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Environmental group to

Tuesday, June 5, 2001 by

Sue over Bradfield tract

SBCA cites violations of federal Clean Water Act

An attorney for the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) has written a letter notifying the Bradfield Tract’s new owners that the environmental group intends to sue for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. SBCA has already sent a similar letter to the previous owner, the Bradfield Family Partnership.

According to a letter from David O. Frederick of Henry, Lowerre & Frederick, the new owners, Prentiss Properties Acquisition Partners, LP purchased the environmentally sensitive property last month. The site, which is being developed as an office complex, sits at the intersection of MoPac and Loop 360 and is bounded on two sides by Barton Creek. The development is now called The Park on Barton Creek.

In letters to both sets of owners, Frederick says that the Bradfield Family Partnership began construction activities on the property at 3711 MoPac about April 10. Both the family partnership and Prentiss have violated the Clean Water Act, Frederick says, because “The construction activities disturb more than 5 acres (and) discharges of pollutants, including sand, dirt, and other construction-related solid wastes,” have occurred on all the dates since April 10 when rainfall exceeded about one-half inch.

Frederick told members of the SBCA last night that the property and surrounding areas, through which stormwater flows, is habitat for at least one endangered species, the Barton Creek Salamander. He said affected property might also be habitat for the Golden-cheeked warbler and the Black-capped vireo also. Before construction activities begin on such property, he said, the developer must perform an Endangered Species Act study, to determine whether such activities will harm the protected species. However, the Bradfield family filed a notice that it was moving forward with construction under the Environmental Protection Agency’s “construction general stormwater permit.”

In the letter to Prentiss, Frederick notes, “On May 2, 2001, EPA purported to authorize Bradfield’s and, possibly, now, your activities and discharges under the general construction permit. However, those activities and discharges are not eligible for coverage under the EPA’s construction general permit, because neither Bradfield nor you may truthfully certify either those activities or the discharges related to them are unlikely to adversely affect the listed species.”

Finally, Frederick says, neither the Bradfield family nor Prentiss have a stormwater pollution prevention plan, which is required under EPA regulations. Frederick told association members he believes that a federal official has informed a member of the Bradfield family of the problems surrounding the construction. However, since the property has been transferred to Prentiss Properties, the former owners have no control over current activities.

SBCA is also moving forward with a lawsuit against the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission over the commission’s failure to allow the organization to participate in a hearing on a wastewater permit for the tract. The Commission voted last October to deny the SBCA a hearing before an administrative law judge. Members of the organization believe that wastewater irrigation so close to the creek could cause pollution of the creek and Barton Springs. Craig Smith, SBCA vice president, said he is concerned about cryptosporidium, an organism that can live in water for six months to a year before infecting humans.

Developers plan to build two 5-story office buildings on the property, but the city has refused to provide wastewater service to the site. Last fall, the owners said they planned to install a state-of-the-art on-site wastewater treatment system. But SBCA members opposed the issuance of the permit to operate that system. (See In Fact Daily, Oct.19, 2000)

Frederick said he thinks SBCA will get a hearing on the suit against TNRCC in August.

Design Commission backs height

For Sand Beach development

Tallest building would be 180 feet

Despite a subcommittee recommendation against a height variance, the Design Commission last night voted to support a 180-foot tower for the Sand Beach property being developed by Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. and LBJ Holding Co.

A three-member subcommittee of the Design Commission recommended that the developer shorten the tower by 30 feet to blend the project into current downtown development. However, architect Madison Smith of Overland Partners argued that the project needed the height to provide a stair-step massing effect. A group of buildings all 120 feet in height, Smith said, would only create a “suburban Moscow” feel to the proposed Sand Beach development.

“There needs to be play in this composition,” Smith told commissioners when he presented the case for the height variance. “It results in a much more beautiful composition. Otherwise, we’re going to be back to decorating a bunch of boxes rather than considering the architectural massing. If we live by the letter of the law (of no more than 120 feet in height), we’re going to end up with something that’s ugly.”

The Design Commission’s letter of support for the 180-foot tower—a variance to the existing zoning on the property—will go to the Planning Commission on June 19. Attorney Jay Hailey of Locke Liddell & Sapp, who represented Lumbermen’s in negotiations with the city, told commissioners the proposed project was far more attractive than currently approved site plans.

