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City Council approves first exchange

Monday, August 7, 2000 by

Developer trades 5.5 times as much land, plus cash

The City Council has authorized a trade of 12.3 acres of the city’s Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) for 67.57 acres of similar property so that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and developer CCNG can relocate a wastewater treatment plant that was originally planned to be built inside the Barton Creek watershed. The swap of a portion of the property known as the Bohl’s tract was approved by a unanimous Council vote last week.

The treatment plant will serve the Bee Cave area, including a 1200-acre development project in the Village of Bee Cave. CCNG Development Co. plans to use treated effluent from the plant to water a golf course on the development. Daniel Porter is CEO and president of CCNG. Porter helped the city and the Nature Conservancy acquire a 900-acre tract known as the Lewis tract during 1998 and 1999.(See In Fact Daily, March 13, 2000)

According to a memo from David Armbrust, attorney for CCNG and Porter, “Daniel put his own money at risk ($3 million of non-refundable escrow money) to obtain a contract on the property and then advanced an additional $11 million of his own money to acquire the land based upon nothing more than a handshake agreement from the city. The city subsequently acquired the property at less than CCNG’s cost using Proposition Two funds. Without question, the city would not have been able to acquire the Lewis tract without Daniel’s help.”

Armbrust, of Armbrust Brown & Davis, said his client had acquired two tracts to trade for the BCP tract before presenting the proposal to the city Environmental Board on June 21. Those were the 16.87-acre Hiller tract and the nearly 38-acre Bunten tract, for a total of nearly 55 acres. On July 28, he said, “The city asked us to acquire the Sansom tract.” Armbrust said the 13-acre Sansom tract is valued at $100,000. Since private businesses can move so much faster than government entities, CCNG was able to buy the Sansom tract on July 31, he said.

The Environmental Board voted on June 21 to recommend against the swap. Lee Leffingwell, chair of the board, told In Fact Daily that “at the time that we passed the motion, we didn’t know about the Sansom tract. The motion basically says that the board opposed the transfer because of the high biological value of the Bohl's tract, and further, we were concerned about the precedent of swapping the land.” The 12.3 acres the city is giving up is part of the Bohl's tract. The board motion did not address the fact that the tract behind this section of Bohl’s tract is slated to become a Wal-Mart.

Dr. Don Koehler, a biologist who manages the BCP land program, testified against the swap at the June board meeting, Leffingwell said. The motion, which was made by Board Member Joyce Conner, reads, “As a general matter, the Board has strong reservations about selling or swapping any BCP land for reasons other than BCP initiated projects…the current swap proposal could pose serious environmental impacts to the remaining Bohl’s tract…”

Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell said, “The BCP staff had some concerns, based on certain risks. What will happen is an unknown. That is why the swap (ratio) is six to one,” she said. All the land the city is receiving in the deal is “ Zone 1 habitat,” meaning prime habitat, she said. In addition, CCNG is contributing $75,000 to study the effects of removing the 12.3 acre-tract from the habitat.

Mary Ruth Holder, an environmental attorney who serves on the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, has followed the BCP issues. She attended Thursday’s Council meeting to see what might happen with the proposal. Holder said that in spite of the Wal-Mart construction, environmentalists were concerned that golden-cheeked warblers would be driven out of the area by construction of the wastewater plant. Disruption of the area could facilitate the entry of cowbirds and blue jays, she said, which would spell trouble for the endangered songbirds.

Speaking for herself and not on behalf of the parks board, Holder said, "Given this is a wastewater plant, it’s interesting that the final mitigation is 5.5 to 1. That’s a positive. You need to send a message if you’re going to allow a land exchange, first it should only be under extraordinary circumstances and for compelling reasons. Here, I think the Council was weighing the harm to the Barton Creek watershed, versus that preserve. So I think the policy they articulate should say that. Then they ought to go on and implement criteria that meets that to make sure it’s tightly controlled. And this kind of mitigation could be viewed as a threshold for future land exchange. So I think that’s the good news.” Armbrust said the total monetary value of CCNG’s contribution is $1,168,030. Holder, former chief of the legal division of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, said, “The monetary value is a little unreliable– there's so much fluctuation in the land prices. I was more persuaded by the land ratio.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who serves with County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner on the BCP Coordinating Committee, said Thursday that the committee would set a policy for future land swaps. Goodman’s executive assistant, Jerry Rusthoven, said this transaction “raises the bar” for any proposed future land trades. He reiterated Goodman’s intent to come back to the committee with a proposed policy, noting that the question had not arisen in the past.

Now that the Council has acted, city staff will work on a final agreement with the LCRA, which will be the actual owner of the 12.3 acres, and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which also must approve the agreement.

The City Council has postponed for two weeks consideration of a 12-month service agreement with Waste Management of Texas, Inc. (WMI), after neighbors of the northeast Austin landfill protested. The $471,516 contract would provide trash dumpsters, compactors and balers for cardboard at various city departments and facilities for 12 months. In addition, the contract would allow four 12-month extensions for a total contract amount of more than $2.3 million.

Neighborhood leader Janet Klotz told the Council there are still unanswered questions about WMI’s landfill. Neighbors are worried about migration of hazardous wastes in spite of assurances from the company’s consultants that all is well. “I think it may be premature to consider this a clean site,” Klotz said. Representatives from WMI and its consultants, Carter & Burgess met with community members last week. One area resident said the group has simply not had enough time to review technical data to determine whether seepage was properly tested.

The Solid Waste Advisory Commission also recommended against approval of the contract last month. In its resolution, the board cited “unresolved concerns about the financial viability of National Guarantee Insurance, wholly owned by Waste Management, Inc., which is its only client,” in addition to concerns about the landfill itself.

Hookup costs to be repaid over seven years

The Northridge Acres subdivision north of Austin will finally get their own water supply after the City Council approved a new pipeline to the community Thursday. (See In Fact Daily Aug. 3, 2000) The subdivision lies off of FM 1325, west of I-35. Residents, who chose to de-annex themselves from the city in the late 1980s, had been getting their water from a Round Rock fire hydrant after their well went dry.

Although the city is not obligated to provide water, it chose to build the line after reports of hardship faced by residents. The Northridge Water Supply Corporation and its customers will pay off hookup costs over seven years. The corporation asked the city for a larger capacity meter Thursday, but council members decided to go with a previous staff recommendation for a 4-inch meter and 6-inch-diameter line.

Hizzoner the host…Mayor Kirk Watson and his wife, Liz McDaniel Watson, are hosting a fundraiser for Democratic House hopeful Ann Kitchen. In his invitation, the mayor notes, “Legislative action can dramatically impact our economic and environmental vitality.” For more information on the Aug. 21 event, call 444-3750 or visit www.annkitchen.org

Science boosters gather strength… Supporters of a Science and Technology Museum at old Seaholm Power Plant are working hard to get endorsements from all over the city. New names on the growing list include Larry Speck, Dean of the University of Texas School of Architecture, AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione, and Etta Moore, Executive Director, Girl Scouts-Lone Star Council. You may visit the group’s web site at www.debold.com/sciencemuseum… Another respite…The Planning Commission and the City Council are taking the week off..

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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