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Gary Bradley has it all mapped out, at least in his own mind, for how he plans to make a profit at his Circle C development and neighboring subdivisions. (To see the map, click here: circlecmap.jpg) Bradley was fairly blunt Monday night when he addressed the Save Barton Creek Association and shared some of his ideas, which include limiting competition from Hays County developments and enticing residential buyers to his subdivisions with the addition of a major employer. Many of his ideas hinge on changing roadway plans, claiming to benefit both himself and the environment.

Wednesday, August 16, 2000 by

The main thrust of his presentation was a proposal to trade a crucial piece of Barton Creek property for the right to add a major employer on the commercial portion of the Circle C development near the terminus of MoPac South and State Highway 45. (See In Fact Daily, August 14, 2000). The agreement with the City of Austin in March gave Bradley water and wastewater service for much of his development in exchange for limiting impervious cover. But it also stipulated that he couldn't lease his commercial space to any employer with more than 300 employees worldwide. Bradley has offered to buy the Bradfield tract on Barton Creek at MoPac and Highway 360 and donate it in exchange for deletion of the provision restricting a major employer.

However, he also hinted at other possible deals, including a donation of land from his Pfluger tract in Hays County. As it stands now, no major roads are slated for construction into Hays County after environmentalists there stopped a proposed extension of MoPac south. That leaves an extension of Escarpment Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through Circle C, as the only road planned to serve large tracts of land slated for development on Rutherford Ranch. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which decides which roadway projects receive funding, designated Escarpment Boulevard from State Highway 45 to FM 967 in Hays County as a two-lane arterial but also reserved right of way for four lanes.

"I want two lanes," said Bradley, who added that the last thing he wants to see is traffic from Rutherford Ranch developments clogging up roadways through his "upscale" subdivisions. If the City of Austin owns the future right of way for Escarpment on the Pfluger tract, it would have more potential to limit construction to a minor, two-lane roadway. "Basically, anyone who is going to build a road is going to have to negotiate with the city," he said.

Escarpment would still serve Bradley's Spillar Ranch project, adding 700 homes, a resort and golf course on a tract to the south of Circle C. But Bradley openly agreed that his idea would help city officials try to limit development in northern Hays County by reinforcing a "sprawl wall" south of him that denies the infrastructure needed by large subdivisions.

Aside from being a bit surprised at Bradley's effort to limit competition from other developers, SBCA members also noted that the idea may have been Bradley's plan all along when he was negotiating a settlement with the city.

Jim Camp, a northern Hays County resident who also serves on the Barton Spring/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board, said he remembers Bradley made a clear commitment not to build more than 3 percent impervious cover on the Pfluger tract. Bradley denied he made that limit and said he merely told the city not to waste any money trying to buy land on the Pfluger tract, because he didn't plan on building any dense development there, maybe 10 percent at the most. "You don't want to spend your money on low impervious cover," he said.

Getting the city to lose interest in the Pfluger tract would therefore leave it open for Bradley to donate later, at a price. But Bradley said his plans for the tract and what happened in the negotiations are not as important as what happens with Escarpment Boulevard. "The long term issue on Pfluger is the extension of roadways," he stressed.

Bradley also took credit, to some extent, for stopping an extension of MoPac south and said his latest proposal would bolster that effort. Under the new plan, he would reduce his commercial development at Edwards Crossing from 1.2 million square feet to 950,000 square feet and locate it all on the western side of State Highway 45. Fifty acres on the eastern side would then be donated to the city. The move would concentrate development directly in the path of MoPac, thus making it virtually impossible to extend, he said.

Environmentalists disputed the idea, however, saying with road widening and extensions, "When there's a will, there's a way."

"Bradley didn't stop MoPac," Grant Godfrey, staff attorney with the Save Our Springs Alliance, told In Fact Daily Tuesday. "It's the citizens of Hays County that stopped it…However he architects his development isn't going to stop it…..And (the city) wouldn't necessarily have the power to stop Escarpment or control it."

Bradley also outlined his thoughts on the eastern leg of State Highway 45, which is included in the CAMPO plan and would stretch from his development to Highway 183. He said he was looking into building a private toll road on one segment, which would allow an opportunity for greater environmental protection than afforded by TxDOT regulations.

Once again, SOSA's Godfrey scoffed at the idea. "Bradley's the one that got segments of MoPac and 45 done without an Environmental Impact Statement….The idea that Gary Bradley building a road is more protective is ridiculous."

Bradley is considering a development on the former Heep Ranch property east of IH-35, which also could link a major employer to his development via State Highway 45.

The developer’s only definite proposal, however, is the offer for the Bradfield tract trade to get the major employer provision lifted. Some environmentalists and city officials weighed in on that idea Tuesday.

"I personally am opposed to the major employers there," said longtime environmentalist Mary Arnold. "When the city did the deal with Gary Bradley, it was certainly my personal opinion that he would be back asking for changes one way or the other, and here he is." Arnold added, "I am glad this is being discussed in the open instead of behind closed doors with the City Council."

Robin Rather, former SOSA chair who now works with the Hill Country Conservancy in its efforts to purchase land for conservation, said environmentalists shouldn't be so quick to dismiss Bradley's ideas. "I'd rather deal with the evil developer that I know than a developer from California that can't spell "SOS," she said.

