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LCRA hears more strong opinions

Tuesday, September 5, 2000 by

Northern Hays County resident Patrick Timpone told officials at a public meeting Thursday night in Dripping Springs that he is willing to join Austin's Save Our Springs organization and sue to stop construction of a Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) surface water pipeline.

"I can't imagine that adults have been sitting around and doing this, building a pipeline before the planning," Timpone said. "There's a lot of folks out this way who are prepared to help the SOS and sue to stop this thing. And we can raise the money."

About a dozen other citizens and officials offered suggestions about what a year-long environmental impact study (EIS) should include to measure the effects of a 24-inch water line. LCRA spokesman Robert Cullick told In Fact Daily yesterday that construction of the line would probably begin within the next three weeks, after the agency receives a permit from the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

The LCRA has contracted with Bio/West, Inc., of Logan, Utah, to conduct the study, which project manager Blaise Chanson said would begin next month. The LCRA-sponsored public meeting at the Dripping Springs Primary School was held to gather public input and begin defining the scope of the study.

Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached earlier this summer with the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the LCRA would be able to build its water line before the environmental impact study is completed. That has angered the environmental community and is causing a widening split between supporters and opponents of the line in northern Hays County.

The water line—which will cross several miles of sensitive Edwards Aquifer watershed from the Village of Bee Cave to Dripping Springs—will provide 6.6 million gallons of water per day. But it must serve only existing residents initially, estimated to number around 7,000, under the terms of the MOU.

SOS executive director Bill Bunch said the water line would cause more problems than it will solve. “I ask all, if you're for or against this project, do you want to be annexed into the endless sprawl of the Austin region? We do not believe the water quality will be protected. As soon as you have surface water and central sewer, density limits completely disappear. We go from large lot rural development to urban sprawl.”

The water line, Bunch said, is being built for new, not existing, development. He pointed to three large planned developments in northern Hays County— Coyote Crew Ranch, Hazy Hills and Gary Bradley's Spillar Ranch— as likely water line customers. The water line will serve the homes, “but the developments will pump the free groundwater for their golf courses. This line is not going to alleviate ground water problems. It's going to make them worse,” he said.

Bunch criticized the LCRA for backing off its original agreement with the Save Barton Creek Association to complete the environmental study before starting the water line. He also criticized the Fish & Wildlife Service for what he said has been a poor record of protecting endangered animal species. “Their excuse? An emergency popped up,” in the case of the LCRA water line. Bunch said a study done by a senior hydrogeologist formerly with the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BS/EACD) found no evidence of a water emergency in the Sunset Canyon subdivision east of Dripping Springs off US Hwy 290.

The Hays County Commissioners Court declared a water emergency May 2 in response to reports of increasing numbers of dry and poor quality wells in Sunset Canyon. The court's action was soon followed by the signed MOU to allow the pipeline's construction to proceed.

BS/EACD Board President Craig Smith said the emergency declaration appears to have had a domino effect. At one point, he said, the MOU was bottled up in Washington. "At the same time the drought emergency tripped the wire, it gave the LCRA an opening, if you will, to go forward with the water line. It also tripped the wire and prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to agree to the MOU, which they had been reluc-tant to do because of the degree that it involves them with land use issues."

At the meeting, Smith handed out several copies of the BS/EACD hydrogeologist's initial assessment of tests done on nine wells in Sunset Canyon. "It calls into question whether or not a true water emergency exists," he said. It indicates that some of the problem may be due to the fact that there are a lot of individual wells in a concentrated area. They've put a lot of straws in the ground and the groundwater capacity is somewhat limited."

Smith asked the environmental study group to look for creative strategies to deal with the consequences of the water line. There's no question that the (Edwards) Aquifer is hinged to what happens here. We hope this process will address . . . the bigger issues of what you want your communities to look like 25-50 years from now rather than wait for it to be decided by somebody else."

David Frederick, local field director for the Fish & Wildlife Service, said his agency had indeed responded to the declared water emergency in north Hays County. “This is an emergency call by the local leaders,” he said. “We had to come up with something pretty quick.” Frederick explained that under the MOU with the LCRA, new subdivisions will be held to strict development standards to ensure the least possible degradation of the Edwards Aquifer.

“ Barton Springs (water quality) is it in a nutshell,” Frederick said. “There’s a mountain of data and trend data that it’s becoming more and more polluted” with pesticides and herbicides, jeopardizing the food sources of the federally-protected Barton Springs salamander. Frederick warned that new development will be risky. “There’s no guarantee you’ll ever be hooked up to the water line.”

