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Environmental Board says no to

Monday, September 10, 2001 by

3 variances for Lake Travis home

Lot too small for partially-built home, says Board

After a month’s postponement, the Environmental Board voted last week against recommending three out of four variance requests necessary for the owner of the Oasis Restaurant to complete construction of a home above Lake Travis near the Oasis. The Board went against the staff recommendation on two out of four variance requests. (See In Fact Daily August 6, 2001.)

Robert Theriot, owner of the Oasis, is seeking four separate variances to complete the partially built home. Lee Lawson, from the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, said her staff recommended granting the first variance, which would allow the house to be completed on a lot less than two acres in size. Staff also recommended granting variance number two, which would allow a septic system on a lot less than the required one acre. The staff recommended against the third requested variance, to build on a slope greater than 15 percent, but gave a thumbs up to the fourth, which would allow the house to not meet water quality requirements for impervious cover in excess of 20 percent.

Lawson said the applicant had worked very hard over the last month in an effort to gain a positive recommendation from the Board. Theriot even agreed to set aside 2.23 acres as a conservation easement, possibly to be included as part of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, she said.

If the lot were platted differently, Lawson said, staff members think the first three variances would not be necessary. Attorney Jerry Harris, representing Theriot, did not agree. He said some of the construction on the lot, namely a swimming pool, has already been built on a slope greater than 15 percent. Lawson acknowledged that, but reminded him that a planned retaining wall and patio have yet to be built.

Vice-chair Tim Jones asked why—considering the pool has already been built—would staff recommend not granting this variance, since doing so would prohibit further construction, and require removal of the swimming pool. “I want to know what’s going to happen . . . what are we going to do with that swimming pool, plant flowers in it?”

Jones also asked how the land to be dedicated as a conservation easement would help reduce the amount of impervious cover.

“I think we’ve mostly covered the mitigation effort with the 2.32-acre tract,” Harris said. “We’ve reduced the impervious cover of this project drastically.” He explained that by placing land with potential for development into a conservation easement his client would eliminate the potential for more impervious cover. He said by adding the 2.32-acre tract to the lot being developed, the overall impervious cover would be less than nine percent.

Harris also noted that the on-site septic system had been approved by the strict criteria of the LCRA, and easily complies with City of Austin requirements, which are the state's minimum rules.

When it came time to vote, Jones expressed concern about recommending the first variance, which would allow construction of a large home on a small lot. “Am I setting a precedent?” he asked.

Board Member Phil Moncada said that this was a unique situation and he didn’t think there were a lot of small lots left in this subdivision. “I don’t think we’d be setting precedent here because there are a lot of factors that are specific this case,” he said.

Chair Lee Leffingwell said he was inclined to support it because of the proposed conservation easement and, without the variance, “they can’t build anything on this lot.” He said he wanted to “give the applicant the benefit of the doubt.”

With Board Members Karin Ascot and Ramon Alvarez absent, the Board voted to recommend the first variance. Board Member Debra Williams voted against it and Board Member Matt Watson abstained. “I’m uncomfortable with the whole deal,” he said.

On the second variance, the Board heard persuasive testimony from Jeff Snowden, with Snowden On-site Inc. about how safe the proposed septic system is. He said current requirements are “based on a worst-case scenario for a traditional septic system. What we’re proposing here is not a traditional system.” Instead, he said, it is “an improved, on-site system,” which is 20 times better.

Still, Jones was concerned about setting a bad precedent. “Once you start granting variances to the one-acre requirement—there it goes,” he said.

The Board voted against a recommendation of the second variance as well as the final two. Leffingwell made a motion to deny the final variance “because I disagree with staff findings.” He said the owner could have built a smaller house, for example a 2,400 square foot home, which would not have required variances. “I’ve been out there. Not every house out there is a huge house,” he said.

During the discussion at last month’s meeting, Ascot noted that the driveway alone, at 2,400 square feet, covers a greater area than her three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house.

At last month’s meeting, Board Member Connie Seibert said, “There’s obviously a lot of confusion here . . . but there’s really no argument.”

