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Bradley Settlement wins first round approval, final action set for March 23

Friday, March 10, 2000 by

Environmentalists to scramble for money to buy Spillar and Pfluger tracts

With Council Member Willie Lewis having departed to get ready to catch a redeye flight to Washington, the rest of the City Council members voted to approve the first of three required readings on the Bradley Settlement last night as the hour was approaching midnight. Since the deal constitutes a variance from the Save Our Springs Ordinance, a super majority of six votes were needed to carry the measure, a point made clear by Council Member Beverly Griffith after she had grilled attorneys on the implications of delaying the vote.

Both City Attorney Andy Martin and outside counsel, Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, said approving the measure on first reading would put them in a better position to bargain for more adjustments to the agreement, as requested by many of the citizens who spent more than two hours addressing the council last night.

Specifically the council's vote approved the following on first reading and also scheduled second and third readings for March 23:

• An ordinance adopting a settlement agreement of two lawsuits and amending the City Code to implement the settlement. The lawsuits are L.S. Ranch Ltd. et al v. City of Austin in 207th District Court of Hays County, and Phoenix Holdings Ltd. v. City of Austin and Continental Homes of Austin LP in 98th District Court of Travis County.

• Annexed for limited purposes the Edwards Crossing, Spillar and Pfluger Tracts, totaling some 1,902 acres. Had the council not voted for the limited-purpose annexation of these tracts, the entire annexation process would have had to be started over. In approving the annexations on first reading, the council has 90 days to complete second and third readings.

• Approved ordinances adopting regulatory plans for the Edwards Crossing, Spillar and Pfluger Tracts.

In addition, the council postponed until March 23:

• All three readings of ordinances to zone 14 tracts of land owned by Bradley Interests.

• Approval to execute agreements between the City of Austin and Mid-Tex Utilities Inc. for wholesale water and wastewater service for the Spillar and Pfluger tracts.

• Consideration of a settlement agreement with the Circle C Homeowners Association Inc. in two lawsuits: Circle C. Homeowners Association Inc. et al v. City of Austin in Travis County District Court, and City of Austin v. L.S. Ranch Ltd. et al in the 3rd Court of Appeals.

• Consideration of a resolution to authorize a management and operations agreement with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as co-grantee of a conservation easement. (See In Fact Daily March 8.)

Earlier in the day, the council had voted 7-0 to approve a resolution to adopt a settlement agreement in Circle C Land Corp. et al v. City of Austin in the 53rd District Court of Travis County. In connection with that settlement the council also declared official intent to reimburse acquisition and construction costs of $5.4 million in developer reimbursables related to the 1997 municipal utility district annexations.

It was not mentioned at last night's council meeting but developer Gary Bradley is being given approval to go ahead and develop some of the land within Circle C Ranch that is part of the agreement. As reported by In Fact Daily March 9, Council Member Daryl Slusher said the council would be approving some 350 acres on all three readings. That did not happen. Instead, after last night's meeting, City Attorney Martin told In Fact Daily that the figure was reduced to 146 acres and approval will be granted administratively and no council action will be required. This will permit Bradley to complete the sale of a portion of the land, all of which is in Circle C West. Martin said, "That land will stay in the deal and I'll send Bradley a letter that says, based on his agreement to provide additional water quality measures he may proceed with securing a final plat. That let's him close on this sale." Martin said no council vote was needed for that action because, "it's in the nature of a 1704 determination," a process that approves such entitlements administratively. Slusher says that this arrangement was negotiated with Bradley by Mayor Kirk Watson late Wednesday evening.

Watson said in the public hearing last night that Bradley had been supplied with information about the possibility of a land swap in which the city would get the Spillar and Pfluger tracts in return for land in the redevelopment of Robert Mueller Municipal Airport or at Lake Walter Long Metropolitan Park.

Latest major changes in agreement

Before the public addressed the council, attorney Dobson presented changes in the deal, many of which had not been aired. Key among these not reported before was that Bradley has agreed to deed to the city a tract of land at Brodie Lane and Slaughter Lane. "Bradley had a contract to sell that for almost a million dollars," Dobson said. Because there is a cave on the property the property should not be developed, he said. The city will consider waiving more capital recovery fees in exchange for a deed to that property, he said.