The president of the Sunset Canyon Landowners Association, Sharon Haight, was unapologetic for her subdivision's ground water emergency. "To some, Sunset Canyon has become known as whiners. My sole source of water, my well, suddenly started producing silt. That would constitute an emergency to me," she said. "We are not being selfish in our pursuit of a reliable source of water. Sunset Canyoners are aware that people will continue to move to our area even with all the water problems." Two homes are being built within 500 feet of her own, Haight said, and both are dropping wells.

Haight asked the study group to include realistic projections of growth in north Hays County without the water line and what would be "the environmental impact of not bringing in surface water."

George Cofer, executive director of the Hill Country Conservancy asked the study group to consider the water line's impact on the rural character of northern Hays County. 'What we're asking in plain English is to look at the economic impact on rural landowners and the impact on the region to retain that rural character and open space," he said.

Doug Fike, representing the Take Back Texas organization, said a continuation of large lot rural style development in north Hays County could eventually lead to 25,000 more families, which neither the Edwards nor the Trinity Aquifers can support. “It seems the only way to accommodate the population that wants to live here is with the pipeline.”

Persons wishing to comment on the scope of the environmental impact study can do so by calling Moorhouse Associates, Inc. Scope Comments, at 361/883-6016.

The City Council approved amendments to the zoning laws last week allowing garage apartments and granny flats to qualify for a site plan exemption. In zoning parlance, these are known as two-family residential use and secondary apartment special use. Changes approved by the Council also reduced minimum lot widths and modified parking requirements for two-family residential use. The secondary apartment special use, or detached second unit, is allowed only in neighborhood planning areas which have approved that type of dwelling, according to Greg Guernsey, principal planner with the Development Review and Inspection Department (DRID). Applicants for single family homes and duplexes are not required to obtain site plans.

According to backup material provided to the City Council, “An example of a two-family residential use is a detached single family home on the front portion of a lot and a garage apartment on the rear of the lot. A secondary apartment special use is the use of a developed single-family residential lot for a second dwelling.”

Planning Commissioner Robin Cravey told the Council that the Planning Commission had recommended that applicants provide proof that their home does not have a deed restriction or restrictive covenant prohibiting construction of a second unit on their property. Cravey explained that he did not support that amendment. As an attorney, Cravey said, the provision would be difficult for the city to enforce. Council Member Daryl Slusher said the city could “require that the applicant sign something that says the applicant has reviewed all the restrictions on the site.”

Developer Mike McHone told the Council the amendment being proposed by Slusher would alleviate concerns the real estate community had about the ordinance. “I’ve been following this ordinance and worked with several folks that hope to take advantage of the possibility—including myself—of being able to maintain a residence in the inner city by being able to supplement the income stream by providing garage apartments,” he said.

Will Bozeman, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC), said his group had met and worked with members of the Planning Commission to arrive at a compromise. ANC resisted the idea of allowing garage apartments in many neighborhoods. Bozeman said he still has some “concerns. (But) I think a balance was struck …We have a lot of concern about these (second units) being taken up by homeowners. We realize there is a constitutional problem on that. But I would ask that the city track who is making use of this provision. Is it developers? Is it homeowners?”

Council Member Beverly Griffith added an amendment requiring that applicants for building permits for the two-family residential units indicate whether the property owner would reside in one of the units. She explained that her amendment would be for informational purposes for the neighborhood and future purchasers of the property. The various amendments were approved 6-0, with Mayor Kirk Watson absent.

On Monday, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman told In Fact Daily the ordinance would allow a homeowner to build a second unit “more easily for your college kid, or older parent or a one or two-person rental. It’s really very specific, very neighborhood oriented.”

On May 11, the City Council approved allowing the two-family residential use in SF-3 and SF-5 zoning districts, reduced the minimum lot size from 10,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet and limited the second living unit to 850 square feet. Following that decision, the Council asked the Planning Commission to come back with recommendations on parking, landscaping and site plan requirements on both types of units.

Goodman said anyone who wants to build such a unit should speak to Guernsey or another member of the DRID staff to make sure he or she understands the complex regulations.

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

Unhappy bus riders… Several members of Austin’s disabled community complained to the City Council last week that the Capital Metro shuttle bus to the LCRA was not wheel-chair accessible as promised. David Witte gave a detailed story of a lost bus driver who had trouble finding One Texas Center—a designated stopping point—as well as access difficulties. Witte said he was an hour late to the Council meeting on four separate occasions because of bus problems. The City Council assured Witte and others the problem would be solved soon… Fundraiser… County Court at Law No. 5 Judge Gisela Triana will be hosting a fundraiser Thursday from 5:30PM to 7:30PM at Miguel’s La Bodega, 415 Colorado. For more information call 481-0089 or visit… Come back this week… City Council postponed action until this Thursday on the Third Street rail trestle, which the Department of Public Works and Transportation would like to remove. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 31, 2000)

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

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