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Airport overlay buffer:

Wednesday, July 18, 2001 by

Remedy or headache?

Aviation Department wants extra half-mile for future

The city’s Aviation Department is proposing a one-half mile buffer between property that is currently affected by noise from Austin Bergstrom International Airport and land where new housing and schools may be built. The Planning Commission last night heard more than two hours of testimony from landowners and residents of the area, the vast majority of whom said they oppose the buffer.

Assistant City Attorney David Petersen explained that federal law dictates the contours of the airport overlay zone according to the average sound level generated by air traffic. The city adopted an overlay in 1994, which is still in effect. Currently, contours delineate areas where the average sound level is supposed to be 65 decibels or higher. In the past, he said, people have built right up to the contour line. Adding the buffer would prevent that from happening, hopefully preventing the kind of aggravation suffered by neighbors of the Robert Mueller Airport.

Jim Smith, executive director of ABIA, said the proposed buffer is “an opportunity to do some planning.” Only Austin and Denver have been lucky enough to build new airports in the past 25 years, he said. “Capacity is one of the largest issues around the country, and one of the reasons is because of (airports’) inability to expand. Austin has a unique opportunity to protect itself for the next 40 to 50 years.” Smith sees Austin’s air traffic growing by leaps and bounds, necessitating the need for a buffer between the scientifically agreed-upon contour lines and what airport officials believe will be needed in the future. He noted that Denver purchased 50 square miles of land, so it faces no constraints on growth.

But there are already homes within the buffer zone. Richard Suttle, representing Moore’s Crossing Municipal Utility District, said the MUD and its residents would suffer if prevented from building more homes since the tax burden would be entirely borne by current homeowners. Terry Irion, who represents SR Development, developer of Stony Ridge, which lies within the MUD, said Stony Ridge currently has 396 lots laid out, with 386 homes built. Developer Bill Gurasich said he is committed to providing affordable housing at Stony Ridge. If the overlay is enacted, it will affect the title of those homeowners, lowering the value of their property. He said the homes sold for between $68,000 and $112,000.

Property owner Bruce Anton said he would be perfectly happy if his 20 acres were disallowed for single-family residential use—so long as the city would consider rezoning his property for commercial services. He also said he wants the city to waive fees for rezoning on any land that cannot be developed under its current zoning.

Smith said most people would like to have their property zoned for industrial or commercial uses, making it more valuable in the future. He acknowledged that some people would be “caught in the mix,” but said he and Petersen are still working to make the overlay more palatable to landowners.

The commission agreed to work on the problem in subcommittee and reconsider the matter on July 31. Members of the subcommittee are Commissioners Ben Heimsath, Robin Cravey and Jean Mather. Commission Chair Betty Baker warned that she was “not willing to buy any more homes because of airport noise.”

After a recess, the commission took up the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan. However, the plan too was affected by the overlay, with a broad swath of land suddenly part of the buffer zone. After hearing from residents, the commission put off action on that plan until July 31.

Commissioners to consider

Six bond scenarios next week

Three different amounts for five or seven years

Travis County Commissioners will review the fiscal impact of six different bond issue scenarios next week, with the intention of approving one by mid-August.

The fiscal impact will be based on bond authority of $150 million, $175 million and $238 million spread out over either 5 years or 7 years. The 15-member Bond Citizens Advisory Committee has recommended a package of $238 million, which includes $98.6 million for right-of-way on State Highway toll roads SH 130 and SH 45, as well as FM 1826. The bond election will go to Travis County voters on November 6.

County Judge Samuel Biscoe also asked that projects on the list be prioritized before next week’s meeting, which would give commissioners a better idea of where to cut the list. Some projects, such as the alignment of Slaughter Lane, also are expected to be controversial.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Todd Baxter said he would prefer to keep the bond package—whatever the amount—on a 5-year timeline. Any longer than that, said Baxter, and the county would have to deal with serious escalation of costs. “If you can’t do it in five years, you shouldn’t do it,” Baxter told the committee presenting the figures.

Commissioners originally requested a bond package between $60 and $80 million. Charles Akins, who chaired the Citizens Advisory Committee, said that public sentiment on the issue was so strong that the committee felt compelled to present a larger package. A voter survey commissioned by the Real Estate Council of Austin indicated voters would approve a bond package greater than $200 million, especially given the support for completing major transportation mobility projects.

Public hearings on the final proposed list of projects for the bond program begin next week. Five meetings are scheduled across the county between July 25 and August 2.

Spanish Oaks approved

The developers of Spanish Oaks have made peace with their neighbors, clearing the way yesterday for Travis County Commissioners to approve the abandonment of a number of streets that cross the proposed 1,000-acre mixed-use development just outside the City of Bee Cave. The roads will be converted from county roads to private roads. Homeowners told the court yesterday they were satisfied with the compromise reached with CC&G Development.

Spanish Oaks is a multi-phase development located south of Highway 71 and FM 620. The development reconfigures a subdivision platted in the mid-80s. New plans include homes, office buildings and a golf course.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

They said good-bye sweetly . . . Sign language interpreters, who have been interpreting Planning Commission meetings on Channel 6 for several years, sent a good-bye gift of pralines and cookies to city staff last night. Their contract has expired . . . Parking problem. . . The Austin Police Department is scheduled to take delivery of its new helicopter near the end of the year. The department had sent a proposal to Travis County Commissioners to house the helicopter at the same hangar as the two STARFlight helicopters, but they weren’t happy about the idea. Austin Police Chief Stan Knee says it’s now likely that the helicopter will find a home with the State Aircraft Pooling Board at Austin Bergstrom International Airport . . . South River citizens are busy . . . Members of the South River City Citizens neighborhood group started the week sending emails to drum up attendance at this week’s City Council meeting. One project the group opposes, the Vintage Apartments on Town Lake, is not on this week’s agenda. The second project at 3701 S. Congress, known to the neighbors as the Villas at Exposé, was up for second and third reading. However, it has been postponed.

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