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Cities worry about effects of

Monday, May 7, 2001 by

Land, water district legislation

Bills could affect environmental and zoning regulations

Last week, In Fact Daily reported a rumor that David Frederick of the local US Fish & Wildlife Service office had sent a letter to the City of Austin about Dripping Springs’ failure to notify Austin of its agreement to the terms of a water control district in Dripping’s’ ETJ. On Thursday, David Frederick, an attorney for the Save Barton Creek Association, sent a letter to City Attorney Andy Martin pointing out the very same facts—that the smaller city had failed to live up to an interlocal agreement with Austin under which each city was required to provide notice to the other of requests for variances or exemptions from subdivision regulations. The environmental organization is concerned about the effect of HB 3641 by Rep. Rick Green (R- Dripping Springs) on the creek and the aquifer. That bill would benefit Cypress Realty, which wants to build 2700 homes on 2700 acres over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

Martin said Friday he wanted to notify the City Council of his response before discussing it with the press. However, it seems unlikely that his position would change radically from what he expressed last week—that Austin and Dripping Springs have routinely violated the 1985 agreement and that the developer did not need Dripping Springs’ approval to ask the Legislature for the water district.

On Friday, Frederick, a partner in the firm of Henry, Lowerre & Frederick, said, “I’m sure that it is a hassle,” for the cities to notify each other. “I suspect it would be a little bit of an aggravation . . . but you shouldn’t negotiate these agreements if you’re not going to follow through.” HB 3641, which had been on the Local and Consent Calendar at one time, had been referred to the General Calendars Committee as of Friday. Mike Blizzard of Grass Roots Solutions, who is lobbying against the bills, said there are at least one thousand other bills lined up in the same committee. Two other water district bills by Green, HB 3628 and HB 3629 had been scheduled for the Local and Consent Calendar on Saturday and seemed likely to pass.

Sunset Valley Mayor Terry Cowan sent a letter to members of the Legislature on Friday noting that the small city opposes creation of all four water control and improvement districts proposed for Hays County. “The legislation, if approved, could promote and facilitate an inappropriate and possibly unsafe level of development over the recharge and contributing zones of the Edwards Aquifer. We believe that the sheer magnitude of the proposed districts and their potential cumulative impact could represent a threat to the safety of the entire City of Sunset Valley water supply,” he wrote. Cowan asked those receiving the Legislature to oppose the bills and ask the proponents to sit down with Sunset Valley officials before proceeding with “legislation that may impact the safety of our drinking water supply.”

In a memo to Council Member Beverly Griffith, city Government Relations Officer John Hrncir, noted that the Law Department and the Water & Wastewater Utility had reviewed HB 3641 and concluded that it would apply to land outside Austin’s ETJ. The same would be true for HB 3628 and HB 3629, according to the memo.

Closer to home, the Green proposal to help Gary Bradley create a development district on the Spillar Ranch, in violation of the agreement between Bradley and the City of Austin, was still on the list of bills the city opposes. According to Hrncir, HB 3644, which raised so much controversy when it was filed, is still pending in the House County Affairs Committee and was not scheduled for a hearing. Today is the last day for a House committee to report a House bill, Hrncir said. As for SB 1812, Sen. Ken Armbrister’ s substitute measure to create a special district to generate revenues from a proposed hotel and golf course on Bradley’s property, Hrncir wrote, “the City of Austin has no position,” on the measure.

Other measures that concern Hrncir are HB 1445 by Rep. Bob Turner (D-Coleman) and SB 1398 by Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay). Turner’s bill is being backed by homebuilders, Hrncir says, in order to end the current requirement that both the city and the county approve subdivisions and related permits in the city’s ETJ.

Turner’s bill has passed the House, in spite of opposition from a number of cities, as well as the Texas Municipal League. Hrncir said the bill has been sent to the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee and has not yet been set for a hearing. If enacted, the measure would require the city and the county to reach an agreement by January 2002 on who would regulate the ETJ, or have the issue decided by binding arbitration. “This could result in Austin losing its ETJ regulatory authority,” Hrncir said in his memo.

Fraser’s bill would prohibit downzoning on property without the owner’s permission. Texas cities would have to compensate the owner for any loss in value. Hrncir said this bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Land and Resources Management Committee at 8 a.m. today. The Senate has already passed the bill, despite opposition from TML and cities.

