August General Meeting Features Address By Kathie Tovo

Written by Meaghan Bludau

GM-2015-08-img-2630More than thirty neighbors attended the August general assembly of the Cherrywood Neighborhood Association.  Council Member Kathie Tovo was the keynote speaker of the evening, making it the second consecutive year she has attended Cherrywood’s August neighborhood meeting.

Last August, along with other potential candidates, Ms. Tovo asked for neighbors’ votes in Austin’s first district-based City Council election.  One year later, as our elected representative for District 9, she talked about various issues before the Council and took questions from Cherrywood residents.

The Main Event

Council Member Tovo started her talk with the topic of property taxes.  She explained that the City Council is working to minimize the disparity in property tax values between residential and commercial properties.  This disparity means that residential property owners contribute more than their fair share to overall property tax revenue.  According to Ms. Tovo, in 2012 commercial properties were undervalued by 48 percent.  In 2015 the number had dropped to 27 percent.

Unlike residential properties, information about the sale of commercial properties is unavailable to the Travis County Appraisal District (TCAD).  This makes it difficult for TCAD to assess their value.  In addition, the county pays the commercial property owner’s legal costs if the county loses a case challenging a commercial property’s value, which may deter the county from pursuing such action.  Ms. Tovo said the City Council is expected to file an action in district court the week of August 24 challenging TCAD’s appraisal methodology of commercial properties.

Neighbors expressed concern that this could negatively affect small businesses that are already struggling to stay afloat with rising rents.  Ms. Tovo agreed that this could have an adverse effect on small businesses.  However, she noted that TCAD is constitutionally required to collect taxes, and the court challenge will force TCAD to perform that duty equitably.  Neighbors asked whether TCAD might focus on large commercial properties that would have a greater impact on tax revenue instead of small businesses.

Next, Council Member Tovo discussed accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which are additional living quarters on a property such as garage apartments and backyard cottages.  Many neighbors are concerned about barriers that make it difficult to build ADUs on their properties.  They noted that new water meter requirements add significant costs that discourage construction of additional ADUs.

According to Ms. Tovo, the Water and Wastewater Commission argues that separate water meters allow inhabitants to see their own usage, which encourages responsible use of water.  She acknowledged that the requirement to install separate water meters for ADUs poses a significant barrier.  Neighbors urged her and the City Council to address the issue.

The City Council is currently exploring the creation of a sobriety center, Ms. Tovo told the group.  People who are publicly intoxicated would be taken to the sobriety center where they can be connected with resources.  In June, the Council passed a resolution asking a work group to look at questions of structure, oversight, funding, and location.

The work group will report back in late August or early September.  Ms. Tovo noted that the sobriety center is expected to result in savings to hospitals and police, and the center has the support of stakeholders in the medical and public safety communities.

Ms. Tovo also distributed a summary document outlining the City of Austin’s proposed 2015-2016 budget.  One resident noted that the budget document did not appear to reflect residents’ concerns with adequate police funding that arose in the Budget-in-a-Box stakeholder discussions facilitated by the City.

Finally, Ms. Tovo noted that City staff is recommending that bike lanes be added to 32nd street from Red River Street to I-35 to make the street a bike-friendly thoroughfare and asked residents to provide feedback on this proposal.

Business Items

Prior to Council Member Tovo’s talk, the group voted to endorse the Upper Boggy Creek Committee’s recommendations for the top five capital improvement projects in the neighborhood.  Those recommendations will be presented to the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Planning Group for further prioritization along with other member neighborhoods’ priorities.

The assembly also voted to support Girard Kinney’s proposed amendment to the City Land Development Code.  The proposed amendment  will allow houses on corner lots to build porches five feet into the side yard.  The current rules only permit porches to be built five feet into the front yard.  Mr. Kinney will continue advocating for this amendment at the city level with the support of the neighborhood.

See the general assembly meeting minutes  for more information.


Following Council Member Tovo’s talk, the group heard two brief presentations.

Brendan Wittstruck, a former Cherrywood resident and current chair of the North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition 2 (NCINC2), encouraged neighbors to support a draft NCINC2 resolution opposing the auxiliary lane on the upper decks of I-35.  Mr. Wittstruck also informed the group about Friends of Austin Neighborhoods (FAN), a relatively new organization aimed at being an inclusive voice of Austin neighborhoods.

Genevieve Van Cleve, speaking for the Austin Bar Association’s campaign supporting the new Travis County Civil and Family Courthouse, asked the group to consider voting in favor of the bond on the November election ballot to fund the new courthouse, which is to be located between 3rd and 4th Streets on Guadalupe.

Ms. Van Cleve explained that the current building does not have adequate space and noted that the commissioner’s court dropped the cost from $350 million to $287 million.  She also agreed to write a blog about the courthouse for  In the meantime, additional information is available at



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Photos by John Walthour

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