Water & wastewater projects ahead

Of schedule for areas annexed in'97

Now work to begin on Del Valle area

Work to complete $34 million worth of water and wastewater services from the city’s 1997 annexation program is on time and close to budget, even as new annexation work begins in Del Valle.

Clint Walker of Malcolm Pirnie gave the Water & Wastewater Commission good news Wednesday night: the program is likely to be completed ahead of a state-imposed March 2002 deadline. The final projects under design are lift stations in the Los Indios and Davenport Loop 360 areas, as well as the integration of the Southwest MUD, Walker said. Service for the Eubanks Acres area—annexed in 2000—is also included in the program. Eubanks Acres is an area that encompasses 600 residences, and project design is about 20 percent complete, Walker said.

Two of four phases of water and wastewater service to the Balcones area has been completed, Walker said. A lift station finished in July has allowed people to begin hooking up to the completed pipeline. People who have failing septic systems are on a priority list for connecting to the new system.

On the list of other projects, the Lockerbie relief line is 25 percent completed and the integration of the U.S. 183 West MUD is 5 percent complete. All told, $34.5 million in construction projects has been awarded and $30.1 million has been paid out. The original budget was $33 million. Change orders have been limited to 5.6 percent, Walker said, which includes all value-added change orders as well as construction modifications.

Some of those value-added modifications have included pavement additions to avoid leaving an open trench line, Walker said. Other changes have included bringing streets in the area up to code as a way to avoid delayed maintenance costs.

As the 1997 annexation program is completed, the transition to design begins for service additions in the Del Valle annexation area. The city has 4.5 years to bring 1,200 acres into service, Bill Moriarity of Earth Tech told the commission. The area is on Highway 71 across from the Austin Bergstrom International Airport. The service is expected to cost the city just under $13 million.

Moriarity says the work currently under design will mean laying 41,000 feet of water lines and 47,700 feet of wastewater lines. A water main for Fallwell Lane and service to Sand Hill Energy Center have been completed. Design on service to Thurnberry Road is 60 percent complete. Design on the Govalle diversion tunnel connection is 50 percent complete. Three different contractors are currently designing various aspects of the project, he said.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

2002 Budget adoption starts today . . . The City Council will begin the budget adoption process at 10 a.m. today in the Assembly Room at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road. Public parking will be limited there, but more parking is available at One Texas Center, about half a block away. The Red ‘Dillo also serves the area. Budget sessions will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday, same time, same location, if necessary . . . Neighborhood leaders worried about policy shifts. . . Fourteen neighborhood leaders have signed a letter to the Council voicing their concerns about recently announced changes in the neighborhood planning process. These leaders have had several meetings over the past month, the letter states, “to formulate recommendations on our support of the continued use and evolution of Neighborhood Planning . . .” The three issues causing concern include the recent resignation of Carol Barrett, who left Austin to become Director of Planning for the city of Berkeley, CA. In addition, the group cited two major policy shifts, namely plans to increase the size of neighborhood planning areas and to streamline the overall process. While reaffirming their support of neighborhood planning, the group complains, “These major policy shifts were made without benefit of input from the existing Neighborhood Plan leadership (or the original Citizens Planning Commission members or Austin Neighborhoods Council).” In addition, the letter foresees that fewer meetings in a shorter timeframe will mean “fewer issues being addressed and a less comprehensive final plan . . .[and] will increase the contentiousness of the process . . .” The letter concludes with support for Neighborhood Planning and the hope that the process will not be as painful for future neighborhoods as it has been for some that have already gone through it. Signers include: Jim Walker, president of ANC, and Neighborhood Planning Team members Mike Clark-Madison, Joseph Martinez, Mark Coffey, Bo McCarver, Cathy Echols, Ellen Richards, Gary Hyatt and Dusty McCormick, among others . . . ZAP retreat . . . The new Zoning and Platting Commission will meet at 3 p.m. today for a retreat. Only two of the nine commissioners served on the recently dissolved Planning Commission. A regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday . . . CAMPO Policy committee to meet . . . The Policy Advisory Committee of the regional road/transportation planning organization is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. tonight at the Thompson Conference Center.

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