I've been gushing over Seela's jazz work since I first heard her singing at the Elephant Room swing jam sessions before the formation of Torch. She's had a musical split personality for all these years, with her mid-20th-century jazz influences on the one hand contrasting with her singer-songwriter work on the other. She more or less stuck to using her own name for gigs outside the jazz vein and Torch within it.
With this CD consisting largely of originals, Seela seems to be bringing the two halves together. To me the songwriting sounds a lot like her solo work on Hard Times Hit and Something Happened while the performance moves in and out of expected jazz conventions. The standards on Charmed are planted a little more firmly on jazz foundations but much spacier than the trad swing settings where I first heard Seela. (The exception is "The Happy Song," a ditty Seela wrote for an unmade Old Navy commercial; it certainly makes me want to get grass stains on denim, so I think they should have bought the song.)
I'll always have a personal attachment to Torch's earlier work but I have to cheer as they find their own voice.
I can't believe I'd never made it to End of an Ear before. Although the emphasis is on vinyl, the store has plenty of lovingly selected CDs as well. I picked up a copy of Torch guitarist Chris Vestre's new one, Suburban Life at a reasonable price. I'll be back.
Speaking of reasonable prices, after several years recycling chunks of my CD collection as trade-ins at Waterloo, I'm trying something new: the online CD trading service Lala.com. At Waterloo I seem to average a fairly generous $4/disc for trade-ins (at least for the titles they accept); with used and sale-price CDs running $7 to $14 it takes me maybe three old CDs to come home with one new one. At Lala the ratio is one to one, with Lala taking a modest fee of $1.75 a trade. It works like Netflix: Lala provides prepaid mailers and has a nifty YASN-inspired interface for matching "haves" with "wants."
I'm tempted to spam all my friends with Lala invitations, but I'll refrain. For what it's worth, here are my own haves and wants. (Interesting that for all the social features in Lala there are no viral incentives; I don't get a bonus for recruiting new signups.)
My small contribution to the lolcats meme.
I've added a couple from my own experience. Can you tell which ones?
And shouldn't "last mile mechanic" be one entry?
Also enjoying the infra-wiki where they've hosted it, PageOfText.com.
There are times when the miles and miles of Texas feel like walls, not spaces. Memorial Day is coming up and I'll have a few days free but I'm too broke to fly anywhere and just a little too short on time for another Mexico bus trip. I'm having trouble thinking of anyplace within striking distance where I really want to go.
A museum prowl in one of the cities holds some appeal, but I'm freshly back from a family outing to the Fort Worth MOMA and feeling throughly beat up by just those few hours on Texas' bleak and harried intercity routes. I could maybe talk myself into a barbecue pilgrimage but what would I do in Lockhart or Llano once I've gorged? I got my fill of pseudohistorical Texas kitsch years ago. I don't fish so my only associations with the coast are salt, sand and sunburn. I do like a shady freshwater swimming hole, but not when I have to share it with holiday weekend crowds. Notwithstanding the most pleasant May in memory, it's mosquito and chigger season and not my idea of hiking weather. The one outdoor experience which is really appealing would be to get some altitude, but the nearest mountains are 400 miles away.
So I'm feeling like a landlocked castaway: landscape, landscape everywhere and not a sight to see.
I do have one odd thought looming in my mind like my own Devil's
Tower. Years ago, on a trip back from Taos,
I passed through a tiny town hugging the foot of a spectacular
ridge sticking up from the surrounding plains. It would have
been somewhere on a meandering diagonal route from
Lubbock to Austin, probably on US 84. I've been Googling and not finding any central-to-west Texas towns which claim such a feature.
Can anybody think of the place I might be remembering? If I
can identify it, I suppose it might be as good an arbitrary
excuse for an excursion as any.
Depressed at Mueller prices I drove the nearby neighborhoods and found some aesthetic relief, if no hopeful signs for my wallet.
Check out Greenview Row, "a new concept in urban living located in the heart of burgeoning East Austin... within walking and biking distance to parks, the proposed commuter MetroRail stop, and the cafés and shops of the Mueller district."
