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Environmental concerns could stop service to King Fisher project

Monday, March 4, 2002 by

After hearing from a number of area residents about the environmental dangers posed by upgrading a water main that would then connect to a new 35-unit multi-family development, the City Council last week postponed consideration of three items relating to Parker Springs Condominiums on East St. Elmo. The Council had previously rejected a zoning change, a Smart Housing classification—and its associated fee waivers—for the proposed project by King Fisher Ltd.

Sam Guzman, who lives about a mile from the proposed project, said seven neighborhood associations in the area are opposed to the project. “This is not a NIMBY issue—not in my back yard,” said Guzman, who is running in the Democratic primary to replace retiring State Rep. Glen Maxey. He went on to say that neighborhood opponents of this project have supported four other projects for low-income persons in their area. He said the company had come into the neighborhood “bound to do it their way. This not the American way, and it’s certainly not the Austin way.”

Jack Howison, an active member of the Kensington Park Neighborhood Association, told In Fact Daily that the city stopped construction on E. St. Elmo Road because workers hit spring flows and found that water lines were not buried deeply enough. But as for enlarging the line, “We’re saying don’t rush into this. We’re OK with the torn up road and the 50-year old water line.” Howison says he and his neighbors are particularly concerned about the water project disturbing spring flows in the area. Those spring flows, Howison notes, are important for area wetlands. If the water line is buried deeper than it is, he says, it is likely to impact the springs, causing them to be diverted and killing the wetlands.

A number of other area residents came to tell the Council the project poses a grave threat to the wetlands and creeks, as well as the animals that depend on those features. The city’s Water & Wastewater Commission voted 5-0-1, with three members absent to support the service extension request and upgrade the main from eight to 16 inches. The commission also recommended that the Council seek input from the Environmental Board or a detailed briefing from the city’s wetlands biologist. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 13, 2002)

Chris Lippe, director of the Water and Wastewater Department, said the city had hired a hydrogeologist to help design the project and the department wanted permission to proceed with an agreement to reimburse the developer up to $287,500 for the water main and related facilities. In addition, the contract would provide a waiver for 90 percent of the developer’s construction inspection fees related to the water main.

Mayor Gus Garcia suggested that the matter be postponed. “I understand the need to put in the pipe, but I don’t understand how this development fits into this. Because I think there’s opposition because of the wetlands to the development and if what we’re doing is facilitating the development, then I have real problems with it.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman asked for a zoning map, so that Council members will know whether by providing service to the site, they would be contradicting their own mandate when they turned down zoning for the project last May. It would be helpful to see where that particular project sits and “some kind of information where the environmental features are.” Council Member Daryl Slusher moved to postpone the item for three weeks. Goodman seconded and the vote was unanimous.

Scofield Ranch Creek zoned for multi-family housing

The Environmental Board spent 45 minutes in a public hearing and discussion before voting at its most recent meeting to recommend a variance that would allow construction of a culvert instead of a bridge in the proposed Scofield Ranch Creekside subdivision.

The proposed subdivision consists of 38.7 acres zoned for multi-family housing. The site is located along the west side of Lamar Boulevard just north of Parmer Lane, and lies within the Desired Development Zone .

Most of the site is on land with less than a 15 percent grade; however, small sections that comprise a little more than a half-acre are on slopes greater than 15 percent. For this reason a variance is required for the developer, Gen-Cap Partners, to construct a driveway, with a box culvert rather than a small bridge, to traverse a tributary of Wells Branch, which feeds into Walnut Creek. The bridge design already has approval, but the current owner wants to change the crossing to a culvert bridge, which requires a variance from the Land Development Code. As it turns out, the culvert driveway had been previously approved when a former owner and applicant brought the subdivision site plan to the city approximately two years ago, but that plan was scrapped in favor of a bridge design. Now the owner wants to go back to the original plan, but new approval is necessary. The current site plan was approved in March of 2001.

Veronica Rivera, an attorney with Minter Joseph & Thornhill, told the Board construction of the culvert would not disrupt the ecology of the waterway any more or less than the bridge would, but in the long run would be more favorable to the environment. She said either type of crossing would require disturbing about 660 square feet of land. The overall impervious cover for the entire project is 10.79 acres, she noted.

The site is made of two relatively flat areas of land bisected by a meandering, tree-lined draw, which is the tributary that drains into Wells Branch. The bridge is necessary to connect the two sections of land so development can proceed.

The tributary contains a designated wetland area, documented by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1987, and therefore 50-foot setbacks are required and have been agreed upon. The developer also agreed to 50-foot setbacks along the entire length of the tributary.

