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Developer sues City over

Monday, October 30, 2000 by

Water quality pond rules

Pulte Homes, Northtown MUD get TRO

Pulte Homes and Northtown Municipal Utility District (MUD) have sued the City of Austin, claiming exemptions from water quality regulations under a law which allows developers to claim “grandfathering” rights. Pulte and the MUD say that the city is trying to make them comply with regulations not in effect in 1984 when the city agreed to creation of the MUD.

Travis County District Judge Lora Livingston signed a temporary restraining order on Thursday which prevents the city from stopping construction at Settler’s Meadow, the portion of the district in question. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs say, “Pulte is in the process of developing 293 single-family lots” on the 60.2 acre tract.

Chapter 245 of the Local Government Code, also known as HB 1704, gives developers the right to build under earlier versions of city environmental ordinances than are currently in place. However, the developer must show that the city gave him permission to begin the project under a different set of regulations. Some environmentalists have encouraged the city to try to overturn Chapter 245 in court. The city’s attorneys have said they believe that such a suit would be unsuccessful.

Mike McKetta of Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody represents Pulte and the MUD. According to McKetta, the land plan filed in 1984 showed six “stormwater detention ponds,” not water quality ponds. None of the ponds is in or near Settler’s meadow, he said.

McKetta said the pond the city wants built would cost about $650,000. “But for the Northtown District, it’s a much bigger issue than that. A municipal utility district has to pay 70 percent of those costs. So the people who live out there today and the people who move out there will have to pay for those through their taxes. If the city wins, that probably means $5-$6 million, because there’s so much land to be built out. It will be a huge extra expense for the citizens who live out there,” McKetta said.

Northtown MUD is East of I-35, just south of Pflugerville, in Austin’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. According to McKetta, only the City of Austin requires water quality ponds in a non-aquifer area, such as northeast Travis County. “They are not necessary. This is an area where to build the way the city says will double the cost of each lot. This is an area, unlike the Barton Creek area or the Southwest area, where there are starter homes . . . What’s such a shame is this is the city putting an unnecessary burden in the city’s own Desired Development Zone. It’s not over any aquifer and it has no environmental impact, critical environmental features or otherwise.”

Casey Dobson, one of the city’s attorneys, agreed the pond needed in the area would not be the same type as the required in the Barton Springs Zone. Dobson, who is with Scott Douglass & McConnico, said, “The city, in its ordinances, is concerned about water quality all over the city.” A hearing on a temporary injunction is scheduled for Nov. 20. If the judge then issues that injunction, the city, Pulte and Northtown MUD would then go to trial on the question of a permanent injunction. This process could take a number of months.

Dobson said, “Until very, very recently, what (Northtown and Pulte) filed was consistent with what we require, which is a water quality pond. Then in 1999, they asked for a Chapter 245 determination that they didn’t have to build a water quality pond. And we told them, ‘No, we don’t think you can avoid building a water quality pond because of the facts and circumstances in this case.’ They said, ‘OK,’ and they filed plats that show a water quality pond. Now, it appears that having failed administratively to get a Chapter 245 green light from the city, they’re now going to try litigation to avoid the cost of a water quality pond.”

Threadgill Foundation may

Operate Austin Music Network

Management group ready to sign deal

In hopes of invigorating the Austin Music Network (AMN), its current manager is poised to cede the year remaining on his three-year city contract to a non-profit group steered by Threadgill's restaurateur Eddie Wilson and media consultant Woody Roberts.

The proposed change, under review by city staff, would place the Kenneth Threadgill Musical Project in charge of the AMN (Channel 15 on Time Warner Communications in Austin). The Threadgill project, which provides music scholarships and lessons to Austin children, would replace Music Management Group, LLC.

Roberts said that he and Wilson had reached a “verbal contract” with Rick Melchior, president of the Music Management Group (MMG), to transfer management of the channel. The contract may be signed today and the transfer is expected to happen on Wednesday.

“Everything is pretty smooth,” said Roberts, who said he would assume Melchior's responsibilities should the proposal take effect. Melchior said the change is “pretty far along.”

The arrangement does not require City Council consideration, but has not yet won city staff approval in part because oversight of the network shifted from one department to another last week.

Jim Butler, the city's manager of interactive industries development, told In Fact Daily last week that the proposed management shift is “speculative” for now. “Our main interest at this time is to make sure that we are very, very clear about exactly what is going on with the network,” Butler said.

If the arrangement is approved, Roberts and Wilson said they hope to bolster the technical quality of network broadcasts, upgrade the network's equipment and ensure stability for its nine-person staff. Ultimately, Roberts said, he envisions the network being cablecast to viewers all over the world, bolstering tourism for Austin's music scene.

The Austin Music Network, a non- profit cable television channel owned by the City of Austin, began daily programming on April 1, 1994, and is on the air 24 hours a day. AMN had to move out of its city office because of the new City Hall and CSC construction and has been broadcasting from a portable building at Threadgill’s Restaurant, 6416 N. Lamar, since February. Roberts said he is hoping to find a permanent location in the near future.

“There's not another city in the world that has enough music to fill up a network,” said Roberts, whose career includes stints directing publicity for Willie Nelson's first picnic and helping to launch Austin's public access cable channel.

Comparing the network to public television and KUT- FM, owned by the University of Texas at Austin, Wilson and Roberts said they would still expect the city to contribute funding.

Emphasizing that the Threadgill project is a non-profit organization, Wilson compared the AMN to Time Warner's Cable Channel 6, which broadcasts City Council meetings and other city events. “Channel 6 is funded to keep the politicians' faces on TV,” Wilson said. “(The city) should spend the same money to keep the musicians on TV.”

On Oct. 30, 1998, the Music Management Group signed a contract with the city to take over the AMN. ( In Fact, Nov. 3, 1998) Under that contract, AMN was to receive $800,000 over three years and become self-sufficient. In May of last year, the company came back to the City Council to ask that it be given the $200,000 budgeted for the second year. Council voted to grant MMG's request and to instruct staff to explore the possibility of providing funding from a city source other than the general fund. A great deal of the debate centered on when—if ever—MMG would be capable of operating without city subsidy. At that time, city purchasing officer Sue Brubaker told the Council another $300,000 to $400,000 in city funds might be needed, in addition to the $800,000 already approved. ( In Fact, May 18, 1999)

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

International trade . . . Mayor Kirk Watson is set to announce an international trade initiative this morning in conjunction with welcoming visitors from Austin’s sister city, Oita, Japan . . . That time of year . . . Austin’s zany Halloween activities will close 6th Street from Congress to I-35 beginning at 6 p.m. on Tuesday and ending at 4 a.m. Wednesday. Brazos, San Jacinto, Trinity, Neches, Sabine and Red River will also be off limits between 5th and 6th Streets. Capital Metro will offer shuttle service between the State Parking Garage in the 300 block of San Antonio and Congress at 5th and 6th Streets . . . Welcome. . . To In Fact Daily’s first Gold Sponsor, Brown McCarroll & Oaks Hartline.

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

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