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Austin City Council Votes to Lower Occupancy Limits

The Austin City Council had a long day at the dais yesterday, with a meeting that sputtered along for the better part of 15 hours.

"Stealth dorms," fee waivers, economic incentives, an officer-involved shooting, the MoPac sound wall and  even a proclamation for KUT's own Cactus Cafe. 

With that in mind, here's a rundown of the council action, and inaction, from yesterday.

 First Approval for Occupancy Limits                   

Council took the issue of so-called  "stealth dorms" to task, passing a resolution to lower the number of unrelated adults allowed to live in a single-family home from six to four. Some argue these living arrangements provide affordability for Austinites because of the rising price of Austin real estate,  while others say they lead to parking and trash problems that disrupt the neighborhood and lower property values.

Council saved the issue for the grand finale with hours of public testimony starting around midnight and a vote coming just after 3 o'clock in the morning. The issue passed on first reading, though Mayor Lee Leffingwell expressed concern as to how the city's already overloaded code enforcement office would enforce the law.

“I think I could say ever since I’ve been on council we’ve heard about this issue – stealth dorms. For all this time it’s been six unrelated [occupants]. We never were really able to enforce that. I don’t think we’re going to be able to enforce another limit,” Leffingwell said.

In a 6-1 vote, council passed the change on first reading. They’ll take up the issue again in March.

Jackson Settlement Withdrawn      

Council also decided against voting on a settlement in the case of Larry Jackson, Jr. who was fatally shot last July by Detective Charles Kleinert. Kleinert attempted to question Jackson, 32, after suspicious behavior at a bank near 35th Street and Shoal Creek. The two engaged in a struggle which resulted in Kleinert shooting Jackson in the back of the neck. 

A settlement would have dissolved the current suit put forth for Jackson's children. Mayor Pro-Tem Cheryl Cole said the decision not to settle right now was based on legal advice.

“The death of Larry Jackson was a very tragic incident faced by our community and I believe that the settlement of this case involving his minor children would have been in order,” Cole said. “In meeting with legal counsel, I have learned that we have never settled a case prior a grand jury investigation and we should wait until that event has occurred.”

Jackson's parents are also currently taking legal action against the city.

And You Thought It Was Just Valentine's Day

Feb. 14 marks 35 years since the Cactus Cafe opened its doors. And Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has declared Friday “Cactus Cafe Day."

The live music venue on the University of Texas at Austin campus first opened on Valentine’s Day 1979.

Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole read a proclamation honoring the Cactus at Thursday’s city council meeting.

“We are pleased to join music lovers in celebrating Cactus Cafe’s 35th anniversary and in acknowledging its contributions to Austin’s renowned the live music capital of the world,” Cole said.

Major artists including the Dixie Chicks, Patty Griffin, Lyle Lovett and Lucinda Williams have played the Cactus stage. It’s also home to KUT’s Views and Brews.

“Above all, we would like to thank all the musicians and patrons who have graced our stage and walked through our doors throughout the many years. Thank you, mayor and council members, for this recognition,” Cactus Cafe Manager Matt Munoz said.

KUT formed a partnership with UT in 2010 to keep the Cactus open after budget cuts.

Austinites Speak Out on Economic Incentives      

Austin City Council members heard from members of the public on the subject of economic incentives offered to companies considering setting up shop.

The latest proposals involve the tech companies Websense and DropBox. The companies promise to bring more than 600 jobs that would have a ripple effect on economic growth.

But Zilker neighborhood resident David King is skeptical, citing growing income inequality in the years since these incentives began.

“If we’re going to continue to give incentives to companies, we should match every dollar in incentives with two dollars in property tax reductions for low-income seniors, two dollars in rent subsidies for low-income families and two dollars in discounts on utility bills for low and middle-income families,” King said.

Mike Rollins is President of the Austin Chamber of Commerce and supports the incentives, saying they support jobs at a variety of income levels.

“These companies will, with the amount of payroll they’ll have in the community, new payroll in the community; therefore, they will create other jobs, local-owned business jobs that are in retail and other types of services to the local residents and businesses,” Rollins said.

City Council has a special-called meeting on the topic next Thursday, when members are expected to vote on the proposals.

Bad Vibrations for the MoPac Sound Wall

Some people living along MoPac want to keep a concrete sound barrier from going up near their homes.

The 20-foot wall was supposed to go up as part of the so-called “MopacImprovement Project” – which is putting variable-rate toll lanes along part of the roadway.

But neighbors complained the wall would be an eyesore. The City Council vote on Thursday directed city staff to communicate with the groups involved that the city no longer wants the wall built as planned on the city right-of-way.

Proposed Preservation Districts Would Provide Some Tax Relief

Council members also approved developing a plan to prevent some East Austin homeowners from being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Declaring the areas “Homestead Preservation Districts” would give homeowners some property tax relief. But the city will further research the idea to find out how the loss of tax collection in those areas would affect the rest of the city before putting the districts into effect.

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