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Aquifer district concerned about

Wednesday, October 18, 2000 by

Creedmoor-Maha's expansion plans

By Rob D'Amico

A water supply corporation's plans to expand into areas targeted for large-scale development by Gary Bradley were the subject of a lengthy discussion today at the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) Board meeting. Board Member Jim Camp had requested that representatives from Creedmoor-Maha Water Corp. attend to outline their plans for service expansion, but they failed to show.

"I sure would have liked to have Creedmoor there to talk about their water needs," Camp said after the meeting.

Creedmoor-Maha filed an application with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) last year for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) which would allow it to expand its service area. The new area includes a large swath of land east of I-35 near the Hays and Travis County line, including the Heep Ranch tracts. Bradley and developer John Lloyd want to build residential, commercial and retail development in the area, and have courted the water company as a future supplier. Additionally, chip manufacturers have eyed another property under contract for sale to Bradley, the Herman F. and Minnie Heep Foundation land. A chip manufacturer would need two to three million gallons of water a day, much more than thousands of homes.

The three heirs to 5,700 acres of Heep Ranch properties, however, have vowed not to do business with Bradley. The developer is suing one of the heirs— Hatsy Heep Shaffer—claiming he had a legally-binding development agreement with her for 1,900 acres of land. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 19, 2000, Sept. 29, 2000)

Environmentalists speculate that Bradley wants Creedmoor-Maha to provide water service because the alternative—the City of Austin—would be harder to deal with, even though much of the land in question is outside the Edwards Aquifer and in the city's Desired Development Zone.

Board Member Bill Welch objected to having the Creedmoor-Maha CCN issues on the district's agenda. Welch said the issue had nothing to do with the aquifer district, according to observers at the meeting. He told fellow Board members that he called Creedmoor-Maha's president, Charles Laws, and told him not to bother to attend. Welch could not be reached for further comment on the matter after the meeting.

BSEACD General Manager Stovy Bowlin said the CCN itself might not be of concern, but its effect could be. "The only dog we have in this hunt is how much water they're going to use," he said. Creedmoor-Maha would need a substantially larger pumping permit to take water from the aquifer and supply new development, something the district would likely object to in ongoing stages of drought. However, Bowlin noted that the corporation could get much of its water from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA). Creedmoor-Maha is currently in negotiations for GBRA water. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 17, 1999)

Camp echoed Bowlin's concerns about water use and asked, "What is Creedmoor planning…? Where are they getting their water? Are they talking about more groundwater and what does that mean to area wells and the flow at Barton Springs?

"I asked the general manager to ask them to show. Creedmoor didn't show. I would think they would want to tell us what their plans for water are and wastewater," Camp added. Board President Craig Smith said he too was disappointed that the water corporation’s representatives failed to appear.

Neither Laws, Creedmoor-Maha president, nor Mark Zeppa, the corporation's attorney, could not be reached for comment on the matter.

Camp's agenda item also presented an opportunity for others who had a bone to pick with the corporation to speak their minds, including Shaffer. The Heep heir continued her claims that Creedmoor-Maha is colluding with Bradley to take her water and water supply infrastructure. Additionally, she said that the corporation's CCN application before the state includes false information, most notably that Bradley is in a partnership with her to develop her land. "Master plan" maps submitted to the TNRCC by Creedmoor-Maha show high density development on the land, but those maps were from a 1995 study commissioned by the Heep heirs to determine potential use for the properties, Shaffer told the Board. "They stole our maps…and those maps are just a fantasy development," she said after the meeting.

Furthermore, Shaffer reiterated to the Board her intentions for her property, which abuts I-35 and FM 1327. "I simply wanted to make clear to the aquifer board that we have a rural use in mind for the land…and we don't want (Creedmoor-Maha's) service," she said. "If Gary Bradley and John Lloyd get their hands on our grandfather's well, God help the aquifer."

Smith said the district would like to follow up on Shaffer's claims that the corporation was taking its water. Since the Heep Ranch wells are not permitted for production of more than 10,000 gallons a day, they should only be used for minimal agricultural use, according to district rules.

Despite Shaffer's vocal protests against the corporation's plans, Creedmoor-Maha's biggest hurdle to expanded service comes from the City of Austin. The city is contesting the application on the grounds that the small nonprofit corporation would infringe on the city's ability to expand its own water and wastewater service. The TNRCC will go before administrative law judge Leslie Cravens on Oct. 24 to seek resolution of the dispute.

An attorney for the city, Nancy Matchus, addressed the Board and outlined the city's case. Foremost among its concerns is the fact that Austin has planned to expand its infrastructure and has already built the capacity both in water and wastewater treatment needed to serve the area, she said. City water and wastewater lines now run near FM 1626 and contracts with LCRA include provisions for water use in the area.

On the other hand, Creedmoor-Maha is a small non-profit corporation charged with helping rural communities develop water service, not massive developments and industry, Matchus said. "We're challenging the adequacy of their service," she said.