“All we can legally build on that site is a rather awful building,” Hailey told commissioners. The previously approved project is 15 stories or about 220 feet, he said. “We need to get that plan released and go on to this plan simultaneously.”

The buildings in the Sand Beach project vary in height and average out to the 120 feet recommended under DMU zoning. The 180-foot residential tower sits on the northwest corner of the property at Lamar Boulevard and the railroad tracks. The other buildings, in a clockwise direction, include a proposed 150-foot residential tower, a 110-foot residential building and two buildings less than 60 feet tall that would front a redirected Sandra Muraida Boulevard. A 120-foot office building with garage will abut Lamar Boulevard on the western side of the 5-acre project. Only one of the two smaller buildings is in the Capitol View Corridor.

Commissioners supported the variance for a number of reasons. Chair Juan Cotera told commissioners he’d like to see the urban core pushed out to Lamar Boulevard and considered the project consistent with that goal and other buildings in the area. He noted that the bluffs on the west side of Lamar clearly delineate the beginnings of an inner-city neighborhood.

Commissioner Girard Kinney suggested that the mass of the tallest building would diffuse the pressure on the height of other buildings in the project. And Commissioner Perry Lorenz, who is developing the Nocona high-rise condominium project on Ninth and Lamar, told commissioners there wasn’t “a dime’s bit of difference” between the recommended 150 feet and 180 feet. Both are a tower from the ground, he said.

“I’m not comfortable with suggesting 150 feet would be materially different or better,” Lorenz said. “I would recommend that we really consider allowing them the 180 feet.”

Commissioner John Patterson, who chaired the subcommittee, was the strongest holdout on the height issue and even he voted in favor of the variance in the end. He argued the 150 feet—while making little difference from a distance—pushed the envelope on what should be an acceptable height in that area. The recommended 150 feet would be more in line with development in that quadrant of downtown, he said. Patterson also favored more of a buffer between the buildings and Lamar Boulevard.

In the end, seven commissioners voted in favor of the height variance, while Commissioner Eleanor McKinney abstained.

Smith said plans on the property would easily exceed the 70 percent residential component requirement on the project. The Sand Beach settlement also requires Lumbermen’s to kick in $500,000 for development of the parkland released in the deal. Smith said the developer’s calculations estimated that the settlement and the anticipated redirection of Sandra Muraida Boulevard would release an extra acre of parkland to the city once right-of-way was taken out of the picture.

Parkland is a serious concern for local activist Mary Arnold, who told commissioners at the last Design Commission meeting that she preferred to see Lumbermen’s sell all of the land back to the city so it could be designated as parkland. Arnold told commissioners the project would block the view of the distinctive Seaholm Plant.

Developers have also made some adjustments to the location of retail on the property. Retail storefront space on Sandra Muraida has been reconfigured. The change will allow one story to be cut off the parking garage, from four floors to three. The reconfiguration has also allowed the developer to expand the interior plaza on the project. The developers also passed on retail on Lamar. “It just hasn’t struck us as being viable,” Smith said.

In his presentation last night, Smith told commissioners the height on the Lumbermen’s property varies from 441 to 469 feet above sea level. The smokestacks of the former Seaholm plant rise 592 feet above sea level, with the roof of the building at 519 feet.

Actual elevations on the Sand Beach project, Smith said, will not be available for another three weeks as developers continue to tinker with the project.

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

It’s announcement season . . . was reporting last night that former Comptroller John Sharp will announce his intention to run for Lt. Governor on Thursday. Republican Land Commissioner David Dewhurst may announce for the same post next week . . . Choice Happy hour . . . Members of the Planned Parenthood of Texas Capital Region Action Fund and the Texas Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League will host a happy hour at Stubb’s, 801 Red River, from 6 to 8 p.m. today. They will talk about the 77th session of the Legislature . . . LCRA, Calpine power plant generating. . . Lost Pines 1, the super-efficient gas-fired plant that the LCRA and Calpine just finished, began producing electricity on Memorial Day, four days ahead of schedule. A joint press release from the power producers notes that the plant uses a combined cycle system, enabling it to generated 40 percent more electricity than a traditional gas-powered plant using the same amount of fuel . . . Seaholm plan . . . The Design Commission and Downtown Commission will hold a joint meeting on June 13 to discuss the Seaholm District Master Plan . . . Good-bye to a neighborhood advocate . . . Friends are holding a bon voyage party for Karin Akins this weekend. Akins, a member of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, and her husband, are moving to London.

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