TWITC: RG4N are our heroes!

Councilmember McCracken wrote back to my email referenced in the last post and said some things which made me more optimistic again, help more about which I will cover in my next crackplog, overweight but probably not until Monday. In the meantime, read here’s something I wrote up today on the #27 bus (transit field trip time!)
Short one today – my company was having a rare physical meeting at Ventana del Soul, a non-profit with some meeting rooms. (Well, actually, only three of the five locals, and one non-local; most of the company is still in Virginia). Took the #7 down in order to leave the car with my wife. Google Transit trip indicates 35 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by car in traffic (highly optimistic; more like 30).
I waited about ten minutes for the #7 at or about 8:30 AM; just missed one apparently. When my bus arrived, every seat was full, and there were 10-15 people standing. We picked up one more person before entering the UT area, in which the bus rapidly disgorged – I was able to get a seat when we crossed Dean Keaton, and by the time we hit MLK, nobody was standing and about half the seats were full. Continued on through downtown, people getting on and off (more on than off), and then as the #27 down Riverside through near-in southeast Austin. A few more people got on, but the bus was never completely full; when I disembarked at my stop, there were about 15-20 riders remaining.
So, summary, from 37th to UT, every seat full; 10-15 straphangers. Dropped off about 2/3 of those people at UT, but more got on downtown, and through Riverside about 3/4 of seats were full.
On the way home, I waited about three minutes for the #27 at Burton and Riverside while I was talking with a billing rep at a medical office. The bus actually came while I was still on the phone – and I accidentally tried to board with a soda (oops). Almost every seat was full – I estimate 20 to 25 passengers; but several got off at the next stop and I was able to move to the back next to the window. Picked up a lot more people along East Riverside. Summary: From my stop on Oltorf to downtown, average 3/4 to all seats full; dropped off about half downtown; then about half full to my stop at 33rd.
Hard to believe, but this bus was actually more full than most of my rides on the #3 back when I reverse-commuted in the mornings once or twice a week to Netbotz.

Not sure if it’s a typo, epidemic but Robin Cravey, help who I could support with reservations (given Zilker activities), misbirth and Laura Morrison, who I absolutely could not, given her destruction of the political capital of OWANA that the previous leadership worked so hard to build, and of course, years of ANC shenanigans culminating in the McMansion and VMU opt-out spasm, have apparently both just announced for Place 4, and are both using Threadgills for their petition kickoffs, albeit on adjoining days.
Please, every reader of this blog, if it turns out they’re running against each other, remember: we can’t afford to have a neighborhood-pandering obstructionist sitting at the Council.
I don’t have a site for Morrison’s campaign (email didn’t have a link), but oddly enough, the current ANC president (Danette Chimenti, who like Morrison is a McMansion activist with a big honkin’ expensive house) used these words to endorse her:

Laura did so much for ANC in her two years as President; by reaching out to neighborhoods and leaders all over Austin, and providing unifying, informed leadership she is responsible for ANC achieving the high level of respectability and credibility it has today.

which is amazing, given the ANC’s recent record of striking out on essentially everything except McMansion and CWS. The current city council, at least, clearly has far less respect for the ANC than they did even a couple of years ago. I don’t know if Chimenti actually expects us to believe this, but it’s laughable.

