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Lawyers for city, Steiner Ranch

Thursday, October 5, 2000 by

Shuttle between commissions

Environmental Board makes long list of suggestions

The proposed Steiner Ranch development agreement received another round of intense scrutiny Wednesday as the Environmental Board honed its recommendations. The agreement will ultimately require City Council approval.

Board members passed a list of about 20 recommendations from its subcommittee, which had studied the proposed agreement in three meetings. Board Members Tim Jones, Joyce Conner, Ramon Alvarez, Sean Garretson, Matt Watson and Chair Lee Leffingwell voted to advance the recommendations, while Buzz Avery and Phil Moncado abstained. Moncado and Avery voiced concerns over whether many of the recommendations were in the purview of the Board.

Most of the Board's discussion centered on trying to get the most environmental benefit out of the agreement, often going a step further than the city staff's recommendations for impervious cover, wastewater service and impacts to the adjoining Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP).

The proposed agreement is a five-page term sheet, the basis of negotiations between THL Ranch, Ltd., other owners of Steiner Ranch, and the city. The property, which sits just south of the intersection of FM 620 and Quinlan Park Road, was part of a Water Quality Protection Zone (WQPZ) ruled unconstitutional by the Texas Supreme Court. That ruling gave the city leverage in asking for environmentally-friendly requirements for the land that put caps on impervious cover and square footage for buildings. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 3, 2000)

Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, attorney for the developers, who spent the evening addressing both the Environmental Board and the Water and Wastewater Commission, maintained a positive outlook on the public input process. "We don't have a corner on all the brain power, so we wanted your recommendations to make this a better agreement," he said. “…What we’d like to do is take all of your recommendations and weave them into an agreement later.”

The key component of the proposed agreement would be a conservation easement granted to the city for the undeveloped portions of Steiner Ranch—about 4,200 acres. The easement would give the city the development rights to any undeveloped property. Those rights would ensure that the land is not developed and would give the city more protection than if it relied on regulatory authority.

City Attorney Andy Martin said the Legislature has a history of attacking the city's water quality regulations. "It's less likely that the city's property rights would be affected by legislation than the city's regulatory power," he said.

Key recommendations from the Board include:

• A 20 percent cap on the average impervious cover for the development. • Requirements that any on-site wastewater systems meet standards currently being developed by city staff. Those regulations are expected to be more stringent than those required by state law. • The minimum necessary size of wastewater lines (if used) to discourage further development. The recommendation would be dependent on city studies underway to gauge the potential for development in the area. • Review by the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan's Scientific Advisory Committee on the impact of effluent irrigation, utilities, fencing, animals and other effects from residents.

The Board also weighed in on items that are outside its mission, but nonetheless important to environmental concerns, including recommendations to: • Set aside 20 percent of multi-family development as affordable housing. This would supplement an existing proposal to allocate $100 per residential unit to the city's affordable housing fund. • Stipulate that a proposal to dedicate 819 acres of land to the BCCP not be included in calculations for how much land should be donated as public park space. The current agreement states that the BCCP donation could count as 50 percent of the required parkland donation. • Prohibit the gated communities desired by the developer. • Consider a prohibition of major employers at the site.

The city's Parks and Recreation Board will also be making recommendations on the proposed agreement and likely will discuss the issue of public access to parks in detail. In other news, the Board set a public hearing for Nov. 1 to discuss strategies to control hydrilla in Lake Austin. Officials propose controlling the fast-growing aquatic plant with a combination of carp and herbicides.

Water and Wastewater Commission

Recommends approval of part of plan

Disposal of treated effluent biggest question

The Water and Wastewater Commission gave its seal of approval to the Steiner Ranch development agreement last night, but only to the portion that applied to the area’s water services.

The two lawyers closest to the agreement—City Attorney Andy Martin and Attorney Richard Suttle, who represents the developer—shuttled between the Environmental Board and the Water and Wastewater Commission . Before the discussion was over, the Water and Wastewater Commission had signed off on the agreement. Commissioner Lanetta Cooper limited her motion, however, to the water and wastewater section of the agreement and included new requirements suggested by the Environmental Board last night.

The Environmental Board suggested a study be performed to consider how a wastewater line from the development would impact the environment and growth in the area. The board also suggested a study of how drip irrigation would affect the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan land . The developers of Steiner Ranch have already agreed to a wastewater treatment plant in the planned development, which sits off south of Mansfield Dam in Northwest Travis County. Mike Erdmann, wholesale services manager for the city’s water utility, said the developer has agreed to an on-site wastewater treatment plant that can handle up to 525,000 gallons of wastewater per day. The treated water from that plant would be used to irrigate the golf course, green spaces and the nature preserve inside the development.

Steiner Ranch fully developed, however, is expected to produce 1.2 million gallons of wastewater per day, Erdmann said. Under the current agreement, any amount above the 525,000 gallons would be piped to the city’s centralized wastewater line at the corner FM 2222 and River Place Boulevard—in front of 3M. If the line from the development out to the city’s line is not approved, the developer has suggested building a second golf course to handle the treated effluent from the facility.

Cooper asked whether the treated water could be used on lawns, but Suttle said that would not be within the scope of the existing TNRCC permit. Managing usage of the treated water would be difficult in an area as large as Steiner Ranch, especially when homeowners could choose to use or cap sprinklers that tap the reclaimed water, Suttle said.

Cooper and Chair Darwin McKee continued to express concerns about the agreement to use the BCCP land as a credit toward city parkland requirements. Cooper, however, said she would leave the recommendations on parks to the city's Parks and Recreation Board.

