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Environmentalists, neighborhoods stirring to reexamine Terrace PUD

Tuesday, April 18, 2000 by

Neighbor claims developer not living up to development agreement

A concerned neighbor who lives just across Barton Creek from the Terrace Planned Unit Development (PUD) at South MoPac Expressway and Loop 360 is campaigning for the city to reexamine whether the project is complying with requirements. Political heat was deflected from the Terrace PUD when Computer Sciences Corp. was persuaded to locate downtown instead of in this development on a slope above Barton Creek, just upstream from Barton Springs Pool. But another political fracas erupted in January when the Austin American-Statesman broke the news that the city was involved in securing mitigation land so that development could go forward with the blessing of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). (See Statesman articles of Jan. 20 and Jan. 26, 2000).

Rodolfo Carrera, a Ph.D. technical director for Valley Research Corp. in Austin, spent more than an hour last night presenting his case to the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) and answering questions. At the conclusion of his part of the program, the SBCA board voted to approve the motion of steering committee member Mary Ann Neely to form a small working group of members from SBCA, the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Austin Neighborhoods Council to devise a strategy and visit with senior managers of the City of Austin. By the time the meeting adjourned at 10 p.m. it was too late for In Fact Daily to reach a spokesman for the Terrace PUD to comment on the presentation.

George Cofer, program director for SBCA, introduced the speaker and said Carrera had spent some 50 to 100 hours researching the Terrace PUD. Carrera came armed with overhead projector and a 15-page presentation, plus bundles of rolled up plat maps obtained from the city's Development Review and Inspection Department. He contends that the 75 acres of mitigation land that was to have been secured to satisfy the FWS concerns for the Barton Springs Salamander should instead be 196 acres. He said the lower figure was arrived at because Terrace PUD was allowed to exclude Ashton Park, an apartment complex of 308 units, and seven parking garages from calculations for how much mitigation should be required. Carrera said the total development should be viewed as 3.2 million square feet (SF), not the approximately 1.3 million SF he said was reported by the Statesman.

Carrera suggested that the Terrace be limited to what he thinks is required in the PUD agreement by including the apartments and parking garages in the total constructed area and seeking 196 acres in mitigation. He is also concerned about observing covenants he says are in the agreement for restrictions on building appearance, external lighting, a maximum building height of 60 feet, and a better traffic impact analysis (TIA).

Peter Hess, a past president of the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association, said of the Terrace PUD, "This is not a classic case of grandfathering. The PUD agreement set out specifics and can be rendered invalid if major changes are made to the plan," Hess said. He said the most important parts are that the 28 percent limit on impervious cover is really 68 percent (when the apartments and garages are taken into account) and the TIA is inadequate.

Craig Smith noted that the FWS is recommending that the Village of Bee Cave employ mitigation through preservation of off-site land in perpetuity so that the effective impervious cover (developed land plus off-site land) does not exceed 10 percent impervious cover in the recharge zone and 15 percent in the upland zone. Even with such mitigation, on-site development is to be limited to 30 percent in the recharge zone and 35 percent in the upland zone. (This was expressed in a FWS letter to the Village of Bee Caves dated Jan. 25.)

Jeff Jack, president of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, said the traffic concerns over the Terrace PUD are important, because traffic in the southwest quadrant of the city is already jammed during rush hours. Hess agreed, saying pressure on South MoPac Expressway would mean more people would try to evade blockages by going down Lamar and possibly cutting through neighborhoods. In addition, Hess said, "There will be immense pressure to widen MoPac and open more of the southwest area to development."

Asked why the city manager was not holding Terrace PUD to the agreement as Carrera represented it, Carrera said he didn't think the city manager was aware of it.

"What in fact has happened is that we've been so overwhelmed by things that the Terrace PUD has fallen off our radar," Cofer said of environmental organizations. He said he didn't think the City Council members were aware of the situation as described by Carrera. "Politically in dealing with the council we cannot say, 'Tear up the deal and start over.'" He said the objective should be to make the Terrace PUD "comply with the deal they've made."

Neighborhoods against rules for on-site sewage pitch for environmental support

Save Barton Creek Association listens but takes no action

Officers of two Northwest Austin neighborhood associations last night pitched their environmental concerns over proposed on-site sewage facility rules to the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA).

