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SBCA wants Brodie Springs zoning

Tuesday, August 7, 2001 by

Delayed for salamander consultation

Nieman still not offering enough for environmental group

The Save Barton Creek Association last night voted to ask the City Council to postpone consideration of a zoning change on the Brodie Springs tract until consultation between the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is completed. The FWS and the EPA are currently negotiating over changes to the construction general permit for the Barton Creek watershed. The tract, which is adjacent to Brodie Lane and just south of Slaughter Lane, contains two significant sinkholes in an area slated for development. Developer Larry Nieman owns the tract.

Nieman wrote to SBCA president Jon Beall requesting that the group take a look at proposed changes to development plans for the tract. SBCA voted in June to oppose Nieman’s request to change zoning on the property from IRR (Interim Rural Residential) to SF-2 (Single Family residence). (See In Fact Daily, June 19, 2001.) During the discussion, Beall showed other SBCA members the letter from Neiman that outlined the changes he is proposing to minimize environmental degradation.

Craig Smith, an SBCA board member who is also president of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, said, “This is a tough one. This is a tract that shouldn’t be built on at all.” He pointed out that dye testing at the Kentucky Sink, which is part of the property Neiman wants rezoned, showed that water entering the aquifer there emerges at Barton Springs within 24 to 48 hours. (See In Fact Daily, June 18, 2001)

The crux of the problem is that Neiman already has the right to build substantially more development on the tract through a 1995 plan that has grandfather rights under HB1704. At that point, members began to talk about the draft biological opinion recently released by the EPA. That opinion indicates that further degradation of the aquifer—which is very likely with continued development—threatens the continued existence of the endangered Barton Springs salamander.

The conservation district’s board voted unanimously to recommend that setbacks from the Kentucky Sink be increased to protect the aquifer. Nieman has been talking with FWS about his proposal, but his letter did not indicate that the federal agency had approved it. Nieman’s representatives told SBCA members in June that he could build 50,000 square feet of impervious cover under the old plan, instead of the 30,000 square feet he might build under the new one. The zoning request has been postponed five times since April 26.

Heat Island strategies could

Cost city $1.4 to $4 million

Not a penny in current budget, despite hopes

Cutting the heat island effect across Austin could cost anywhere from $1.4 million to $4 million according to estimates from the city’s Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department.

The urban heat island effect is the discrepancy in temperature between downtown and the suburbs. Heat is stored in the city’s core due to the density of development—the higher percentage of asphalt and metal and general deforestation. The heat island effect raises downtown temperatures a number of degrees over the suburbs and decreases its energy efficiency.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez have championed the urban heat island issue. A working group has been looking at the problem for the last seven months and has come up with 14 recommendations for the city, from rebates on commercial reflective roofs to an ordinance requiring an eventual 50 percent canopy of trees on parking lots to the creation of landscaping easement—in the same way the city creates utility easements for new development.

City Sustainability Officer Fred Blood told the Design Commission that there wasn’t a penny in the upcoming budget for heat island issues, but millions would eventually have to be spent to make a long-term impact on downtown.

“You talk about planting a tree, and that’s all good and kind. And if you plant a tree, it’s going to pay for itself over five to seven years,” Blood told the commissioners Monday night. “But the problem is that there are a lot of issues when you plant a tree downtown.”

Not the least of those issues is cost. Blood told the commission that the suggestions provided by the working group would not come cheap. Some would require a change in ordinance, while others would need staff or equipment. Each tree planted—and thousands are needed—would cost upward of $1,000 apiece in planting and maintenance. Blood showed the Design Commission a matrix that offered a low-end estimate of slightly less than $1.4 million and a high-end estimate of close to $4 million.

“Using some of the cheaper alternatives, we can get it somewhere under $2 million, which makes it easier to slip into a billion-dollar budget for the city of Austin, but I’m not too sure that’s going to happen,” Blood admitted.

Beyond the cost, planting trees downtown can also be difficult, Blood said. So much is already below ground downtown that it makes it almost impossible for trees to take root. It’s one thing to plant trees in an open field, he said, it’s another thing to plant them on a downtown street.

