Archive for the ‘Real Estate’ Category

You never miss the water…

until the well runs dry, or the aquifer does. It turns out that there is an application into the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District for a private owner to drill a well into the Trinity aquifer and extract 1-million gallons of water per year for “domestic irrigation needs”.

8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 ??

8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 ??

Err, run that by me again. Yes, a property owner in Rollingwood, 8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 to be precise, and if Google Streetview is accurate, the property seen in the picture, wants to drill right through the Edwards Aquifer into the underlying one, and pump out 23x per month than I use, and use it for irrigation.

Now, I guess you might argue that for a farm this would be a small quantity. But this isn’t a farm, it’s a house+land situated between Bee Caves Rd and Lake Austin. While I’m sure the owners may feel they are putting the water to good use, at a time when we are all being asked to cut back and save on water consumption, this is the equivalent of 3x the water consumption that Lance Armstrong used and caused him such embarressment(thanks to Steve for his comment correcting my understanding and math) This request is approximately half the annual amount that embarrassed Lance Armstrong, and for which he took immediate steps to rectify.

Let’s remember, there is a water shortage. Water isn’t man made, it’s part of the commons. It “belongs” to all of us. It’s unclear to me that this won’t affect the Edwards Aquifer, as we all know that water finds it’s own level. There is apparently a chance that the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will approve this free extraction and use of OUR water.

Now, remember this isn’t about cost, it’s about supply. Seems to me that if this passes, now might be a good idea for us all to start plans to build our own wells to water our own lawns, after all we can all be selfish.

Alternatively, if you feel that the commons right to water is the responsibility of all of us, you might want to call BSEACD on (512) 282-8441 in the next 3-days and tell them, and indirectly tell James David and Gary Peese, the property owners, that you do not feel this is an appropriate action, period, and especially in the current drought conditions.

New castle in town

It's a church, now a castle

It's a church, now a castle

For well over a year work has been going on at the site of the former San José Catholic Church and more recently, Greek Orthodox “Holy Name of Mary” church and St. Hilarion Monastery in the Bouldin Neighborhood on the corner of W Mary and S 3rd St. At least according to this listing on homeaway.com, it’s finally finished.

The owner, and architects Urban Nature Inc. have taken some bold steps in turning the old single story church, into a “castle”. The materials used are complimentary to the original church, which dates back to the 1930’s. Bouldin neighborhood is home to some of Austins oldest residential homes, and also some of the most ecclectic and unusual properties in town, and this further diversifies the local building styles.

Local neigthborhood activist and Austin Neighborhoods Council President, Cory Walton has been keen on establishing Bouldin as a local historic district, while at the same time being home to some of the cities most innovative. Take a tour care of the homeaway website, or drive down and have a look, make up your own mind, Castle or monster??

Got friends visiting from out of town for ACL, I have. I don’t think mine could afford the $1500/ night 4 night minimum, but it’s still available!

Austin ag property pure real-estate play?

Boggy Creek FarmBoggy Creek Farm is featured in today’s WSJ and described more as a prime historic property of substantial size than as a working organic farm: “Where Whole Foods Shops: A historic house on Boggy Creek Farm grows organically in Austin” (byline Katy McLaughlin).

[Before going on to say more about Boggy Creek, since Whole Foods is mentioned in the Boggy Creek subtitle, I’d like to be clear that IMHO it’s no accident that most Austinites have not bothered to comment or blog generally about the recent John Mackey opinion piece on health care, also in the WSJ. Enough of us know people associated with WhoFoo or even Mr. Mackey himself to have formed opinions about this piece. It is of some interest that there are those around the U.S. generally who have not taken kindly to what Mr. M wrote and who state that, as a consequence, they intend to take their business elsewhere (see Facebook page, e.g.).]

Included in the article on Boggy Creek Farm are detailed physical descriptions of the old farmhouse, plus the price originally paid for the farm, what it might have brought at the height of the boom, and speculation about what might be a probable sale price at this time. There’s some discussion of agricultural productivity, coupled with a passing mention of what the per-hour return on the owners’ labor has in the past been calculated to be.

The article in print form is accompanied by three black-and-white photographs; the on-line version shares with us a nifty little color slideshow. Let us hope that the appearance of this article is not a consequence of our drought.

Who knew?

There’s always more to learn about Austin. Here are two info-bits new to me, and maybe to you:

  • Austin Community College offers a personal fitness trainer program. In an article about the role of community colleges generally, ACC is highlighted and there are photo-illustrations showing several Austinites enrolled there. Maybe you’ll recognize someone you know. The print version shows at least a dozen identifiable Austinites. The article appears in the July 20 issue of Time magazine (“Can Community Colleges Save the U.S. Economy?,” dateline Austin, byline Laura Fitzpatrick).
  • Austin is the headquarters of an entity known as the Distressed Property Institute. This was learned from an article in the August issue of Smart Money about how the current market has changed things for real-estate agents: “Do-It-All Deal Makers,” byline Brad Reagan). The current issue is not yet on line, but a co-founder of the Austin-based outfit states that more than 12,000 agents will pay to take a two-day course in selling so-called “distressed properties,” reportedly up from 1,400 last year. Paying for and attending the course apparently enables a person to call use the Institute’s proprietary “Certified Distressed Property Expert Designation.” The linked site shows locations of future course sessions, presumably predicted centers of short sales.

