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Aquifer district approves

Friday, September 14, 2001 by

More pumping by Buda, Hays

Board members worried about effect on aquifer

After a couple of subdued public hearings, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) voted unanimously last night to allow the cities of Buda and Hays to increase the amount of water they pump out of the Edwards Aquifer. Board Members Don Turner and Bill Welch were absent.

Board Members expressed concern about the increases because of rapid growth in the area, the finite nature of the aquifer’s capacity and the possibility of shallow, individual wells drying up. Nevertheless, they approved a new permit allowing Buda to pump 200 million gallons a year from the aquifer—twice as much as the previous permit. The new permit for Hays allows an increase in pumpage from 6 million gallons to 30 million gallons a year.

Board Member Jim Camp, not entirely comfortable with the size of the increase, said, “We’re concerned about the people with the shallowest wells.” He said the Board wanted to ensure those wells “don’t get sucked dry.”

Board President Craig Smith concurred. “We know we only have a finite amount of water,” he said.

Smith said he also thinks the conservation district needs to be mindful of the people with shallow wells. “They have their rights to the ground water too,” he noted.

Towards the end of the public hearing on Buda’s permit, Camp said he felt okay about moving forward. “In light of the fact that the leadership of the city of Buda has gone above and beyond” what they needed to do, he said he could support the increase.

After about an hour of discussion, Board Member Jack Goodman moved to approve Buda’s new permit. “I move we grant the permit for one year,” he said.

Camp, however, cautioned everyone within earshot about future water use. “We want to see a commitment from the community to use water more wisely,” he said. If that kind of response is not forthcoming, he asked, “What happens to our individual wells? What happens to Barton Springs? What happens when the federal government tells us the Barton Springs salamander is dead?”

Early in the discussion, Smith asked hydrogeologist John Mikels, a private consultant who had been hired to test aquifer levels in the area, if a “cone of depression” had been created by Buda’s pumping. Mikels said yes, pumping from Buda and other communities in the area had created a cone effect.

Mikels’ study was specifically designed to determine if the aquifer would be able to sustain itself with the requested increase in pumpage. When asked if the tests indicated that pumping 200 million gallons a year from that part of the aquifer would have an adverse effect, Mikels said, “Yes, there is obviously some effect. We would expect that.” However, he added, “In my opinion, the impact of that pumping is not going to have a severe impact on the other wells in the area.”

BSEACD General Manager Stovy Bowlin said 170 million gallons, “about 85 percent of the permit request,” had been pumped this year (the permit period ends with the fiscal year).

Buda City Council Member Chuck Murphy said Buda had pumped 165 million gallons before the rains came in August. He said the city was developing a master plan that would include a conservation plan to be modeled on systems used in other cities. “We understand water is limited,” he said.

Murphy told In Fact Daily that Buda had intended to request an increase to 150 million gallons, but since they had exceeded that amount before the permit year was up it was obviously necessary to ask for an increase to 200 million gallons. He said the city had contracted with the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA) to buy surface water to supplement water from the aquifer, but it might be more than a year before Buda begins to receive water from that source.

Buda Mayor Billy Gray said it would probably take 18 to 24 months before that source came on line. “I think it’s realistic we will not have GBRA water at this time next year,” he said.

Goodman said it would be no problem to approve another 200-million gallon permit next year if that turns out to be the case. However, he reiterated, the Board wants people to know the water is limited.

“We definitely understand that in the city of Buda,” Gray said, “we are extremely blessed to have this aquifer under us. The question is, how can we conserve it?”

Goodman told In Fact Daily it was a difficult prospect to determine how much water they as a board should allow to be pumped out of the aquifer when they had no definite idea how much water was available. “We’re so caught in the middle on this . . . trying to negotiate an unknown,” he said. “We don’t know how much is there.”

“If the salamander dies off there’s going to be a lot of finger pointing,” he said, “and somebody’s going to be pointing a finger at us.”

ZAP grants contested

Zoning at first meeting

Historic Old San Antonio Road home may host weddings

The Zoning and Platting Commission granted a zoning change to the owners of a South Austin home and horseback riding facility this week so their property could become a wedding facility. Michael Aulick lives with his wife, Becky McGaughy, on Old San Antonio Road, on property annexed in 1997. In another seven years, he said, the current rural residential zoning will no longer allow her to keep the horses. He said the area is rapidly becoming urbanized.

Aulick requested that the commission recommend a zoning of GR-MU-CO-H to the City Council. Staff recommended instead that the facility be developed under MF-1 provisions that allow for a bed and breakfast. The Historic designation was recommended for the part of the tract that includes the Matthew Brown home, which was built around 1867 along the Old San Antonio Road.

Aulick and McGaughy have found a buyer for the property in Abe Clay, owner of An Affair to Remember Catering. Clay told the commission he understands and appreciates the historic nature of the property. “I think the property lends itself to a facility for weddings—along the lines of the Zilker Botanical Gardens and the Umlauf Sculpture Gardens. I just want to let the commission know we are dedicated to preserving the historical aspects of the property and developing it,” he said.

South Austin neighborhood activist Betty Edgemond introduced herself to the commission, saying, “You didn’t think you could have a first meeting without me, did you? I’m 100 percent for what Mike is planning—I’m just against the zoning.” Edgemond said she was concerned about the precedent that granting GR, community commercial zoning, would set along the historic highway. She told the commission she was trying to get the whole highway declared historic.