It's located at Lovell Drive and Windy Brook, just across Manor from the easternmost point of Mueller. These are compact houses on small lots but backing onto what the developer is calling "greenbelt". If you imagine the garage being hidden as at Mueller (impossible while preserving the greenbelt access, of course), then personally I'd find their clean lines much more appealing than all the tacky detailing in the Mueller elevations.
There's plenty at Greenview Row to question. There's no sign that they're green built although the name and style might be intended to make one jump to that conclusion. I'd want to be sure of the preservation status of the "greenbelt" (described in the brochure as "views of Tannehill Branch Creek"), and in particular of what residents will see in the future across the creek to the west of Windy Brook. "Walking distance" to the Metro stop on Manor Road west of Airport is quite a stretch (Google Maps puts it at 1.5 miles), and pedestrian access to Mueller would require crossing a busy spot on Manor unless there are plans for a new stoplight there. Worst of all, the price tag -- starting at $259,00 for a 2/2.5 on a micro lot, before upgrades -- is no bargain even next to Mueller.
Still, if you squint and mentally subtract the garages, Greenview Row might give you some idea of the scale of the smaller Mueller yard houses, as well as what Mueller could look like with a slightly more modern design aesthetic. The first of many such developments in northeast Austin, I suspect.
A driveby is also intriguing from a sociological perspective. Up the hill, the same developers did a previous phase of similarly-scaled but less ambitiously styled houses which I'd wager were a bargain when they were built. Closer to Mueller on Lovell are older ranch-style houses, some of which have the signs of run-down rentals; can we expect them to they be fixed up and flipped soon? Winding north along Windy Brook there's a stretch of ranch houses in better shape, some of which also seem to offer creek views. Then, close to Manor and 51st, is the long winding dead end of Blueberry Trail, most run-down of all, which starts to feel spookily claustrophobic the further you get from the exit. Spitting distance from Greenview Row for the mockingbirds, but miles and miles in real estate terms.
If I had buckets of money, I'd try to grab one of the ranch houses with acreage slightly to the east off Pecan Springs Road. I saw one on a couple of wooded acres with an almost-liveable 2/1 go by for $250K last spring. Imagine a real greenbelt connecting Pecan Springs to Mueller! Old home on the range with new urbanist amenities a bike ride away, for less than downtown condo prices. A nice dream...
Here's a shock: young people don't grok grok.
One young science fiction geek used it in a presentation in class last night and it turn out that the only other person in the room who had ever heard the word was yours truly. Yeah, I first heard it in my SF years, too, but I thought it had been sufficiently popularized by hippies and hackers to be in the general lexicon.
Especially in Austin, where BookPeople began its life as the tiny Grok Books over on 17th Street. But now I'm really dating myself.
At Tuesday's Mueller meeting, Jim Adams of ROMA Design had troubling things to say about grocery stores.
He repeated what I've heard from other sources, that Catellus is having trouble finding a small grocer willing to be located in the "Town Center" north of Lake Park. Donna Carter and Jim Walker of the Mueller Advisory Commission said they found that surprising, given the Statesman article this week on the boom in small groceries [mirror]. Although Catellus says they've been beating the bushes for someone willing to open an 18,000 sf market, I have to wonder who they've been talking to and, maybe more importantly, the specifics of the deal they're offering. Surely a Fresh Plus or one of the many new boutique grocers in the Statesman article would care about the rent at least as much about the square footage. (Not to mention a Michoacana Meat Market, another booming category of small grocers omitted from the Statesman article!)
Meanwhile, in a report on recent changes in the Mueller plan, Adams said that some land swaps at the northern edge of Mueller have freed up enough space at Berkman and 51st for a full-sized supermarket. He showed a conceptual plan for a 140,000 sf supermarket surrounded by loft housing, small shops, and office space for companies that want to be near the Austin Film Society. They're calling this new area the "Market District" (as opposed to the "Town Center", the "Southern Gateway" at Berkman and Manor, and the "Regional Retail" on I-35).
Members of the Commission didn't seem impressed with ROMA's proposal. They pointed out that a full supermarket might reduce Mueller residents' car trips outside the neighborhood somewhat but it would also increase car trips into the neighborhood, probably resulting in a net increase in Mueller's overall traffic impact. Jim Walker asked whether we're really coming up with new, more sustainable retail models or just tinkering with old ones.
