Save Our Springs Alliance opposes Bradley Settlement unless repaired
Alliance names seven objections and hopes they'll be fixedAfter months of study, the Save Our Springs Alliance has finally taken a position on the proposed Bradley Settlement, covering development rights for more than 3,000 acres of land and settling litigation with developer Gary Bradley. While the organization lauds both city and Bradley for the serious effort that's been made, it has found severe fault with the deal and opposes passage in its current form. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the settlement March 9 and attorney Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, who's negotiating on the city's behalf, tells In Fact Daily that date has not changed. "SOSA would like nothing more than to settle our differences with Bradley," says Chair Robin Rather. "We'd sincerely like to end this war but we feel a serious responsibility to end it for real. By specifying these areas where there's confusion or the deal is not tight enough, I hope and pray the city and Bradley will find a way to fix these problems." Mary Arnold, a SOSA board member, said the review team that pored over the proposed settlement included Rather, UT zoology professor Mark Kirkpatrick, SOSA attorney Grant Godfrey, attorney John Scanlan, planner Scheleen Johnson, and pyschologist Mary Gay Maxwell. The SOSA board passed a resolution Monday night regarding the Bradley Settlement. While recognizing the proposal provides for impervious cover limits and structural controls that the Bradley Interests would not otherwise agree to, SOSA says the positive factors are outweighed by seven concerns, as follows: (1) Ensure enforcement–The proposal disallows third-party enforcement. Dobson says that's correct. "We're still exploring that," he says, "but not a lot of third parties are looking to dive into the middle of this." (See In Fact Daily Feb. 25. Neither the Trust for Public Land nor the Texas Nature Conservancy saw a fit.) Arnold says, "There's no reason why a new (nonprofit) 501(3)(c) could not be set up to do that," she says. (2) Identify land–The proposal does not permanently protect identifiable land for water quality protection. "True," Dobson says. "This is not a Proposition 2 purchase. We're getting the development rights above what is allowed in the agreement. We're not getting a tract we can stand on and say, 'This is a conservation easement.'" He said it should not be viewed in that light but as "a settlement of lawsuits." Arnold says the city is waiving capital recovery fees and extending water and wastewater to serve the Spillar and Pfluger tracts under this deal. "We'd still like to see some green spaces on the map for our money," she says. (3) Limit pumpage–The proposal does not meaningfully limit water withdrawals out of the Trinity ( Aquifer) for any purpose, including watering the golf course. "I'm hopeful by the public hearing Thursday we can address water limits," Dobson says. A just-released proposed Golf Course Management Plan, however, would limit pumpage to 77.8 million gallons per year. If approved, that might help ease the fears of residents in the area of Spillar tract, where the golf course will be irrigated by wells drawing from the Trinity. But pumping 77.8 million gallons a year may still harm residential wells. Erin Foster, chair of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership, says hydrogeologist Nico Hauwert of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District has estimated the impact of pumping that amount of water for the golf course would drop the water level in the Trinity Aquifer by "75 to 80 feet." "I don't know of a well in the Village of Bear Creek deep enough to handle that," she says. (4) Institute controls–The hotel, conference (center) and golf course complex lacks specific and enforceable controls on pollution and density. "I disagree," Dobson says, pointing to the Golf Course Management Plan. "To characterize that as not detailed is not accurate," he says. Arnold says there are no specifics to state when the plan will be submitted to the city, how much time the city will have to review it, and who can rule whether it's okay or not. "We need more details," she says, "to tie down construction sequence, and controls for erosion and sedimentation." (5) Limit infrastructure–As noted in the Scientific Consensus Paper (a 1997 report signed by 39 scientists and engineers), public infrastructure acts as a catalyst for future growth and further degradation of water and quality of life. The proposal provides for substantial extensions of water and wastewater services and other public infrastructure and does not provide the certainty that this infrastructure will be extended even further. "There's been debate in this town for 20 years on whether extending water and wastewater infrastructure is a spawn of satan or the right thing to do," Dobson says. "This will not end the debate, but it will be sized so there cannot be an extension of service." Arnold says, "Water and wastewater lines are built to handle peak flows and the pattern is they can always get more service out of the lines." She says the city would be more in control if it provides retail service rather than wholesale service to Mid-Tex Utility. As to Mid-Tex's certificate of convenience and necessity that gives it the legal right to serve the new development, Arnold says, "If Bradley wants service, he will have to do something about that." (6) Eliminate exemptions–The proposed conservation easement has exceptions so broad that the exceptions effectively eviscerate the conservation easement. "I share some of their concerns on the conservation easement and I'm trying to renegotiate it," Dobson says. "I hope to allay some concern." Arnold says one of the exemptions would allow impervious cover for daycare centers to be counted