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LCRA board okays $500,000 to study environmental impact of water line

Thursday, January 20, 2000 by

Water line to Dripping Springs will wait 12-18 months and depend on subscriptions

The environmental impact of building a water line to send treated surface water to Dripping Springs will be studied for a year to 18 months, under an authorization unanimously approved yesterday by the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority. The action came on the last day of service with the agency by outgoing General Manager Mark Rose (see separate story, below). Rose's intent to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this project was reported by In Fact Daily Dec. 22 and 23.

Committing to the study drew praise from Jim Camp, communications director of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership (HCWPP), a grass-roots citizens group that started six months ago and claims 316 members from all parts of the county. He said the group never opposed the water line because surface water will be needed in times of drought. A major concern, however, is the impact on groundwater.

HCWPP Chair Erin Foster presented more than 300 signed petition cards that stated the LCRA had so far failed to demonstrate that water would be affordable and feasible for existing residents. She said not everyone would see the need to pay up to $4,000 to hook up to surface water. Foster said the infrastructure to supply water within the Village of Bear Creek, where she lives, would cost $1 million and result in a water bill of $175 a month. "That's not economically feasible for most folks," she said.

Responding to Foster, Rose said that the customer base for the water line still had not been nailed down but it would be through a door-to-door subscription drive similar to what the LCRA had used to establish sewer service (for Tahitian Village) in Bastrop County. (A special offer of a $1,000 hookup fee was made and more than 200 people signed up within three months, making the project feasible.) Rose warned that the water service for Hays County may not be as cheap as some would like, in part because of the hope of preserving the rural character of the area by keeping down density of development that would have increased the customer base and made water more economically feasible. "It may be in the end that some folks will say it's too expensive," he said. At present, the projected initial connection fee is $4,000 and the projected monthly typical water bill is $75, although the actual bill would vary with usage. Rose said that an economic complication of financing construction of the system is that hooking up would not and could not be made mandatory. Property owners have the right to stay on well water. "We could do a lot of work and engineering and go through a lot of processes and not have the customers to make the project work," Rose said, adding, "We have not done a good job of communicating that."

Rose believes the demand for surface water already exists in the Dripping Springs area and will only grow as more homes and businesses drill more wells, putting more stress on groundwater sources, and the certainty that sooner or later a drought will begin to exhaust those wells. He said the area has not had reliable water and it encountered major problems in the drought of 1996. "We think there is a need to bring surface water out there or we would not have been so persistent," Rose said.

The board authorized spending up to $500,000 on the EIS. Within that amount the agency plans to spend $100,000 on a facilitation process to work with stakeholders, said Karen Bondy, manager of the Engineering and Planning Department.

Board Member Rosemary Rust raised the question of whether it was appropriate to spend $500,000 for an EIS before assuring there is enough customer demand, and Board Member David Kithil expressed the same concern. Bondy said there were 4,000 existing connections that could use the water and the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp. had previously asked for water. Rose said that door-to-door work would be done to verify the demand and if it was not adequate to justify building the system the EIS could be canceled. But a moment later he said, "You have got a day of reckoning coming, whether it's five years, 10 years, 15 years or one year from now," in the form of a drought. He said the LCRA needs to complete the EIS and gain approval for the project so that when a drought hits, the agency could build the pipeline and not be forced to take time then for an EIS. "I think it's a worthwhile investment of time and money to ultimately serve this area," Rose said. "The EIS will show the need for surface water, even with conservation and rainwater (harvesting) technology."

A stakeholders group will be formed to begin meeting in mid-February, Bondy said, and that group will determine at its first meeting the criteria for selecting a consultant to conduct the EIS. With that criteria in hand, the LCRA will solicit firms from all over the country, including those identified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for having conducted EISes elsewhere, she said. The firm selected must have no direct connection to this area, she said. Bondy said the stakeholders will work with the consultant to guide the process. "In the end we will see if there is an impact in bringing surface water and if so how it can be mitigated."

