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BFI wants city to buy property

Tuesday, December 12, 2000 by

Proposed for recycling center

Neighbors oppose recycling center, support buyout

BFI Waste Systems, thwarted in trying to relocate its recycling facility, has decided to ask the City of Austin to buy the company’s land in southeast Austin. Members of the Kensington Park Neighborhood Association (KPNA), whose homes are adjacent to BFI’s property on Winnebago Lane, are actively supporting the company’s request.

The city forced BFI to give up its current recycling facility at 4712 Bolm Road, near the Gardens neighborhood, after a 1996 fire. At that time, the City Council directed staff to work with the company to relocate on a site “out of proximity to neighborhoods.” Subsequently, the city told BFI that the site on Winnebago Lane would be a good one for its facility. The site is zoned LI (Limited Industrial).

Representatives from the Kensington Park neighborhood fought BFI’s attempt to get variances to city setback and parking requirements at the Board of Adjustment ( In Fact Daily, Sept. 12, Nov. 14, 2000). After two rounds, the neighborhood successfully stymied BFI’s efforts. Both sides said that the city caused the problem by advising BFI to obtain an unsuitable piece of land.

Rick Carpenter, regional vice president for BFI, told In Fact Daily, “We gave the city an opportunity, if they choose to take it,” to purchase the property. Carpenter said BFI bought the site in March for $458,000. He declined to discuss the amount that BFI now wants from the city, but said, “We gave them an easy out. It’s a win-win for the neighborhood and the city. It’s not a win for us.”

Lee Sloan, president of the KPNA, said the neighborhood is very pleased with BFI’s decision and is contacting City Council members, asking them to support the proposal. Monday’s addendum to this week’s City Council agenda includes an executive session item relating to a lawsuit settlement agreement between the city and the company. The city sued BFI in order to condemn its property after the fire.

Last March, the City Council approved a $3.9 million settlement with BFI to move the company’s Bolm Road facility. To give the company time to build a new facility, the settlement included a leaseback arrangement whereby the company would pay the city $2,000 a month for 15 months, with one authorized extension of up to six months. That site is to be used for administrative offices by the city's Solid Waste Department.

Carpenter said BFI would never try to build a recycling center in the city of Austin again. He said he did not know exactly where BFI would move, but that some of the recycled paper would be transferred to the company’s San Antonio facility. Asked whether BFI had ever had similar problems in San Antonio, Carpenter said, “No. It’s only 100 miles, but it’s a whole nuther world.”

Sloan said Kensington Park residents would be “moving rapidly to establish a neighborhood plan.” He said the subdivision was established in 1956 and annexed into the city in 1984. Several industrial businesses near the neighborhood have been good neighbors. For Sloan, Capital Printing, with its quiet, campus-like setting, is a prime example. The BFI site, on the other hand, would have been too noisy and too busy for the neighborhood, Sloan said.

Capital Metro Board votes

To return money to cities

Engineering, environmental studies to proceed

The Capital Metro Board of Directors voted Monday to dedicate nearly $70 million of anticipated revenues—formerly slated to go into light rail—to other transit and mobility projects in the communities where the taxes were collected. Those funds are garnered from 25 percent of Capital Metro’s penny sales tax.

After voting down a substitute resolution by Board Member John Trevino, who sought to keep broader options open for these funds, the board approved a resolution by Board Member Fred Harless designating the money for other transportation projects in the communities of origin. “This quarter cent should go back to where it came from—those people have needs too,” said Harless, of Lago Vista. “They voted for it, they’re paying for it—give it back to them—a quarter cent”

Board Member Daryl Slusher said Capital Metro had been collecting that quarter cent for several years, just for light rail, but voters turned it down. “ So we’re duty bound to put it towards mobility projects that voters have blessed.”

In an attempt to clarify the discussion, Chair Lee Walker said, “we now intend to spend it on mobility needs other than rail.” The intention is clear, he said, now we move to the “how.”

Trevino, who said he just wanted to hold the quarter cent in reserve in case a larger need arose, ended up voting for the Harless resolution after he and Slusher amended it to ensure that the funding would “be reviewed every year during the annual budget process.” Walker said he voted for the Harless resolution because he liked the idea of sending a message to “member communities” that “we respect their votes.”

Even though Capital Metro’s tax base spreads into Williamson County, and includes communities such as Leander, Manor and Lago Vista, approximately 95 percent of the funds in question are dedicated to Austin, Harless said.

The board also voted to continue the $3.7-million preliminary engineering and environmental study on light rail. Walker said the board had received a great deal of input from the community “urging” them to move ahead with the study.