“It’s really tough to retrofit plants into the downtown environment unless it was previously designed to do it,” said Blood, adding that most downtown Austin streets were never equipped with proper root guards or troughs for trees. City leaders considered downtown utility tunnels too expensive, although those troughs now make a lot of sense with all of the streets being torn up to lay fiber optic lines.

The greater Houston area has committed to planting between one and two million trees to decrease the heat island effect and address air pollution issues. The effort is expected to drop the temperature in the city’s urban core by three degrees and make a significant difference in ozone and emissions issues downtown, Blood said.

Commissioner Phillip Reed pointed out that the Great Streets program would also address the issue of new trees downtown. Reed said there was a natural tension between the need for canopy along downtown streets and the desire to move retail closer to the customer, a design guideline often encouraged under Smart Growth.

Neighbors keep fighting

Smart Growth development

Issue before Planning Commission was drainage

Del Curto Place, a high-density subdivision off S. Lamar Boulevard, won a small victory before the Planning Commission last week with preliminary approval of its subdivision plan.

Last October, developer Bill Howell came to the Planning Commission, asking that his zoning be shifted from SF-3 to SF-4A, which would have decreased the required lot size from 5,750 feet to 3,600 feet. Commissioners were swayed by the argument that the new development, which will be adjacent to the existing Villages of Kinney Court development, would promote denser Smart Growth goals. However, the City Council did not approve the zoning request.

The subdivision plat went to the Planning Commission last week, but not without further protest from area residents. This time, the issue was drainage, but Don Perryman of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR), assured commissioners that drainage plans for the Villages of Kinney Court also would handle water from Del Curto Place.

Kevin Autrey of WPDR explained that the two detention ponds that serve Villages of Kinney Court would also serve Del Curto Place. Both subdivisions also share access to Manchaca Drive, Autrey said. The 2.35-acre Del Curto project sits in the Bouldin Creek Watershed.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath pointed out that the subdivision plan approval was only preliminary and that all lots within the development will be reviewed for drainage issues. The drainage plans will be noted in the final plat and subdivision construction plans, Autrey assured Heimsath. The final subdivision will be two standard single-family homes and 10 duplexes.

Neighbors and Commissioner Jean Mather also wanted to be assured that Howell would save protected trees on the property. The revised site plans on the property do include a tree protection plan, said Chris Williams of Watershed Protection and Development Review,. Notes on the plan, he said, contain directives on protecting trees on the property larger than 19 inches in diameter. Any plan to cut the trees would require a permit signed by Williams or a city arborist.

Howell has also added four additional parking spaces at the end of the street in response to neighborhood concerns. The subdivision plan was approved, with Mather opposing because of the tree issues. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula was absent.

Howell told In Fact Daily it was ironic that neighbors protested his application for SF-4 zoning, because he will be able to build more units—as duplexes—on the SF-3. In addition, he said he would not be able to save as many trees as he might have under the plan rejected by neighbors and the City Council..

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

E-mail hoax . . . The City of Austin’s Chief Information Officer, Brownlee Bowmer, is circulating a memo in response to some bogus e-mail that’s been making the rounds. The e-mailer claimed that the city was not current on its licenses for Microsoft products and that the company was conducting an investigation. But that’s definitely not the case, according to Bowmer, who said the city is current with its software licenses and is also negotiating with the company for a new contract. The erroneous e-mail which prompted Bowmer’s response appeared to be touting the virtues of the open-source operating system called Linux, but Bowmer says that this system is not suitable for the vast majority of the city’s computing needs . . . Oops! . . . In Fact Daily was mistaken yesterday when we said there were no new Planning Commission appointments. Last week the City Council by consensus appointed Joseph Martinez and Niyanta Spelman to the new Zoning and Platting Commission. Council Member Danny Thomas appointed Vincent Aldridge, and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman appointed Betty Baker, current chair of the Planning Commission. As for the new revamped Planning Commission, Council Member Raul Alvarez appointed current Planning Commissioner Lydia Ortiz, and Council Member Will Wynn appointed downtown neighborhood leader Chris Riley . . . SOSA celebrates . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance will celebrate the ninth anniversary of the SOS ordinance election victory at Barton Springs from 4-8 p.m. SOSA announced yesterday that Wednesday’s gathering will be the beginning of weekly “wet Wednesday” gathering at the swimming hole.

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