Council tackles 100 items in first meeting of 2014

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by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

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Posted on January 23, 2014 at 7:21 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 23 at 7:40 PM

AUSTIN -- With Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole leading the meeting, the Austin City Council was called to order for its first meeting of 2014 shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell is currently in Washington D.C. for the 82nd Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

One of the first items passed by the council will help ease property taxes for the hundreds of Halloween flood victims whose homes were destroyed. The council voted to reappraise those houses to base tax bills on the home's value as of Nov. 1, 2013, the day after the flood.

There are plans in the works to expand Parmer Lane, and the council voted to add $630,500 to a $3.5 million project that will extend the road from U.S. 290 to SH 130 at Blue Bluff.

The new, faster MetroRapid bus service launches Sunday and with it, the far right lanes on Lavaca and Guadalupe streets from Cesar Chavez Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard will be reserved for buses and vehicles making immediate right turns.

"Of course, reserved lanes or priority lanes only work if they're available for transit," said City of Austin Director of Transportation Robert Spillar. "So, we asked council to establish a deterrent to people using those lanes incorrectly."

The council voted to increase the fine for parking, stopping or standing to load or unload people or deliveries from $25 to $500. Driving in the lanes without turning can land you a $200 ticket.

The council also voted to send a plan to create an off-leash dog park in Southeast Austin back to the drawing board.

The Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) wants to acquire 9.4 acres on Winnebago Lane to construct a regional dog park, but the council says the land is in an industrial area, where parks aren't permitted.

"Re-zoning process is typically [a] decision-making process, and when we go through process having already dedicated it as park land, won't the decision already be made?" councilmember Chris Riley said during the meeting. 

The council voted to postpone the item.

People who work in the area say a park would be out of place.

"It's mostly industrial. You've got a lot of 18-wheelers coming through here. Somebody's dog can run off [and] probably get hit, or something like that. I wouldn't put one over here," said Dwight Levi, who works on Winnebago Lane.

PARD plans to submit a re-zoning request Friday to move forward with planning the park.

A hotly debated item to require all new houses and duplexes to have additional accessibility for people with disabilities, including ramps, was postponed until next Thursday.

The council completely withdrew an ordinance that would make AT&T allow Google to string fiber lines on AT&T's utility poles that are on the city's right-of-way. City staffers say the two companies are working out an agreement on their own.

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