News Coal-plant hearing, section 8 list, vested rights and more 

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Important coal-plant hearing set

The controversy over CPS Energy's proposed $1 billion, 750-megawatt coal-fired power plant ratchets up a notch with a preliminary hearing Wednesday, May 18 at 10 a.m. at UTSA's 1604 Campus in the Bioscience Building, Loeffler Room 3.03.02. This hearing starts the contest case hearing process.

A contested case hearing is different from a public hearing in that it more closely resembles a trial. A judge from the State Office of Administrative Hearings presides over the proceedings, and each side can present evidence and witnesses.

"It is an adversarial type of relationship," Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Air Combustion Team Leader Erik Hendrickson told the Current in 2003. "It's a very formal and long process." After listening to both sides, the judge comes up with a "finding of fact," refers it to the TCEQ, and then the commission decides what to do. The commissioners can send the recommendation back to the judge or TCEQ officials for more information, or they can agree with the judge. `For related story, see "The toll of coal," August 7-13, 2003.`

By Lisa Sorg


SAHA opens its Section 8 waiting list

After a two-year freeze, the San Antonio Housing Authority opened its Section 8 waiting list on May 4, accepting 490 applications in the first three days.

SAHA's Housing Choice Voucher Program provides 11,000 low-income families and individuals with Section 8 vouchers, funded by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, which are used to pay a percentage of the holder's rent, based on income `See "Slashing Section 8," November 4-10, 2004`. When the voucher program began, in 2002, SAHA received more than 15,000 applications to fill the 11,000 spots. SAHA then closed the waiting list in February 2003, when it reached 7,000 applications.

Between January and May of this year, SAHA cleared the waiting list of its remaining 4,000 applicants. Mark Kinkade, a spokesperson for SAHA, says he doesn't know "whether or not `the opening of the list represents` just the ebb and flow of applications and vouchers or `SAHA CEO` Henry Alvarez' emphasis on processing applications as efficiently as possible, or simply a perfect storm of events."

Yet, the cleared waiting list doesn't mean 4,000 low-income families have received vouchers. According to Kinkade, it can take wait-listed applicants an average of up to two years to receive a voucher; in that time, many find other housing or experience a change in their income that disqualifies them from the program. "We may review a couple hundred applications and, of those, find 20 qualified to receive vouchers."

Kinkade says SAHA plans to close the list on June 30, although that could change depending on how many applications the housing authority receives. All applications must be mailed and are available at saha.org, or during business hours at several housing communities. Call 220-3200 for more information.

By Susan Pagani


Vested rights bill on Governor's desk

San Antonio's tree ordinance could be gutted - and the progress by the Vested Rights Task Force thwarted - if Governor Rick Perry signs SB 574 into law.

At last week's Council meeting, elected officials heard a presentation by the City Attorney's office about the legislation, which amends the state's vested rights code. Developers can now claim they are grandfathered from zoning, open space, and tree preservation ordinances. The law could also be interpreted to exempt developers' projects from San Antonio's water conservation ordinance.

Several San Antonians - Richard Alles of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, Assistant City Attorney Norbert Hart, and Leilah Powell, representing the Bexar County Commissioners - testified against the bill, which was roundly supported by the development community, including the Texas Land Development Association, the Texas Association of Realtors, and the Greater San Antonio Builders Association.

Authored by Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria), SB 574 allows developers to sue cities over disagreements about the enforcement of the vested rights law. In San Antonio, proponents of a stricter grandfathering ordinance argue that developers often file permits allowing them to invoke their vested rights for future projects, but then the permits and projects languish for decades.

Under SB 574, regulatory agencies can place an expiration date of at least two years on an individual permit if no progress has been made on the project. The City could also pass an ordinance that would require a developer to make progress on a project to expire within five years from the date of the first permit application. If the projects or permits expire, the developer could not claim grandfathering.

The bill passed the House and Senate; Perry can choose to sign or veto it. To contact Perry's office, call the opinion hotline at 800-252-9600 or fax him at 512-463-1844. To send an e-mail, go to www.governor.state.tx.us/contact#contactinfo

By Lisa Sorg


City appoints temporary crime board

Election Day has passed, but proponents of a proposed Crime Control and Prevention District already are looking toward the November ballot by installing a temporary board of directors.

This fall, voters could be asked to approve an 1/8-cent sales tax increase to fund the district.

Board members include Chairman Robert Marbut, former councilman Joe Webb, Edgewood Independent School District Superintendent Richard Bocanegra, Reverend Jimmy Drennan of St. Paul's Catholic Church, retired colonels Ray Hamilton and Ethel Nelson, and Arthur Treviño.

The board is charged with adopting a two-year crime-control plan and budget, conducting public hearings, and presenting the plan to the City Council. The board also sets the election date, hours, and polling sites.

If voters approve the crime-control district, then an order will be issued to create the district. If it fails, a proposal would have to wait another year before another election could be called.

The two-year budget plan must include an estimate of money available to the district, the amount of balances expected at the end of the budget year, and the estimated tax rate required to finance the district.

The board meets Wednesdays at 3 p.m., at 215 S. San Saba.

Jeffrey Page, deputy chief for resource management, says the board has an ambitious agenda, and pointed out that part of the board's protocol is to "post every single meeting 72 hours in advance, and go by what's posted."

The board must call for an election by September 7 to get the crime-control district proposal onto the ballot for the November 8 election.


Art is in the air(port)

Jumbo jets arrived and departed, and airline passengers lined up for security checks at San Antonio International Airport, while in an airport terminal conference room, the Public Art Committee saw plans for a pending $800,000 art installation that will be incorporated into the airport's facelift.

To be completed by 2008, expansion plans call for adding a Terminal B to Terminal 1 with seven additional gates; Terminal 2 will be demolished to make room for Terminal C with five to 11 gates as needed. The project is under the purview of architectural firm 3D International.

The committee last week reviewed artist concepts by Ann Gardner, Rolando Briseño, Jeff Smith, Donald Lipski, and Meg Langhorne.

Gardner, a Seattle artist, explained the concept of her piece, Ribbon of Light, which will grace the Terminal B ticket hall. The project includes a series of 8-foot sections that will be pieced together to "reflect the light, warmth, and sun of San Antonio."

Briseño's design for the Terminal B holding lounge and terminal corridor include silk-screen details of the City's architecture. "This portal is a metaphor for the airport as a gateway and doorway to our historic City and is composed of the different parts of the many beautiful doorways that can be discovered in San Antonio." The floor design will feature designs that mirror the Native American tradition of the Four Directions.

Lipsey says he focused on the San Antonio River, and revealed plans to build a scale model for the wall of the ticket hall in Terminal C. "I focused on the river, which used to flow commerce like the airport does today." The model will consist of glass tubing, 6 inches in diameter and 120 feet long. Water will surge through the "intricate twists and bends of the tubing, in places gentle and languid, in other places creating standard waves, splashes, and turbulent eddies."

Local artist Langhorne will install footprints and life-sized models of wildlife indigenous to the area inside the Terminal C Concourse. "Images based on footprint trails of selected native species will cross through the loading area and down the concession corridor." Also, there will be cast bronze tree limbs attached to three columns in front of the terminal escalators.

The art projects, says James LeFlore, the City's public art and design enhancement program coordinator, are in the initial stages for approval by the appropriate governing bodies. "The art reflects the character of this region."

By Michael Cary


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