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Developer wants to change agreement with city

Tuesday, August 15, 2000 by

Gary Bradley said Monday that he is willing to buy a $3.4 million tract on the banks of Barton Creek and donate it to the city in exchange for a release from his promise not to put a major employer at his Circle C development. Bradley wants city officials to amend a complex lawsuit settlement, signed just four months ago, because he says he cannot get “tenants with substantial credit” to lease the Class A space he intends to build.

The new deal—which would allow Bradley to entice a commercial tenant with more than 300 employees worldwide—also would give the city 50 acres of land to the east of State Highway 45 and downsize the Circle C commercial development from 1.2 million square feet to 950,000 square feet.

Bradley laid out his offer to members of the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) at its general meeting. The developer said the agreement would allow him to attract a wealthier tenant to the development, which will be located at the terminus of MoPac expressway in southern Travis County. The city settled a long-standing dispute with Bradley on March 23, agreeing to provide several portions of his property with water and wastewater service if he complied with impervious cover and other limitations, including the prohibition against a major employer.

Bradley said he wanted to float his new idea by environmentalists first, although he has already had preliminary discussions with city officials about changing their controversial settlement agreement. He maintained that he was giving more than he was getting with the new offer. “I’m trying to put more on the table than I’m asking in return, because I know I’m not going to get the ( City Council) votes otherwise,” he said.

After Bradley left, SBCA members aired their suspicions about the developer’s motives. “It really rings bells for me when Bradley said he spent weeks negotiating the number (of employees) with the city,” said Karin Ascot. “This is his chance to put a major employer there, which will just fuel more development.”

Craig Smith, president of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, agreed. “I think a major employer would be a development magnet,” he said. Smith is a longtime member of SBCA.

George Cofer, who has dealt with Bradley before, agreed that environmentalists need to be aware of Trojan horses, but that he would be willing to examine the horse’s “entrails.”

Others worried that negotiating with Bradley would mean that they would have to come to some kind of agreement, since to do otherwise in the new Austin political climate would brand them as radicals unwilling to compromise.

But Bradley has offered an enticing offer to environmentalists in the Bradfield Tract, which sits on the southeast corner of MoPac and Highway 360. The site is pegged for two five-story office buildings totaling 211,000 square feet. (See In Fact Daily, July 19, 2000). The developer for that project is plodding through the city permit process and will go before the Planning Commission tonight seeking variances for a detention pond and effluent treatment requirements. Tim Jones, an Environmental Board member also present at the SBCA meeting, said board members likely would ask the commission to postpone any action on the variances until city staff has time to study the matter further.

Jones noted that the Bradfield tract is crucial to water quality for Barton Creek and Barton Springs. However, other SBCA members stressed that there must be other ways to come up with the money for the property without dealing with Bradley.

But Bradley pointed out to the SBCA that the $3.4 million he is willing to pay for the property is the price tag before it is permitted by the city. Afterwards, the price goes up about $600,000, at which point he would have to re-evaluate his offer. His implied sense of urgency made SBCA members all the more suspicious.

Bradley floated several other ideas, such as a possible donation of his land from the Pfluger Ranch tract farther south in Hays County. And he told of abandoning a previous idea of trading some of his holdings for 30 acres of city parkland at Commons Ford Ranch, since that would require a public vote.

The developer also outlined several other projects he was working on, all of which gave SBCA members the idea that he was designing a “Bradleyville,” a corporate town south of Austin. Many of the proposals included plans for environmental protection, but they also would limit competition from Hays County developers looking at Rutherford Ranch.

With all the potential wheeling and dealing in Bradley’s plans, some SBCA members wondered why the city spent countless hours haggling with him over the settlement. They see any changes to the agreement as increasing the chances that future City Councils could make further amendments harmful to the environment.

Indeed, Bradley opened up his statements by painting a picture of the settlement as fluid. “As we all viewed it, it’s a living document. If we can make it better, let’s make it better,” he said.

SBCA member Mike Blizzard had a different view. “How long will this document live,” he said. “If we can kill it, let’s kill it.” SBCA endorsed Bradley’s previous settlement agreement with the city.

