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Environmental Board recommends

Thursday, December 14, 2000 by

Change in impervious assumptions

Smaller lots have more concrete

The Environmental Board voted last night to recommend changing impervious cover assumptions for single-family homes and for the city to use restrictive covenants in order to have more flexibility and enforcement authority. Board Member Matt Watson said the board’s subcommittee decided it was important to correct the assumptions adopted by the city in February. “The new assumptions appear to be doing their job well” overall, he said, but they may not be adequate in specific instances.

Deputy Environmental Services Manager Pat Murphy said city staff researched impervious cover on 572 single-family lots built using 1986 impervious cover assumptions and an equal number of lots using the 2000 assumptions. More than 72 percent of the lots built under the older assumptions had more impervious cover than was assumed by the city. In contrast, 39.5 percent of the lots built under the new assumptions had a greater amount of impervious cover than assumed. Eighty-one percent of the lots in the 5,750 to 10,000 square feet category exceeded the assumptions and 59 percent of lots in the 10,000 to 15,000 square foot category exceeded the assumptions, according to the city’s data. (See In Fact Daily, Dec. 7, 2000)

Watson noted that after subdivisions are built, residents constantly make improvements on properties that affect the amount of impervious cover. Therefore it’s important to provide a buffer. With this in mind, the board recommended changing the assumption for lots of 5,750 to 10,000 square feet from 2,500 square feet to 3,250 square feet. The recommendation also calls for an increase in the assumption on lots of 10,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet.

Murphy said last week that the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Texas Capitol Area Builders Association had objected to changing the assumptions because smaller, more affordable homes would be more costly to build. The cost of land per house would go up, he said last night, and builders have complained about losing flexibility in terms of varying the size of homes and lots in any given subdivision.

Vice Chair Tim Jones said builders always have a long list of reasons, but it’s a list of reasons to maximize their profit. Builders are always asking for variances that are not in the spirit of the SOS ordinance or the Bradley development agreement. “No, we want to cheat,” he said, paraphrasing the builders’ viewpoint.

Murphy said the trend for new subdivisions is toward larger lots and larger homes. He said he didn’t expect to see new developments with small lots in the Drinking Water Protection Zone (DWPZ). “But I expect we’ll continue to see a trend of affordable housing in the Desired Development Zone (DDZ),” and more affordable housing means smaller homes on smaller lots.

“Clustering is certainly a good thing,” he said, noting that new developments designed to concentrate impervious cover create more green space. And the runoff from the concentrated impervious cover is easier to control, thereby increasing the opportunity for better water quality, he said. There is no incentive in the code at this point to encourage clustering, he added.

Murphy said he respected the subcommittee’s input and made a point that he doesn’t want to “avoid regulation because I believe water quality and impervious cover are the same thing.”

Last spring the City Council asked for a report on how well the new assumptions were working. Impervious cover has a direct correlation with water pollution, especially in sensitive watersheds. During settlement negotiations with developer Gary Bradley, the Council requested the city manager to prepare a system for accurately determining and regulating new impervious cover regulations.

Council to consider $25 million

In Vignette incentives today

Environmentalists split on issue

Today’s City Council meeting—the last one of the year—promises to be lengthy and eventful. At 4:30 p.m., the Council is scheduled to take up zoning and the $25 million package of incentives and fee waivers for software-maker Vignette, which wants to locate and expand on Cesar Chavez, close to the Convention Center. Although environmentalists Robin Rather and Brigid Shea have worked hard to assist Vignette in its drive to build downtown rather than over the aquifer, others—most notably Bill Bunch and Mark Tschurr of the Save Our Springs Alliance—have criticized the company’s request for reimbursement.

The executive committee of the Austin Neighborhoods Council voted last night to support Vignette, with some caveats. ANC President Jim Walker said the group “would like the city to look at ways to provide incentives for downtown housing proportional to the employment” coming downtown. He said the group is concerned about affordability of housing, not only downtown but also in near-downtown neighborhoods.