After being questioned by the Board, Rivera said the project had been red-tagged by the city and work had been halted due to a violation of construction limits. Too much vegetation had been damaged or destroyed, she said, and re-vegetation had been mandated before work could resume.

Board Member Phil Moncada said he had recently visited the site and he noted one documented tree was missing from the site and two others had been damaged. He suggested some tree mitigation might be in order.

New Board Member Susana Almanza asked Rivera what would happen if the variance were not granted. Rivera said one possibility would be for her client to revert back to the approved bridge culvert, and another might be to construct the box culvert in another location, where a variance would not be required.

Board Member Connie Seibert made a motion to recommend the variance and Secretary Karin Ascot made the second. Moncada said he would support it if a condition for tree mitigation were included.

Vice-chair Tim Jones offered his support with three conditions, which called for enhanced erosion controls in the form of silt fences along the perimeter at the setback level, with baffles to prevent water from channeling along the fencing, and appropriate tree protection during construction.

The vote was 6-0 with Chair Lee Leffingwell and Board Members Matt Watson and Ramon Alvarez absent.

Tuesday

, Wednesday,

Friday

Public safety group meets . . . Council Member Danny Thomas, chair of the Council’s Public Safety Task Force, has announced the first meeting of the group will be at 6pm tonight. The meeting will be in room 304 of City Hall. The Community Action Network is scheduled to make a presentation on public safety, as part of the task force’s work in prioritizing problems and deficiencies in that area . . . Weather radio photo op . . . Mayor Gus Garcia will be kicking off Severe Weather Awareness Week at 10am this morning at Palm Elementary School, 7601 Dixie Drive, by giving 115 NOAA weather radios to AISD officials. Central Texas flood victims will be available for interviews.. . . Stepping down in Wimberley . . . Faced with opposition from old-timers who want to unincorporate the fledgling city, Mayor Linda Hewlett has decided not to run for re-election this year. The most likely candidate is Council Member Tony McGee, who may file for the post this week. Council Member Matt Manis has already filed for his job, and Council Member Walter Brown, a former City of Austin Planning Commissioner, is still considering his options . . . The Austin City Council approved a number of apparently non-controversial zoning items last week, including a change from LO (office) to CS (commercial services) for about 1.3 acres at North Lamar and Ferguson Drive, with an agreement between owner Allan Nalle and the neighborhood to prohibit a long list of uses, beginning with car washing and ending with recycling. Jim Whitliff of Land Answers represented the applicant . . . Downtown . . . Jimmy Nassour won neighborhood and City Council support for his request to change zoning at 1310 San Antonio from G (general office) to GO-MU (mixed use) in order to remodel a large single family home. The home is currently being used as apartments, but the owner needed the change in order to do the work. Nassour promised not to remove the home or use it for non-residential purposes . . . Further south . . . The Council also approved zoning three-quarters of an acre on E. St. Elmo near S. Congress from SF-3 and LI to GR-CO. The property currently is used by the adjacent St. El Motel as a driveway and parking lot. Pawn shops and automotive uses are prohibited under the conditional overlay. Applicant John Chen was represented by Sarah Crocker. The Bethania Worship Center at 7110 S. Congress also received Council approval for a change in zoning for the church from DR (development reserve) to LO. Churchgoers would like to add an office to the sanctuary currently on the site. The above were approved on all three readings. In addition, the Council approved on first reading a change from CS to DMU (downtown mixed use district) for property owned by the Austin Scottish Rite at 1710 Colorado. The site, currently a surface parking lot directly south of Cambridge Towers, will become a parking garage, with its height subject to the Capitol View Corridor. Trips are estimated at up to 2,000 per day, as long as the garage is used by the Austin Scottish Rite next door. Richard Suttle represented the applicant . . . Republicans attack Texans for Public Justice . . . The Republican Party of Texas says that the lawsuit filed against Dripping Springs Rep. Rick Green is “blatantly partisan.” Green refused to give information to the T PJ on legislative continuances. For more on the Republican point of view, visit http://www.txgop. org and click on Front Watch . . . Appointments to boards and commissions . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez appointed Veronica L. Hernandez to the Urban Transportation Commission. Mayor Gus Garcia appointed Nancy Crowther to the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities and Pamela Jodi Park to the Commission for Women. Natalie Zoe and Luis Francisco Zapata were reappointed to the Music Commission. Zoe was also appointed to the Austin Music Task Force, along with James Polk and Jerry Avila. Council Member Will Wynn appointed Vanessa V. Garza to the Library Commission. The following were all appointed by consensus to the Sixth Street Recycles Task Force: Mike Risden, Bob Fernandez, Bob Woody, Franc Winkley, Linda Rife, Vince Bland, Robert Mitchell, Sparky Anderson and Austin Jernigen.

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

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