at 50 percent of the actual amount. "Why have any exemptions?" Arnold says. "It could be a big loophole, for churches that offer daycare." (7) Guarantee closure–Rather than providing an end to disputes with the Bradley Interests, the proposal would ensure future conflict over complicated development issues. "No kidding," scoffs Dobson. "That's the point. Would we rather be litigating enforcement action against Bradley or twiddling our thumbs while the bulldozers roll? The whole point is to get something we can enforce." Arnold sees a different scenario. "Bradley says do the deal, move the impervious cover, and maybe we'll add some property to it. It sounds like he'll try to change it and manipulate it in the future. That's what worries us. We want to know what we're getting into." Arnold says, "That's why we're concerned if future City Councils can change it." The resolution states that SOSA will not reconsider the matter unless substantial revisions have remedied the flaws. "If substantial revisions are not achieved, the Alliance urges the City of Austin to undertake all possible actions, including litigation, to further the city's Smart Growth policies and permanently protect Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer from its chief threat–pollution associated with the urbanization of land." "These are not nit-picky hassles," Rather says of the items stated in the resolution, "these are fundamental problems." Still, everyone hopes these problems can be fixed. "It's important to understand that we've been cheering for them," Rather says of the negotiations. "There's a tremendous frustration we can get this close and not get over the goal line. We hope to see the city and Bradley close the gaps so people can get behind (the settlement) and feel good about it." Arnold voices similar sentiments. "There were several board members who made comments they were disappointed we had to do this resolution, because they hoped the agreement would accomplish everything," Arnold says. "We really hope it will work out." Still, to get SOSA's backing for the deal, the problems must be genuinely addressed. "Let's bury the hatchet and not cover it with a napkin that will disintegrate in the first rain," Rather says. Planning Commissioners reject deadline for Bradley deal recommendations Commissioners say they lack information needed to act The Planning Commission said last night they had an incomplete picture of the proposed deal to settle several lawsuits and years of battles between developer Gary Bradley and the city, postponing until next week making a recommendation to the City Council. Council had requested that boards and commissions make recommendations by March 1–today. However, after hearing from the city's attorney, Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, the Save Our Springs Association's (SOSA) attorney, Grant Godfrey, and a handful of concerned citizens, the commission asked for additional backup materials and an additional week to make its recommendation. Dobson told the commission, "The deal we have meets, and in some cases exceeds, the goals of the term sheet," which was first presented to the City Council last fall and approved for negotiations. However, Godfrey told commission members that SOSA had decided to oppose the agreement after months of studying city documents. "We didn't do this in some kind of knee-jerk reaction," Godfrey said. "It's a very tough situation. We do not believe this is a good deal for the City of Austin. The top scientific recommendation (for protecting Barton Springs) has been to act to direct building away from the Edwards Aquifer, away from the recharge zone." The agreement, he said, has the opposite effect. "We at SOS are disappointed we can't support this." Various members of the city's Watershed Protection Department staff gave details of pollutant loads, impervious cover limitations, golf course design and projected water usage. Dobson pointed out the importance of the golf course and acknowledged that the idea of putting a golf course over the recharge zone disturbs many people. However, he said, if the city fails to reach an agreement with Bradley there will likely be two or three courses in the same area, none of them governed by the limitations set forth in the agreement. Nancy McClintock, manager of the Environmental Resource Division of the Watershed Protection Department, told Commissioners a new provision has just been added to the agreement. It limits the amount of water Bradley interests can pump from wells that will be used to irrigate the golf course. Following the meeting, McClintock gave In Fact Daily a copy of the golf course plan. The total maximum yearly groundwater pumpage is set at 77.8 million gallons. During July, the wells can pump 15.4 million gallons, which is the highest monthly allowance. According to the draft agreement, "Regardless of whether or not wells which are drilled to irrigate the golf course are located within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, Bradley Interest agrees to comply with the drought management provision of the district." Under a declaration of Stage 1 drought, for example, the agreement states that groundwater pumpage will be reduced by 10 percent. Monthly water needs that exceed the pumpage limits "will be satisfied by the city (through Mid-Tex Utility)," according to the agreement. The agreement contains blank spaces for the price of that water, which has not yet been negotiated, McClintock said. In response to the new information, Godfrey told the commission, "I'm happy the city has achieved at least some limitation on groundwater pumping." He also said SOSA has specific recommendations to make the deal better, which were outlined in written information he gave to the commission and Dobson. (See story, above.) "As good a deal as this is, it is repeating or perpetuating the