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BSEACD gives Higginbotham new

Wednesday, September 27, 2000 by

Well permit, but fight's not over

Landowner says he would serve new Greenhawe homes

By Rob D'Amico

The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) Board Tuesday unanimously approved a permit application for Hays County resident T.J. Higginbotham to drill a well on his land for a public water supply. But Board members and the applicant's neighbors obviously had serious concerns about the next step in Higginbotham's permit process–pumping 50 million gallons of water annually to sell to new and existing development several miles to the west.

The Board's action Tuesday merely gives Higginbotham the right to drill an operating well on his property off of FM 967 west of Buda. But he must acquire an additional permit from the board to determine his authorized pumping limit. A decision on the limit won't be made until after the BSEACD runs tests to monitor the effect pumping from that well has on surrounding wells.

Higginbotham angered several Board members by not explaining his intentions for the water when he originally filed the application for a permit in June. Evasive and contradictory answers from his attorney and a surprise document that raised the possibility that he would use the water for new development at Rimrock further angered the Board, which voted not to consider the permit until Higginbotham provided more detailed information. While explicit intentions for water use may not have been an issue for the BSEACD in the past, dropping aquifer levels and the size of the pumpage request raised a red flag for Board members.

New answers came at the Tuesday public hearing before the permit vote. Higginbotham's representative, Phil Savoy of Murfee Engineering, told the Board that the water would be transferred by pipeline several miles to the west to serve two purposes: to bolster the water supply to the 125-home Huntington Estates subdivision off FM 1826 in dry times, and to supply water to the 328-home Rimrock subdivision planned for the Greenhaw tract to the west on FM 967.

"It's finally good to know what you're going to do with the water," Board Member Jim Camp noted.

Some Board members clearly had reservations about having a Buda-area well feed new development over the aquifer miles to the west.

"I think Mr. Higginbotham has a right to drill on his property, " said Board Member Jack Goodman. He said residents said,“ ‘Developers don't care about the aquifer.’ I concur.”

Meanwhile, several of Higginbotham's neighbors told the Board it isn't fair to put their wells at risk just so that areas to the west can get good water. They objected to the plan, even though Higginbotham's hydrologist, Mike Thornhill, told the Board that the effect on nearby wells and the aquifer would be minimal.

Thornhill said the average draw of the well would be “95 gallons a minute, which poses no threat to the aquifer.” And he said the biggest drop in nearby well levels would be less than three feet after continuous pumping. “So I would say that is not a significant impact on the neighbors.”

If approved to pump 50 million gallons annually, Higginbotham's well would rank 13th in the district, considerably below Goforth Water Supply at 220 million gallons annually and Creedmore-Maha Water Supply at 187 million gallons. The town of Buda has also submitted a request to increase its pumping by 50 million gallons a year.

The Board also learned this week that Buda monitoring wells are at an all time low–even lower than the levels of the 1950s drought. Members have hinted that any permit granted might be too much. “The precedent is what worries me,” Goodman said of granting a large-scale pumping permit. “When is it going to end?”

Planning Commission postpones

Action on Bradfield tract variances

Staff has trouble answering commissioners' questions

After more than two hours of testimony, the Planning Commission last night decided to postpone a decision on whether to grant two environmental variances sought by the owners of the Bradfield tract. Sarah Crocker, a consultant for the Bradfield family, recited the lengthy history of the tract, which is at the intersection of Loop 360 and MoPac. The site plan calls for a five-story office building to be served by an on-site wastewater system that would include an irrigation field in the “upland buffer zone” above Barton Creek. Irrigation in that zone requires a variance that is the source of controversy.

Attorney Terry Irion explained that since the site plan was approved in 1987, the State of Texas has revised its rules for on-site wastewater irrigation. The size requirement for the drainfield has increased tenfold, he said. If the tract had been developed under the old rules, there would not have been a need to request a variance because the much smaller drainfield could have been located elsewhere. The reason the Bradfields are doing an on-site system is that the city has denied them central sewer service.

Lauren Ross, an environmental engineer for the Save Barton Creek Association, said, “This is a very sensitive site.” She said even though one part of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) may allow the irrigation, another group in the same agency would disagree. “The staff of the TNRCC groundwater protection team has said this is not an appropriate site for effluent disposal,” Ross said.

One of the biggest threats to Barton Springs, Ross said, is nitrogen. Nitrogen is responsible for problems such as algae blooms, which have been plaguing the springs recently. Ross also complained that the technology proposed for the site is untested, so it is impossible to know how much nitrogen would be discharged. Finally, she said there is no guarantee that a chemical company would not move into the office building and discharge an even more harmful chemical through the drainfield. Irion told the commission he would be willing to make a commitment that no chemical company would be able to lease space in the building.

Under questioning from the commission, Jim Rhoades of the Watershed Protection Department said, “Staff does not have the expertise to make judgements on nitrogen.” Some of the speakers said one critical environmental feature, a bluff, had been overlooked. Rhoades said he had intended to visit the property to look for critical environmental features. However, he said he had not yet made that visit. Commissioners wanted to know what would happen if a critical environmental feature were discovered after the commission had approved the variances. That was a question no one was ready to answer.

