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Grandfathered preliminary plan, street ordinance, pose problems

Tuesday, January 22, 2002 by

The City Council last week derailed—at least temporarily—a plan by architect Lauretta Dowd and Benchmark Development Corp. to build duplexes on the north side of Convict Hill Road. Neighbors objected that the five duplexes planned for the tract would add to neighborhood traffic and cause devaluation of their single-family homes.

The preliminary plan for the property, approved in 1984, was for 11 single-family lots. At that time, the tract was in the city’s ETJ. When the area was annexed, the tract was zoned DR (development reserve). The rest of the neighborhood on that side of Convict Hill Road is single-family, but the south side is developed with triplex condominiums. Under the 1984 plan, the development could be built at 35 percent impervious cover, even though it is in the Barton Springs zone. Council Member Daryl Slusher pointed out that the Save Our Springs Ordinance would allow only 25 percent impervious cover, and asked Dowd what would happen under her duplex plan.

She replied, “Twelve-point-six percent.” He said, “OK, I like that.”

Dowd said the old plan would have used the entire 1.7-acre tract, but the new plan would leave more than 50 percent of the tract undeveloped, as a conservation easement around an existing detention pond. The Zoning and Platting Commission recommended approval of the SF-3 zoning, with the proviso that there be no access to Convict Hill Road. ( See In Fact Daily, Dec. 6, 2001. ) Dowd’s original plan was use Convict Hill Road rather than cut through the neighborhood north of the tract. Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, said her staff recommended against the restriction, so that transportation planners could work out the best access with the applicant at the design stage of the development. A previous Council decision apparently prohibits connecting the neighborhood street, Breezy Pass, with Convict Hill Road.

Neighbor Laura Valdez, who lives in the Laurels complex across from the tract, said neighbors on her side of the road did not want the proposed duplexes to have access to Convict Hill Road. “We would have to be competing with 10 (more) sets of cars in the morning. It’s already a very busy street. “The driveway . . . on the front of the properties . . . would be cluttering up the front of these already small properties.” She also asked that the Council require that the units be owner-occupied “to help maintain the value.” But the Council could not require that in a zoning case. She was one of a dozen neighbors with different complaints about the proposal, but most dealt with traffic and property values. Other neighbors said they would not want the duplexes to empty onto Breezy Pass—the only alternative to Convict Hill Road—increasing traffic in their neighborhood.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman had legal questions about what had been grandfathered. Dowd said the approval preliminary plan was for 33 units, in triplex form, to cover the tract. Goodman made a motion to approve SF-2 only on first reading, which would prevent duplexes from being built. Slusher’s substitute motion for the staff recommendation died for lack of a second.

Goodman said, “The difference between SF-2 and SF-3 is not exactly what the neighborhood would like it to be . . . But this gives us the ability to research the Breezy Pass (access) issue.” The vote was 6-1 for the motion, with Slusher voting no.

The Environmental Board voted on a measure Wednesday night designed to prevent future water degradation problems caused by runoff from road and highway expansion over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.

The Board approved a recommendation calling for a comprehensive regional plan to improve water quality standards for roads and highways over the Recharge Zone, specifically targeting areas where new development is expected. The vote was unanimous with Board Member Matt Watson off the dais and Board Member Ramon Alvarez absent.

Vice-chair Tim Jones drafted a resolution that says a comprehensive, regional solution for water quality controls “needs to be put into place before the City of Austin upgrades zoning within its jurisdiction over the recharge and contributing zone of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.” Jones did not mention Stratus Properties, or any over developer by name, but he has engaged in a vociferous debate with the developer over plans to create the Bear Lake PUD.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to be upzoning these areas without water quality mitigation,” he said as part of a presentation to his fellow board members.

“What we’ve noticed is we are approving subdivisions over the recharge zone and throughout the city, and we are not addressing the off-site water quality,” Jones said. The roads going to the development sites have no water quality controls, he noted. “We’re looking for a regional plan to address water quality.”