Through a three-way agreement between Bradley, the city and the Circle C Homeowners Association, Bradley will donate a school site and the impervious cover exceptions for schools and daycare facilities will be dropped out of the deal. This answers one of the objections of the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA). (See In Fact Daily March 1.)

Nancy McClintock, environmental resources manager for the Watershed Protection Department, negotiated an easement for a Nature Trail that will total 100 acres, based on a 400 foot wide easement that's buffered by 100-foot, no-build zones on each side. The intent is to hook that up to Nature Trails on land acquired under Proposition 2, if land use plans for the Prop 2 land can accommodate the trails without harming water quality.

McClintock said a new and important change in the agreement had been achieved to mitigate the impact on surrounding private wells, caused by a well to be drilled into the lower Trinity Aquifer to irrigate the golf course. In addition to annual and monthly pumping limitations on the irrigation well, she said, "If at any time irrigation from the Trinity Aquifer impacts any areas wells, the golf course will add supplemental potable water to protect those wells."

Public offers lots of advice

SOSA Attorney Grant Godfrey said that the Spillar and Pfluger tracts would get less development than allowed by the Save Our Springs Ordinance if the city did not provide water and sewer service. That would allow Hays County regulations governing lot size to control the development. "The only way to get around that is being on a public sewer which only the City of Austin can provide," he said. If the settlement is approved, to avoid future wrangles in the courthouse or in arbitration, Godfrey said, the city should get title to identifiable land.

Bill Bunch, SOSA general counsel but still on sabbatical, spoke for himself. He said the agreement fails to limit pumping from any existing wells on the Spillar and Pfluger tracts, "so the groundwater restrictions are essentially meaningless." He said the conservation easement was really no more than a contract that can be voided. He faulted the traffic impact analysis of 6,000 trips per day for the entire development. "Let's be honest and know that every business partner Bradley has had he's ended up in court with, and this is a business partnership," Bunch said, drawing extended applause.

SOSA Vice Chair Mary Arnold said she was trying to answer in her remarks, "Mary, what do you really think about this agreement?" She said zoning 3,000 acres deserves to be handled separately. She said the Golf Course Management Plan was good but needed to include timeframes. She said the wholesale water and wastewater agreement had no maximum service level specified–ironic in light of the tight caps put on wholesale sewer service to the cities of Rollingwood and West Lake Hills. Lift stations even in rural areas should be built to city specifications to avoid spills, she said.

Al St. Louis, a daily swimmer at Barton Springs Pool, reminded the council, "The bottom line is what happens to Barton Springs, the bottom of the aquifer that (Bradley) plans to build over."

Susan Hoover, a board member of the Circle C Homeowners Association, along with other board members, urged the council to approve the settlement. She said no one was totally happy with the compromises but they were necessary for a settlement. She argued that the points raised in the SOSA resolution had been fixed or addressed but SOSA has not endorsed the settlement. "It's time for everyone to pull together," she said.

SOSA Board Member John Scanlan, an attorney, urged the council to reconsider the exemptions for impervious cover that may result from condemnation of land. He asked that the conservation easement be obtained for the entire 3,076 acres and then deeded back to Bradley Interests as needed until the 339 acres of allowable impervious cover had been consumed. The remainder should be conveyed to a nonprofit organization created by the council, he said, to administer but not to convey to others. The easement should be treated like a restrictive covenant, he said, so that every land owner in the development has the right to sue to enforce the covenant.

Mike Blizzard, political committee chair for SOS Action, a political action committee separate from SOSA, said this group had voted unanimously to oppose the agreement in its current form. He urged that utilities not be extended into the Hill Country. "Just about everything real and a lot of concrete goes to Bradley," he said. "The city gets very little that's tangible. It gets promises, paper, words open to interpretation, dispute, legal challenge and open to change. It's best to purchase and preserve the land." Noting the council had found no bar to approving financing for $73 million to buy long-term water rights from the Lower Colorado River Authority without an election, Blizzard urged the council to follow that precedent and buy the Spillar and Pfluger tracts. "The citizens that so many of us trust oppose this–Mary Arnold, John Scanlan and Bill Bunch. These people have been proven right again and again and again. This city would be much better off if councils had listened to these people. Please don't vote for this."