Despite a defeat on a couple of variances before the city’s Board of Adjustment last night, BFI Waste Systems said it would continue to move forward with plans for a paper recycling plant on a 10-acres site off Winnebago Lane in Southeast Austin.

BFI’s current paper recycling plant is not far away, at 4712 Bolm, but that land won’t be the company’s for much longer. The City of Austin recently took the property under imminent domain, earmarking it for city facilities. BFI officials expect to move from that plant in about a year.

Consultant Jim Bennett made several straightforward arguments for the variances:

The recycling plant would be compatible with surrounding land uses. A variance from a striping the parking lot would give big trucks room to maneuver. Another variance would bypass the 10-foot setback requirement and allow BFI to add a loading dock directly on a rail spur that runs along the east side of the property. Removing the setback would eliminate problems created by loading paper onto rail cars on rainy days, Bennett said.

But those variances didn’t sit well with Kensington Park residents Lee Sloan and Jack Howison. Both had run their businesses without variances. Now, BFI was asking for exceptions from city zoning ordinances to run its business, Sloan said. If Clampitt Paper Company and Calcasieu Lumber—the neighbors on either side of the proposed paper recycling plant—could operate their businesses without such variances, why should BFI need one, they wanted to know. In the end, board members agreed to deny the variance, with only one exception. BFI’s proposal to build a loading dock and canopy up to the railroad spur was “well within normal design constraints,” said Board Chairman Herman Thun. He asked that the case be judged on its own merits rather than on emotional opposition to BFI and warned Kensington Park residents the plant was likely to move forward, with or without variances.

Sloan accused BFI of asking for variances to put too many facilities on an already cramped piece of property, a charge representatives from BFI denied. In an argument that appeared to clinch the neighborhood’s case, Howison pointed out that adjacent businesses built spurs off the main rail tracks to serve railroad cars. BFI, he said, could do the same. Howison scorned BFI’s claim that variances would not be noticeable to the neighborhood. “It is rather presumptuous that the neighborhood and Clampitt Paper would not notice an 84,000 square foot building of questionable safety moving 10 feet closer (to us),” he said.

Despite BFI’s assurances that the paper recycling plant would meet all fire code requirements, board members appeared swayed by concerns that the business of stored bale paper, and BFI in particular, presented real fire risks. BFI, Howison reminded the board, had fires in 1992, 1994 and a six-alarm blaze in 1996.

That safety concern–and the 20 people from the Kensington Park neighborhood who showed up for the hearing–appeared to win over a majority of the board members. BFI officials conceded the paper plant could, and would, get built without the variances.

Oops! … Political consultant and activist Mike Blizzard of Blizzard Fawal & Associates distributed flyers at Monday’s Save Barton Creek Association meeting headlined Support a Livable City! The flyers urge citizens to attend Thursday’s public hearing on the city’s proposed Nov. 7 bond package. However, the flyers, which ask for support of housing bonds, parks bonds, bike lanes and sidewalks, are anonymous. Blizzard said the group would be called Austin Livable City Coalition… Postponed again? … Neighbors of the Hyde Park Baptist Church’s Quarries property postponed the Planning Commission hearing on the case that was scheduled for August 1. The case was reset for this evening at the Planning Commission. However, we hear that the church will be seeking a postponement tonight. Some neighborhood activists believe the church is waiting for passage of a federal law that would potentially assist religious organizations in land use cases. The church and its northern neighbors were sent to mediation by the commission after a hearing in April…. Also postponed… The Environmental Board did not hear about new impervious cover assumptions Monday, as had been planned. Pat Murphy, deputy environmental services manager, was involved in an accident, which delayed him in preparing the presentation. Chair Lee Leffingwell said the board is now scheduled to hear the item on Aug. 30…. May be postponed… Developers of the Mirabeau project, formerly known as Gotham, will request that the City Council postpone consideration of their Planned Development Agreement, which is scheduled for Thursday’s meeting… New Sister City… Mayor Kirk Watson and his excellency Chief Achike Udenwa, the executive governor of the Imo State, Nigeria will ink a sister city agreement Saturday between Austin and Old Orlu, Imo, Nigeria.

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

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