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TNRCC rejects environmentalists'

Thursday, October 19, 2000 by

Request for hearing on Bradfield tract

SBCA attorney says appeal to court likely

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) handed environmentalists a setback Wednesday by refusing to allow them to have a contested hearing on issuance of a permit to dispose of wastewater on land adjacent to Barton Creek.

The Commission voted 3-0 to deny the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) a hearing before an administrative law judge. The land in question is the Bradfield tract, which sits at the intersection of MoPac and Loop 360 and is bounded on two sides by Barton Creek.

Developers plan to build two 5-story office buildings on the property, but the city has refused to provide wastewater service to the site. The owners plan to install what is said to be a state-of-the-art on-site wastewater treatment system. SBCA members, including Environmental Board member and longtime activist Tim Jones, oppose the issuance of the permit to operate that system.

In a letter to TNRCC, David Frederick of Henry, Lowerre & Frederick, who represents SBCA, listed seven issues affecting issuance of the permit:

• Faulting and sink features at the disposal site (the extent of such features and the risk of contamination by effluent); • The adequacy of the permit applicant’s water balance analysis; • Failure of the applicant to present a nitrogen balance analysis, which SBCA says is especially important to endangered species and algae growth concerns; • The adequacy of the proposed effluent treatment and disposal system; • Return flows from landscape irrigation at the site; • The adequacy of the proposed permit reporting standards; • Limits on chemical contaminants from commercial effluent in the wastewater stream originating in the office complex planned for the site.

Jones was very upset about the commission’s action. He told In Fact Daily, “The whole thing stinks so bad. They kept pointing out that the city had withdrawn its objections.” Terry Irion, attorney for the Bradfield family, said the City of Austin also used most of the grounds cited by SBCA in its request for a hearing. The city and the Bradfield family reached an agreement, however, and the city dropped its opposition to the permit. Irion said SBCA had only one additional issue—the quality of the effluent that would be sprayed onto the land.

“There’s no restriction or regulations on what type of discharges the office tenants could make. And you could end up with high tech companies that had toxic discharges into the system. The City of Austin said they weren’t terribly concerned about that. We offered to the Save Barton Creek Association that we would agree that the discharges would be limited to domestic waste . . . We never got a response from Save Barton Creek,” Irion said.

The landowners’ attorney said, “This shows how unreasonable the Save Barton Creek Association is with this request for a contested hearing. They have raised an issue and we have proposed a solution and they won’t tell us whether the solution is acceptable or not. So the commission said we’re going to approve this permit, conditioning it on the discharge of domestic waste only.” Domestic waste is biological waste only, what is generated in restrooms, Irion said.

Craig Smith, vice president of SBCA, said, “We are very disappointed with the TNRCC decision. We still believe there is a serious risk associated with irrigation of sewage effluent in the recharge zone of Barton Springs so close to the springs. Dye tracing studies have indicated that any runoff from the site might be discharged from the springs in 24 hours or less—with virtually no filtration.” Smith said SBCA is especially worried about infection by cryptosporidium, a disease-causing parasite, “which can survive up to 18 months in the aquifer.”

Frederick said his clients will file a motion for rehearing. If that is denied, the environmental organization is likely to file suit against TNRCC in district court. “I consider it just illegal,” Frederick said. “The TNRCC has done this same thing in six or seven other cases where we have clients. In every single one of them that we have appealed to district court, the district court has reversed the TNRCC and said the client should have gotten a hearing.”

The Bradfields still must receive a variance from the Planning Commission to build the wastewater irrigation system within an upland buffer zone. Tuesday night the commission postponed action on the request because of a posting error. The Environmental Board has already recommended against the variance needed for the system. Jones did not take part in that decision. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 7, 2000)

Planning Commission deadlocks

Over LifeWorks Montopolis zoning

First SMART Housing project to ask for zoning change

The objections of the adjacent neighborhood association were enough to sway at least half the Planning Commission into believing a proposed affordable apartment complex in Montopolis was the right kind of housing project in the wrong location.

Because the Planning Commission split 4-4, and Commissioner Sterling Lands abstained, the Fairway Place Apartments at 1881 Grove Blvd. will go to the City Council with no recommendation. The project is the first SMART Housing project that has required a zoning variance from the city. Under SMART housing, the city gives financial incentives to builders who devote at least a portion of a project to low- and moderate-income housing.

LifeWorks wants to change zoning from LR (local retail) and SF-3 (single family) to MF-2 (multi-family), but needed parcels of land on Grove Boulevard, Fairway Street, and Clubview Avenue for the 184-unit project. LifeWorks intended to devote 30 percent of its units to very low-income residents, most of them young graduates of LifeWorks shelter and transitional housing programs.

