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Armstrong presents new

Tuesday, July 17, 2001 by

Stratus plans for Circle C

Promises modified SOS approach

Beau Armstrong, CEO of Stratus Properties, brought a new proposal for development at Circle C to the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) Monday night. Armstrong said he wants to “use a regionalized SOS approach,” for development of housing and offices and proposes to donate 150 acres of company land to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Circle C Homeowners Association and the City of Austin.

Armstrong told In Fact Daily his company has been working with grassroots organizations and city staff on plans for Circle C. The new proposal differs from previous plans in two ways. This proposal involves only Circle C, without the Barton Creek or Lantana properties, which were part of earlier negotiations between Stratus and the city. In addition, Armstrong says Stratus is willing to give up “extensive (HB) 1704 claims” if the city and the US Fish & Wildlife Service will agree to the “bucket method” of measuring impervious cover over the developed land.

He promised SBCA members that there would be no research and development on Stratus land. The 550-acre tract once designated as an R&D facility for Motorola would become a housing development under Armstrong’s plan.

“We want to use a regionalized SOS approach in that we want to aggregate impervious cover on some tracts and then leave other tracts completely undeveloped . . . We want to be able to strip most, if not all of the impervious cover off” the tracts being donated “to allocate to the remaining property out there.” Such an allocation is not permitted under the Save Our Springs Ordinance. However, Armstrong promised that Stratus would treat all runoff to the level required by the ordinance. “We plan to meet the water quality criteria on a site by site basis,” he said.

Armstrong said Stratus wants to have a comprehensive plan for all of its holdings at Circle C. “That way, we have some certainty, the homeowners have some certainty and the environmental community has some certainty.” Asked whether he had given up the idea of reaching an overall agreement for land owned by Stratus, Armstrong noted that it was too complicated to deal with different portions of the aquifer, different resident issues and different traffic problems at Circle C, Barton Creek and Lantana as one package.

The idea of swapping land over the recharge zone of the aquifer with property at Robert Mueller Airport only brought Stratus bad publicity, he said, so the company decided not to continue pursuit of that option. However, answering questions of SBCA members Armstrong said he hopes to trade a particularly sensitive piece of property that adjoins city Proposition 2 land for property elsewhere. Environmental Board Member Tim Jones, who attended the meeting, said it was especially important to protect that tract, which adjoins the Blowing Sink land. The sink is an especially sensitive recharge feature.

Armstrong told In Fact Daily that Stratus would try to make some of the housing closer to the “affordable” category, while acknowledging that nothing in Circle C would be truly affordable. He said without giving up numerous amenities, his goal for low-end housing would be “close to $200,000.” He said he plans “a broad spectrum of housing . . . up to a million dollars” per home.

He told SBCA that he thought it possible Stratus could ask for up to 500 apartments, but acknowledged that Circle C homeowners do not like the idea of apartments in the area. He said the City of Austin has already put in more than sufficient infrastructure for water and wastewater demands.

In response to complaints about proposed growth on FM 1826, Armstrong said he understood the repercussions. “If I’m going to comply with SOS, you can bet your ass that I’m going to make sure everybody else does too,” Armstrong said. He also pointed out that environmentalists would do better to deal with Stratus, which has a lengthy commitment to the Austin area, than with smaller, possibly fly-by-night developers with smaller pieces of property.

Attorney Steve Drenner of Drenner Stuart Wolff Metcalfe Von Kreisler, as well as Greg Talley of McDonald Public Relations accompanied Armstrong. He said Drenner had already met with Craig Smith, who is president of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board of directors. Smith is also vice-president of the SBCA and conducted Monday’s meeting. Board Member Jack Goodman also attended and suggested that Armstrong get on next month’s board agenda.

County not happy about

Mobile home community

County has little authority over development

Springdale Heights is the first new mobile home park Travis County Commissioners have seen in more than a decade and county leaders aren’t exactly sure they like what they see.

Landowner Bryan Rogers assured commissioners last week that the 207-unit mobile home community, on Springdale Road off US 290, would be of the highest quality. And members of the county’s Transportation and Natural Resources Department (TNR) agreed that the 46-acre development met all standards set by the county.

