benefit the most from them?”
Mike Wong from the Northfield Neighborhood Association presented information about the challenges ADUs and other city infill tools have created for our neighbor to the north. Noting a difference in housing stock age and type, Mike provided an inventory of infill tools adopted in Northfield: small lot amnesty, cottage lots, secondary apartments, and corner stores. Presentations by city staff about infill tools were misleading in their representation of the types of units that would be built under infill. Developers took advantage by purchasing many affordable lots in the neighborhood, tearing down the primary structure and creating undesirable development.
One of the concerns cited about small lot amnesty involves modified row houses with inadequate parking since small lot amnesty allows .65 floor-to-area ratio (FAR) instead of .40 FAR. Kathy Lawrence posed the question, “What should we do to make this work for us?” Mike Wong answered, “Make occupancy limits permanent and potentially lower. Owner occupancy might also help in the first generation. Increase homestead rights to encourage owner occupancy and discourage sale for profit to developers. Add protections into the neighborhood plan. Create a nonprofit redevelopment corporation that promotes the type of development the neighborhood wants and create well-defined design standards.”
The discussion about ADUs ended with affirmation that the conversation would be ongoing and participation from all neighborhood stakeholders ensured. Hyde Park Neighborhood Association members and residents at large were reminded of the Contact Team meeting voting requirements: you must attend at least one Contact Team meeting within the prior 9 months to be eligible to vote at the next Contact Team meeting, with only one vote per household permitted. More information is available on Contact Team Yahoo group postings.
–Submitted by Artie Gold and Adrian Skinner
People with nothing to do
people with too much to do
people who walk past a
without being tempted
are not dangerous.
They have succumbed.
The following is the text of the letter sent to the City of Austin from the HPNA:
The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association resolves to send the following letter to City Council, the Board of Adjustment, the Planning Commission, the Historic Landmark Commission, the City Manager, the Historic Preservation Office, and the Planning and Zoning Department:
The membership of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association wishes to address several issues related to the improper permitting of an addition to 4300 Avenue G, Austin, Texas 78751.
The membership of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association is concerned and disappointed about the way the City of Austin mishandled the permitting of the 4300 Avenue G addition. The inability of the City of Austin Planning and Zoning Department to apply the standards clearly stated in City Code led to loss of time and money, confusion, and disagreement.
The HPNA supported the owners of 4300 Avenue G in their attempt to request redress from the City of Austin. However, the HPNA resents being put in the position of having to choose between our neighbors and our protections. Our support for corrective action is limited to this particular circumstance and should not be used by the City of Austin as a reason to grant future variances.
As a result of numerous permitting errors observed over a period of years, we insist city zoning be applied correctly under any and all circumstances. Further, we expect the city to invest in additional resources and staff training and to renew its attention to detail in order to avoid such errors in the future. Hyde Park already provides an advisory body, a Development Review Committee, to assist with the development process. However, the final responsibility for correct permitting and code enforcement lies with the City of Austin, and we rely on the City to do it correctly.
It is our fervent hope that in the future the City will apply the Code as written, so that the protections it provides for our neighborhood – our NCCDs, our Local Historic District, and the McMansion ordinance – will never again be put into jeopardy, and property owners will not be subjected to stress and expense.
At its May meeting, HPNA hosted a discussion between District 9 council candidates Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley. Erin McGann, a more recently announced candidate for District 9, and any other candidate who emerges will be invited to a similar HPNA forum at a later date to be determined. Official filing for candidates does not start until July 21.
The discussion consisted of opening remarks, questions crafted by the HPNA Steering Committee and submitted to the candidates beforehand, questions from the audience, and closing remarks.
Candidates’ answers are excerpted below. The questions are italicized. Because of space considerations, I elected to concentrate on the questions crafted by the Steering Committee. Those interested in hearing the entire discussion can contact me for the audio file (email@example.com)
Please share your thoughts regarding the role of the city manager in the new 10-1 form of city governance. Does a strong city manager enhance or limit single district council members in providing constituent services? How could the relationship between the city manager and council members be improved?