mistakes of the past," Godfrey concluded. Several citizens stayed past 11:30 p.m. to ask the commission not to approve zoning proposed for the more than 3,000 acres. Though most of that zoning is for single-family housing, some is for office and local retail. Clay Robison, whose child attends Kiker Elementary School, said a tract to be zoned for offices is now serving as the school's only playground. He asked that it remain a playground and said he was concerned about extra traffic the offices would generate next door to the school. Several Circle C residents were worried about overcrowding at the school, among the most crowded in the district. Dobson said the city has asked Bradley to donate land for another school. However, Dobson said the zoning in the proposed agreement allows for 3,050 new single-family units. If the agreement is not approved, he said, Bradley interests have plans to build more than 6,800 housing units. He said he appreciated the time the SOS Alliance had put into analyzing the proposal, calling their objections "principled and well-reasoned." Dobson concluded by reminding commissioners, "Our choices are not this deal vs. a perfect world." Instead, he said, the city's negotiators have to ask what course of action can best preserve the city's public policy prerogatives. Robert Singleton, who has criticized the agreement at every public hearing before the council and in other forums, said the commission should recommend that council postpone a decision until March 23. However, Singleton said he had heard that Bradley would not allow another postponement. Dobson confirmed to In Fact Daily that Bradley has said the deal must be completed by March 9 or Bradley will back out. Planning Commission denies, then approves new Circle C subdivision Decision hinged on settlement agreement with Webb Troup Enterprises After initially refusing to approve a new subdivision of the ever-controversial Circle C Ranch, the Planning Commission last night granted approval of the subdivision, which is part of a settlement agreement between the city and developer Webb Troup Enterprises Inc. The subdivision, known as Circle C Ranch Phase C, Section 8-B consists of 140 lots proposed for single-family housing, plus roadways. Grant Godfrey, attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance, asked the commission not to approve the subdivision, saying that House Bill 1704, which allows developers to claim grandfathering rights when environmental regulations change, should not be applied in the Barton Springs Zone. Trann Lackey, of the Development Review and Inspection Department, told commissioners the settlement agreement related to a lawsuit that alleged the city had violated equal protection laws and was not related to HB 1704. Most commissioners apparently agreed with Ben Heimsath, the commission parliamentarian, who said, "I don't believe there's any way to give good, responsible opinions on this issue." Commissioner Betty Baker pointedly asked whether the subdivision met all city, county and state requirements. Commissioners by law must approve any subdivision that meets all those requirements and may face lawsuits if they act otherwise. Lackey said the subdivision did meet all the requirements, but under the settlement agreement the city had given up enforcement of some regulations. After that response, only Commission Chair Art Navarro and Commissioners Jim Robertson and Baker voted in favor of approving the subdivision. Commissioners Robin Cravey, Jean Mather, Gwen Webb, Susana Almanza, and Heimsath abstained. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula was absent. Later in the evening, Baker made a motion to reconsider the matter. William McClean of Minter Joseph & Thornhill, who represents Webb Troup Enterprises, told commissioners the subdivision had met "all applicable code requirements." Webb, also an attorney, said following the law is "not necessarily a simple matter. The Planning Commission is bound by the settlement agreement." At that point, Navarro said the group should confer with Assistant City Attorney David Smith in executive session. Following that session, Cravey and Mather voted to approve the subdivision along with Navarro, Baker and Robertson. Webb, Heimsath and Almanza abstained. Excellent child care…At 10:30 a.m. today St. Edward's University and the Fund for Child Care Excellence will hold a news conference to announce formation of the fund, and outline plans and membership. It will be held at St. Luke's Infant Care Center, 1306 W. Lynn. Mayor Kirk Watson, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, St. Ed's President George Martin, and State Representative Sherri Greenberg will be on hand. For more info, call the fund's Susan Shaw at 428-1044… Water misers…Officials at the University of Texas at Austin estimate savings of 1.5 million gallons of water annually and more than $300,000 in savings over seven years from installing 247 new front-loading washing machines at 16 student residential locations on campus. The City of Austin's rebate program contributed $150 per washer. The washers use 25 percent less water, less detergent, and spin clothes to require less dryer time. For more info, call Tony Gregg at 499-3557… Dollars for Doggett…He's running for reelection and U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, is digging for campaign dough. His campaign kickoff and fund-raiser will be held 2-4 p.m. Sunday, March 12 at the home of Bill and Stephanie Whitehurst, 2703 Westlake Drive. Tickets are $25 each, with sponsorships available from $100 to $1,000. Volunteers are needed too. 478-3369 or e-mail email@example.com. Although Doggett has no Democratic challenger, he will face one of three Republicans vying for the GOP nomination: Jerry J. Mikus Jr., Charles Moritz, and Ronnie Gjemre.
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