Former SOSA Chair Kirk Mitchell said, "How much will taxpayers pay to become a venture capital source for a guy who doesn't pay his bills?"

Robert Singleton likened the situation to a Stephen King movie in which every dead body that showed up had a note that said, "Give me what I want and I'll leave." Of the agreement, he said, "This is a mess. It's ambiguous. It's unenforceable." He drew applause when he noted that the latest changes to the agreement had just become available, and "this is when the board and commission hearings should be started." He warned that Stratus Properties would be coming for a similar deal.

Council Member Slusher said the city had spent almost all of the $65 million in Proposition 2 funds to preserve land and the city has limited resources to consider buying the Spillar and Pfluger tracts. "I've heard from folks in the room and others there is the possibility of getting the private sector to come through but there hasn't been a breakthrough, and we don't know if the owner is willing to sell. But we need help from the private sector," he said. "Show me the money."

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said the two weeks remaining before the final vote provided time for more input, but from her view the agreement gets the city more than it gets by winning in court. "If you really think a deal with Gary Bradley is not in the interest of the aquifer, then I need to hear those arguments," she said. "If the trust of Gary Bradley is part of the issue, I don't see the logic, because Gary brings a record of making things happen when he chooses to make things happen."

SOS Alliance Chair Robin Rather breaks ranks to support the Bradley Settlement

Says her goal is to preserve Spillar and Pfluger tracts

There are signs of a stress fracture within the leadership ranks of the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA). While all key members of SOSA who spoke to the council last night advised rejecting or slowing down the Bradley Settlement, one who perhaps spoke even louder wasn't there. SOSA Chair Robin Rather, along with George Cofer, program director for the Save Barton Springs Association, has come out individually in support of the Bradley Settlement. This despite the fact that the SOSA board on Feb. 28 voted unanimously to oppose the Bradley Settlement in its then-present form. (See In Fact Daily March 1.)

A two-page letter signed by Rather and Cofer, delivered yesterday, urges the mayor and council to "seize the opportunity to do whatever it takes to finish the job and settle our differences with ( Gary) Bradley…Please do not lose this chance to control this 3,000 acres over the Recharge Zone while you still can."

The letter says that work will be started immediately to raise funds to buy land and retire it permanently, starting with the Spillar and Pfluger Tracts. "Many other environmental and business groups and citizens have already indicated their willingness to help us 'buy down' as many acres as we can," the letter states.

The mention of Rather and Cofer's position at last night's public hearing by one of the Circle C Ranch residents delivered a jaw-dropping surprise to the crowd of environmentalists in the audience, some of whom were visibly dismayed.

Nevertheless Rather is going to aggressively pursue the possibility of obtaining as much of the Spillar and Pfluger Tracts as possible. "George (Cofer) and John Scanlan and I will be meeting with Gary Bradley," she told In Fact Daily last night. "It's clear to me from tonight's conversation that one of the major things that the deal is missing…is a big chunk of permanently protected land. It's my goal to do whatever it takes to get the largest possible number of acres protected under some fund-raising or land swap or some kind of a deal."

Council hears neighbors' complaints on Central Booking, asks for options

Council Member Slusher asks for serious look at city taking over 7th Street facility

Marion Demberg, who lives across the street from the new Travis County Criminal Justice Building, told the City Council Thursday she and other residents of the Regency Apartments have suffered from "dirt, noise and lies for the last three years," since construction of the building began. Demberg, 84, pleaded with the council not to move Central Booking of prisoners to the building across the street from her apartment. She told In Fact Daily, "It's been a Hell on Earth life (since construction began) and if Central Booking comes to Nueces and 10th Street, it will continue."

On the other side of the issue was Police Chief Stan Knee, who told the council that financial concerns and overcrowding at the 7th Street and I-35 Municipal Court building, where Central Booking currently resides, led the department to recommend moving the process to 10th Street. The county now expects the new facility to be complete by September, after many delays and cost overruns.

