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Developer to trade water rights from

Friday, July 13, 2001 by

Aquifer to desired development zone

Water & Wastewater Commission backs plan

The Water and Wastewater Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend approval of a deal allowing a developer to swap fee-waiver rights for 690 homes in the Drinking Water Protection Zone (DWPZ) for waived fees on nearly 4,000 homes in the Desired Development Zone (DDZ).

Rick Shelton, who has developed several subdivisions over the Edwards Aquifer in northwest Travis County, requested the swap. Over the years, Shelton has acquired rights to have development fees waived for 689.5 LUEs (Living Unit Equivalent), which translates to the same number of single-family homes, in a section of Northwest Austin that was annexed in 1997.

The rights to the fee waivers originally came from the developers who first developed the area. When the Municipal Utility District was created, the developers helped fund the water and wastewater infrastructure, thus gaining claim to compensation when the MUD was annexed. Eventually those rights were transferred, either purchased or traded like commodities.

Instead of building more homes over the aquifer, Shelton has proposed that the city grant his company rights to additional fee waivers for building a much larger number of homes under the city’s Smart Housing program—all in Southeast Austin where the city encourages development. Under this proposal, 20 percent of 3,917 homes built would qualify as affordable housing.

Stuart Hersh, with the city’s Smart Housing program, said there were only 45 houses built in the city last year with a market value of less than $125,000, and 27 percent of those received assistance from the city. In the first full year of the city’s Smart Housing program the city certified 6,000 units that are now in process. That’s ten times the number expected, he said. The original goal for the program was to have 600 units underway by September 2001. “It’s been a response that none of us anticipated and we’re very pleased with it,” he added.

In the developments proposed by Shelton, with FC Properties Three, LTD, Hersh sees a real opportunity for more affordable housing. And it’s not just for homebuyers, he said. “There are rental opportunities in this development,” he said.

Although the proposal won commission approval and has been recommended by the Water and Wastewater Department, as well as the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, it will require a vote by the City Council for final approval, Hersh said. To get 100 percent fee waivers on a new development, the developer normally must agree to build 40 percent of the subdivision as affordable housing. In this case, FC Properties plans to build only 20 percent of the homes to qualify as affordable. But considering the tradeoff, the commission decided it was well worth the concession.

Chair Darwin McKee said there were two strong reasons for him to help this deal along. First, there will be 689 fewer potential homes going in over the aquifer, just where we don’t want development, he said. And second, the city needs more affordable housing. Not only that, but this proposal steers development exactly into the area where the city encourages new development.

Out of 3,917 Smart housing units proposed, 784 would be considered affordable and 1,888 would be multi-family units. Mike Erdmann, with the Water and Wastewater Department, said no money would be exchanged as part of the deal.

When the MUD was annexed in 1997 it was already 90 to 95 percent developed, so the prospect of extensive future development was rather limited. Vice Chair Lanetta Cooper said, “It seems like the risk of those LUEs coming to fruition is very low—very low.” Nevertheless, she indicated by her vote that she thought the tradeoff was worth it.

John Tresnicky, with the city’s Legal Department, has been working on the deal. He said that once it’s complete there would be no more fee waiver claims outstanding in that area of Northwest Austin. The original MUD was in the area of US 183, Spicewood Springs Road and Anderson Mill Road. Erdmann said he thought land in or near the Gardens at Bull Creek was part of the original land at issue.

The Commission voted 6-0 with Commissioners Jim Haley, Michael Warner and Michael Wilson absent.

Travis Bond Committee

Favors $226 million package

Group recommends $98 million for highways

The Travis County Bond Citizens Advisory Committee heard from business groups, bicyclists and parks enthusiasts Thursday night before deciding to recommend a $226 million dollar bond proposal to county commissioners. The package includes $98 million for right-of-way acquisition for major projects like SH 130. While it’s well above the $80-$100 million range the committee had originally been considering, it’s on the low end of the $200-$400 million range that the Real Estate Council of Austin( RECA) told committee members that most citizens would support based on its opinion poll. Those unhappy with the amount of money or the proposed projects will have opportunities to express themselves at a series of public hearings between July 25th and August 2nd. The bond election is scheduled for November 6th.

