The political landscape at City Hall is as divided as it has perhaps ever been when it comes to land use policy, and the heightened tribalism comes at an exceedingly bad time for actual land use policy. While they’re still convivial on other topics, the two four-member factions (let’s call them the Jets and the Sharks) – CMs Tovo/Pool/Houston/Alter on the neighborhood or preservationist side, and CMs Casar/Garza/Renteria/Flannigan on the urbanist or densification side, along with their appointees on the land use commissions – seem increasingly focused on taking coup against the other team, rather than finding areas of agreement and compromise, and forging real solutions to a CodeNEXT code rewrite that remains deeply troubled, and troubling.
This hit a low point at last Thursday’s Council meeting, with a Jimmy Flannigan tirade about other members grandstanding(!), and his belligerent refusal to apologize for a cynical, borderline sleazy tweet about Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo.
So it came as a very welcome surprise when, at 5:12pm on Monday, during a meeting of a Planning Commission that’s every bit as bitterly divided as is City Council, there came a genuine compromise between the two sides on alcohol use regulation: adding a requirement that bars within 200 feet of residential zoning get a conditional use permit with its attendant public process, but on the other hand allowing bars (with a CUP) in Main Street zones where they are not allowed under the current draft. And at a stroke (by a 12-1 vote I believe, because there’s always one crank), there came a genuine policy improvement: allowing bars and nightclubs in lots more appropriate places, while also addressing neighborhood concerns. A small thing to be sure, in the scope of the code, but a ray of hope at least. Thanks to commissioners Trinity White and Conor Kenny, starring this week as Tony and Maria. May they both survive through the final act.
Regarding the Planning Commission eligibility flap (see “Point Austin,” May 18), you can call various kettles black all you want, but it’s hard to get around the plain language of city code. It’s basically agreed that three too many current PCers are “directly or indirectly connected to real estate and land development.“ That’s not a difficult standard to judge; these are people who make their livelihood building buildings. But this would clearly be a terrible time to remove several commissioners, so to buy time, city legal’s current fig leaf is that you can’t remove a board member partway through their term. This despite the fact that the relevant city law says: “A board member is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the city council” and “A board member may be removed at any time by an affirmative vote of the majority of the council.” That’s the law. And if you believe in the rule of law, you should accept that, and shame on those who don’t.
Endangered Species Day is this Friday, May 18. Local environmentalists might have celebrated a couple of days early, when the black-capped vireo, a migratory songbird that nests in western Travis County in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, was removed from the federal Endangered Species List on May 16. But officials hastened to remind citizens that the BCP “will remain intact,” said Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner, Pct. 2. “In fact, the delisting is based on the presumption that the preserves will remain in place in order for the species to survive.” The county and its partners including the city of Austin “are committed to protecting this critical habitat in perpetuity.”
The Colony Park Sustainable Community Initiative is the city’s master-planning effort for the 208 acres of publicly owned land at the heart of this developing neighborhood in East Austin, just this side of the Travis County Expo Center. Catellus Development Corporation, the folks who did the Mueller master plan, are shortlisted to become Master Developers here; the city has invited them to make a video presentation of their development plans, next Thursday, May 24, 6:30-8pm at the Turner-Roberts Rec Center, 7201 Colony Loop. Input gathered here will contribute to the final selection of a development partner. See more at www.austintexas.gov/department/colony-park.
20th Annual Real World Music Showcase: I’ve written about Anthropos Arts here a number of times; it’s a great organization that connects at-risk youth with professional musicians, educators, and performance opportunities. They’re having their 20th anniversary bash – “a world tour of music from Iran, Nigeria, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, and the U.S.” – this Sunday, May 20, 5-7pm at Antone’s, 305 E. Fifth. More info at www.anthroposarts.org.
The annual Bike to Work Day is this Friday, May 18: over 40 fueling stations around town will offer free coffee, snacks, and swag to riders who stop by; see a list and map at www.bikeaustin.org/b2wd.