No one mentioned that there are already two full-sized supermarkets within a mile of Mueller (Fiesta and the Hancock HEB), plus Target in Capitol Plaza. None of them are particularly walkable, but how many Muellerites will walk to do their full-scale, big-cart, jumbo-toilet-paper shopping anyway? If the area really needs another traditional car-centric supermarket, I'd say it belongs with the Regional Retail.
As others have noted, what seems to be missing from the plan on the table is true neighborhood retail and dining within easy walking distance of the eastern residential portion of Mueller. A scaled-down Market District at Berkman and 51st would help. But there should also be neighborhood retail -- at least a bodega-sized convenience store and a coffeeshop -- on Berkman near Manor. So far all that's scheduled for this Southern Gateway is apartments, although one Catellus person I spoke to said that's to be driven by what the apartment developers come to them with.
I have two modest proposals:
I could only attend an hour of the Mueller Commission meeting. It was not the informal session of a few regulars that I expected, but a packed and serious room. Unfortunately the agenda was packed, too, so I had to leave before citizen communication started. Even though we Mueller malcontents couldn't get up and rant, I was impressed that Jim Walker and other Commission members seemed to be aware of some of the issues recently raised in the blogosphere, and I feel more hopeful about the process as a result. (Okay, M1ek, call me a dupe. :-) )
P.S. Don't miss the Mueller update in this week's Chronicle.
Thanks to Marcus Sanford, I now have copies of two of the Mueller Homeowners' Association documents and they're not a pretty sight. Supposedly they're available through the Travis County Clerk Public Records site (search for instrument # 2004238007) but I don't see a link to downloadable copies, so I've mirrored them.
I've only looked through them briefly, but so far I've found the following probably contentious points in Exhibit X:
- Section 2.11 Signs (PDF p. 14)
- "No sign of any kind may be displayed to the public view on any Unit without the prior written approval of the New Construction Council" except for legal notices, for sale and for rent signs, and a "No Soliciting" sign no larger than 25 square inches. There is no exception for political signs, religious signs, or even yard sale signs.
- Section 2.07: Maintenance (PDF pp. 11-12)
- Requires "keeping lawn and garden areas alive, free of weeds, and in an attractive condition," a matter which is in the eye of the beholder, but which as interpreted by most suburban HOAs effectively bans wildflower meadows and a lot of vegetable gardening and xeriscaping techniques. Section 2.06 could easily be interpreted to prohibit composting as well.
- Section 2.05 Animals (PDF p. 11)
- Effectively bans outdoor cats.
I suspect there are many more. Matters like paint colors seem to be deferred to the "Design Guidelines". I can't tell whether that is the same as the Mueller Design Book prepared by Roma and dated November, 2004. The Mueller Design Book doesn't read like a set of hard rules (see disclaimers on its PDF p. 4) and defers specific choices about materials and treatments to the New Construction Committee (see PDF pp. 52-53). Does that mean that residents would get a list of approved paint colors from the NCC which would carry the force of law?
Beside the banning of signage and the vague language throughout Exhibit X requiring an "attractive condition", I don't see any references to other forms of expression such as art and flags. (A friend in Katy tells me that people there are circulating a petition door to door banning rainbow flags. I thought that couldn't possibly fly until I realized that perhaps they're asking the HOA to classify them as "signs".)
I couldn't find any reference to unmarried non-relatives living together (which would ban gay couples as well as straight people living in sin). I wouldn't be surprised if it's in there somewhere.
Jim Walker has made the point that how this all plays out will depend on what the community makes of it. Nevertheless, I'd be wary of building in harsh rules and trusting the community not to enforce them.
Where to go from here? Obviously we need to get these documents reviewed by as many people as possible as soon as possible. Then we need to figure out how to get Catellus to put them on hold while prospective residents can get organized to propose changes. The only forum I see for discussing this (other than the comments in my little blog!) is the Mueller Redevelopment group at Yahoo. I encourage anyone with an interest these issues or in Mueller in general to join that list.
Does anyone know a good dirt lawyer interested in pro bono neighborhood work? Or a city council member who might raise a fuss?