Springdale Heights would have city sewer and water service, as well as a clubhouse, swimming pool and playground, Rogers said. The lots on the property, he pointed out, were standard subdivision size and homes would be larger than the starter homes in the adjacent Chimney Hills subdivision. Rogers promised that all homes brought to the property would be brand new and HUD certified.

Commissioners, however, were far from convinced the rental community was a good idea, especially given the limited powers counties are given in regulating such development. County Judge Samuel Biscoe admitted that commissioners faced the plans for Springdale Heights with some frustration, unable to take into consideration the impact of the development on area flood control or traffic patterns.

“We’ve talked about what our authority is with county staff, and it really is quite limited,” Biscoe said. “We’re trying to figure out right now just what we can do, what this is going to do to our ability to regulate traffic on Springdale and whether we can impose additional requirements on just what they can do out there.”

The dozen neighbors who attended commissioners court last week were firmly opposed to the property. County staff, however, recommended approval of the plat because it met all county requirements. Don Grigsby of the TNR said the development met all the standards that a single-family development would have to meet. “It looks like a fairly decent community,” he told commissioners.

Commissioners, however, balked at the decision, looking for ways to review the impact of the rental community. Actually, a mobile home community is not considered a regular platted subdivision. Thus, the item the developer submitted to Travis County was an infrastructure plan. State law, passed two years ago, requires the county to consider such a plan within 60 days or it will be approved automatically.

A month has already passed since plans for Springdale Heights were submitted to the county, and the City of Austin has yet to issue a permit on it, Biscoe said.

Neighbors—and especially Pct. 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner—were opposed to the plans for Springdale Heights because of its impact on drainage in the area. Chuck Croft of the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association said the orientation of the development would exacerbate rather than alleviate –existing problems with the flow of drainage in the area. The property backs up to Walnut Creek. Already, erosion on the creek bed is such that some neighbors are beginning to lose their yards to the creek, Croft said.

Neighbors were less than receptive to Pct. 1Commissioner Ron Davis’ suggestion that they meet with Rogers to hammer out a compromise. Davis encouraged the neighbors to get concessions from Rogers before the county was forced to approve the project. One neighbor claimed they did not expect a compromise because Rogers told them two years ago, “What else can I build here? This already sits right next to the city dump.”

Biscoe said the court would like to see an update on Springdale Heights on the agenda next week. The update from county staff likely will include clarification on the role and limits of the county in regulating mobile home parks.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

APD gets records for feds . . . A&R Vision, Inc., headed by the Reverend George Clark, was scheduled to turn over financial documents for Vision Village this week after failing to develop any affordable housing despite receiving $1.25 million in city money. Those documents were delivered to APD Monday and are being turned over to federal authorities . . . Thursday’s City Council meeting . . . The dueling plans for the Hyde Park area, one designated for the neighborhood and one for the Hyde Park Baptist Church, will be up for discussion this week. If the neighborhood wants to include the church in its plan, members will have to convince all six Council Members present—the Mayor is expected to be absent since he is in Italy—to vote their way. So, neighborhood members are lobbying and wondering how Council Member Danny Thomas, a strong church advocate, will vote . . . Meeting requested . . . Members of the Design Commission decided yesterday to request a meeting with Transportation, Planning, and Sustainability Director Austan Librach. They’re hoping for clarification on the relationship between the commission and city staff, as well as the commission’s role in proposing changes to the Downtown Design Guidelines. “I’d like to have it very clear what happens to our recommendations,” said Commission Chair Juan Cotera. He’s asking commission members to review the Design Guidelines and note any of those they believe need revision. The commission is setting up a sub-committee to deal with the issue . . . Stepping down . . . Design Commission member Leslie Oberholtzer announced she is resigning, saying she’s “stretched too thin.” The commission also voted to recommend 37 points in the “ Smart Growth” matrix for the Austin City Lofts project at 5th and West Avenue. The building will have 82 units of residential and some retail.

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