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SOS Ordinance compliance no guarantee of aquifer's health

Wednesday, July 26, 2000 by

Planning Commissioners could not agree Tuesday on whether a planned unit development (PUD) proposal for 120 acres on U.S. Hwy. 290 West, near the intersection of FM 1826, would be better or worse for the Barton Creek Watershed than what was approved for the property in 1994.

Laura Toups Berland of Urban Design Group told commissioners the project on the edge of the city limits, “is basically an infill project. It is one of the last remaining undeveloped pieces of property in the immediate area,” she said. Toups Berland said the developer, Buffalo Equities Ltd., was proposing 70,000 square feet of commercial development, some on 290, and some near the Austin Community College’s Pinnacle campus.

In addition, she said the development, called the West Park PUD, would include a mixed residential area including apartments and townhomes. With 1,500 units, Toups Berland said, the density works out to about 8.6 units/acre. Property owner Rudy Belton had worked out an agreement with ACC to share parking with the campus. In return, residents would have access to ACC’s driveway.

The property is currently zoned SF-2 and “covers a greater portion of the site,” she said. By clustering the homes and using smaller lots and narrower streets, as set forth in the city’s Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) ordinance, the planner said, the proposed PUD would add “about 30 acres to greenspace.” Both the old plan and the new plan comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance.

Toups Berland estimated that the rental property would cost “probably a little less than $1 a foot.” City staff recommend granting of the PUD, noting that the site is over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, classified as a contributing zone for the Barton Springs Watershed. According to a letter from Toups Berland, the new plan “allows for the consolidation of the development in the center of the tract on the 0-15 percent slope area…(minimizing) disruption compared with what would occur with a single-family plan such as the preliminary plan previously approved for this site. This consolidation also allows for a continuous 63-acre greenbelt around the development.”

Commissioner Jim Robertson made a motion to approve the PUD with the proviso that the developer make pedestrian connections with single-family neighborhoods. Commissioner Sterling Lands supplied the second.

Commissioner Robin Cravey said, “ I’m going to have to say a few words about this because the development itself is well designed. I want developers to bring these TNDs, but I want them to bring them in the Desired Development Zone . “The problem with this development is there’s just too much of it. It’s too dense,” Cravey said. “ We just read that it’s going to be necessary to dig up part of the Colorado River to lay footing for the pedestrian bridge (over Town Lake)… and there’s poison in those sediments.” Polluting the underground aquifer is even worse, he said. “We’re really talking about the soul of the city—Barton Springs, Edwards Aquifer. We’ve passed an initiative to try to protect it, and some people think that will protect the aquifer. It’s just not enough.”

The PUD, with its 900 new living units would mean 1,800 more toilets and 1,800 more cars, Cravey said. “We’ve just heard (during a presentation from Michael Aulick of CAMPO) about the tremendous pressure that urbanization brings to extend infrastructure. Everybody who moves out there is going to want to be close to a Target, and pretty soon there’s going to be a Target. To go from 200 (units originally approved) to the proposed 900 is just too much.”

Robertson responded, “I would like to point out that this does comply with the SOS Ordinance…It increases the open space over what would otherwise go in here. Yes, it’s a lot of people but I think it does a lot of good things…This plan reduces the construction on steep slopes. It probably improves water quality… Yes, it’s not in the DDZ. But if it’s not appropriate to put it at 290 and 1826, then where is it appropriate? I also worry about the chilling effect. How many good TND site plans can we turn down without it having some kind of effect ?”

Commissioner Betty Baker quipped, “I’m really concerned because I’m going to agree with Mr. Cravey.” Cravey said, “I’m going to mark this down.” Baker continued, “In looking at a PUD development, it should be superior to what would (happen) under regular zoning. I fail to find that.” Baker said the proposal was not truly a TND because it lacks traditional single- family housing. She also said she had concerns about the affordability of this housing.

