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After a three-hour hearing, the Zoning and Platting Commission last night narrowly gave its blessing to Stratus Properties’ Bear Lake PUD (planned unit development). The 5-4 recommendation occurred after four postponements and several weeks of negotiations with neighborhoods along FM 1826.

Wednesday, January 9, 2002 by

About 50 people associated with the 1826 Coalition appeared at the commission to oppose the zoning change, with most arguing that that the PUD would dump more traffic on an already dangerous road. Their second argument against the project, which offers more environmental protection than the Save Our Springs Ordinance, was that proposed density is not compatible with their homes.

Stratus’ attorney, Steve Drenner, told the commission, “We have described this as an SOS-plus project. We are proposing a 50-ft setback from unclassified waterways. Under SOS, a creek that does not drain 64 acres or more would not have a setback. Our proposal would set back for everything that drains 10 acres or more.” Stratus agreed to the staff proposal of a 350-foot setback from two important critical environmental features (CEFs), more than what is required by City Code, he said. The PUD will participate in the city’s Green Builder Program, as well as using integrated pest management and native plant landscaping techniques, he said. A number of these ideas surfaced when the PUD went before the Environmental Board for a courtesy briefing last fall. (See In Fact Daily Nov. 16, 2001 ; Nov. 19, 2001 .)

The project straddles the Travis- Hays County line at the intersection of SH 45 and FM 1826. It consists of 536.7 acres, all within Austin city limits and the Barton Springs Zone. Sixty percent of the tract’s net site area is in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and forty percent is in the Contributing Zone. Stratus proposes to put a total of 800 residential units on the tract, ranging from SF-1 (minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet) to SF-6 (town homes and condominiums). Neighbors objected to proposed apartments and Stratus said it would drop its request for multi-family zoning.

The company had proposed three access points from its property onto the rural road and only one access point onto SH 45. A major reason for Stratus’ decision to design the development in that manner was the company’s decision not to ask for any variances from the SOS Ordinance or other environmental regulations. Eliminating access to FM 1826 would probably mean the company would have to cross a creek—triggering the need for a variance request. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has also approved the development as not jeopardizing the endangered Barton Springs salamander. Any changes to the plan involving additional impervious cover or disturbance of waterways would mean another lengthy consultation with FWS, according to Drenner.

But landowner Ira Yates told the commission, “Two engineers, a willing applicant and a 6-pack of beer would solve all of these problems.” Yates, who once owned the property, is running for County Commissioner for Precinct 3.

Drenner told the commission last night that his client had agreed to give up one of its proposed driveways onto FM 1826 and would add one on SH 45. He said the coalition wanted fewer units than Stratus could agree to, but that his client had agreed to a 35-foot height limit, as opposed to the 40-foot height originally proposed. He noted that his client had agreed to limit density in Hays County to one unit per acre. The original proposal contained no density limit for the area. The commission recommended a minimum lot size of one-half acre in Hays County.

According to the staff report on the project, “Annexation of the Hays County portion of the property into the city limits must occur prior to third reading of the rezoning ordinance at City Council for that portion of the property.”

Commission action

Commissioner Vincent Aldridge made the motion to recommend approval of the PUD to the City Council. Commissioners Joseph Martinez and Keith Jackson both seconded the motion. Commission Chair Betty Baker and Commissioner Diana Casteñada joined them in supporting the motion.

Commissioners Angular Adams, Michael Casias, Niyanta Spelman and Jean Mathe r voted no, generally citing traffic concerns. Mather, who is particularly interested in environmental issues, said she was “very pleased with the environmental features,” but could not vote for the addition of two additional driveways onto FM 1826. Castenada said she liked the project but was concerned about the road. After Jackson came up with an amendment to the plan—addition of an acceleration lane for cars turning north from the PUD onto the rural road. That, in addition to Stratus’ previous promise to add a left-turn lane into the project, was enough forCasteñada.

Bill Bunch, executive director of the SOS Alliance, was the only opponent addressing environmental concerns. He said, “It is against state law to zone by citizen initiative . . . If we could, we would zone this to about one residence for five acres.” However, he asked commissioners to zone the property RR, which some of the neighbors said they would have preferred. “There is no better place in this entire city that is more appropriate for rural residential. This is a beautiful hill country area and the hill country feel. All the other subdivisions are very low density and preserve that rural character and I hope you’ll do the same,” he said.

However, Drenner and Baker have pointed out that the number of driveways would increase dramatically along FM 1826 if there were one house and one driveway onto the road from each house. “I think this project deserves your support. I don’t think you’ll find anything else in the area that comes near it. Its very low density, very appropriate to area . . . Clustered development is preferable,” to development that is spread out, Drenner concluded.

Downtown Austin has real character, Richard Moe told a joint luncheon of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the Austin Heritage Society yesterday.

Moe is president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the largest and most influential of national groups in the preservation arena and the creator of the Main Street program. In a speech that was to be delivered to the DAA on Sept. 11th, Moe stressed the integral role that historic preservation must play in downtown revitalization.

No successful downtown revitalization effort, said Moe quoting others, has ever succeeded without historic preservation as an integral component. The last 50 years have been characterized by two trends in American cities: disinvestment and reinvention. Those touchstones have led to people leaving city centers by the millions, creating suburbs. Slowly and cautiously over the last 30 years, however, downtowns have begun to return, Moe said. In places like Boston and San Francisco, developers began to see old buildings as cheaper vehicles to be converted to new uses. Builders realized people actually liked urban life. And cities could not afford to throw away usable buildings.