As part of my Mueller research I've also asked about the homeowner's association. The very nice person at Mueller Central was quick to be reassuring about most people's big worry, the dues (TBD, but about $40/month) and then said exactly what I didn't want to hear:
"Its purpose is to make sure people mow their yards and don't paint their houses crazy colors."
Noooo! (Cue the theme from Psycho.) This while we were standing by an oversized Keep Austin Weird t-shirt in the marketing display. I don't think she got the irony.
I understand the need in the new urbanist model for establishing a design which encourages neighborliness and protects the commons. That's one of the great appeals of Mueller. But I believe the right approach, especially the right Austin approach, is to create a careful initial design and then let it evolve naturally. Nationally, HOAs have become a nightmare of petty Stepford Wives-ism, recently ruled unaccountable to the usual checks and balances on government. If you sign your standard suburban HOA, you have literally signed away your first-amendment rights.
I pressed a couple of other Catellus people on this and was told that the HOA rules were already determined as part of the original Mueller plan. They are not, however, published -- that should happen "soon". They consist of two parts, a section set in stone which canot be overturned "without lawyers" and another section which can be amended by the HOA board, once people have moved in and elected one. This is depressing, although I suppose that theoretically if the agreement is totally outrageous, there's still a window in which an RG4N-style rebellion could get it changed by the City Council and Catellus -- up until the day when homebuyers start signing the thing.
I would love to know that I'm wrong and that this HOA is different from the usual suburba-nazi model. If anyone out there has a copy, or knows by whom and by what process it was written, please let me know. If it's not posted on the Catellus site soon I may start making a few phone calls.
Tuesday and Wednesday I made it into Mueller Central and an affordable home seminar offered by Catellus and David Weekley.
The layout: Phase 1 of the Mueller Pioneer lottery process will be built in two sub-phases, 1a and 1b, to be completed a few months apart. Phase 1b will also include a "neighborhood park and amenity center" with an olympic lap pool. I was right about the location of the garden homes at Camacho and Moreno streets, and that there are just a few of them as an experiment. Builders are assigned entire blocks, which concerns me a bit; even though each builder has a couple of floor plans and several facades, there would have been more variety if they'd mixed the builders up within each block. On the plus side, Weekley's "affordable" and "market rate" yard houses will be mixed (but not their row houses). Interestingly, one block facing the lake park has been reserved for custom homes, which I'd guess will be $1M and higher given that the Streetman houses are in the upper $500K+ range.
Prices and counts: Contrary to what I reported the other day, yard houses from Davd Weekley and Meritage should start in the mid-$240K range. Specific prices are to come from the builders, but even those are not yet fixed; a David Weekley rep at the affordability seminar told me that they have to get their plans through the architectural review first, which may or may not happen before the end of April when the Pioneer program closes! So Pioneers have to choose a builder and category (yard vs. row house) on the basis of an approximate price and an approximate floor plan.
Here's the approximate price and count for each house style -- this is from the handout they gave me and will be subject to change! Watch MuellerAustin for the official word.
Builder Type Count Price range David Weekley Market-rate row houses 23 from the low $200,000's David Weekley Market-rate yard houses 69 from the low to mid $200,000's David Weekley Affordable row houses 40 from the $120,000's David Weekley Affordable yard houses 31 from the $140,000's Meritage Yard houses 52 from the $240,000's Muskin Garden court houses 6 from the $280,000's Saldaña Garden court houses 6 from the $200,000's Standard Pacific Yard houses 84 from the $330,000's Streetman Yard houses 37 from the $500,000's
I'm no bookie, but based on these numbers my guess is that the demand relative to the supply will be most intense for affordable yard houses and from there it will be inversely related to price. New urbanist and green built or not, my hunch is that the intensity of interest in Mueller is primarily price-driven. If you can afford it, your best bet in the lottery may be on the Streetman or Standard Pacific higher-end models. It will be interesting to see how the actual signup/inventory ratios turn out for each category. (Idea: This might be a job for a prediction market, assuming prediction markets can handle complex multi-variable systems like this. I should talk to Ed Vielmetti.)
Phase 1 is the first of nine phases to be completed over ten years (yes, count 'em, ten years). The Town Center is not to be built until phase 3, which will disappoint the people interested in live/work and shop houses. The apartments at the south end of Mueller will be built in phase 2 or 3 as well, and so far there's no word on what their design will be like. (Let me make a pessimistic guess: can you say Triangle?)