Rather was responsible for getting the provision on no major employers in the Circle C agreement with Bradley, because she felt strongly that a major employer would act as a magnet for further development. But she said that with so much land around Bradley devoted to conservation from the city's Proposition 2 bond purchases, it might make sense to revisit the issue. "I'm never gong to forgive Gary for what he's done to the aquifer," she said. "He's probably done more to hurt the aquifer than anyone. But I'm not going to let his sins in the past prevent us from getting everything we can get for the environment right now."

Meanwhile two city officials who knew about Bradley's plans before he went to the SBCA– Council Member Daryl Slusher and Mayor Kirk Watson–both said they had no intentions of starting any formal process to consider the offer. Watson said Tuesday that he met with Bradley and would always be willing to listen to his ideas. But he told the developer to go to the environmental community and get its reaction first.

Slusher, who also spoke at length with Bradley, said with all the "human toil and agony" that went into the existing agreement, he believes it's too soon to look at any changes. "We put months of time into it…I'm reluctant to open it again."

Slusher, along with Council Member Will Wynn, presented a different idea for land conservation Monday. The two learned that the Austin Museum of Art would not be needing all of the $13.4 million in bonds earmarked for construction of its new facility. With that news, they sent a letter to the City Council proposing that the new bonding capacity be used as matching funds for conservation purchases. Redirecting the funds would require voter approval on the Nov. 7 ballot. Slusher stressed that the funds would only be used as a match for private or federal money, because he feels the city has shouldered too much of the burden in land acquisition.

Developer Gary Bradley told the Save Barton Creek Association members Monday that he would like to work with environmentalists and county officials on a legislative drive next session to give counties limited zoning authority. "I've been getting a lot of support at the Legislature for county zoning," he said. "I think if we can work in concert on this, we can find common ground and get it done."

Currently, counties have no zoning power and can't control growth or ensure quality growth in many instances. Subdivision rules regulating lot sizes relative to wells and septic systems are often the only tools available to county commissioners in dealing with new development.

Bradley said it doesn't make sense to leave the counties powerless, especially in more "urban" type areas. For instance, taxpayers would be footing much of the bill for State Highway 130, but would have no say in the type of development that springs up around it since it mostly runs outside of the limits of cities with zoning authority.

Resistance to county zoning has been ongoing, particularly from rural counties where landowners value their property rights and don't want burdensome regulations, he said. But Bradley said his idea is to only give zoning authority to counties with urban-area populations greater than 500,000 and the counties adjacent to them. "That would take all the rural guys out of the debate."

Hays County Judge Jim Powers told a meeting of area mayors last week (See In Fact Daily, August 11, 2000) that he would support some kind of county zoning power, although he doesn't even like using the word "zoning." He said Tuesday that Bradley's idea sound reasonable, but that it would be difficult to sell to counties. "I think there's many areas where zoning can be a tool," Powers said. "But a county our size has such different personalities in one body…a lot of different needs."

Despite continual opposition to regional governance of any kind in Texas, Bradley is optimistic that he can help educate legislators about the benefits quickly and even get the legislation passed in one session..


time to speak

The Planning Commission Tuesday night decided to postpone consideration of environmental variances requested by the owners of the Bradfield tract, based on the Environmental Board’ s failure to make a recommendation on one of the variances last month. (See In Fact Daily, July 20, 2000). No commissioner mentioned the possibility that Gary Bradley might purchase the property and trade it to the city for what he is seeking in Hays County. But Sarah Crocker, development consultant for Bradfield tract owner Robert Hiser, was fairly certain that commissioners were aware of Bradley’s tantalizing offer.

Crocker told In Fact Daily, “Mr. Bradley’s had no conversations with my client. I think it’s unfortunate he chose this time to make public statements about using this piece of property as a bargaining chip. He doesn’t have it under contract. I’m very disappointed he’d make comments about a project in the process of attempting to secure its entitlements.”

Crocker and Les Tull of the Watershed Protection Department told the Planning Commission that the developer’s staff and city employees had reached an agreement about the variance in question, which relates wastewater treatment. Tull said his department would be withdrawing its letter of protest before the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

The Environmental Board—with two new members—will apparently consider the case at its next regularly scheduled meeting September 6. The Planning Commission rescheduled its hearing on the matter for September 12.

Crocker pointed out that the site plan for the property was approved in 1986 or 1987. The city and the owners then went through litigation, which resulted in a settlement agreement in 1995, allowing the owners to proceed with the previously approved site plan. She said her clients have been involved in the current permit process for about a year and a half..

Coalition stumbles…SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch has called for a large turnout at Thursday’s bond hearing to tell the City Council Austin wants “congestion reduction and prevention bonds,” as opposed to more roads. As would be expected, Bunch says SOS does support more funding for greenspace and housing. So much for the coalition that made previous bond elections so successful… Musical chairs meetings… The dates and location of the Resource Management Commission's meetings have changed to allow Channel 6 to televise. This month’s meeting will be August 21, at 6:30 PM in room 304 of City Hall… Not a federal case… As expected, the Planning Commission Tuesday postponed a decision on the Hyde Park Baptist Church’s Quarries project. Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, who represents the church, requested the postponement until Sept. 12. Suttle said his client’s request to put off the decision had nothing to do with pending federal legislation that might give the church a freer hand in rezoning its property…

Commission appointments ?…Planning Commissioners met 'til midnight last night for what may or may not be Chair Art Navarro' s last meeting. Navarro did not make a speech about retiring this week, as he did two weeks ago, perhaps uncertain about when the City Council will take action.

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

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