Irion warned the commissioners that a failure on their part to grant the variances would be judged in light of the fact that the city has attempted to purchase the property. Since the property has already been the subject of one lawsuit between the Bradfields and the city, commissioners had legal questions about exactly what their obligations might be under the settlement agreement. Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry said she would be happy to supply them with a copy of the settlement agreement and discuss it with them in executive session. The commission voted 8-0 to postpone the case for one week, with Commissioner Susana Almanza absent. The Environmental Board voted against recommending the wastewater irrigation variance earlier this month. (See In Fact Daily, Sept.7, 2000)

After the Environmental Board vote, Irion said that if the developer weren’t allowed to build under the current plan, it would essentially be a taking of the property. Considering the time put into the project and the money invested, a lawsuit would be likely. (See In Fact Daily, July 20, August 16, August 21, 2000)

Circle C developer Gary Bradley has proposed to purchase the Bradfield property and donate it to the city in return for releasing Bradley from a commitment not to put a major employer on his property in far south Travis County.

Dell Community Center gets ok

To add 7th and 8th grades

Change will not add more students

The Planning Commission last night approved the Dell Jewish Community Center's (DJCC) plan to add junior high grades to its private school, despite the objections of one neighbor. The DJCC, located on Hart Lane in Northwest Hills, already offers a private elementary school. The new Conditional Use Permit will allow the center to incorporate grades 7 and 8 into the campus' existing facility. The Conditional Use Permit passed unanimously. Commissioner Susana Almanza was absent and Commissioner Sterling Lands was off the dais.

School officials maintain that a high school is not in DJCC's future. The current plans do not sit well with some neighbors, who struggled mightily with the DJCC to hammer out an initial zoning agreement back in 1997. Northwest Hills resident Patti Leonard waited patiently through more than four hours of discussion on other topics to address the Planning Commission on the expansion of DJCC's day school. The fledgling DJCC, Leonard said, has already broken trust with the community. The center has allowed construction activity before 7 a.m. Vegetation has been poorly tended. Garbage has been collected late into the night with the knowledge of the center, and the day school has already started offering a seventh-grade class on campus, despite existing restrictions, Leonard said. “These little things add up to a lot of mistrust as to what will or will not be abided by them,” Leonard said. “The addition of these two grades changes the spirit and the quantity of the traffic.”

The original Conditional Use Permit negotiated with the neighborhood allowed 750 students on the campus. Staff recommended the permit, city planner Thomas Bolt said, because the new grades will be added without raising the 750-student cap. Before the vote, Board Vice Chair Betty Baker did extract a promise from DJCC representatives to address Leonard's concern. Andy Baxter, representing the center, did acknowledge seventh grade now is on campus, but with an exemption allowed by the city. Attorney Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, who represented DJCC in its original Conditional Use Permit, said the new request is simply intended to allow children attending the school to continue with their studies through the junior high years. “The deal stays intact,” Suttle said. “It's just adding two more grades.”

The original traffic study for the DJCC, completed almost three years ago, projected approximately 4,200 trips per day when completed in 2003. Bolt said the current tallies are about 2,000 trips per day. The original site plans specify 750 parking spaces for the DJCC campus. The DJCC's original Conditional Use Permit, approved in 1998, allows for the use of the facilities for religious assembly, community recreation, day care and a private school.

The Commission did add some conditions to the permit: the addition of traffic calming devices on Firestone Drive; the prohibition of vehicular access to Stonecliff; limitations on the hours of activity and exterior lighting; and a vegetative setback. In addition to its regular school, the 40-acre DJCC campus also offers early childhood and after-school programs, as well as classes by the Austin Musical Theater, Austin Theater for Youth and the Austin Community Access Channel. Facilities include a full-service gym, swimming pool and softball fields, as well as an 800-seat auditorium. The 50,000-square foot education building holds 35 classrooms.

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

Nokonah needs space… Lamar will be reduced to one lane each way from 6th to 9th Street—but only from 7:30 p.m. to midnight tonight. Lane closures will allow erection of concrete barriers around the site, which will be home to both condominiums and retail space when completed… Ask me in the morning…The city’s Development Assistance Center is talking to walk-in customers only between 10 a.m. and noon, due to a severe staff shortage… High tech guru tells how… John Nesheim, called the “start-up guru of Silicon Valley,” will be in Austin Thursday to address a conference for start-up entrepreneurs. Neisham will speak on taking business concepts from “idea to IPO.” The conference will be at the Renaissance Austin Hotel, 9721 Arboretum Blvd from 8 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday. For more information, call Gay Erwin at 480-3216… Ain’t misbehavin’… Gary Bradley did not misrepresent himself as being in a partnership to develop a portion of the Heep Ranch, according to another local developer who spoke to him about the conflict. (See In Fact Daily, September 22, 2000). Hays County developer John Lloyd said he spoke with Bradley over the weekend, and Bradley told Lloyd he has a large bond posted as part of an agreement to build residential homes and commercial space on one-third of the Heep land. The bond, possibly as high as $1 million, would act as a contractual agreement by Bradley to commit to a development agreement, Lloyd said. Another source close to the conflict mentioned that a deputy tried to serve legal papers to Hatsy Heep Shaffer, one of the owners of the Heep tracts on Tuesday, but she is out of town and was not served. Bradley has not returned phone calls to In Fact Daily.

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

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