This story was updated at 11:30 p.m. with the final election results.
With all votes tallied, Council Member Alison Alter is headed to a runoff against her opponent, Jennifer Virden, in the race for her District 10 seat on Austin City Council.
Alter leds her six challengers, with 34.2% of the vote. But she needed 50% to avoid a runoff.
Virden received 25.43% of the vote.
The remaining five candidates are: Pooja Sethi, who received 18.11% of votes; Robert Thomas, with 16.62%; Belinda Greene, with 2.94%; Ben Easton, with 1.85%; and Noel Tristan, with 0.85%.
District 10 includes parts of West Austin and is the city's wealthiest district. It is one of five of Austin City Council's 10 seats up for election this year. In her next term, Alter will be tasked with the ongoing rewrite of the city's land use code, making further cuts to the Austin Police Department's budget, and—with voter approval of Proposition A—implementing the $7.1 billion Project Connect transit plan.
Alter describes herself as a progressive Democrat and has spent her time on council advocating for parks and open spaces and preservationist land use policies. She supported the council's recent effort to reimagine public safety by reallocating police funds toward other city services but opposed the June 2019 decision to overturn the camping ban.
"As a city and a community I believe we should compassionately help our neighbors exit homelessness, and we should do so with a comprehensive strategy that addresses community concerns," she told Austonia last month. "I share the frustration with the current situation.
Alter outraised her opponents, with around $195,000 in donations, according to the latest round of campaign finance reports. Only Thomas broke the $100,000 mark, with $118,000 in political contributions reported.
Virden, a real estate broker and general contractor, opposes Project Connect, council's decision to overturn the camping ban and any effort to defund the police. She reported $94,000 in political contributions.
Sethi owns her own immigration law firm and ran on a platform that centered community-driven transit, such as Project Connect, and police reform. She supports the land use code rewrite process and council's decision to overturn the camping ban.
Sethi reported $92,000 in political contributions.
Thomas, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2014, ran on a platform that included reinstating the police academy—which has been put on hold due to council members' concerns about the current curriculum— and bans on public camping, sitting, lying and nighttime panhandling.
Greene, who works in sales, opposes the Project Connect transit plan and council's decisions to overturn the camping ban and reallocate police funding to other city services. She reported $3,084 in political contributions.
Easton, a writer who ran unsuccessfully as a Libertarian candidate for the Texas House in 2016, was moved to run after council voted last year to overturn the camping ban and "witnessing the gutless surrender of the city to special-interest groups and anti-law and order mobs like the Black Lives Matter protesters and the Covid-19 autocrats," according to his campaign website.
Easton reported no political contributions.
Tristan, a business owner, has no campaign website and did not file any campaign finance reports.
Travis County saw record voter turnout this election, with 45,433 District 10 residents casting a ballot in this year's race, compared to 36,434 in 2016.
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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.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.