Chair Betty Baker said, “. . . in order for this house to survive—(and) apparently at this juncture, GR is the only thing that will allow it to survive.” She admitted that the zoning would perhaps set a precedent, but added, “the H (historic) makes it not as damaging, not as threatening.”

Edgemond argued, “I’m convinced that the GR on that map will be the downfall of that road.”

However, the staff alternative would not work, because the Bed & Breakfast designation requires the owner of the property to live on the premises.

Baker turned the meeting over to Secretary Michael Casias and made the motion to recommend GR-H-CO for tract 1 and GR-CO for tract 2, with a 35-foot height limit. Commissioner Niyanta Spelman suggested adding the MU (mixed-use) designation in case a future owner wants to use the property as a residence and Baker agreed. In order to limit the uses, Assistant City Attorney Deborah Thomas said a restrictive covenant would be appropriate. The final motion passed 7-0, with Commissioners Diana Casteñada and Joseph Martinez absent.

Sign Review Board wants

Billboards with light timers

Environmental, energy conservation reasons cited

Five members of the Sign Review Board Thursday signaled that they could support the idea of making billboard owners turn off the lighting on their signs at night. The board voted 5-0 to allow Austin-Bergstrom Airport Centre Ltd. to increase the height of two freestanding signs to 50 feet at the front of the property at 2031 Highway 71. The signs may also be 350 square feet, instead of the usual maximum of 300 square feet.

To make the variance more appealing, consultant Sarah Crocker offered a restrictive covenant, which limits the remainder of the property to six billboards of no more than the usual 30 feet in height, with 100 square feet of sign space. That is less than the applicant could have gotten without the covenant.

Several members of the board had expressed support for the variance when Vice Chair Betty Edgemond asked, “Do you have to illuminate them?” Crocker said yes. “All night?” Edgemond asked. She said that one reason to turn off the lights at night was because lighting interferes with the nesting of birds.

Crocker said, “Most signs are lit all night.” She added that this sign is in “a very commercial area and is located right next to what will be an upgraded expressway.”

Chair Herman Thun said, “There could be a lot of reasons why one would choose to” turn out the lights, for environmental reasons or to save energy. “But due to the location and the commercial industrial location here,” he said it would be hard for him to support a requirement forcing the owners to turn out the lights.

Thun said he thought that the sign ordinance might be changed to require that billboards in certain areas have timers to turn the lights off at night. “But I don’t believe it is appropriate for us to legislate a new sign ordinance.”

Board Member Barbara Aybar then asked Crocker if there had been any consideration of putting timers on the lights. Crocker said that was the first she had heard of the idea.

Thun then told Crocker, “Given that you have had some dialogue from the dais about that issue, it might be well for the applicant to tell her client and we may add to the motion that timing devices be installed.” He said there is no way the city could be expected to police the lighting. “So I think the best we can do is approve it and look to the honorability of the owner.”

Crocker said, “It’s something that could be considered. I’m not averse to it.”

Board Member Laurie Virkstis made a motion to allow the variances with a lighting amendment and Aybar seconded. Thun crafted the amendment to put timers on all the billboard lights, but said the owners would have to decide on what time to shut them off.

Crocker said a large park-and-ride facility is planned for the back of the property, and her client is also talking to other prospective buyers for a hotel and offices. The board approved the variance on a vote of 5-0, with Board Member Frank Fuentes absent.

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fahrenheit 451 . . . Lee Leffingwell, who has co-coordinated the banned book project for the ACLU for the past 3 years, will discuss this year’s report on the subject at the First Unitarian Universalist Church’s Public Affairs Forum on Sunday at 11:15 a.m. This year in Texas schools, 68 books were banned and 49 were placed in a restricted use status, according to the ACLU. The most frequently challenged books this year were the popularly acclaimed Harry Potter books. The church is at 4700 Grover Avenue . . . Empowerment Zone meeting . . . A number of community organizations, including all three chambers of commerce, have formed an informal working group to look at how to get East Austin designated a federal Empowerment Zone. The designation allows a traditionally disadvantaged area to receive tax credits and incentives for area employers. This year’s application deadline is September 28. The group is having a public meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center, 2802 Webberville Road . . . Memorial March set for Sunday . . . Austinites are invited to join a march honoring those who died on September 11. The march is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. at Riverside and Congress. The march’s sponsors include members of United Latino Artists and Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar. Although Sunday is Diez y Seis, the traditional day of celebration for Mexican Independence at Saltillo Plaza, that celebration has been canceled. For more information, call Jeanette Thomas at 477-7910 . . . Red Cross fund drive . . . KXXX 104.9 FM will be hosting a Radiothon to raise money and collect blood donation pledges for the American Red Cross from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today at 2237 E. Riverside, in the Carnaval parking lot. For more information call 416-1100 . . . Other weekend activities . . . Diez y Seis will be celebrated at Fiesta Gardens, beginning at 5 p.m. today and continuing on Saturday and Sunday. The three-day event will feature a variety of Tejano and Conjunto bands as well as Mariachi Continental, playing a variety musical of selections from Mexico. For more information, see http://www.austin360.com/community/groups/fiestaspatrias The Pediatric Aids League also plans to have a concert at Auditorium Shores on Sunday. Riverside Drive will be closed from S. 1st Street to Lamar from 1 p.m. Sunday to 1 a.m. Monday.

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