Meanwhile, the LCRA will continue negotiations with the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp., the major wholesale customer for the surface water in Hays County, and immediately begin the acquisition of right of way along the proposed route of the water line, from the elevated storage tank near Southwest Parkway and U.S. Highway 71 to the site of a new storage facility about a mile east of Dripping Springs. Bondy told In Fact Daily that no budget had been established for the right of way, which will be funded separately from the EIS. The cost of the EIS also does not include design, Bondy said.

Bondy said that a federal agency partner is needed to sponsor the EIS and talks are scheduled next week with the Corps of Engineers. "It's a voluntary EIS so folks are not falling all over themselves to sponsor it," she said.

Mueller redevelopment advances with revised draft master plan

First look at what the site might look like without state office buildings

Consultants last night unveiled the latest draft of the redevelopment master plan for the defunct Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (RMMA), drawing praise for how it was redrawn sans the state's acquisition of 282 acres but raising fears from several adjacent neighborhoods about how traffic in and out of the site might be handled, despite the fact that the site will have less than half the traffic envisioned with the state involved. The consultants will meet with concerned neighborhoods again today to get a better understanding of traffic concerns and they plan to come back to Austin in six to eight weeks with a more refined draft plan, including a proposal for how development would be phased and how to finance it.

Jim Adams of Berkeley-based Roma Design Group Inc. leads the consulting team that includes Jim Musbach of Economic and Planning Systems, also based in Berkeley, as well as several Austin-based consultants including Heidi Ross of WHM Transportation Engineering Consultants and Jose Martinez of Jose Martinez & Associates.

The preliminary development program divides the 719-acre airport site into a new urbanist development with seven distinct sections:

• Town Center–The heart of the project would sit in the middle of the tract adjacent to a lake of some 12-15 acres that would double as a major detention pond for stormwater and provide a high-profile amenity that would provide a strong identity for the entire redevelopment, including visibility from Airport Boulevard on the southwestern boundary. A publicly accessible promenade is envisioned for the water's edge. In times of little rain the lake could be supplemented with the reclaimed water that will be available throughout the site, Adams said. Fronting the lake would be ground-level retail space, backed by some ten blocks of street-oriented mixed-use office or residential buildings of three to five floors. The Town Center would have 500,000 square feet (SF) of office, research and development space, 250,000 SF retail, dining and entertainment, and 600 dwelling units of apartments and condominiums. "The market is telling us the Town Center will happen earlier rather than later in the project," Adams said.

• New Neighborhoods–Five distinct neighborhoods would ring the Town Center with a variety of housing types, including apartments in three- to five-story buildings with encapsulated or below-grade parking; shop-house and row-house buildings consisting of attached townhouses with space downstairs for working and room upstairs for living; and single-family dwellings and townhouses with a maximum lot size of 4,500 SF. The city has set a goal for 25 percent of all dwelling units to be reasonably priced. Each of the five neighborhoods would get 10,000 SF of retail, dining and entertainment uses and a proportionate share of apartments and condominiums at 40 units per acre, stacked flats or condominiums at 20 units per acre, and single-family and townhouses on lots of 3,000 to 4,000 SF. Each of the neighborhoods is organized around a major park and would have pocket parks as well. "No neighborhood is further than 400 feet from major open space," Adams said. "Each has access to the Town Center through open space as well as streets."

• Urban Campus–The northwest corner of the development at I-35 and 51st Street would be dedicated to a major Urban Campus of larger floorplate offices and special-use buildings of three to five floors, oriented to publicly accessible open space, with 1.5 million SF of offices and research and development space and 20,000 SF of retail, dining and entertainment. Musbach noted that companies such as Intel are currently searching for viable real estate opportunities for mayor campus developments in Austin area. Training, education and job placement is also envisioned for this area.

For the entire development, offices, research and development would total 2 million SF; retail, dining and entertainment would total 320,000 SF; and housing would consist of 2,725 apartments and condominiums, 590 stacked flats and condominiums, and 1,765 single-family and townhome units, for a total of 5,080 dwelling units. Green space is generously apportioned throughout the site, with Morris Williams Golf Course, Bartholomew Park and Patterson Park on the periphery. Most of the perimeter is ringed with bicycle and pedestrian pathways, tentatively shown with underpasses at street intersections. Bicycle routes also parallel all major arterials within the site.