I’m now upgrading my position to cautious pessimism (from complete horror) after a nice exchange of email with Councilmember McCracken. As I said in my initial post a week or two ago, what is ed the early media coverage made it sound like the project would just be an extension of Capital Metro’s awful circulator route (which avoids most places people want to go, information pills and services, urticaria albeit poorly, commuter rail passengers to the exclusion of the central Austinites for whom it was originally promised).
McCracken wrote back late last week, saying he had missed the email originally. Since my email only talked about reserved guideway, that’s all he addressed at first – and he indicated he’d be pushing strongly for reserved guideway whereever possible, agreeing with my opinion that Capital Metro is underplaying the liabilities of running in shared lanes. So far so good. I wrote him back asking about my route questions raised by my second run through the media coverage, and he also indicated he favors a Guadalupe route up to the Triangle, pointing out that the #1/#101 are the most ridden buses we’ve got, proving a strong demand for transit in the corridor even today, even with bad bus service as the only option.
Sounds good, right? Well, to be realistic, it was going to be hard to get reserved guideway on Guadalupe past UT even with true light rail and with the Feds paying half to 80% of the bill. If we’re funding most to all of this system ourselves, as I suspect we are, I think it will be difficult to get an exclusive lane near UT, which, unfortunately, is the place where it would be most needed. Also, the talk about running in reserved guideway alongside Riverside seems unworkable – I paid close attention during Friday’s transit field trip, and didn’t see enough space to get this done, unless there’s something else I’m missing, like narrowing existing lanes.
So, mark me as guardedly pessimistic. I’ll be rooting that McCracken can pull this off – I have not heard similarly educated stuff from any other council member, so he’s the only hope here. I think Wynn believes in the streetcar fairy dust (the idea that streetcar running in shared lane will attract a lot more daily commuters than bus). Keep your eye on the ball.

As reported at the Chronicle’s blog:

The argument made by Responsible Growth For Northcross (RG4N) this morning is that the city’s approval of Lincoln Property’s site plan violated the note, generic which mandates that “Rainfall runoff shall be held to the amount existing at undeveloped status by use of ponding or other approved methods.” The city – with testimony from city engineers Benny Ho and Jose Guerrero – countered that “undeveloped status” means status at the time the application is filed, not a reversion to the status of when the property was a green pasture. Attorney Casey Dobson, representing the city, said “To use a legal term, that [would be] silly.” Guerrero further testified that the law only requires that a project not make flooding worse, and that Lincoln’s site plan will actually reduce impervious cover and presumable send less floodwater off-site.

In other words, the Wal-Mart plan is demonstrably better for drainage than current conditions but RG4N claims code should be interpreted as if a project must (not just can, but MUST) be rejected by city staff if it adds more runoff than the completely undeveloped state would have. Also keep in mind that the RG4N ‘vision’ would also be an improvement over current conditions, but most definitely not over the undeveloped prairie that was there seventy years ago.
If you ever needed proof that RG4N’s legal strategy was the old “throw excrement on the wall and see what sticks” method, here it is. And if there were any justice in the world, the judge would call RG4N forward and issue this speech.
As my cow orker DSK pointed out a moment ago, though, it would almost be worth yielding on this point if the judge put similar conditions on the homeowners of Allandale and Crestview.

Michael King writes that we should support RG4N even though their case is utterly without merit as even their news staff is beginning to discover, ampoule months too late. Here’s a comment I just placed there:

Michael, this is ridiculous. Zoning means something – in this case, it means that Lincoln bought the property knowing what they should be allowed to develop (and what they should not be allowed to develop). If they were up there asking for variances or even a change in zoning, RG4N and the rest of you guys would have a point, but they’re not, and you don’t.
When it comes to cases where developers seek upzoning, many of these same people are very quick to tell you that the prospective developer should have known what they were getting when they bought the tract. Interesting how this doesn’t apply here. Also interesting how none of the RG4N homeowners are volunteering to let Lincoln have veto power over their own development projects within current zoning. Democracy for me, not thee.
As for the comparison to the Triangle – the bulk of RG4N’s supporters are using the group as ‘useful idiots’ here – they have shown through their actions on other projects (including very recently) that they have no interest at all in dense urban development – they want to preserve low-density stuff they already have.
A critical eye once in a while, even at your fellow travellers, would seem to me to be a basic responsibility for a journalist.

One point I should have added but forgot: this lawsuit, in which the city has to defend its legal responsibility to approve site plans that comply with city code, is costing Austin taxpayers a half-million or so at last count. Still think RG4N is so noble?
A second point I just remembered: the Triangle development was such a big fight because the state (leasing the land to the developer) is exempt from Austin zoning codes.

  • Matt Turner

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this. Seems like outside of the rail debate, I see pretty much eye to eye with you on alot of stuff. Surpised me.

  • AusJeb

    One of King’s themes seems to be “don’t worry about the law ZOMG IT’S WALMART.”
    This is difficult case, and the focus on Walmart has distracted from consideration of what is appropriate for the redevelopment of Northcross.