Lands said, “ I believe it’s in our best interest to protect as best we can the resources of the city. It would appear to me that this is a very well thought out development, and has taken into consideration all of the hoops we have required people to jump through for the past few years. By not supporting this we are giving people the wrong message as it relates to the housing shortage in this area. It does not present, in my opinion, a significant threat to the resources we’re committed to protecting.”

Commissioner Jean Mather joined Cravey and Baker in voting no. Chair Art Navarro and Commissioners Ray Vrudhula and Lands joined Robertson in voting for the PUD. Commissioner Ben Heimsath was absent. Commissioner Susana Almanza abstained. Baker made a motion to place the item on the Commission’s Aug. 15 agenda, at which time there may be as many as three new commissioners, since Navarro has not re-applied and it is unclear whether Almanza and Heimsath will be reappointed.

Variance from compatibility rules

Smaller gap between homes ok with neighbors

Planning Commissioners gave unanimous approval for a waiver from compatibility standards for another development, this one in the Desired Development Zone, at 411 St. Elmo Road. Nikelle Meade and Jerry Harris of Brown McCarroll & Oaks Hartline, attorneys for property owner David Young, said they had met for months with neighbors to reach agreement on the project. John Herron wrote a letter to the commission on behalf of the neighborhood asking that St. Elmo Condominiums be given permission to space buildings six to seven feet apart—instead of the 10 feet required by ordinance.

“We have already submitted the revised site plan reduced to 44 units,” Meade said. “We created a conceptual plan along with the neighborhood.” She said the compatibility standards have been “inconsistently applied to condo projects.” Meade said the developer had agreed to provide a buffer of between 30 and 50 feet on the edges of the development, “so we wouldn’t affect the character of the neighborhood,” plus nearly an acre of greenbelt and fence. Seven commissioners voted for the project, with Commissioner Ben Heimsath absent and Commissioner Susana Almanza temporarily off the dais.

Young told In Fact Daily that his original goal had been to build condos in the $120,000-$160,000 price range. However, he said Legend Homebuilders is interested in the project, and may want to upgrade the development.

Bitter End considering options…Allan Baker, Co-Chair of the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus, announced yesterday that the group is postponing a planned demonstration against The Bitter End Bistro & Brewery at 311 Colorado. ALGPC had planned the Friday demonstration to protest the bistro’s sponsorship of the Dr. Laura radio show on KLBJ AM. Baker said the Bitter End is considering pulling its ads from the show. "It surprised me that the Bitter End would be a sponsor of the Dr. Laura show, since it's a popular place with Austin's gay and lesbian community,” Baker said. However, the group will be announcing a ‘hit list’ Friday of Dr. Laura’s other sponsors. The group promises to list those targeted Dr. Laura sponsors on its web site at on Friday… Bubba party planners.. South Austin Democrats who want to help plan the group’s annual Yeller Dawg Event will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at Rosie’s Tamale House, South Congress and Oltorf. Come early to eat and socialize. Call Elbert Donsbach for more information, 442-5034. SAD’s regular monthly meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 8, also at Rosie’s Tamale House. Election of officers is on the agenda. Call Walter Timberlake for more information at 442-6688… The project formerly known as…The Mirabeau, not Gotham, condominium project will be back on the City Council agenda August 17, according to Sarah Crocker, consultant for the much-revised project. Crocker said she and other development representatives will be meeting with south Austin neighbors on a weekly basis until then…Quarries postponement?…Dan Arredondo of the Balcones Woods Neighborhood Association asked the Planning Commission last night to postpone next week's disputed over a conditional use permit to allow buiding of a high school and other amenities at the Hyde Park Baptist Church's Quarries property. The Commission told Arredondo no action could be taken since the matter was not on last night's agenda. Arredondo said he was seeking the delay because next Tuesday, Aug. 1, is National Neighbors Night Out, which he expects his neighbors to attend, instead of the Planning Commission hearing. The church and its neighbors were sent to mediation by the commission on April 11.

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