Councilmember Chris Riley: One of my frustrations is that the City Council in its current at-large system has not really done that well in regard to city services. When I was growing up, Jake Pickle was always a mentor. One thing that he was known for was his great constituent services. This council has had a harder time doing that. I’m hopeful with this new 10-1 system that there will be a councilmember to go to, someone whom you know. This council member needs to be responsive, needs to go to the city manager, and needs to know that he is going to get a good response.
I think that the city manager needs to be proactive about providing information to the council. We’ve had some issues with that over the way things have been working. The manager needs to be responsive when the council acts; we need to get a good and timely response.
The last thing I’ll say is that the manager needs to be open to change, especially at this time as we enter a new system. Our citizens have clearly indicated that they want a change in the way our city government is handled. Our manager frankly has not been that open to change in the past. Staff don’t feel free to speak up. We need to get better about embracing change, both within city staff and in regard to changes requested by council members.
Council Member Kathie Tovo: A lot of our job really is constituent services. One of the things my staff spends a lot of time doing is responding to various queries that come in. It is really important to have a city manager whose staff understands that they need to work with us a little more directly.
The question asks about a strong city manager form of government and some people have asked about whether it would be appropriate to consider at this point a strong mayor form of government. I really support the balance as it currently exists; but there is at times a tension between the city manager and the administrative functions of the city and the council and its policies. Our city manager has several times said he has not worked in a city where the council brought forth so many initiatives and that just shocked me. Part of how we respond to our constituents’ needs is by introducing initiatives or responding with new programs or other kinds of resources that we feel are appropriate. He indicated to me that in the previous cities those kinds of things really came through the staff or it came through more of a committee function.
I feel that our elected officials need to be accountable to the people. They need to be able to respond to the needs that they see in the community. [She discussed two examples: cemetery cleanup and a safer housing initiative.] In the new system, I think the current balance we have works but we have to elect council members who are going to stand up and say, My constituents want this to be a public discussion and we are going to put it on the agenda.
A recent neighborhood poll revealed that two issues that concern Hyde Park residents the most are neighborhood preservation and development. Other central Austin neighborhoods have also indicated that these issues are a concern in District 9. Older, affordable single-family homes continue to be lost as developers replace them with poorly formed new houses, super duplexes, and other structures that are out of character in our neighborhoods. What have you done during your career as a council member to preserve the character of central Austin neighborhoods? What do you plan to do if elected as the District 9 representative?
Kathie Tovo: I got involved in local issues through my neighborhood association (Bouldin Creek). We had tremendous development pressures. There was a lot of discussion within the neighborhood about how we could preserve the character of that ‘hood. Long before I was on council, neighborhood preservation was a focus of mine. I was involved as a citizen down at city hall advocating for the McMansion ordinance, and a lot of other zoning and land use issues, and also as a planning commissioner.
As a council member, I have stood with neighborhoods time and time again on controversial zoning cases that I thought really threatened neighborhood preservation and character. [She discussed two examples: the rezoning of property in the Allendale-Brentwood area for Little Woodrows and an amendment to the downtown Austin plan.] Austin will grow but it is up to us to decide how it does and make sure it happens in accord with our community values.
Chris Riley: I was president of the neighborhood association downtown for five years. I was appointed to the Planning Commission; I served there for six years including two years as its chair. When it comes to neighborhood preservation, even going beyond zoning cases, I have always strived to be accessible and responsive to neighborhoods. There are so many issues about neighborhoods that go well beyond any particular zoning case. There are issues about noise that come up; there are issues about parking. [He gave examples of issues for which he sponsored resolutions: relocation of billboards, noise from refrigerator trucks, notification of a contact team whenever fee in lieu was approved instead of a sidewalk being built, and extension of the life of demolition permits.]