  • What’s appropriate there is what current zoning allows. What more might have been obtained if RG4N had put their energy into trying to ASK for things instead of demanding that Wal-Mart just go away?
    As for the implication (maybe not what you meant, but I caught a whiff) that something less intense should have been done here, the idea that these things aren’t appropriate anywhere but frontage roads is a particular brand of stupid we seem only to have here in Texas. We should be having the exact opposite – less intensive (and auto-dominated) uses on the frontage road; and less auto shops and drive-thrus on the urban corridors and MORE heavy attractors like big boxes.

  • AC

    I obviously agree. I’ve posted my similar reaction.

  • AC

    I caught the hearing on the Burnet Road VMU project on Channel 6.
    It was sort of gratifying. One Allandale resident after another stood up to speak against the project and then Brewster moved to approve the rezoning without discussion. He didn’t even acknowledge the opposition. Leffingwell asked to limit the development to 165 units, but Brewster insisted on 175 — which was funny, since the developer only wanted 165.

  • I saw Brewster and his son at Amy’s on Burnet a couple weeks ago (both our kids were playing on the playscape at the time) but didn’t have the guts to go up and say hello (based on past reports that he had slagged me to Allandale neighbors). Guess I should have done so anyways.

  • pel

    Mike:
    I’m sure he’s feeling the hurt now. Wasn’t he the one who floated the idea of suing the city to the ANA?
    He should have known better than to deal with the devil just because Lincoln came in right before the VMU deadline. He should have let that one go and closed ranks against the bad neighborhood characters, seeing the threat for what it was.
    Instead, because of him and Jenny K, the unruly natives have been emboldened, and neighborhoods are in a general revolt everywhere. First ANA, then against Concordia project, and now Crestview is trying to all-but-dismantle the station project.
    Remember how you were unimpressed with Crestview not putting up a fight against the Station TOD? Well, that’s all changed, largely due to the Northcross issue firing everybody up.
    In their latest neighborhood circular, the Crestview NA “steering committee” has become aggressive against the city on all sorts of issues. They’re working with ANA and Brentwood to exempt large swaths of land along Burnet from VMU, they’re making demands for park land and isolated traffic development near the Station TOD, and they’ve strongly recommended to the city a “two, maybe three story MAX” ceiling limit on the buildings at the Station TOD.
    I guess Brewster couldn’t have predicted that he would need to sacrifice his VMU and high density vision at the altar of bad neighborhoods when he began currying their favor.
    Oh wait. He should have.

  • pel

    From crestviewna.org:
    “Austin City Council members:
    The steering committee of the Crestview Neighborhood Association has voted to oppose a change of zoning status at 5350 Burnet Rd. from CS-MU-CO to VMU, due to the dangerous precedent it sets for all future VMU along Burnet Road and Anderson Lane.

    We feel that the lack of density caps appropriate to the area of town is a key flaw in the current VMU ordinance. City staff has confirmed that VMU allows “as much density as physical limitations allow”, and our impression from the City’s Planning Commission is that this is just fine. That concept goes directly against New Urbanist and Smart Growth principles. The example of 5350 Burnet succinctly illustrates how developers will attempt to maximize density in exactly this way, with no regard for transportation impacts or connectivity with the surrounding neighborhood.

    VMU, as currently implemented, will destroy our neighborhoods.”

  • DSK

    “Wasn’t he the one who floated the idea of suing the city to the ANA?”
    To be accurate, I believe he said this to RG4N, not ANA (at the time ANA was still run by people taking the North Shoal Creek NAs stance – negotiate mitigration and infrastructure improvments).
    What he said to Brigid Shea & co. was (per Shea) something to the effect of “you have to sue us or we won’t do anything on this.”
    I agree with you (pel) that McCracken should have foreseen to what this would lead. Balancing ANC, SEIU and VMU was too much, obviously. There comes a time where even a politician ahs to just say “listen, you’re wrong, go do something productive.” I guess he’s doing that now with supporting VMU over the ANC line, finally.