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Planning Commission punts

Wednesday, October 4, 2000 by

For two weeks on Bradfield

Developer's attorney complains about cost

After a lengthy executive session with attorneys for the city, the Planning Commission last night voted 5-3 to postpone action on the controversial Bradfield tract. Commissioner Jean Mather made the motion for postponement on behalf of fellow Commissioner Robin Cravey, who was absent.

Both Cravey and Mather have expressed strong reservations about granting variances requested for the property at the intersection of MoPac and Loop 360. Cravey was attending an emergency meeting of Johnston High School parents. Joining Mather were Commissioners Ray Vruhudla, Ben Heimsath, Jim Robertson and Lydia Ortiz. Vice Chair Betty Baker, and Commissioners Sterling Lands and Silver Garza voted no.

Barton Creek flows along the eastern boundary of the nearly 21-acre site. The site is in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, but because of protection under HB1704 it is subject to the Comprehensive Watersheds Ordinance—not the Save Our Springs Ordinance. The Bradfield Family Partnership plans to build two 5-story office buildings on the property. The city has refused to provide wastewater service to the site and the owners plan to install what is said to be a state of the art on-site wastewater treatment system. The Environmental Board has already recommended against the variance needed for the system. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 7, 2000)

The site plan for the office buildings was approved by the City Council in 1987, but because of the economic downturn the family did not try to develop until 1995. At that time, city staff told the developer that the project would be subject to the SOS Ordinance. The Bradfield family sued and the city settled, agreeing that the older watershed ordinance would apply.

Last night, Terry Irion, attorney for the Bradfield family, told planning commissioners they should take action, rather than further delay the case. Irion said that his clients have been in the approval process for the site for the past twenty months. After the vote, Irion told In Fact Daily that having a project in the city approval process means that several engineers, a lawyer, an architect and a plan processor are all on the payroll. He said every time there is a delay it costs his client money. The Commission postponed the case to October 16. The Commission will have a work session next week.

Environmental Committee to suggest

Improvements for Steiner Ranch deal

Committee recommends BCCP scientists review plan

As the public begins to scrutinize a proposal for development of land owned by Stratus Properties, a subcommittee of the city’s Environmental Board has spent hours analyzing the Steiner Ranch deal. Buzz Avery, chair of the subcommittee, told In Fact Daily his group will be recommending some changes.

For example, the committee believes that the city and THL Ranch, Ltd., the owner of Steiner Ranch, should submit their plan for managing conservation land to the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP) Scientific Advisory Committee. The development proposal Steiner Ranch has presented to the city includes the developer’s plans for managing habitat, including rules about walking dogs through areas that may be home to the Golden-Cheek Warbler.

Avery said it might not be a good idea to allow dogs in the preserve while the birds are nesting. He said it is likely that the full board will vote to condition a positive recommendation for the plan on submission to the BCCP scientists. The full board is scheduled to hear a presentation on the Steiner Ranch proposal and recommendations from the committee tonight.

The developers have agreed to donate 819 acres of land to the BCCP and make a financial contribution to the BCCP, as directed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis, attorney for THL, said his client would not object to meeting with the scientists if the development were not delayed.

Sybil Vosler, a biologist with the FWS, said she did not view dogs as a threat to the warbler. Vosler said she is much more concerned about the plan to build a wastewater treatment facility that may disturb endangered species.

Avery said his committee was pleased to learn that Steiner Ranch developers had agreed to use recently codified assumptions about impervious cover. Those assumptions have been generally accepted as more realistic than the previous ones. “Unlike the Bradley agreement, where they (staff) are trying to calculate the impervious cover as it goes in, (the staff is) going back to more traditional methods of using assumptions for entire subdivisions,” Avery said. The staff has found that trying to monitor impervious cover is “too labor intensive and may not work well,” Avery said.

"New development is anticipated to be no more than 17.5 percent impervious cover of the net site area. We are recommending a 20 percent cap on the entire project," Avery said.

The committee report will address other issues also, he said, including golf course management, restrictions on wastewater irrigation and slope stabilization.

