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Wildhorse Ranch PUD

Wednesday, November 28, 2001 by

Gains ZAP approval

Traditional development for East side moving forward

The Zoning and Platting Commission gave developer Pete Dwyer a boost last night, granting approval of staff recommendations for the Wildhorse Ranch Planned Unit Development (PUD) and leaving decisions on environmental matters in the hands of other reviewers.

The Smart Growth housing development has been in the works for more than two years. Staff had asked for a postponement in order to finish some water quality recommendations, but Dwyer and his attorney, David Armbrust, were anxious to move ahead. Armbrust said his client had been working on the project—located just north of Lake Walter E. Long and south of Manor—for about 18 months when the Texas Turnpike Authority let him know that SH 130 would be bisecting the development. As a result, Dwyer had to redesign the project at a cost of about $70,000 a month.

The city’s Environmental Board listened to a courtesy presentation on the project on Nov. 14, but took no action because of insufficient information. The five members of the board who were present postponed action until Dec. 5—one day before the case is scheduled to go to the City Council. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 16, 2001. )The PUD has already been approved for annexation.

Susan Villarreal, project manager in the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, wrote a glowing report on the PUD, citing the “many benefits (that) will accrue to the city when the Wildhorse Ranch project is developed. An enhanced tax base, a development magnet in the Desired Development Zone and the extensive park system are some of the favorable attributes of the application.”

Commissioner Jean Mather, a staunch environmentalist, surprised development representatives by saying she would be willing to recommend that the project go forward, “subject to the staff’s concerns” and suggestions from the Environmental Board. Mather said, “I think this is a real step forward in planning for Austin.” Chair Betty Baker, a former city staff member, said, “We always looked to the East and said this is where development should go.” She too said she would be happy to support the project.

The motion to approve staff recommendations on land uses, water quality and traffic improvements was adopted unanimously, with Commissioner Diana Casteñada absent.

County tells LCRA to consider

Local business in lowering lake

Agricultural needs have dominated planning

Consideration of recreational businesses on Lake Travis needs to rate a higher priority in the Lower Colorado River Authority’s policy of raising and lowering area lakes, Travis County Commissioners declared yesterday.

The LCRA’s policy on seasonally drawing down the two reservoir lakes—Travis and Buchanan—has been the same for the last 50 years and was based primarily on agricultural needs around Lake Buchanan. The two lakes are connected. Normally, Lake Travis is drawn down at the beginning of the irrigation season in March to provide water to Lake Buchanan, Chief Water Resources Planner Quentin Martin of the LCRA told commissioners.

Commissioner Todd Baxter peppered Martin with questions about the LCRA policy, which is being reconsidered by the working group for the region’s water plan. Baxter said he heard and respected the needs of various stakeholders, but the county needed to pursue the needs of its constituents.

The resolution put forward asks the LCRA to consider the $300 million recreational industry that comes to Lake Travis each year. Drawing down the lake, which Martin said was done to take advantage of the capacity of the lake and provide some room for the rainfall that typically occurs in the springtime, interrupts boating season. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner pointed out that the lowered lake also causes safety problems on the lakes during long droughts.

“I think that the language in this resolution is reasonable and fair, and I think it adequately and accurately represents our concerns and our desires,” Baxter told Martin. “I would move approval of this resolution.” It passed unanimously. The word “equitable” was heard frequently during discussion of a new policy. Commissioners argued that the economic value of water in Lake Travis is three to four times greater than that in Lake Buchanan. Martin said the goal, ultimately, was to equalize the levels of both lakes. The interests of a variety of stakeholders must be balanced, including the needs for flood control, power generation and water supply, Martin told commissioners.

The regional working group—created by the state to review, revise and address regional water needs—is taking a look at the policy of drawing down the lakes and will make its own recommendation in January or February. Those recommendations will be passed on to the LCRA

The LCRA is currently completing a technical analysis to determine what latitude the water authority could take to change the lake level policy, Martin said.