All cities evolve, he said, but “Austin must take care not to inadvertently speed up the rate at which our city is evolving.”

Walker also mentioned that ANC is concerned about downtown traffic and pollution, which Vignette has promised to address. “We are looking forward to following through with Vignette on all of this,” he concluded.

Shea, a former City Council member who is working as a consultant to Vignette, agreed. “I think the city needs to look at mechanisms for encouraging more housing in the urban core,” she said. ANC is seeking new ways for the city to accommodate all the employees coming downtown, she said.

“Vignette has made a commitment to convene a summit of major downtown employers to try to deal with” the impact those companies are having on the central city, Shea said. She said she hopes the incentive package is approved today. “These guys are on a very tight timeframe.” She said the Sierra Club, Save Barton Creek Association, Metropolitan Trails Council and the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association have all endorsed Vignette’s move.

As for her former co-workers at the SOS Alliance, Shea says it makes no sense for them to advocate moving major employers from locations over the aquifer, and then refuse to look at the increased cost to those employers. “When I worked at SOS, Motorola went to McNeil Road(far northwest) and people were critical of that,” because the move created more urban sprawl. “I think environmental leaders lose credibility when they do this,” she said.

Shea believes that if Vignette gets the package it is seeking and moves downtown, “People will be able to point to this and say, ‘This is how you should conduct yourself.’”

Neighborhood Plan needs zoning

Supporters and opponents of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan will be trying to persuade the Council to change—or not change—zoning in the eastside neighborhood. Members of the neighborhood planning team and the El Concilio political organization have been at odds for years.

The Council seems likely to approve a Neighborhood Plan Combining District for the area, which is bounded on the North by the alley between East 6th Street and East 7th Street, on the East by Chicon Street, on the South by Town Lake and on the West by Interstate Highway 35. If the district is approved, homeowners could subdivide their lots to create smaller ones, making infill easier. Property owners could build also garage apartments and ‘granny flats.’.

Getting ready for the Lege

The Council will also consider contracts totaling $661,000 for lobbyists working the upcoming Legislative session. There are a number of well-known names on the list, including attorney Carl Richie of Mayor Day Caldwell & Keeton, who will receive $75,000, and Cliff Johnson and Reggie Bashur, who will receive $180,000. Johnson has served as a commissioner of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, a particularly important connection for Austin, which has had so many environmental disagreements with state lawmakers. Brothers Gordon and Robert Johnson have contracted for a total of $120,000.

Three former members of the Legislature— Hugo Berlanga, Carl Parker and Froy Salinas—will also represent Austin. Berlanga will earn $84,000. Parker and Salinas will each receive $30,000. Two new faces for the city’s team are Richard Hamner, former aide to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, and Susan Rocha, a former city attorney with extensive municipal experience, according to John Hrncir, the city’s government relations officer. Hamner will be paid $70,000 and Rocha will receive $72,000. Hrncir said each of the lobbyists has a different area of expertise and range of contacts. He said about 2,000 bills affect the city’s 28 departments each session.

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

LCRA Board . . . Pamela Akins of Burnet County was elected by fellow board members to be chair of the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors yesterday. Gale Lincke of Fayette County is the new vice chair and Robert Lambert of Llano County will serve as secretary . . . Downtown Commission officers . . .The city’s Downtown Commission re-elected Robert Knight as chair of the group and Chris Riley as vice chair. Perry Lorenz agreed to continue as secretary. The group noted the need for additional members. Two new members, Charlie Jones of the Music Commission and Nan McRaven of AARO, have yet to attend, Knight noted . . . Commission Appointees . . . Jane Manaster and Liz Garcia-Goins have been appointed to the Historic Landmark Commission. Will Bozeman has been appointed to the Community Development Commission and Rebecca Allmon will join the Design Commission. Samuel Loughlin has been named to the Ethics Review Commission . . . Downtown or South Austin?. . . Expect some protest over the Downtown Design Guidelines, which go too far across the river for folks in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood. . .

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

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