Thursday, February 24, 2000 by

Proposed Smart Growth ordinance for limited redevelopment criticized

Environmental Board suggests numerous conditions to qualify

Smart is in the eye of the beholder and one man's smart may be another man's dumb. This is the distinct impression left by the Environmental Board's energetic discussion last night regarding just one of a number of Smart Growth initiatives that are working their way through the boards and commissions on the way to consideration by the City Council. The ordinance at hand was a second draft of a proposed amendment to City Code Chapter 25-8 relating to redevelopment projects.

The amendment would apply to office and retail property that has existing development and it would allow redevelopment of the site if it does not affect more than 25 percent of the site's impervious cover, does not increase the existing impervious cover, and provides the level of water quality treatment prescribed by current regulations for the redeveloped area. In cases of conflict, the amended ordinance would supersede Article 25 of that chapter relating to the Save Our Springs Ordinance. By the time the discussion ended the proposed amendment had more conditions stuck on it than a yard dog has fleas.

Patrick Murphy, deputy environmental services manager in the Watershed Protection Department, said the amendment would affect only impervious cover. All other ordinances relating to compatibility, traffic, trees, and other concerns would still apply. "It's somewhere between what the development community would like to see and what the environmental community would like to see," Murphy said. While there had been talk of applying the new rule only in the Desired Development Zone (DDZ), the Drinking Water Protection Zone (DWPZ) also was included because it might help clean up water quality problems at sites that do not currently have controls, Murphy said.

Grant Godfrey, staff attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA), said he had serious reservations about the ordinance. "It's appropriate to back up and think what Smart Growth is supposed to do. It's supposed to direct where and how we grow. The city should encourage development in the DDZ and discourage it in the DWPZ," he said. "This ordinance will do nothing to encourage growth in the DDZ and nothing to discourage growth in the DWPZ."

Godfrey also took exception to characterizing the proposal as a compromise between developers and environmentalists, as SOSA had not been involved in negotiations. "I found out about it when it showed up on the Planning Commission agenda, so I don't think you can pitch it as a compromise." He suggested testing the concept in the DDZ and observing the results before trying it in the DWPZ.

Murphy said the proposal had come about because "it's hard for existing developments that want to do something as simple as adding a driveway or a small addition or a small demolition for extra parking." He noted that variances had been approved recently by the Planning Commission for redevelopment of the Cannon West Shopping Center. "You got better water quality," he said. An H.E.B. grocery store had moved out of the center and the owner wanted to add 7,000 square feet to attract another grocery in an area that needed it. The city has no other way to deal with these situations, he said, and an application "triggers the whole works." He said the city had removed all exemptions in the code and if someone wants to add a new building to a site then it's classified as a new project and it falls under current regulations. The only alternatives are to seek a variance if in the DDZ or a limited adjustment if subject to the SOS Ordinance. He said no one has sought a limited adjustment.

Murphy cited the strip centers at the "Y" in Oak Hill as examples of older developments in the DWPZ that have no water quality controls. "The idea we could get something to revitalize existing development and get better water quality is very appealing to me," he said. In many years of observing development, he said people do not remove impervious cover. "They don't tear up and redevelop under current regulations," he said.

Jeff Jack is president of the Zilker Neighborhood Association. He said as an architect he suffers through minor changes with city red tape. But he challenged the notion that to protect the aquifer new development has to go into existing neighborhoods. "We found there's 19,000 acres of 40 acres or more undeveloped," Jack said. "Tracts of 40 acres or more are the basis for Traditional Neighborhood Developments of mixed uses and are more appropriate places to put (new development)."

As to the redevelopment proposal, Jack noted that density of a property could be greatly increased through the addition of taller buildings or parking structures. Murphy replied that other regulations applicable to those concerns would still apply.

Environmental Board Member Tim Jones said the city should do nothing to encourage growth in the Barton Springs Zone (BSZ), which feeds Barton Springs and supplies some of the city's raw water supply. "I'd like to see the ordinance limited to the DDZ and not the BSZ for that reason," he said.