Baxter said he had no quarrel or issue with the policy to draw down the lakes. He was no expert on the particulars of water issues that LCRA must consider. “I understand you do have obligations to meet downstream with irrigation,” Baxter assured Martin. “We understand the LCRA does have a number of competing interests. You do have obligations.”

The small cities around the lake– Lake Travis, Lago Vista, Jonestown and Lakeway– have passed resolutions for a new policy on drawing down water. Llano County, understandably, has passed its own resolution to oppose any changes to the water policy. Martin said all interests would be balanced.

Goodall-Wooten Mansion

May be turned into hotel

Gurasich new plan likely to get friendlier reception

The Historic Landmark Commission this week gave its blessing to a plan to convert the Goodall-Wooten Mansion at the corner of Rio Grande and MLK Blvd. into a historic hotel. Prospective developer Bill Gurasich told In Fact Daily he plans to convert the Colonial Revival mansion into a 48-room hotel, with emphasis on its historic ambiance. He is seeking a change in zoning from GO-H (General Office-Historic) to GR-H-CO (Community Commercial, Historic, Conditional Overlay). The overlay would allow its use as a hotel. The idea has already gained support of some residents and neighborhood associations.

The mansion served as the home of the Austin Recovery Center(ARC) for several years. The center has since moved and wants to sell the mansion. Gurasich is on the board of the ARC. He previously asked the city to allow a zoning change to turn the home into offices, with parking across MLK. Members of the Judge’s Hill Neighborhood Association successfully fought that change last summer. The City Council voted 6-1 to deny the zoning change at MLK and West Avenue that would have accompanied that development. ( See In Fact Daily, Aug. 10, 2001 .)

The original owners of the home were Goodall Harrison and Ella Newsome Wooten. Wooten, a physician, was president of the Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1926 and 1937, according to a staff report. Ella Wooten was the first woman to serve on the chamber’s board of directors and also served on the board for Brackenridge Hospital. The house was built in 1898 and modified in 1910.Gurasich had already won approval to build a two-story parking garage on the north side of the property, which will provide 61 spaces for the hotel.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Changes at the Mayor’s office . . . If you walk into the big office at City Hall recently occupied by Kirk Watson, you won’t find Mayor Gus Garcia. That’s because the new Mayor has taken the small office once occupied by Kristen Vassallo, Larry Warshaw and Trey Salinas, giving the large office to his three executive assistants. Only Paul Saldaña was occupying the big room today, but he pointed out the other desks and the conference table, which easily fit into the large room . . . Other changes likely . . .Garcia has been polling fellow Council Members about reviving the custom of the Wednesday work session. That would mean briefings and a few other items Wednesday afternoons and Council meetings on Thursday afternoons. We like it . . . Stratus case postponed . . . The ZAP Commission postponed a hearing on a request by Stratus Properties for a zoning change for land it owns at the southeast corner of SH 45 and FM 1826. The company wants Planned Unit Development District (PUD) zoning for 536 acres. Members of the nearby Bear Creek Estates Homeowners Association and the Mayor of the Village of Bear Creek requested a 60-day postponement to allow more talks on traffic and water quality issues. Representatives of Stratus predicted those issues could be worked out more quickly and that few discussions would actually take place during the latter half of December. The ZAP agreed on a compromise by granting a postponement until December 11th . . . Planning Commission takes up Holly plan . . . After a delay of several weeks, the Planning Commission tonight will once again look at the zoning changes agreed upon by the Holly Neighborhood Planning Team and city staff. Last time the commission heard about the plan, there was considerable controversy . . . Historic cases on agenda . . . Six historic zoning cases are scheduled for this Thursday’s City Council agenda. Most are expected to easily win approval. The only controversial case is likely to be the R.L. Moore House at 2303 Rio Grande. Neighbors are opposed to the zoning. They don’t mind the historic designation but question a new zoning designation that could allow additional parking.

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