Without the state's participation in the redevelopment, traffic will be vastly reduced and roads will be downsized. A major transit boulevard would serve the site with three major transit stops, one near what was the main entrance to Mueller at Manor Road and Pershing Drive, one in the Town Center, and one near 51st Street and the Urban Campus. Adams says consultants have talked at length with Capital Metro and believe this route is most beneficial. Virtually the entire site would be within 2,000 feet of a transit station, which is considered an acceptable walking distance. He said the design of the transit boulevard would support other transit uses should the light rail referendum not pass muster with voters. "It would be regrettable if it failed," Adams said.

Musbach said that Mueller is likely to become a bona fide alternative to downtown and suburban locations and may be able to capture some high-tech firms, but it will require offering viable real estate opportunities at competitive ground lease rates or land prices. The housing market is good and there are strong indicators that new urbanist developments will be well received. Economic growth is exceeding expectations. "With the exception of the slug of money the state was to put in early on, everything else is much better," Musbach said. Instead of putting together a site with two dissimilar efforts, the city has the opportunity to create a new neighborhood with a market-driven plan with real cohesion to it, he said. Early development of the major campus would tend to inject some early revenue to help the project. With the state out of the picture, the city winds up with a much more tractable development process.

Last night's meeting of the council-appointed RMMA Redevelopment Advisory Group drew more than two dozen citizens. When they were allowed to address the panel and consultants during the last hour of the three-hour meeting, several new ideas were injected. J.D. Porter spoke on behalf of an eco-industrial park being highly desirable for development on the site, though consultants had earlier said manufacturing and fabrication uses were probably not suitable. Porter noted that manufacturing jobs create other jobs, pay good wages, and could be done on a small scale suitable for the property. There are only 25 such parks in the country now but the concept is being explored locally with a federal grant.

Rob Dickson of Paradigm & Co., a new urbanist developer, said, "When the process of approving development is slow the land value will go down. If you incentivize Mueller it will raise land values and increase your ability to finance the backbone infrastructure." He also argued against concentrating retail in the Town Center and said it should be put on Airport Boulevard to capture the traffic, thereby maximizing the return.

Jim Walker of the Mueller Neighborhood Coalition argued against placing retail on Airport Boulevard. "We're trying to make it a great thing to live next to, and not maximize value," Walker said. He said what happens to Airport Boulevard should be addressed in the neighborhood planning process that will occur over the next five years.

Adams further squelched Dickson's idea for retail on Airport Boulevard, saying this redevelopment could not, with its mere 2,000 feet of frontage, change the character of Airport Boulevard, which is after all a state roadway. "It's a six-lane roadway with huge shoulders functioning as an expressway," Adams said.

Mark Rose lauded by board as he leaves LCRA for new job

The bronze statue was no bum steer award

The Lower Colorado River Authority bid a fond farewell to Mark Rose yesterday as Board Chairman Steve Rivers read a resolution recounting the general manager's contributions to the agency since joining it as director of administration in 1987 and in 1990 becoming the seventh and youngest general manager. The resolution was unanimously approved by the board and drew a standing ovation from the crowd of LCRA employees.

Rose used the occasion to reflect on the wisdom of his father, James "Jim" Miller Rose, who he said spent 27 years trying to become adjutant general of Texas and never made it because he was dismissed–not for wrongdoing but through the politics of the day. "The architect of his dismissal was Bob Bullock," Rose said, someone who later became a dear friend despite what Bullock had done to his father when Rose was 18 years old.

Later, when Rose was making his second run for a seat on the Austin City Council after taking a butt kicking in 1981 by trying to unseat John Treviño Jr. (Rose garnered 32 percent of the vote while Treviño netted 61 percent), Rose said his father imparted a bit of wisdom about the cost of ambition. His father said he had missed a lot of things trying to get to be adjutant general, "and a lot of people don't know who the adjutant general is." (For the record, the governor of Texas is the commander in chief of the Texas National Guard and State Guard, and the command function is exercised through the adjutant general appointed by the governor.)