Board Member Joyce Conner said language should be included to qualify redevelopment projects authorized under the proposed amendments so that a new development couldn't come back in for early redevelopment to increase density.

The total discussion on the item lasted an hour and a half and ultimately the board voted 4-0 to recommend approval of the proposed amendment but only after adding eight conditions, many of which were supplied by Conner. Voting for the motion were Vice Chair Jessica Joyce Christie and Board Members Conner, Jones, and Lee Leffingwell. Board Chair Buzz Avery and Board Member Richard Fawal were absent. Positions on the board to be appointed by Mayor Kirk Watson, Council Member Gus Garcia and Council Member Willie Lewis are vacant.

The conditions added by the board are as follows:

• The ordinance would apply only in the DDZ.

• The redevelopment must equal or exceed current water quality regulations.

• The redevelopment must provide easy access for pedestrians, bicyclists, and mass transit users.

• The ordinance would apply to redevelopment of projects of no more than 10 acres unless they were in conformity with the neighborhood plan.

• Traffic impact analyses are required.

• Water and wastewater infrastructure should be inventoried to ascertain that the redevelopment would not necessitate upgrading the infrastructure.

• The area of redevelopment could not exceed the area of existing impervious cover.

• No vegetative areas could be removed.

The proposed ordinance on redevelopment, like eight other proposed ordinances related to Smart Growth, was on the Planning Commission's agenda for Feb. 8 but got postponed until March 7.

Austin Energy's Green Building Program stepping up the pace

Goal to build more efficient homes that add value

Austin Energy's Green Building Program rates homes on a scale of one star to five stars, with the highest rating reserved for homes that in actuality are rarely built. A five-star home would probably last 300 to 400 years and its roof would last about 60 years. The home would be extraordinarily comfortable because there would be no temperature fluctuations. It would provide its own irrigation water, and might draw little electricity from the power grid, with as little as one ton of air-conditioning needed per 1,200 square feet. The people who live in such a house would be safe from threats to air quality, because paint, carpets and other finishes would emit few volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde. In short, the home would do no harm to the natural environment or to its residents. "It would be an extraordinary house," says Richard Morgan, Austin Energy's program manager for the Green Building Program. "A fairly large market segment wants to live in a home that hasn't done damage to the environment." While five-star homes are as rare in Central Texas as a chilly day in August, some of Austin's production builders are cranking out numbers of homes that rate two or three stars, Morgan says.

The program evolved out of the Energy Star Program of the 1980s and in 1992 was made more comprehensive, focusing on conservation of water and energy. Morgan says Austin's been at it so long that practically all other Green Building programs in the United States were modeled on it. "We know as much about Green Building as anyone in the country," Morgan said.

Locally, the program is furthered primarily through monthly training sessions that address a specific topic such as wood, or alternative wastewater systems. The city provides technical consultation to builders on everything from where to get fixtures to reviewing plans and making suggestions to improve energy efficiency.

At a briefing for the Resource Management Commission last week, Morgan said that if a builder uses a home design that fits the local climate, Green Building probably won't cost them anything. "Our biggest enemy is designing and building homes that shouldn't be here," he says. "Once you look at the design and the climate in this part of Texas affects houses, then a whole host of issues in energy consumption all go away."

Newmark Homes cranks out some 450 homes a year, ranking second in Austin, according to Morgan's presentation. By keying in on Green Building, the builder has implemented a wide range of improvements that address everything from insulation, fixtures and ducting to appliances, recycling and xeriscaping. As a result, all Newmark Homes are rated two stars, Morgan said. That has increased Newmark's marketing advantage, customer traffic flow and sales, its reputation with customers, and its employee morale. "Builders put yard signs in front of the homes and we train marketing staff to put stickers on the homes," Morgan said. Austin Energy benefits from the energy conservation, public exposure, customer loyalty and partnerships.