The Planning Commission has delayed a vote on the Steiner Ranch agreement for two weeks. The Parks board is expected to vote on a recommendation at next week’s meeting.

Mayor urges business leaders

To work for light rail approval

Confront traffic problem with rail, roads, says Watson

At first, he wasn’t certain, but when Mayor Kirk Watson looked out over downtown from a 17th-floor window of the Hyatt Regency, he agreed, there was no traffic jam in sight. And he acknowledged it was a great view of downtown Austin, serving as his backdrop, when he addressed the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at their monthly luncheon Wednesday.

“Mayor, I’m looking at downtown Austin and I don’t see a traffic jam. That’s something to be thankful for,” said member Rafael Quintanilla during the invocation.

Watson said the number one quality-of-life issue in Austin is transportation. “When you have about 100 people a day moving to town, you have a need for transportation,” he said. “We are at the front end of a bubble of a major problem, if we don’t confront it.”

The way to prevent trouble, he said, is “to provide a toolbox of tools to solve our transportation problems.” He encouraged his audience to “give us these tools” by supporting light rail and road bonds in the upcoming election.

“You don’t have to look very far to see success with (light) rail,” he said, citing Dallas, Denver and San Diego as successful examples. He noted that Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk had said, “you would have to be crazy not to pass it.”

Watson’s primary focus was to encourage people to vote for light rail, but he also stressed a dire need for major funding for roads. “We need more roads, that’s why you see that $150 million on the ballot.” He wants to invest in new roads and increase capacity of existing roads by creating new turn lanes and establishing reversible lanes that flow with rush-hour traffic. And he strongly emphasized planning so more people can live and work in close proximity to reduce commuter traffic jams and decrease the need for ever expanding roads.

But he cautioned against some of the road proposals under consideration. “What I worry about is some of these extreme plans I see,” he said, noting that light rail would not disrupt neighborhoods as much as some road plans on the table.

If downtown is the living room of the city, he said, then “we are remodeling our living room.”

“If you look at where we were just three years ago—it was a good downtown—but it wasn’t a great downtown. A lot is going on that we ought to be proud of,” he said.

“We have a vision of what downtown will be,” Watson said, adding the city is in the process of creating a vibrant, viable downtown. He cited the Computer Sciences Corp. development currently underway downtown as an example of what the city has done recently. The city has owned the downtown land since the 1970’s, he said, but couldn’t do anything with it until now.

“Create the toolbox,” he said, adding, “we need to have (light) rail as part of the toolbox.”

Watson stressed two reasons to support light rail. “One, it doesn’t raise any taxes, and two, about half of it is paid for by the federal government.” He said if Austin voters don’t approve light rail, the possibility of procuring federal money will be gone in a flash. “We’re in a vicious competition with other communities that want rail,” he said, noting federal funds were spread too thin to meet national demand. “We need that money.”

Anytime someone comments on what a huge amount of money is involved, he said, he agrees, but at the rate Austin is growing, it’s not even close to the city’s needs. “State Highway 130, which I support, that’s a billion dollar road,” he said, but even at that price it will only solve a limited number of the area’s transportation problems. “I think we need all those tools in the toolbox.”

Light rail will improve economic conditions as well as help solve transportation problems, the mayor said. Unemployment in Austin is at two percent, he said, but “one of the whammies that happen to people in this community is we don’t have transportation for people to get to those jobs.” He said light rail will create equity by eventually extending to East Austin. The city doesn’t want to leave anybody behind, he said.

“I think the citizens of this community will favor (light rail) if we can get the message out,” Watson said. “Every one of us in this room needs to do something to help it pass,” he said. “Even if that person never gets on the rail, it benefits that person” because it benefits the community.

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

Moving to Bubbaland… Development consultant Sarah Crocker has left her downtown highrise for her own piece of south Austin. Crocker reports that she moved into her new building at 809 S. Lamar this weekend. Crocker says she is happy to be in south Austin, closer to One Texas Center with its many city offices… Guns not welcome… Ellen Richards, daughter of the former governor, is hosting a fundraiser for the Texans Against Gun Violence Political Victory Fund Thursday from 5:30-7:30pm, at the home of her brother, Dan Richards, 1403 Kent Lane, off of Enfield between Mopac and Exposition… Moving to Portland… Ramona Perrault, Council Member Daryl Slusher’s executive assistant, is following her heart, which means relocation to Portland, Ore. Her main squeeze, former American-Statesman reporter Dylan Rivera, moved to the northwest a couple of months ago… Austin wannabes…The Sacramento, California Metro Chamber of Commerce has sent a delegation to Austin to learn our city’s secrets. Mayor Kirk Watson will give them an overview at breakfast this morning at the Driskill Hotel. In the afternoon, Council Member Will Wynn, Charlie Betts, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, Kristen Vassallo, the mayor’s chief of staff, architect Sinclair Black and entrepreneur Tom Stacy will talk about downtown revitalization. Friday will be devoted to discussions about transportation and the high tech industry… Water usage climbs… Chris Lippe, acting director of the Water and Wastewater Department, reported to the Water and Wastewater Commission last night that the city used over 16 percent more than the 45,000 MG (million gallons of water) budgeted for last year. Usage hit its peak on July 15, when more than 220 MG were used… Deadline coming… October 10 is the deadline to register to be eligible to vote in the November 7 bond and light rail election, as well as minor matters such as President… We apologize if you could not reach our web site earlier this week. Due to server problems, a number of subscribers were unable to access the news. If you missed Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, just click on them at the top of the page. If you click on Friday, you'll get last week's news.

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

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