One area that has been a particular interest of mine is dealing with parking issues and that continues to be a big problem, especially in areas that are close to a commercial corridor. I sponsored the ordinance implementing a parking benefits district program that’s now in place in places like West Campus. Now, as a result of that program, they are generating hundreds of thousands of dollars per year that they are putting toward creating a better sidewalk network.
The cost of living, and housing in particular, continues to rise in Austin. It seems that our secret is out—Austin is a great place to live—yet affordability continues to be a challenge in the face of rising demand for centrally located housing. Please share your views on housing affordability and what you would do as the district representative to address the imbalance between supply and demand, create affordable housing opportunities for low income households, and help prevent current residents from being taxed out of their homes. What is your approach to balance affordability with preservation of neighborhood character?
Chris Riley: This is a huge issue and at the top of our list. A lot of it came up in the context of the occupancy limits ordinance that we put in place. I was a co-sponsor of that item. We needed to put that in place but it really wasn’t going to address the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that there is a huge pressure, development pressure, on the area. A lot of people want to live around here and they want to live in places that are fairly close to the university and the central city, and they are willing to live in fairly small units. We are going to see those pressures manifest in other sorts of ways.
And in order to really address the problem we have got to make meaningful progress towards the goals that are set out there in our comprehensive plan. It envisions a variety of housing options available all across the city to meet the changing needs and preferences of our ever-growing and changing population. We’ve got a lot of great single-family housing; we’ve got some medium size apartment buildings; we’ve got some high rises in West Campus and downtown, but there’s not a lot in between. Other cities have a broad spectrum of what they call the missing middle type of housing options that include things like row houses and triplexes and 4-plexes. That’s the sort of thing that we’re going to have to get better at allowing here in Austin. I’ve been sponsoring efforts to make more housing options available all across the city [He discussed micro-units as an option.]
One option I think we should be considering is easing up on some of the parking requirements. If someone is willing to live in a smaller unit and give up their car, that option ought to be available to them at least in some place like a transit corridor. [He discussed other examples of housing options that included not owning a car.)
West Campus has been kind of a laboratory for a lot of creative affordable housing options. [He discussed the fee in lieu program used in West Campus.] We’ve had a lot of success with other affordability programs elsewhere.
Kathie Tovo: On council, I’ve been very supportive of our affordable housing efforts. When the bond failed in 2012, I advocated that we find some money within our surplus of that year to provide some matching money for some of the projects that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. A few meetings ago I sponsored a resolution to look at several tracts of publicly owned land and to look at them across a variety of criteria to see which might be available for the development of family-friendly housing. One of the criteria I identified had to do with our schools. One of the ways that the city can really work with school districts to try to effect changes is to look at the areas of town where we have those under-enrolled schools, which are primarily in the central city, and try to put some family-friendly housing in there.
One of the frustrations for me was watching the council not use the tools that we had in our toolbox. [She discussed two examples: the downtown density bonus program and how developers ask for rezoning instead of using that program and the planned unit development program, which requires a community benefit, one of which is affordable housing.] We have tremendous development taking place throughout our community and it’s appropriate to ask, as people are asking, if developers are coming forward and asking to build a higher building, a bigger building, and that’s compatible and appropriate given their context, we should be asking for them to help us meet this huge gap in housing in our community.
Then I want to address the parts of the question that talked about current residents being taxed out of their homes. In the last budget cycle, we did a lot of work to try to keep that tax rate level. It wasn’t easy and it took several of us really combing through that budget identifying places for cuts. There are other things we need to keep our eye on such as utility rates. I fought back against the huge Austin Energy rate increase. We do invest as a city in incentives for businesses. At a time when lots of businesses are coming to Austin without those, I think we need to seriously reevaluate whether or not to support them and provide public resources in the form of incentives. I certainly have supported some incentives, but the last few, I haven’t, because I think we are at a point in Austin where we’re experiencing such growth—it’s such an appealing place to come—that we don’t need to provide those.