Morgan said 681 homes were rated in 1999, about 20 percent to 25 percent of the market, saving 1.12 megawatts of energy. Marketing will be increased for 2000 by targeting homeowners, Realtors and developers, using case studies, a guidebook, the web and CD-ROMs. "Our goal for the next couple of years is to have a public resource center so people can walk in and see what a Green Builder is, what a GreenChoice (program for renewable energy) is," Morgan said.

"The primary barrier is everyone's making a lot of money and don't want to change what they're doing," Morgan said. "That can change through being customer driven…I suspect that when the market slows down a bit builders will be looking at this more."

Morgan said 1,350 homes had been rated since the program started about eight years ago, and about half of those were rated in 1999.

SOS Action endorses Kitchen and Dukes for state representative

The PAC doesn't endorse judicial candidates

The Save Our Springs (SOS) Action Political Action Committee has endorsed two candidates seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for state representative in the March 14 primaries. The PAC picked Ann Kitchen to succeed incumbent State Representative Sherri Greenberg, D-Austin, in District 48 and backed State Representative Dawnna Dukes for another term in District 50.

SOS Action, a nonpartisan environmental PAC, says it sent questionnaires to all candidates in the District 48 and District 50 races but only Kitchen, Dukes and District 48 candidate Mandy Dealey, D-Austin, returned completed questionnaires. No Republicans responded.

In District 48, the winner of the Kitchen vs. Dealey contest will face the winner among seven Republicans vying for the seat. In District 50, Duke's only obstacle to reelection is Democrat Stella Roland, who was exposed by the Austin American-Statesman for being delinquent in taxes.

Dukes was praised for her commitment to environmental and quality of life issues in Travis County and across Texas, as well as opposing Austin-bashing efforts at the State Capitol. Dukes got a nearly unanimous endorsement, despite concerns over past votes considered important to protecting Austin's environment.

Kitchen received unanimous support of the SOS Action board, which also noted that Dealey returned a good questionnaire. Kitchen was a member of the original SOS Coalition steering committee and opposed the Longhorn Pipeline project early and vigorously, SOS Action said in a prepared statement. The statement didn't say but it's worth noting that Kitchen's husband, Mark Yznaga, is a longtime political consultant who has worked for SOS causes.

Indirect mail…Campaign contributors who received a letter from attorney Gus Garcia Jr., who is running for judge of County Court at Law No. 5, may be wondering about fund-raisers not mentioned in the letter, but noted on a card to return with donations. The card says, "Event tickets $25 each," but left us otherwise clueless. Brian White, Garcia's campaign manager, said the candidate will be hosting a fund-raiser tonight from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Juan in a Million, 2300 E. Cesar Chavez. In addition, an old-fashioned eastside fund-raiser, a fish fry at Rabbit's Lounge, 1816 E. 6th St., is scheduled from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 3, White said. Tickets for the fish fry are $5. For more information, call 457-0089. Garcia is running against incumbent Judge Gisela Triana, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left with the resignation of Wilfred Aguilar… No more airport meetings…The Austin City Council will hold no more meetings at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, confirms David Matusik, city public information specialist. "We are going to exclusively meet at the LCRA ( Lower Colorado River Authority)," he says. "I think the public will appreciate having one location."… Made in the shade…Putting some shade on your house will lower your summer cooling bills considerably and a scheduled class will teach you how. A Spring Forester Workshop is being hosted by TreeFolks Inc. with all-day sessions on April 8 and April 29 at Wild Basin Preserve. Besides learning to plant trees to lower your utility bill, you'll find out how to prune for strength and form, and how to protect trees from oak wilt. For more info, call Sally Struble at 443-5323 or send e-mail to… New ACC candidate…Former Round Rock ISD Superintendent Dan McLendon has announced his candidacy for Place 7 on the Austin Community College Board of Trustees. For more info, call Terry Cannon at 346-7407.

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