The committee worked hard to balance the money for road projects, bridge repairs, drainage improvements, parks and hike and bike trails equally among the county’s four precincts. “That’ s a political reality,” said Vice-Chair John Lewis. “There are needs in each precinct and each commissioner will be fighting for the needs of their precinct.” Precinct One was on the low end of the scale with projects totaling around $19 million, while the estimated cost for projects in Precinct Two topped $38 million.

While RECA and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce both encouraged the committee to add more money to the proposal for road projects, representatives of other groups stepped up to request more diversity in the bond package. The list recommended by the committee includes approximately 35 miles of arterial and collector roadway capacity projects. But Jeb Boyt with Austin Metro Trails and Greenways encouraged committee members to keep parks and trails in mind. “A key element to a region’s quality of life is parks and recreation amenities,” Boyt said. “Travis County has an excellent track record today in developing parks facilities, and I hope that this bond package can continue that record of support.” The committee’s recommendation does include money for both hike and bike trails and regional parks.

Robin Stallings with the Austin Coalition of Cyclists encouraged the committee to consider a similar formula to that used in last year’s City of Austin bond issue, which set aside a specific percentage of transportation dollars for bicycle and pedestrian projects. “For a fraction of the cost of just one road like SH 130, we can have a complete bicycle grid which could take five percent of the trips off of all of the roads,” Stallings said. He also offered a bit of political advice for committee members to pass on to county commissioners. “People who tend to turn out in off-year elections tend to be older voters. They tend to be against bond elections . . . and of course the big turnout is usually in central Austin,” Stallings pointed out. “So if we can get something that makes sense for central Austin . . . it’s more likely to pass.”

One of the transportation mobility projects that received special attention during the committee’s discussion was the extension of Slaughter Lane from Old Lockhart Highway to the eventual location of SH 130. The City of Austin is considering the purchase of 700 acres of land directly in the path of the proposed extension for a massive park and soccer complex. A memo from Joe Gieselman of the county’s Transportation and Natural Resources Department points out that while the road could be routed around the 700-acre tract, doing so would be more expensive than bisecting the proposed park. The committee voted to set aside just over $4 million for the initial phase of the extension, while leaving the exact route undetermined. “In some way, we have to get Slaughter Lane through,” said Lewis. “But it’s not going to be us that determines the route. Let the commissioners and the city work it out.”

The committee also voted to recommend that commissioners split the ballot into two separate propositions, with the second one including $98 million for right-of-way acquisition for three large state projects: SH 130, SH 45 and FM 1826. That recommendation has the county contributing up to 50 percent of the right-of-way costs for those projects.

Key committee members will meet with county staff early this morning to help draft recommendations to be in the offices of county commissioners and County Judge Sam Biscoe by noon. The proposal is scheduled to be on their agenda on July 17, followed by a series of public meetings for additional feedback. The first public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 25, at the Precinct One Satellite Service Center at 6 p.m. Commissioners will have the final say over the total amount of the bond package and what language actually makes it onto the November 6th ballot.

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

The sky is falling at City Hall . . . Council offices, as well as others, were draped in plastic yesterday as maintenance crews worked to fix a leaky air conditioning system that spit water on employees, floors and computers. Asked whether the problem extended throughout the building, one repairman replied, “Just the first and second floors.” . . On vacation . . . Mayor Kirk Watson is reportedly vacationing in Italy and won’t be back for next Thursday’s marathon City Council meeting. That means a very long day—and probably night—for those who must attend, since meetings tend to drag without the Mayor’s quick tongue and move-along manner. While he’s gone, speculation continues about whether he’ll run for Attorney General or Land Commissioner, with many local fans hoping he’ll just stay put . . . Neighborhood Planning process meeting . . . Jim Walker, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, has asked current and recent chairs of all the Neighborhood Planning areas in the city to discuss problems and make suggestions for improving the process. He emphasizes that he does not want to focus on placing blame, but wants to assist the city in reworking the planning effort. The current plan is to meet at David Chapel on Saturday, July 28 from 1-4 p.m. Walker will be on vacation next week.

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