Hrncir also noted that a number of other pieces of legislation concern the City of Austin and keep its government relations staff busy. He said, “We do a triage daily, sometimes hourly, to decide which bills are moving most rapidly and are the biggest threat to the City. These fast-moving bills get the most attention from our lobby team.”

MUD pond shows need for

Maintenance and inspection

New database aid to following Bradley settlement

A water quality pond that was supposed to be maintained by the River Place MUD (Municipal Utility District) was recently found to be so poorly maintained, a 15- to 20-foot willow tree was growing out of the splitter box at one end of the pond, according to Environmental Board Chair Lee Leffingwell.

Though the problem is now being resolved, the MUD was so far out of compliance with city regulations it was subject to a fine of up to $2,000 a day, according to Marisol Claudio-Ehalt, head of the Environmental Inspection Division of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department . City staff gave the Environmental Board a briefing on the problem last week.

Susan Scroggins, with WPDR, said the standard fine for the class C misdemeanor is $1,500, a fee the city normally defers to prod pond owners into putting ponds back into compliance.

Leffingwell said the tree growing out of the concrete splitter box on Big View Pond was six to eight inches in diameter. “Our main concern when we went out there was it was not functioning,” he said, noting the splitter box was full of dirt and the drainage system appeared to be clogged.

Board Member Tim Jones said once some neighbors were made aware of the situation, a neighborhood group wasted no time in cleaning it up. However, he believes part of the problem is faulty design.

“It’s a serious situation,” he said, “it was draining, but it was draining very slow.” If ponds are not built properly, and not maintained properly, “it’s a waste of time to build them.”

He said the ponds at River Place, built in 1992, were eroding due to faulty construction. Board Member Phil Moncada disagreed. He said the problems were due to poor maintenance, not improper design. Moncada told In Fact Daily neither he nor Jones is an engineer, but he thought Jones “was out of line” in claiming faulty design as the reason for the problem. Moncada has recently visited the ponds, and he also inspected them seven years ago in official capacity as a city environmental inspector.

Forrest Nikorak, an engineer with the Watershed Protection Development Review Department, said the pond in question had been built following an earlier design, and that the design has since been modified for improved function. When he visited the ponds, after the clean up, he said he saw a “well functioning water quality facility.” For the age, he said, “it appeared to be doing okay . . . in general it looked pretty good.”

Moncada said there are four ponds in the area, three water quality ponds and one water detention/water quality pond. He said a company named Eco Resources Inc. is charged with maintaining the ponds for the MUD. “It seems like Eco Resources wants to be responsible, but a couple of developers out there still want to be renegades,” he said.

Jones said he thought whoever was supposed to take responsibility for the ponds must have forgotten about them or just quit paying attention. Big View Pond is below a golf course that is watered every day, he noted, causing the stream feeding the pond to flow even during drought conditions.

New database designed for complex legal matters

The Board also saw a presentation by staff on a new database set up exclusively for information related to the Bradley settlement. Shane Cook, with Infrastructure Support Services, designed the system to accommodate vast amounts of information, beginning with the 900 pages of documents in the Bradley agreement.

The Legal Settlement Tracking System, or LSTS, is currently set up for use by city staff but eventually will be accessible by Internet users, Cook said. Parties involved in the settlement will also have access before the system is on the Internet, he said. “There are five new owners since we started the Bradley settlement,” he said, and they will have access.

Board Member Joyce Conner said, “I’m glad you’re doing this.” She explained how she had so far made it through 10 out of 15 boxes of file folders looking for documents on River Place. She said she was astounded at how much paperwork she had to go through to find a few specific documents. “This is such a gold mine,” she said, “I can see it being used for more than just the legal tracking of the settlement.”

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Aquifer board meeting . . . The board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. at the district offices. The agenda calls for consideration of possible action against “non-compliant permittees, including TxDOT, (for) refusal to pay District fees.” In addition, the board is scheduled to discussion the annexation of District property on Onion Creek into the City of Buda and the City of Austin/Buda ETJ land controversy . . . Scholarship funds available . . . The Fiesta de Independencia Foundation is offering six scholarships worth $1,000 each to Hispanic Austin area high school graduates who are entering college next fall. Scholarship applications should be available this week at area high schools. Veronica Brisñeo, executive assistant to Council Member Raul Alvarez, is heading up the scholarship committee. Her phone number is 499-2264.

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