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Environmental Board wants

Wednesday, November 14, 2001 by

New impervious cover rules

After nearly a year of tinkering with numbers, the Environmental Board voted last week to adopt a new recommendation regarding impervious cover assumptions for single-family homes. After rescinding their recommendation from last May, the Board voted 7-0 to send a new recommendation to the City Council. Board Member Ramon Alvarez was absent.

This lengthy process has been an effort to change the assumptions adopted by the City of Austin in February 1999. Last Wednesday’s vote was the third time the Environmental Board has modified its recommendation on the assumptions. (See In Fact Daily, May 17, 2001, December 14, 2000, December 7, 2000.)

City Environmental Officer Pat Murphy presented staff’s latest recommendation to the board Wednesday night. “We are not recommending plat restrictions,” he said, because they are too difficult to enforce. Instead, his department recommended splitting lot size categories into two separate categories and setting new impervious cover figures accordingly.

The Environmental Board’s new recommendation, which closely follows the staff recommendation, calls for the 5,750 to 10,000 square feet lot size to be split into two categories. According to the new recommendation, the assumption for lots from 5,750 square feet to 7,000 square feet will be 2,700 square feet of impervious cover—an increase from staff’s recommendation of 2,500 square feet. And on lots from 7,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet the assumption would be 3,000 square feet of impervious cover. The 10,000 to 15,000 square-foot lot size will remain unchanged with 3,750 feet of assumed impervious cover.

Chair Lee Leffingwell said it’s difficult to find the right balance between having sufficient protection in the Drinking Water Protection Zone and allowing for affordable housing. Eighty percent of lots in the city are in the lower two categories, he said.

Dominic Chavez, with the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA), told the Board he was pleased with the new numbers and he thanked the Board and city staff for their hard work. Many of RECA’s previous concerns about the assumptions had been addressed, he said

Last December, the Board recommended increasing the amount of impervious cover in the assumptions. The Board also recommended that the city use restrictive covenants to have more flexibility and enforcement authority. Last May, the Board decided to additional increases to the amount of impervious cover, but the Board changed its mind and decided to recommend not using restrictive covenants and plat restrictions to enforce impervious cover limits. Smart Housing projects were exempted from the assumptions with the May recommendation. At that time, separating the issue of affordable housing from the environmental effects of impervious cover looked like the key to ending a months-long discussion on the assumptions.

Eighteen months ago the City Council asked for a report on how well the assumptions were working, thus opening a long process of reviewing the entire process. Impervious cover has a direct correlation with water pollution, especially in sensitive watersheds. During settlement negotiations with developer Gary Bradley, the Council requested the city manager to prepare a system for accurately determining and regulating new impervious cover regulations.

County asks committee for

Advice on waste siting regs

Citizen group will have until Dec. 13

Travis County commissioners Tuesday charged a nine-member advisory committee working group with writing a solid waste ordinance that can satisfy both the affected neighborhoods and representatives of local waste management businesses.

County Judge Sam Biscoe stressed that the working group’s report would only be a recommendation. Ultimately, county commissioners would be accountable for the ordinance.

“We appreciate the advisory committee’s work, but it is the nature of business at the county for the ultimate decision to be made by the county,” Biscoe told working group members. “In the end, it really boils down to what three commissioners will support.”

The exact directive was as follows: “To quickly and thoroughly examine the issues surrounding solid waste infrastructure in the unincorporated areas of the county, and to address those issues with a policy that balances the need for that infrastructure with the need to avoid or reduce the adverse impacts it can have on those who reside on, own, or use adjacent land.”

Part of their mission will be an examination and assessment of current state and federal standards. Other issues will include whether certain facilities should be grandfathered, or subject to different criteria. The expansion of existing facilities and the legal limitations of county authority also will be addressed.

Chapters 363 and 364 of the Texas Health & Safety Code recently gave counties the right to adopt solid waste regulations and would allow the county to address land compatibility issues not fully addressed by state and federal regulations. A recent draft of a proposed ordinance presented to Travis County Commissioners Court drew the ire of local waste management companies.

Commissioners also added their own concerns to the list. Pct. 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner wanted to see an examination of options other counties had pursued. Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez added she would like to see what other options were available, short of shipping waste out of the county. Pct. 3 Commissioner Todd Baxter asked for a fuller consideration of the variance issue.

Written comments will be taken on the proposed ordinance through Nov. 27. The working group’s report will be due to Travis County Commissioners Court by Dec. 13. The matter will then be placed on the agenda for the court’s meeting on Dec. 18.

Members of the proposed committee are expected to start meeting as early as next week. Jim Gudenrath of the Dispute Resolution Center will serve as committee chair. Other members will include J.D. Porter, the current chair of the city’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission, and Jim Haley, formerly the lead counsel for the solid waste division of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) and a member of the city’s Water & Wastewater Commission.

The remaining members will be divided between representatives of the waste management industry and the affected neighborhoods. Paul Gosselink of BFI, Derek McDonald of Waste Management and Bob Gregory of Texas Disposal Systems and the National Solid Waste Management Association will be the industry delegates. Trek English, David Samuelson and Bill Hilgers will represent the community.

Members of the staff from Travis County, the City of Austin and TNRCC also will serve as non-voting members of the committee. .

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saw the handwriting on the wall . . . Development representative Jim Bennett, who was trying to help the owner of a business property at 4708 S. Lamar, withdrew the case from consideration before the Zoning and Platting Commission last night after failing to win a postponement. The property was red-tagged because the owner, who had been renting only domestic items, started to rent backhoes and other heavy equipment. A crowd of neighbors, prepared to testify against a requested change in zoning from GR to CS, applauded when Bennett announced the withdrawal . . . Stratus PUD presentation tonight . . . Steve Drenner, attorney for Stratus Properties, told In Fact Daily that he would be making a presentation on the Bear Creek PUD to the Environmental Board this evening. Even though the project complies with the SOS Ordinance, Drenner said, the city is now requiring all Planned Unit Developments to go through the Environmental Board. The project is scheduled to appear on the agenda of the Zoning and Platting Commission on Nov. 27 . . . Fire Truck Restored . . . The City of Round Rock will dedicate a restored hand-pump fire truck used by past generations of Round Rock firefighters in a ceremony outside the public library on Main Street on Saturday at 10 a.m. The Round Rock Volunteer Fire Department has spent the last two years restoring the red circa 1894 pumper with financial assistance from the city . . . Interim Uses . . . The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Implementation Advisory Commission has appointed a sub-committee to look at the issue of interim uses for buildings on the 700-acre RMMA site. The City Council recently considered offering buildings on the site for the use of the local chapter of the Red Cross. . . Utility Gains Praise . . . Austin Energy has won accolades from the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Implementation Advisory Commission for promising to build a smaller—though more expensive—substation on the 700-acre site of the former airport. The utility can compress a two-acre substation site down to 17,000 square feet

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