By Chad Swiatecki
The city’s Ethics Review Commission has voted to dismiss a complaint against Mayor Steve Adler related to information disclosed on personal financial forms about his real estate holdings in recent years.
The complaint, brought by real estate broker Loree Misch, centered on forms completed between 2018 and 2020 by Adler and his wife Diane Land regarding a property at 4315 Dunning Lane that was initially filed under ownership of an LLC that wasn’t in existence. The correct entity, Dunning Lot 3, was later filed as the owner, but the misidentified Dunning Lot 5 name remained in some state and Travis County records through subsequent years and was also reflected on a 2020 disclosure form.
Misch cited a city ordinance related to the truthfulness of signed disclosures on official city documents as the basis of her complaint, noting that Adler’s history as a real estate attorney made the continued references to a nonexistent LLC appear suspicious.
The commission voted eight to one not to move forward to a final hearing, with Commissioner Nguyen Stanton voting against and Commissioner Raafia Lari abstaining.
“I don’t understand why they continued to disclose Dunning Lot 5 as long as they did, and never really disclosed Dunning Lot 3 LLC … all I know is it doesn’t look like the disclosures were proper,” Misch said. “I’m an advocate for affordable housing and homelessness and I kept hearing that Mayor Adler has a lot of conflicts of interest in real estate so I thought, OK, let’s look at the (Travis Central) Appraisal District and see what holdings he might have. This was the first one that popped up and I thought, something’s wrong here.”
In representing Adler, attorney Andrew Cates argued the two-year statute of limitations on complaints meant only a form from 2020 was eligible for consideration, and chalked the misidentification up to an initial typo that remained in real estate records but was explained in memo sections of disclosure forms.
“What we do know in terms of what was disclosed is that Ms. Land and by extension Mayor Adler reported on a specific and very convoluted series of events … they reported to the best of their ability based on what the title company put down, what the special warranty deed had listed, and did their best to make sure that all the way through all these financial statements that as much detail was provided as they could explain,” Cates said. “They did the best they could in terms of reporting that the property exists, that the LLC sold it, and they no longer have control over it.”
Some of the commissioners argued that the ordinance Misch cited as the basis of her complaint doesn’t allow for a provable violation because of the language concerning the filer’s belief that what they were disclosing was accurate and truthful. Before the vote there was discussion about Misch’s ability to refile a new complaint with reference to a different ordinance.
“All of the evidence is that a typo occurred and nothing of real substance was withheld from the public,” Commissioner Michael Lovins explained.
“Why are we going through all of this for a typo when there’s absolutely nothing that indicates that anyone has hidden a property or a corporation or anything of significance?” he said. “If there was something before us that said within this typo there’s reason to think there’s a major asset that the mayor was hiding that somehow impacted his duties as a mayor, then that’s an entirely different matter. But that’s not the evidence we heard tonight.”
Flyers are less satisfied with the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport than a year ago, a new study shows.
Research firm J.D. Power placed ABIA at No. 15 on a list ranking overall customer satisfaction at large airports, a slip from last year’s spot at No. 7. Other Texas airports secured rankings ahead of Austin, with Dallas Love Field at third, Houston Hobby at eight, and San Antonio International Airport at ninth.
Dallas/Ft. Worth ranked eight in the "mega airport" category.
The study examined airports based on the following factors: terminal facilities; airport arrival/departure; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.
On a 1,000-point scale, Austin-Bergstrom received 785 points this year compared to its score of 819 in 2021.
Passenger experiences at Austin-Bergstrom have been influenced by population growth in Central Texas, which has brought record traffic and longer wait times at TSA. And a recent power outage at Austin-Bergstrom caused flight delays. Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power., said that consumer satisfaction with flying has decreased overall.
“The combination of pent-up demand for air travel, the nationwide labor shortage and steadily rising prices on everything from jet fuel to a bottle of water have created a scenario in which airports are extremely crowded and passengers are increasingly frustrated—and it is likely to continue through 2023,” Taylor said.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, commented on the ranking.
“We're grateful that AUS customers continue to rank our airport above average, especially during this year that saw air travel disruption here in Austin and across the globe as airports, airlines and the air travel industry continued navigating the impacts of the pandemic,” Grimmett said. “We look forward to delivering near-term and long-term improvements through our Journey With AUS program to improve the passenger experience.”
That program is slated to bring a new midfield concourse to increase gates and connect to the Barbara Jordan Terminal through an underground connector tunnel.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.