These new downtowns had something different to offer: a vibrant mix of “live and attractive and economically viable uses,” Moe said. People, quite simply, realized that downtowns have their own special character. “There’s not a lot of community in a strip mall,” Moe said. Moe admitted he had nothing but praise and encouragement to offer to Austin civic leaders. Austin, Moe said, is one of a relative handful of American cities with true character. It is also a city with leadership and developers who recognize the importance of revitalization. He pointed to the Driskill and Sixth Street as signs of success, but added that Austin had yet to reach all its goals for revitalization. Moe pointed to downtown revitalization projects in St. Paul and Denver as models for redevelopment, areas that have attracted new and continuing investment. No one high-profile project can rescue a downtown, He said. Nor should the character and quality of an existing community be sacrificed for a “cut-rate version of a suburban strip mall.” The fate of city and suburb are entwined, Moe said. No region can survive, much less thrive, if there is rot at the core. Poverty, crime and physical deterioration eventually spread from downtown to the inner ring of older suburbs. “We can run from America’s urban problems, but we cannot hide from them forever,” Moe said. Tax credits, Moe told the audience, have made a difference in the restoration of historic buildings. Over the last 25 years, the government has leveraged $25 billion to rehabilitate more than 26,000 commercial projects. Most were buildings being turned into rental housing. Now those tax breaks should be extended to historic register districts, so that people restoring historic homes could have the same benefits, Moe said.

Chiefs need model fire code, arson help

Travis County intends to restructure the fire marshal’s office to meet the needs of the emerging Emergency Service Districts (ESDs) in the county.

Executive Manager Dinah Dinwiddie presented a summary of recommendations to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday. The fire marshal’s resignation last August, Dinwiddie said, gave the county a good opportunity to take a fresh look at the office. The county’s recommendations were based on a survey of the Capital Area Fire Chiefs Association (CAFCA), a number of whose members were in the audience Tuesday morning. The overwhelming consensus among fire chiefs was a need for the development of a model fire code for the county, as well as greater assistance on arson investigations, Dinwiddie said. Ron Moellenberg of Pflugerville, who serves as president of CAFCA, said ESDs had grown considerably in recent years. In the early ‘90s, fire departments were “rag tag kind of folks” who went out and did what Moellenberg called “throwing the wet stuff on the red stuff.” The main goal was to fight local brush fires. Today, it is much more complicated. Growth has meant more hazardous materials and increased danger from fire. Sept. 11th demonstrated the reality of terrorism. The only way to approach these problems is to “lock arms together” and look at the needs of the county as whole, Moellenberg said. Issues are no longer territorial and problems don’t stop at boundaries. A problem for one ESD is likely to spread to another.

“It is a more costly proposition that we are looking at now. If you ask me if the ESDs could attack that (terrorist) problem with their current funding, the answer is an emphatic no,” Moellenberg said. “We need your help to address it. This is not an ESD problem. It’s not a Travis County problem. It’s a problem that we have together.” Ten years ago, Travis County Fire Control showing up in Pflugerville might have led to fisticuffs with local firefighters, Moellenberg said. Today, emergency service departments recognize they must rely on each other to resolve growing issues in the county. That attitude of cooperation among the ESDs will mean a number of changes for the fire marshal’s office. First, Travis County will draft individual agreements with ESDs, recognizing that some service districts have more funding than others and that some will require more support than others. The fire chiefs support this change, Moellenberg said. The fire marshal’s office will also draft a model fire code that can be used as a minimum benchmark for areas under the county’s jurisdiction. Staffing, resources and enforcement would be determined by the fire marshal’s office and CAFCA. The recommendations also consider a countywide arson task force and the creation of a number of hazardous material teams that may draw from both the county and ESD resources. Training for the agencies may also be centralized. An advisory board to the fire marshal from the membership of CAFCA was put in place by the interim fire marshal. Dinwiddie recommended that the advisory board be permanent. Commissioners praised cooperation among CAFCA members. The first step in the process, however, will be to post the position of fire marshal. The new fire marshal will be expected to lay out a plan for implementing the county’s recommendations.

Did you miss yesterday's news ? Click here for January 7, January 8 .

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Representative hopeful party tonight . . . Eddie Rodriguez, who is trying to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Glenn Maxey, will kick off his campaign with a fundraiser from 5 to 7pm tonight at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1501 E. 6th Street. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. For more information, call 480-0103. Rodriguez is running against political attorney Lulu Flores and former County Commissioner Marcos DeLeon in the Democratic primary . . . Billboards make return visit to City Council . . . City staff members have come up with a revision to the billboard ordinance that incorporates some elements of the version the City Council approved last month, as well as some from recommendations made by the Planning Commission . (See In Fact Daily Oct. 29, 2001, )( Dec. 7, 2001 ) The matter is on this week’s Council agenda for second and third readings. The proposal would allow one new full-size billboards to be erected to replace two previous signs, or to replace a billboard removed from a Scenic Roadway or Historic Sign District. In addition, a new billboard could be put up at an established location if it were 25 percent smaller than the previous sign. The revised ordinance would require notice of application for a replacement sign to be sent to affected neighborhood associations and the owner of the existing sign. The Sign Review Board would no longer be involved in the appeal process . . . Plat approved . . . Travis County Commissioners approved the first plat of many on Spillman Ranch yesterday. Spillman Ranch, located between RM 620 and State Highway 71, will eventually be 416 lots on 441 acres. Joe Gielselman of Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources said the City of Bee Caves is expected to annex the subdivision into the city.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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