My current obsession with all things Mueller raises the question of local pronunciations.
I was born and have spent most of my adult life in Austin but didn't grow up here, so the good-old-boy substrata of the local culture are not second nature to me. At some point I was taught the "authentic" pronunciation of several local geographic features. These are the ones I've confirmed by hearing them in use. A couple have some intriguing transpositions of consonants.
|Pedernales||Purd 'n Alice|
|New Braunfels||New Brawnsfell|
And my favorite:
|Burnett||It's "burn it", durn it|
Now the thing about pronouncing the name of Austin's old Mueller Airport and new Mueller neighborhood as "Miller" instead of "Myoo-ler". The politicos and developers religiously say "Miller" but I don't hear anybody else do that. Is it a born-before-1950 thing? An aviation thing? A neighborhood thing not shared with other parts of town? Dunno.
The other local sociolinguistic question somebody should study is the pronunciation of Guadalupe (AKA the Drag, or the street that fronts UT): some people pronounce the final E as in the Spanish Virgen de Guadalupe, while others say "Gwad-a-loop". Can that be correlated with politics? Will the Minutemen someday round up all of us commie pinko hispanophiles and deport us because of a stray syllable? I suppose there's a biblical precedent.
Mueller's unveiling of plans and prices is in 10 minutes, but it's for "builders, dignitaries and media" only, scruffy self-described bloggers not included.
Part of me wants to crash it anyway (hint: if you walk in from the lake side there's no one to stop you), but instead I'll stay home and obsess about the info on the Mueller website, which is also supposed to be revealed at 10:30. As a rehearsal for back-channel chatter at SXSW, feel free to IM or Twitter me if you see anything interesting. Reload this page for updates. And see my Flickr set for my recent Mueller rambles.
11:05 am: Nothing yet. Where's my Semantic Web enabled service animal who'll bark when the Catellus site updates?
11:11 am: A friend with more gatecrashing cojones than me says the dignitaries have left already. That was quick. She couldn't score a media packet.
11:26 am: Nada. I feel like I'm standing in line for a Wii.
11:30 am: The story and a photo gallery are up at the Statesman. Yard houses are $480K to $650K; "garden" homes with shared greenspace are in the upper $200K and above range; the "affordable" houses appear to be one-story cottages; the row houses have lots of gables and inset porches, quite unlike Texas townhomes or "urban" stoop houses.
11:37 am: Catellus's own builder pages are up.
The builders: David Weekley, Meritage, Muskin, Saldaña, Standard Pacific and Streetman. Weekley and Standard Pacific are national, Meritage appears to be statewide, and Muskin, Saldaña and Streetman seem to be local.Hmm -- I don't see a price list. Anybody found one?
Notably, there are non-"affordable" row houses as well, which sounds like a good thing to me -- for the row-house concept to become accepted in Austin, it would be better that it not become strictly identified with "affordable" status.
The Weekley and Meritage model names are a hoot. SoCo, Willie, Antone, Keeton, Benson, Armstrong... I hope they're paying royalties to certain people's favorite charities. Standard Pacific and Streetman went with UT dorm names (but no Jester!) and downtown river streets.
There's not a lick of modernist sensibility in anything, at least not in the exteriors. Meritage's blurb does mention "contemporary urban elements and traditional neighborhood design," which I don't see in the elevations, so I guess they're referring to the open floor plan and the granite and stainless steel in the kitchens. Those of us who were dreaming of a sprinkling of Agave aesthetic at Mueller can dream on.
Maybe an even more experimental take on affordability through density is the "garden court" houses, which share greenspace around a common courtyard. There are 12 models of garden court houses from two builders, Muskin and Saldaña, and I only see one spot for a garden court on the phase 1 builder map. Are they just going to build one of each in phase 1 and see what the demand is like?
I'm torn about the garden court concept. I love the idea of shared green space in theory -- a principle which Mueller follows on a macro level by having small yards and lots of park space -- but between rugged Texas individualism and the real estate maxim that "they don't make more dirt," it's not clear how many people would prefer to share their yards given a choice. A great deal depends on the details: How is it to be designed? Who will maintain it? What rules govern its use? Are the rules formalized through a land trust or covenants?