TxDOT indecision throws

Subdivision into limbo

Planning Commission rejects staff recommendation

Landowners who want to build an office and industrial park off West Parmer Lane at I-35 will get a second chance to win approval of their subdivision at the Planning Commission in two weeks.

The commission overruled a staff recommendation that would have denied a subdivision plat for Parmer Center Sections I and II. Austex Enterprise No. 1, Ltd. wants to use the 120-acre parcel, sandwiched between I-35 and the airfield off Dessau Road. The owner is adding the infrastructure to divide the property into lots for office and industrial use. The land is adjacent to the Dell Computer campus on Parmer Lane.

The sticking point was a memorandum from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which was interpreted differently by city staff and the developer. Darcie Schipull of TxDOT stated in the memorandum that the highway agency intended to add improvements between Yager Lane and Howard Lane on I-35. According to the memo, a proposed road in the Parmer Center project from the frontage road through the property — known as Dell Direct Drive/Center Ridge Drive — could not be approved “until our consultants have submitted the traffic models and design plans.”

Schipull added that right-of-way along I-35 and Parmer Lane would be needed for future projects. The transportation agency is considering a braided ramp on I-35 between Parmer Lane and Howard Lane. According to the memo, no plans for additional roads off the frontage road could be approved until that ramp location is chosen.

To city staff, TxDOT’s intention was enough to stop the subdivision plats. To the landowner, the subdivision plat was still on the table until TxDOT finalized its plans.

“This applicant is caught in a difficult position,” said attorney Steve Adler, of Barron Adler & Anderson, who argued on behalf of the landowner that the project should move forward. “This city ordinance does not allow for the disapproval of a subdivision based on a future planning issue.”

In other words, the developer’s 18 months of effort need not be put in limbo while TxDOT decides how to proceed. TxDOT’s intentions to add the improvements between Parmer Lane and Yager Lane are not on the transportation plan or the collector street plan, Adler said. Until that level of certainty has been reached, nothing should be disapproved.

“The reason we think TxDOT is ambiguous is that they gave approval to our plan and then rescinded that, but they cannot tell us what (road) plan they can apply to our project,” said attorney Jim Knight, who also represented the developer.

Adler and Knight’s logic did cause some head scratching among commissioners, especially given the possibility that the commission might approve a plat that would eventually have no approved roads through it. Vice Chair Betty Baker was inclined to deny the plat until TxDOT finalized its plans but hesitated once she learned it would mean new fees for the developer. Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd also assured commissioners their approval could not be rescinded once granted, no matter what TxDOT might say in subsequent correspondence with the city.

The eventual compromise was based on a statement from TxDOT that the agency would provide further information to the city on the Yager/Parmer improvements in two weeks. Commissioner Jean Mather also requested that the Planning Commission send a letter to TxDOT urging a timely decision. The commissioners unanimously approved a two-week delay, with Commissioner Robin Cravey absent.

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

Women judges’ party. . . The Austin Women’s Political Caucus will honor women on the bench— Judges Karrie Key, Gisela Triana and Margaret Cooper—as well as another judicial hopeful, Darlene Byrne, at a fundraiser Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Cedar Street Courtyard on W. 4th Street. All the judges are running for re-election or election to higher judicial positions in Travis County . . Mayor joins walkers . . . Mayor Kirk Watson and one of his sons will join other parents and kids this morning on a walk to Casis Elementary School, 2710 Exposition Blvd. The walk will be in observance of Walk Our Children to School Day, part of a worldwide effort to promote health, physical activity and environmental awareness. . . Almanza returns. . . Susana Almanza was on the other side of the podium at last night’s Planning Commission meeting. Almanza, replaced on the commission only last week by Lydia Ortiz, invited Planning Comissioners to Brooke Elementary School on any Tuesday morning to watch the heavy truck trafficat Fifth and Tillery. Area neighbors are asking that the property be rezoned from light industrial. Almanza said the city’s neighborhood planing process has stalled zoning changes. The Planning Commission is expected to hear a staff report on traffic issues on a number of streets in the area at next week’s work session. . . Missing your In Fact Daily?. . . 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 or Tuesday, you can get back to those days by clicking on them at the top of the page. If you click on Thursday or Friday, you'll get last week's news.

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

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