Mitra Miller, vice president of the Glenlake Neighborhood Association, and Maggie Lewis, vice president of the Anderson Mill Estates Homeowners Association, brought engineer Jeff Snowden of Snowden Inc. as a technical expert in the matter. The trio said they had been attending the joint meetings of the committee composed of members of the Planning Commission, Water and Wastewater Commission, and Environmental Board that has been reviewing the proposed OSSF rules.

That committee began meeting last September and finished its work late last month. (See In Fact Daily March 31.) The proposed rules were to be massaged further by city staff to address suggestions made by the Watershed Protection Department and then go back to the full boards and commissions represented on the committee for review before going to the City Council. Whatever proposed rules the City Council may approve must then be sent to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission for consideration and cannot be implemented until the TNRCC gives its okay. The city is following state rules in the interim.

Miller claimed there are three problems with the OSSF ordinance from an environmental perspective:

(1) Although the proposed ordinance rules for OSSFs seem to be more stringent than those of the TNRCC, they actually use unproven and potentially hazardous standards and equipment.

(2) The ordinance calls for unmanaged cluster systems, which may lead to significant sewage spills and environmental hazards.

(3) The rules for cluster systems allow for increased building and density of homes in subdivisions on the west side of Austin, which violates the city's stated goal of low population there because of the environmental impact of too many people and houses.

No one from city staff was present to comment on these claims and the SBCA board decided it should hear from city staff and consultants in a future meeting before taking any position in this matter.

Mitra claimed the City of Austin is not enforcing the rules it has, as evidenced by an incident she said occurred two years ago in Glenlake. She said two septic systems were overflowing and allowing raw sewage to flow into a creek and the city confirmed the situation but said nothing could be done.

SBCA Board Member Mary Ann Neely said that using a cluster system should have no effect on the overall density of a development, although it may allow denser development on part of a tract in return for more open space on other parts.

Engineer David Venhuizen said other ordinances control density and the OSSF rules would have no impact on that. He said cluster systems should be part of the city's sewer system because they offer benefits, although he expressed concern that such systems would be properly managed.

Snowden claimed that all users hooked to a cluster system would be "jointly and severally responsible" for the system and owners would be responsible to fix problems.

I live up City Park Road and I think this (clustering) is a way to annex me without giving me city services," Miller said. "The ordinance says that cluster systems and (central) sewer are comparable."

Venhuizen said in effect they are comparable, as the question is one of management and not hardware.

"If the city takes responsibility for it and says, 'You're going to get a cluster system but we'll take care of you,' I'd be happy," Miller said.

Vote early…If you want to get your voting chores out of the way early for the upcoming City Council election of May 6, then be advised that polling places will be open from April 19 through May 2. Early voting locations will be set up all over town. For a complete list, visit the Austin City Connection at… All day at LCRA…The Austin City Council will now be holding its entire meetings at the headquarters of the Lower Colorado River Authority beginning Thursday, April 20. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. in the Hancock Building, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. The morning portion of council meetings was being held at City Hall, 124 W. 8th St… Get in, get out…The public is invited to participate in the city's Downtown Access and Mobility Study. An open house will be conducted 3-7 p.m. Monday, April 24, in the 3rd floor training room of One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road. Citizens can view maps of the study area and obtain preliminary information about the project. Other public meetings will be held as the project progresses toward a final report to the City Council in the spring of 2001. For more info, call Alan Hughes at 499-7202 or Celeste Cromack at 499-3099… Candidates on parade…The Barton Hills, Horseshoe Bend and Zilker Neighborhood Associations will host a Candidates Forum Monday, April 24, 6:30-10 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of Kinney Avenue Baptist Church, 1801 Kinney Ave. The event is to be moderated by attorney Robin Cravey, a past president of Zilker Neighborhood Association and a current member of the city's Planning Commission… An epic story…The Real Estate Council of Austin is labeling its luncheon meeting program for Wednesday, April 26, as War & Peace. That seems a particularly apt title for guest speaker Gary Bradley, who finally consummated a deal with the City of Austin last month to end litigation and fix development regulations for more than 3,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land. (See In Fact Daily March 24.) The meeting will start at 11:30 a.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel. RSVP to 320-4151.

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