Rose reflected on his decade at the helm of the LCRA and said he had laid out three rules that had guided the agency:

• The acronym LCRA is a verb, not a proper noun, and there should be a sense of urgency.

• The agency must embrace change.

• The agency has no inherent right to exist. "If we do not put value back into the lives of the people of Central Texas, we should not exist."

"We have held true to that," Rose said. "We do the right things even though at the time they may not be politically popular. We celebrate our victories, but we're open about our failures." He praised the board not only for celebrating victories but for how it had treated failures. "This organization defines public service better than any other institution in Texas," he said in closing, drawing another standing ovation.

Among the achievements cited by the board in Rose's resolution were that during his tenure revenues increased by 88 percent, electric rates were reduced, water rates were frozen for a decade, and years of disputed rate cases were ended to bring LCRA and its wholesale customers into harmony. The LCRA was named the best wholesale utility in the country in 1995. Rose was credited with innovative public-private partnerships that brought the first commercial wind power plant to the Delaware Mountains of West Texas and a new, efficient power plant to Bastrop County. The agency purchased more water rights, developed parks, and managed droughts and floods. The LCRA also met unprecedented electric demand, built a major water and wastewater utility system, and restructured its debt.

Rose was given a bronze sculpture of a longhorn steer by the board. After photos taken with the entire board, scores of employees filed into the board room and presented Rose with a signed going away "card" the size of a bulletin board. Sixteen county judges attended and gave Rose a gavel and named him an honorary county judge for the day. Asked later by In Fact Daily if the bronze steer had the LCRA brand on it, Rose replied, "No, but I do."

Kitchen draws army of supporters to fund-raiser at Green Pastures

Campaigns for People fund-raiser set for Jan. 27

Ann Kitchen, candidate for the House seat being vacated by State Representative Sherri Greenberg, was all smiles at the healthy-sized liberal crowd that showed up at her Green Pastures fund-raiser last night. Among those attending were County Commissioner Margaret Gomez, Council Members Daryl Slusher and Willie Lewis, council candidate Rafael Quintanilla, Save Our Springs Alliance Chair Robin Rather, and Austin Neighborhoods Council President Will Bozeman. We also saw Appeals Court Judge Woody Jones, County Court at Law Judges Brenda Kennedy, Orlinda Naranjo, Gisela Triana, and Mike Denton, as well as representatives of labor, the Sierra Club, and the PIPE (anti-Longhorn) Coalition. Longtime Democratic and environmental activist Shudde Fath introduced Kitchen to an enthusiastic group of about 200. Fath told the group she has "watched Ann work quietly and efficiently for years." Now, she said Kitchen was being either foolish or brave in offering herself for public service.

Fred Lewis, executive director of the Campaigns for People, said he was at the fund-raiser to support Kitchen but told In Fact Daily his group, which aims to reform the state campaign system, will have its own fund-raiser on Jan. 27 at Threadgill's World Headquarters. Lewis said, "My top priority is to educate the public to understand our system," which he called "one of the most backward in the country." Lewis said the top 100 donors to 1998 political campaigns gave $30 million. He said he believes the Texas Ethics Commission must be restructured and campaign finance laws rewritten to provide for more disclosure.

Mueller redevelopment picks new leaders…At last night's meeting of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (RMMA) Redevelopment Advisory Group, Chair Jim Robertson stepped aside, saying his duties with a full-time job, and being a father and member of the Planning Commission dictated the need to ease his workload. Rick Krivoniak was elected to lead the group and Gwen Webb, an attorney and Planning Commission member, was elected vice chair… History fading away…Krivoniak reminded fellow advisory group members that the passenger terminal building at RMMA is scheduled for early deconstruction, marking the demise of structure that had won a national award from the American Institute of Architects in 1960. "Not many buildings have won that in Austin," he said. "We are losing a significant part of Austin's heritage."… Northern neighbors…The Real Estate Council of Austin will hear guest speakers from the hinterlands at its membership luncheon Jan. 27. Williamson County Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein and Round Rock Mayor Robert Stluka Jr. will address the crowd that assembles at 11:30 a.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel. RSVP to 320-4151.

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