Furthermore, Matchus said the city views water and wastewater service as a key tool in getting "Bradley back to the table" to negotiate on development concerns. Since the area will provide a dense concentration of homes and office, and impact traffic and the aquifer to the west, it's important to have a say in the development, she said.

Documents from Creedmoor-Maha filed with the TNRCC argue that the City of Austin has never shown interest in serving customers in Hays County and has no authority to protect what is not its service area.

Camp said he is not sure if the Board will make a further attempt to hear Creedmoor-Maha and its plans before the ruling at the Oct. 24 hearing.

Planning Commission okays

Steiner Ranch deal with city

Suggests more money for affordable housing

The development agreement for the 4,200-acre Steiner Ranch cleared another hurdle Tuesday night as the Planning Commission voted 6-3 to recommend it to the City Council. The three commissioners who voted no did not oppose the agreement. Commissioners Jim Robertson, Robin Cravey and Jean Mather had tried, and failed, to add conditions to the motion approved by the majority.

City Attorney Andy Martin asked the commission to focus on what the city would be gaining from the deal. “We don’t have land use controls out there.” The city would not be able to ask for money for affordable housing, he said. Neither would city staff be able to force the developer to use the most environmentally friendly golf course management tools. Most importantly, Steiner Ranch’s owners will convey a conservation easement to the city. This is important because it would allow the city to enforce the development restrictions as a property right. What Martin did not say is that the Legislature has always been very protective of property rights. However, Martin did tell the commission, “The developers of Steiner Ranch—to the extent that their development project is impeded by city regulations—are among those who may be seeking relief from the Legislature when it comes to town in January. To the extent they are satisfied, they would not seek relief.”

Commissioner Ben Heimsath first made a motion to endorse the agreement in principle, but added a request for traffic impact analyses (TIAs) for the intersections of Quinlan Park Road and Steiner Ranch Boulevard with FM 620. Heimsath also wanted to know what impact the development would have on the intersection of FM 620 and FM 2222. In addition, he suggested a prohibition on gates across private streets within the development. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has requested gates to help keep people from disturbing endangered species habitat adjacent to the development.

Several commissioners wanted an increase in the amount of money Steiner Ranch will pay into the city’s affordable housing fund, which was added to the motion. Several commissioners also were concerned that Steiner Ranch’s connection to the West Bull Creek wastewater interceptor not be large enough to increase development beyond Steiner Ranch. Commission Chair Betty Baker, who seconded Heimsath’s motion, suggested that the connection be no greater than 15 percent above the needs of the subdivision, which was accepted as a friendly amendment.

However, several other amendments suggested by Cravey and Mather apparently did not have majority support and Baker withdrew her second. Heimsath restated his original motion and Mather seconded it. Cravey added amendments concerning cut and fill and a prohibition on use of Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan land as a credit for parkland, items addressed by the Parks and Recreation Board and the Environmental Board. But the majority of Planning Commissioners were not comfortable with all the amendments suggested.

Finally, Commissioner Sterling Lands said, “I’m of the opinion there’s been a lot of good faith bargaining here and we’re reopening it.” Lands said the commission’s job was either to endorse or reject the deal—not to “redesign this thing.” Lands then made a substitute motion much like Heimsath’s original motion. After amendments, that motion said the Planning Commission endorses the agreement in principle, but wants traffic impact analyses, a limit on theWest Bull Creek interceptor connection, an increase in affordable housing money and a prohibition on gated communities.

Traffic impact analyses (TIAs) are done on specific types of buildings. Traffic engineers use precise figures based on past studies of the amount of traffic generated by type and size of building. Hank Smith, an engineer with Carter & Burgess, said Steiner Ranch has no exact plans for buildings at the moment. “This is the first time we’ve heard about a TIA,” he said.

Robertson said during a break in the meeting that he intends to write a letter to the Council explaining the additional amendments he, Cravey and Mather would like to see to the agreement. The City Council is scheduled to consider the agreement on Oct. 26. There were no members of the public to speak on the item.

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

Postponed again . . . The Bradfield tract slid off the Planning Commission’s agenda once again last night, this time due to a posting error. Consideration of a variance for the controversial office building at the intersection of Loop 360 and MoPac was rescheduled for next week. . . Thomas hosts light rail meeting . . . Council Member Danny Thomas will be hosting a town hall meeting Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Givens Recreation Center, 3811 E. 12th St. The subject of the meeting will be “Should East Austin Support Light Rail?” Capital Metro General Manger Karen Rae will make a presentation on light rail and other community leaders are expected to participate in a panel discussion . . . Library wins youth outreach award . . . Austin’s public library has won its first Giant Steps award for the Star Card outreach program. Elva Garza, managing librarian at the Terrazas Branch Library started the program in partnership with Sanchez Elementary School. Later the program was expanded and now serves schools citywide. Garza will receive the award, which includes a $10,000 check, on behalf of the city next January.

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

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