Not finishing the study would actually cost Capital Metro more than it would to finish, according to General Manager Karen Rae. Last Friday at a work session, she said not completing the study would require Capital Metro to reimburse the federal government about $2.2 million in grant funding, whereas completing it would only cost $460,000,

The board finally voted to reaffirm a previous resolution stipulating how to spend cash reserves. Slusher expressed interest in holding off on action in order to explore other transportation and mobility options. But Harless said action wasn’t really necessary—a quick vote to reaffirm a former pledge to spend $91 million on mobility projects would suffice. The plan calls for $20 million in upfront spending and a subsequent $3 million a year for HOV lanes and other measures as part of the Build Greater Austin initiative.

Environmental Board struggles

With legal, philosophical issues

Board says single lot should not get variances

A simple request for a variance on a Lake Travis lot led to an extended Environmental Board discussion on what should constitute the basis for the board's recommendations to the Planning Commission.

Circumstance and annexation had left a single lot on the edge of the Vineyard subdivision undeveloped. The lot is similar in character to the lots that were annexed into the city of Lakeway and developed in recent years, but does not meet Austin's stricter development guidelines. To refuse to grant the variance would render the lot useless for development.

Commissioners were split. The subcommittee that recommended the variances—on density, slope and on-site wastewater disposal—said it was unfair to punish the developer for simply waiting longer than his neighbors to develop a similar piece of land. The two-acre lot, owned by Jack Moss, is the only unplatted portion of the Costa Bella subdivision that sits outside Lakeway’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

“We did discuss this quite a bit,” subcommittee chair Buzz Avery said. “The position of this lot is now such that the city has accepted it as part of its ETJ. The city has created a de facto illegal lot. If the city creates it, it needs to take responsibility for what occurs on this lot.”

Chair Lee Leffingwell, who would eventually abstain on the vote, said the determining factor for him was that the lot was a natural fit for the Vineyard subdivision. To hold the line on a piece of land that was platted in 1982 would place a difficult burden on the landowner, even if environmental controls were lacking on the ravine-side land.

Commissioner Joyce Conner, however, questioned why the Environmental Board's recommendations should be based more on legal histories than environmental standards. While Conner was not particularly eager to target the Vineyard lot, she preferred that the board follow environmental guidelines in making their recommendations. Exceptions, Conner told her colleagues, lead to substandard land use.

The Vineyard lot would not be the first exception the board had made to environmental needs, Conner told her colleagues in a written statement she read at the meeting. A consistent set of environmental guidelines and principles—not an applicant’s poor platting decision, either past or present—should be the driving factor in the Environmental Board’s recommendation. Conner suggested that if the board granted variances, such as a variance to the on-site septic system, that they also require some maintenance as part of the approval from the Planning Commission.

Conner also had some strong words for the Planning Commission itself, complaining that commissioners tend to favor staff recommendations over board recommendations in making their decisions. In the case of the Vineyard property, the board wanted to set higher standards than the staff. Such opinions, Conner said, should be duly considered in the Planning Commission's recommendations.

Commissioner Tim Jones agreed with Conner, saying that if the board continued to make exceptions that the entire city would be left with lots based on the environmental regulations of 20 years ago.

Conner said she would rather abstain on the vote than vote against the variances because of the long history of approvals given by the Environmental Board to properties. Swayed by her argument, the Environmental Board voted to recommend denial of the variance on environmental grounds. Members added a caveat that if the Planning Commission approved the variance on legal grounds, some environmental stipulations should be followed, including proper monitoring of the on-site septic system.

When the question was put to a vote, Leffingwell, a member of the subcommittee that recommended the exception, abstained. Avery and Commissioner Phil Moncada, who also sat on the subcommittee, voted against the denial.

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

Big bucks for East Austin agency . . . Five local banks have put up $500,000 for the Austin Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization that provides financing and technical assistance to businesses owned by minorities and women. The benefactors include Compass Bank, Comerica, Bank One, Bank of America and Chase Bank. The federal government is awarding $588,000 in matching funds. A celebration is planned for 2 p.m. at the Santa Cruz Center for Culture, 1805 E. 7th St., weather permitting . . . Displeased . . . Juan Cotera, chair of the city’s Design Commission, told planners and city staff involved with the new 911 Call Center at Robert Mueller that it would be “inappropriate for us to even comment” on a project so near completion. Project architect, Craig Fernandez of Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall of Los Angeles, said the construction drawings were 90 percent done. Cotera said he resented the fact that the city did not consult with the commission earlier in the process. The Planning Commission requested that the Design Commission review the project before granting a zoning change. The city team is scheduled to go back to the Planning Commission tonight.

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

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