To illustrate the need for improved standards, he made a video presentation with a map and photographs showing areas that have and do not have water quality measures in place, and water quality control facilities that are in place but not working properly, if at all. Due to poor design or lack of maintenance, many of these facilities are “totally inadequate,” he said.

“These devices are inadequate to treat the runoff from development that’s going to occur,” Jones said. “They either discharge too fast or not at all.”

He showed specific instances of facilities that are not working, including hazardous material traps along MoPac and SH 45 that are staying full of water so that in the event of a hazardous material spill, the toxins would simply flow downstream with other runoff instead of being captured and filtered. “Those sand filters are a failure,” he said. “We need to retrofit these ponds so they work.”

He pointed out much “that needs to be done before zoning is upgraded.” And if the city insists on higher standards, “That’s going to force the developers to get a plan on the table, and that’s what we want.” Jones said.

Specific roads cited by Jones included MoPac, Loop 360, US 290 West, SH 45, FM 1826, Slaughter Lane, Brodie Lane “and other roads on the contributing and recharge zones.” His resolution notes that the City of Austin, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District have shown proof of water degradation from roadways, and it’s also evident in the sediment and water quality data from Barton Springs. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that current trends in water quality at Barton Springs threaten extinction of the Barton Springs salamander, he added.

The resolution states that water quality “of road related runoff in the area of MoPac, SH 45, Slaughter Lane and Brodie Lane and some connecting streets over the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer is the responsibility of the City of Austin, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT), Travis County and Hays County.”

When Jones finished his presentation, Tommy Eden, a member of the Urban Transportation Commission, asked Jones whom he expected to develop the plan. “Do you expect Travis County, Hays County and TXDoT to work together?” he asked, eliciting laughter.

“Yes, it’s ludicrous,” Jones responded, “but . . . to get a regional plan you need regional cooperation.” He noted the Endangered Species Act could provide useful leverage in implementing a plan.

After a 30-minute discussion, Secretary Karin Ascot made a motion to adopt Jones’ resolution and Board Member Phil Moncada made the second. Board Members honed the language of the resolution in an attempt to give it more teeth and cover more bases before voting.

Discussion continuing . . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors will meet at noon today. First up on the agenda is the general manager’s annual review and employment agreement and an accompanying executive session. Karen Rae’s future at the transit authority remains an unknown . . . Democratic endorsements tonight . . . The city’s various Democratic clubs will conduct a joint candidate forum and endorsement meeting for the March primary beginning at 6pm tonight at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center at 2515 S. Congress. Hot races include the one for Representative for District 51, where Lulu Flores and Eddie Rodriguez are vying to replace retiring Rep. Glenn Maxey . . . Surprise appointment . . . Council Member Danny Thomas last week named Susana Almanza to the Environmental Board, to replace Debra Thomas, who left Austin to join her family in Toronto. The appointment of Almanza may come as a surprise to those familiar with her relationship with the city. She served on the Planning Commission, but was not reappointed in 2000. In Fact Daily noted she had been absent from 13 of the commission’s 1999 meetings. Coupled with sporadic absenteeism on the part of other commissioners at that time, the Planning Commission frequently postponed important decisions. (See In Fact Daily, May 24, 2000.) That problem has not resurfaced since then. The Environmental Board has also recently had difficulty sustaining a quorum . . . Other appointments . . . Frank Fuentes and Dorothy Richter were reappointed by consensus to the Board of Adjustment. The Council also reappointed Fuentes, Cathy French and Bruce Shelton to the Sign Review Board. Andrew S. Miller was appointed by consensus to the Water & Wastewater Commission. Council Member Daryl Slusher appointed Mark Sanders to the Solid Waste Advisory Commission . Thomas reappointed John Patterson to the Design Commission and Timothy Finley will represent the Downtown Alliance on the Downtown Commission. The Council reappointed Patrick Goetz and Jay Wyatt to the Urban Transportation Commission and Thomas reappointed Tommy Eden. Maryam Gharbi was appointed by consensus to the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman reappointed Michael Kuhn to the Resource Management Commission.

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

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