All of which connects to an even larger question which I haven't heard addressed at all: will Mueller have a homeowners' association? Is it going to have bylaws in place at the outset or will the first crop of homeowners self-organize? What is membership likely to cost? Will "affordable" residents pay "affordable" dues? And maybe most importantly, will it have the authority to tell me what color I can paint my house?
An iSchool classmate of mine is doing a study of the information needs of prospective residents, neighbors and small business owners in the Mueller neighborhood. It's part of a larger project several of us are cooking up regarding an online community to serve the physical community under construction there. (Watch this space!)
If you've ever daydreamed about life at Mueller,
or just want to keep track of what's going on over there, she would like to
hear from you. Please contact me at "firstname.lastname@example.org" and I'll
put you in touch. Thanks!
Catellus, developer of the Mueller Airport Redevelopment Project, has announced how it plans to allocate the first 340 homes to eager homebuyers. Dubbed the "Mueller Pioneer Program", the plan calls for applicants to register between March 5 and April 30 in order to be included in a drawing that will determine their place in line.
In a wrinkle of benefit to poker players and game theorists, prospective buyers must select their preferred builder and "home type" at the time of registration. As I read it, this will amount to a separate priority list for each builder and home type, so pick an unpopular model and you stand a better chance of being near the head of the line. The application process also requires a credit pre-qualification, for which there is a $50 fee.
The list of builders is to be announced on March 5. I'm unclear on whether the specific "home types" are those spelled out in the Mueller plan [PDF] or something even more specific. The initial phase is to include yard houses, row houses, and garden court houses, so that's probably enough "home types".
More to the point, we don't know a lot yet about prices. Presumably this will all be much clearer on March 5th. It sounds like Catellus plans to have Mueller Central up and running by then, too. I know where I'll be that Monday!
M1ek's post was one of his patented screeds on Austin transportation issues, in this case the rail we're going to get, the rail we might get, and the rail that got away. In the illo, the green is the 2000 light rail plan rejected by voters; the teeny bit of yellow in the corner is the 2004 commuter rail plan (not light rail!) approved by voters; and the red is the hypothetical streetcar to Mueller. M1ek's point, which bears repeating, is that the commuter rail doesn't go where people need to go, whereas the slightly better-situated streetcar has no dedicated right of way and so will be slooooow. (Be sure to click through both to his blog post and the full-sized image.)
Michael Schliefke, meanwhile, is the first person I've noticed who bothered to paste the various high-rise plans currently in the pipeline into a combined view of Austin's future skyline. (Note whose PhotoShop has the better production values; four years of art school paid off!) God's nose-hair trimmer, AKA the Frost Bank Tower, is about to be lost in the crowd. Michael wonders whether anyone's really thinking about the impact of suddenly having 25,000 über-rich people living in downtown Austin and no effective mass transit, although he does note that all those bare walls might represent an opportunity for artists like him.
I'd add that I don't know where those 25,000 childless, lawn-hating, downtown-employed (if employed at all) rich folks are going to come from. I recently got my ears boxed on the Austin Urbanists mailing list for suggesting that, even if all condo projects in sight are pre-selling units faster than they can print contracts, there might be some limit to Austin's supply of rich people.
For the record, I consider myself an "urbanist" too. I wish, for example, that Austin's neighborhood associations would stop playing NIMBY and start figuring out how to plan for central Austin neighborhoods that will be liveable when, not if, Austin's population doubles again. I agree with Cap Metro's critics that the rail plan they hoodwinked us into approving in 2004 is a suburban plan, not an urban plan.
But I do think there's more than a whiff of "let them eat cake" in the air when M1ek says, "the 'bubble' concerns me not in the least - in fact, the more properties that get built, the better; for those future residents after the bubble pops, that is." It's a nice fantasy that the rich will build Altavida and the Austonian, default on their mortgages when the bubble pops, and then let the middle class move in for pennies on the dollar. I just hope somebody keeps the elevators running. Meanwhile, I wish that a little of the civic excitement going into ultra-high, ultra-hip, ultra-dense housing for the ultra-rich would be channeled into some semi-high, semi-hip, semi-dense housing for the semi-scraping by.