Random readings

  • The Austin Monthly June issue in its guide for newcomers recommends Web sites, and, under the heading for Austin life, names Austin Metblogs as a resource.
  • The June 29 issue of Business Week, with a cover story “Housing Market 2012,” highlights the Austin real-estate market, naming it “the price magnet” and describing it as “affordable” and therefore attractive to price-conscious buyers from elsewhere. In fact, the on-line version of the segment devoted to our town is entitled “Affordable Austin.” Sound like anyplace you know?
  • Metropolitan Home employs Austin’s SOL development as an example of sustainable subdivisions, highligting the work of Chris Krager and KRDB, his design-build firm (“The New Village Green,” byline Karrie Jacobs).
  • The Atlantic calls its current July/August issue “the ideas issue” or “15 Ways to Fix the World,” and Austinite Bruce Selcraig has something to say about long-distance high-speed rail travel.

I’ve skipped over national coverage of the high-profile Voting Rights Act opinion handed down by the Supreme Court, as well as the sad story of the couple who paid for health insurance but found it to be lacking when they needed it and the results of an appeal in an Austin murder case that continues to make news, plus the lighter story of the couple who married frugally by serving sno-cones to guests at the wedding reception.

South 1st Watch

No entry here, the back of Sinsations

No rear entry here, the back of Sinsations

Next in a series of semi-random, occaisional updates on whats going down on S 1st St.

Well it looks like the financial crisis has killed off any hope the realtor/developer community had to turn South 1st St, north of Oltorf, into SoFi has died for now. This is a good thing, and a bad thing. It’s good because at least for now, a number of commercial properties are back on the market, the rents etc. will be somewhat stabilised. It’s a bad thing in so much as there are now a number of key properties sitting idle and gathering non-permissive graffiti.

In the last South 1st Watch, I mentioned I’d got in trouble for referring to this bit of South 1st as “downtown”. There were a few comments on the blog entry and an offline email flurry started. Turns out this is really undesirable. The business community has had this area in their sights for a long time, 30-years or so at least. This is because while there are still many lots downtown, their existing CBZ zoning makes them expensive, where as developers hope to capture Bouldin Creek properties at Residential Prices and then get the developer friendly council to rezone as appropriate.

One exception to this seems to be the proposed development on the south west Corner of Live Oak and South 1st St, 603 Live Oak, the former home of Las Manos Magicas. I wrote about this almost a year ago today. Dated May 20th, the City wrote to tell me that the Administrative review of the plans is now finished and the plans approved and the applicant has paid all the required fees. So, next up is to get funding for development and actually break ground.

And so, here is what’s changed since the last update:

Sinsations, 2008 The graffiti wall pictured above is the back wall of Sinsations. It is as the graffiti community would describe it, a permission wall. I didn’t check with the Sinsations owner/manager, but I did stop by earlier in the year when there was a massive mural on the north side wall. I went to take a picture and it had been painted over. When I asked why, I was told there had been some confusion, they had given permission for the rear wall.

1906 Formally a residential home, has been taken over by a “sharpest” that now offers knife, razor and mower blade sharpening. More interestingly, they are out on the front lawn throwing knives at targets a couple of evenings a week. 1906 is next door to La Mexicana bakery.

1708 Calavera Skate shop is now open, selling all things skating.

1502 Both development here, and the Live at Elizabeth development, on the diametriacally oppsoite corner from Bouldin Creek Coffee shop have “tanked” since my initial reports a year ago. The development on the north-east corner of Elizabeth and South 1st has now much more modest ambitions called Bouldin Creek Square. Meanwhile over the road, they are simply trying to rent out the existing warehouse.

Google streetview doing the rounds

Coming on to Mopac heading north from 6th St this morning one of the Google Streetview camera cars passed in front of me. That’s the second one I’ve seen in a few days, I couldn’t start the camera on my phone quick enough to take a snap, so you’ll have to trust me on this one.

Now, there are probably two active schools of thought on Google Streetview. The first view is it’s the most fun, time wasting effort you can take part in on a rainy day. Browsing up and down your street, trying to see what you can find out that you never knew(to be honest Microsofts’ Live Search maps have better pictures from the air, presumably taken from a low flying aircraft given the angle etc. (see birds eye view)) – Looking at my house on the current Google Streetview, I can tell it was a taken on a Tuesday, after 10am, probably around March 2007.

The second view is that it’s pure evil, a complete inavsion of privacy. Allows criminals to virtually cruise the street, decide where their next hit will be and it also invades your privacy by taking pictures of you, if you happen to be on the street at the time, without your consent.