The deadlock over Fairway Place came at the end of a grueling Planning Commission agenda that also included a decision on the Steiner Ranch agreement. The commission sent LifeWorks and Manadas Development Group away two weeks ago to negotiate with the Montopolis Area Neighborhood Improvement Alliance. Neighborhood concerns, as voiced by Griselda Guerrero-Rodriguez, include safety and security, as well as heavy traffic and home value depreciation.

Assurances by Bill Lee of the Manadas Development Group that LifeWorks was willing to make 18 commitments in writing—including an on-site police officer and a neighborhood advisory council—were not enough to appease either the neighborhood or the commissioners. In the end, commissioners questioned whether the project was right in a neighborhood already full of apartments and with land already zoned for multi-family development.

LifeWorks Executive Director Bill McLellan admitted in the course of questioning that LifeWorks had looked at other pieces of land on Grove Boulevard but had picked the proposed location because the owner had offered to defray a quarter of the land’s cost—approximately $300,000. The project is also adjacent to SafePlace, the women’s shelter that is run by McClellan’s wife. Both LifeWorks and SafePlace would share the complex’s units and services.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath said LifeWorks’ efforts were laudable and affordable housing was a mandate for the city, but Fairway Park Apartments was a case of the right project in the wrong location.

“It’s a location that’s not based upon good sound planning principles nor is it consistent with what the neighborhood needs,” Heimsath said. “What I think we have here is a land arrangement itself that has determined its location. It would be better suited in an alternate location.”

Lands, who has developed his own affordable housing project in East Austin, mentioned that although the location was determined by convenience it was still suitable for the project, according to city staff recommendations. In the final vote, Commissioners Robin Cravey, Jim Robertson, Lydia Ortiz and Ray Vrudhula supported the zoning changes. Commissioners Heimsath, Betty Baker, Silver Garza and Jean Mather opposed the changes. Lands threw in the abstention that would send it to the Council with no recommendation.

Commission rejects neighbors'

Petition against smaller homes

SMART Growth development gets the nod

The city’s SMART Growth goals won out over a neighborhood protest as the Planning Commission granted new zoning to allow small houses in an undeveloped pocket of land off South Lamar. Developer Bill Howell wanted to rezone the two-acre property on Del Curto Road from SF-3 to SF-4A. Rezoning the site to Single Family Residence 4A reduces the minimum lot size from 5,750 square feet to 3,600 square feet.

Howell said he intended to add the property to his existing development and would include rear yard setbacks and buffers requested by the neighboring condominium owners association. Local residents—from the South Lamar Neighborhood Association—argued that almost half of the neighbors had signed a petition opposing the project and they saw no reason to change the existing zoning to a denser concentration of units.

In the end, however, it was Chair Betty Baker’s logic and the city’s SMART Growth goals for urban infill that appeared to sway the board. Baker pointed out the SF-3 zoning designation would allow 22 units on the property. Under SF-4A, Howell intended to put 17 new units on the property. Commissioner Robin Cravey added that the SF-4A was a tool to support the City Council’s direction toward neighborhood infill and was a valid option in the Del Curto case. Most of the land around the project is either SF-3 or SF-6.

The commission voted 8-1, with Commissioner Jean Mather in opposition to the zoning change. Mather said she could not vote against a valid petition. Mather said she would have preferred an SF-2 zoning designation on the land.

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

Light Rail is green . . . Environmentalists representing the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Save Our Springs Alliance, and the Sierra Club announced their support for light rail Wednesday. The groups held a joint press conference at Barton Springs. Joining those organizations were individual representatives of the Save Barton Creek Association, Environmental Defense and Clean Water Action, who also support light rail. Bill Bunch, executive director of SOSA said his organization views light rail as “a key and perhaps critical component to reducing sprawl into the Hill Country and redirecting urban development into the Desired Development Zone.” Robin Rather said the coming election is “one of the most important events in Austin environmental history.” Rather, CEO of Mindwave Research, said anti-rail activists who suggested that Austin should use Houston as a model offended her. Anyone who has lived in Austin knows better. . .

Not ready for prime time . . . The Environmental Board will not be hearing about impervious cover calculations until November 15, according to Roderick Burns of the Watershed Protection Department. Burns said Deputy Environmental Services Manager Pat Murphy wants to hold meetings with stakeholders before presenting his findings to the board . . . Also postponed . . . The city’s Ethics Review Commission postponed last night’s meeting. A spokesman for the city said the panel would try to reschedule the meeting for sometime next week . . . Hired. . . Laurie Lentz is the new public information program manager for the Water and Wastewater Department. Lentz has a masters degree in English from the University of Texas and is the former director of public information for the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation . . . City offersBarton Springs postcards. . . The city will be distributing free sets of eight postcards each, showing the beauty of Barton Springs and facts about the Edward’s Aquifer. The city hopes to increase awareness of the springs and the Splash! Exhibit at Zilker Park. A special postal service cancellation will mark the formal unveiling of the postcards on Saturday.

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

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