The infill option of allowing secondary dwelling units on lots smaller than what is now legally allowed has been raised in several issues of the Pecan Press and at Contact Team meetings. It’s important to think carefully about what’s been presented and to ask serious questions.
According to The January 27, 2014 Contact Team minutes, Councilmember Riley referred to options that Hyde Park currently has in place, specifically higher density corridors along outside edges of neighborhoods, so that pressure can be lessened on the interior of the neighborhoods. The same density choice is in the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan approved by City Council, number 8 of the Top 10 Priorities: Develop a corridor plan through future Smart Growth corridor planning effort for the Guadalupe corridor.
Would secondary dwellings on smaller lots deter stealth dorms/super duplexes?
Now that City Council passed reduced occupancy limits, the primary way to discourage stealth dorms is for the city to enforce limits, thereby making such structures less profitable in the future. Fortunately, the original part of Hyde Park is a Local Historic District. The part of Hyde Park north of 45th street is not so protected, which means demolitions are easier to do in that area. Therefore, it could be economically viable for a developer to buy a small lot, demo the existing structure, and build a sizeable house with a garage apartment for multiple renters with multiple cars in each.
How would second dwellings offer affordability?
Affordability relates to rent and to the construction of the second dwelling. At the April 28 Contact Team meeting, architect Michael Gatto estimated that a 1-bedroom/1-bath apartment in Hyde Park would rent for $1200 to $1500 per month. For whom is that affordable?
Mr. Gatto also estimated the minimum construction cost for that apartment to be $100,000. The increase in homeowners’ taxes would reduce any profit from rent.
If this cost in relation to potential rent doesn’t result in a beneficial bottom line estimate, Mr. Gatto suggested a deal with a financial entity that would lease the second dwelling portion of the lot and split the rent by some percentage over 30 to 40 years. That definitely would require expert advice to understand.
Who could potentially benefit from the secondary dwelling units on smaller lots?
Here are some possibilities: homeowners on lots less than 7000 sq. ft., commercial short-term rental owners with small lots on which to build more such units, developers who buy houses on small lots and add a secondary dwelling, and the financial entity mentioned in the previous question.
What would change as a result of secondary dwelling units on smaller lots?
Here are a few ideas: additional housing in Hyde Park, more cars parked in the neighborhood, some on very narrow streets; more impervious cover, even if it is within the legal amount; and, most important, unanticipated events when the five-year assistance is over or if the houses are sold. In addition, since many trees grow at the back of lots, some would be removed to make space for secondary dwellings and parking areas off of alleys. I’m guessing all of us have noticed, when turning off streets that border our neighborhood, that it is immediately cooler as we drive on our shady streets.
Is it reasonable to trust the city to apply building codes correctly and to enforce codes for affordable rent, impervious cover, and numbers of cars and residents?
When representatives from Austin’s permitting and code enforcement staff gave a brief talk at a HPNA meeting several months ago, one of them said frankly that they have a huge turnover in their staff, which means they cannot do everything the city needs. Many neighbors are aware of serious problems for homeowners and neighbors that this situation has caused.
How can we get the city to require affordable housing in all new apartment construction?
Councilmember Tovo at the HPNA meeting on May 5 commented that she supports requiring developers to include affordable units when they build new apartment buildings.
We’ve been offered statistics on local and national trends and anecdotes from other cities that are worth noting. Most important is that we preserve the character, beauty, trees, safety, and treasures of Hyde Park—the reasons we live here. For most of us, our home is the biggest investment we’ll ever make and we must think carefully about any permanent changes that might jeopardize what we and others value in Hyde Park. I look forward to more conversations with more neighborhood stakeholders regarding this infill option of secondary dwelling units on small lots.
Editor’s Note: For a related article, see “The Proposal For Secondary Dwelling Units On Small Lots”.