So, the pictures are getting updated, probably in higher resolution. Now if you happen to be on the street when one of the cars passes by, as I see it, you have two choices. If you subscribe to google streetview is evil camp, immediately turn away or do something offensive. You could combine the two by turning away and mooning the camera. First up this will go a long way to continuing the keep Austin weird mantle. Second, eventually google will be required by some do gooder, to remove the image. That will be much easier than trying to get it taken down yourself.

If you are in the first camp, the google streetview is great camp, I suggest for the next few weeks walking around with a sign that says “hello to all my fans on the worldwide web” and when you see the car, start jumping up and down.

The Google Streetview and privacy issue is nicely summed up here in a Times piece, comments are also always priceless and often offensive.
Update 14th May Turns out that the day I wrote this, the Greek Government but a temporary stop to Google doing the same over there, there are also privacy concerns in Japan. There is a good write-up and links in this PC World article.

Graffiti uptick

Trash? Art? from atxgraffiti.com

Trash? Art? from atxgraffiti.com

Some consider graffiti to be art, others vandalism, either way, there has been a definate increase in south central Austin over the past year or so. Some of it, it has to be said is on permission walls, where the owner had approved the work.

One such was on the side of Sinsations on 1st, where a 75ft mural had been painted. It wasn’t a thing of beauty but a lot of time and effort had gone into it, not to mention, a lot of paint. I went back to take a picture a few days after I noticed it, and it had been painted over. When I asked why, apparently they’d painted the wrong wall. Whoops.

What I don’t get, no matter how “artfully” painted, and many are little more than mere scribble, is the 70’s style resurgance of tagging. Little or no thought goes into this, and it is a sometime gang-style marking of territory, doing little or nothing to enhance the area, and taken overall actually makes things worse. atxgraffiti.com documents some of the best and worse examples, sadly more bad than good in my opinion and much of it will cost the city to clean-up, never a good thing in a downturn.

I went looking for pictures of graffiti on flickr.com in Austin and was mildly amused that same of the very people who feel it’s ok for graffiti to be painted on other peoples property, without their permission. Have asked that their second hand “art” pictures of graffiti, is published all rights reserved, no reporduction or unauthorized use. Ironic eh? Even more ironic is this one, by UK Artist Banksy, which the flickr account owner has posted all rights reserved.

I guess ownership too is in the eye of the beholder. I have three of Banksy’s pictures on blocks hanging in my hall. Keep your coins, I want real change!

Art or vandalism?

Travis County Tax Appraisals

Cock-up or consipiracy theory? A quick survey of about twenty Bouldin Creek Residents, it looks like there’s been a conspiracy over at the property eval/assesment department to jack up property and/or lot values to reach the maximum 10% increase in property taxes.

It’s seems pretty obvious that while many are trying to talk Austin up, claiming that Austin isn’t being hit as hard, or even has a modest upswing. At least, as far as the Austin Real Estate blog is concerned, not only are sales on the decline, so are prices.

My 3-bed, 2 1/2 bath house on a modest south central Austin lot has gone up by $58,000 in a single year. That in what has to be one of the more serious economic downturns in a long time. It’s thus somewhat complexing to find Travis county thinks pretty much all properties have increased substantially, where the dwelling valuation has gone down, the lot value has been increased to compensate. Yes, we live in a decent neighborhood that benefits from being in a central/downtown area, but really, prices have gone up by how much?

If your valuation has gone up and you want to appeal, Amplify FCU are providing a seminar “Texas Property Tax Reform and How To Protest Your Property Tax Bill” at their Brockton branch this Saturday, May 2nd – 10:30 am to 11:30 am. This event is FREE but seating is limited, please RSVP here.

Certianly I’d like to hear what others are seeing across the city, how pervasive is this?

Mayoral candidates in bed together?

Chronicle cover for the Feb 13th issueThe Chronicle has a good summary of the Austin mayoral candidates and their cover pitches it as a “Municipal Death Match”.

However, last Thursdays council meeting where the Wildflower Commons PUD was up for discussion, debate and possibly vote, rather than it being a death match with Leffingwell taking one position, and McCracken taking the opposite, it was more like John and Yokos love-in, except the protest was from the public, not the lovers.

I arrived at City Hall around 4pm, listened to some of the heated discussion on the East Austin Solar farm, then the Town Lake trail extension and boardwalk. After 2-hours I left, there were a large number of people milling around, more than 90-had signed up to speak on the PUD. I got back later, but no debate, no discussion, just a postponment, apperently with the prior agreement of the developers lobbyist.

Rather than either McCraken or Leffingwell “grasping the nettle” and one or both of them taking an environmental stand, they both ducked the issue. Worse they moved the issue until after the Mayoral election, ducking the issue completely and allowing both of them to claim the anti-developer, pro-environment, which are likely to be vote winners.

Laura Morrison was the only dissenting voice in the 6-1 approval to postpone. I’d guess that both Leffingwell and McCraken would claim the revised conditions that have been placed on the developer before they come back to council in August over the 100,000 sq. foot supermarket, retail, restaurants, and 550 condos in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone, however, since neither spoke during the process we don’t have a clue what they really think. Give peace a chance?

The Save Our Springs Alliance has numerous documents explaining the Wildflower Commons PUD.

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