The new jail is designed to hold 274 prisoners, Knee said, and has permission from the state to house as many as 476 arrestees. Knee said the 7th Street facility was designed to house only 58 prisoners but often holds more than 175 arrestees. Last year Knee said, 57,537 arrests were processed through Central Booking. On an average day, he said, 113 prisoners were released from the 7th Street facility. Currently, the city pays the county about $1.9 million per year to provide jail supervision and inmate services and share civil liability with the county. The estimated cost of transferring all booking and magistration to the new county facility is $2.55 million for FY 2001, the chief said.

Knee said one alternative to transferring Central Booking to the 10th Street building would be to renovate the Municipal Court facility and let the Austin Police Department take over jail operations. The city would then contract with the county to book and hold persons charged with Class C city ordinance violations only. After magistration, which consists of a judge giving the Miranda warning, setting of bond and explanation of charges, prisoners would either be released on bond or transported to the 10th Street facility. That is the current procedure. The city would be solely responsible for civil lawsuits over incidents, such as those concerning injury or death, which occur in the jail. Knee estimated cost of renovation at $1.5 to $ 2.5 million and operating costs at $2.7 to $3 million, if the city takes over those duties.

A third alternative–building and operating a full service jail–would probably require a bond election, Knee said. Council members did not ask about that option. Knee discussed various measures which might mitigate the impact of the facility on the 10th Street neighborhood. Knee said the county would develop an efficient transportation system, including a bus to go around the city and pick up arrestees. Neighbors were not impressed. When Knee said released prisoners would be given bus passes, several in the audience laughed aloud.

Council Member Willie Lewis told Knee he thought the facility needed to transport released prisoners away from the facility. Lewis also questioned the chief about how prisoners would be taken from cars and vans into the jail. Knee said there were about nine spots, including two for buses, in the secure area. However, the chief acknowledged that all of those spots would sometimes be full. On those occasions, he said, the city and county anticipate officers parking on 10th Street with their prisoners.

Council Member Daryl Slusher asked what kind of protection the city would have from the county increasing the price in the city-county contract. Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner said the city's attorneys would be drafting the contract to keep the costs at $2.55 million. Slusher got a round of applause from Demberg and other unhappy neighbors when he said, "We need to take a real serious and pretty quick look at Option 2 (city taking over the 7th Street facility)."

Conner said the city would still have to enter at least a short-term agreement with the county to accept city prisoners during renovation of the 7th Street facility. Following the meeting, Chris Riley, president of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, told In Fact Daily the new jail facility would "release 40,000 prisoners a year into the neighborhood, regardless of how you bring them in. Then add the family and friends," of those arrested, who will come to the facility to try to secure their release. None of those people will have a place to park, Riley said. Currently, even Austin History Center volunteers have to park next to Duncan Park, several blocks away, he said. Riley said he hopes that when council members look at the issue again, they will add the cost to the neighborhood into the equation–and decide that moving the facility is just too expensive.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman announced that she, Lewis and County Commissioners Todd Baxter and Karen Sonleitner would hold a public meeting on the jail facility at the Stokes Building on March 17 at 10:30 a.m. The four make up the joint city-county committee on central booking operations.

Singing quipster…Local legendary songwriter Bill Oliver of Barton Springs Eternal fame bellied up to the mike last night with guitar in hand to offer opinions in musical form, much to the delight of the mostly partisan environmental crowd. One line was, "You're on a different level if you're dealing with the devil, and there'll be no turning back if you go down Bradley way."… Pipeline tragedy airs Sunday…The father of a 10-year-old boy burned to death last summer in the explosion of a gasoline pipeline in Bellingham, Washington, will speak Sunday, March 12, at Bedichek Middle School cafeteria, South 1st and William Cannon. Frank King will be introduced by U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. King's visit is sponsored by the Save Our Springs Alliance and other environmental groups opposed to the Longhorn Partners Pipeline… Nader in Austin…Presidential candidate Ralph Nader will speak Sunday, March 12, at 1:30 p.m. in Wooldridge Park, 900 Guadalupe. Nader will be introduced by Jim Hightower as the candidate kicks off the drive to gather the 60,000 signatures needed to get on the Texas ballot.

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