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Commission wants more restrictive zoning than staff recommended

Wednesday, June 19, 2002 by

After five hours of public hearings, staff presentations and debate, the Zoning and Platting Commission last night voted 8-0 to recommend that the City Council approve the Stratus Properties agreement. Much of the evening was spent going over the zoning for 14 separate tracts that make up 1,235 acres owned by CCLC, a subsidiary of Stratus Properties.

Recommendations on the zoning cases followed guidelines set out by the ZAP Stratus Task Force. Many of those recommendations are more restrictive than what city staff had offered, but the company is expected to concur with most of those suggestions. Those additional restrictions involve limits on building heights, setbacks, development restrictions, and permitted uses on several of the tracts. Representatives of Stratus and the Circle C Homeowners Association supported the zoning changes, but other neighborhood groups and members of the Save Our Springs Alliance spoke in opposition.

While homeowners and environmentalists were passionate about the zoning changes, the debate over the proposed agreement between the city and Stratus—which began about 11pm—generated even more heated rhetoric. Bill Bunch, executive director of SOSA, accused the city’s outside counsel, Casey Dobson, of attempting to mislead commissioners by providing faulty information. Staff had prepared a chart referring to allowable density on different tracts under the proposed agreement and comparing them with “SOS Density.” Bunch angrily told the Commissioners that “SOS is not a density ordinance. This is fraud and misrepresentation, and every single one of you know that to be a fact. You're going to reward this with your vote tonight? Come on, folks, we can do better than that. ”

Dobson defended the city staff's presentation of the material. “Bill is absolutely right, SOS is not a density ordinance,” he agreed. “But your continued charges that the staff and myself are being mendacious are out of line.”

While the Commission vote in favor of the settlement was recorded as being unanimous, with Commissioner Angular Adams absent from the meeting, few commissioners expressed any enthusiasm for the agreement. Commissioner Niyanta Spelman sought the advice of the Commissioners who had served on the Stratus Task Force before voting on the zoning cases and the settlement. “This is a big deal for the city. I'm not sure whether it's the best deal we could get or not.” she said. “What we're doing here is trusting your judgment.”

But in the end, the commissioners apparently agreed with the summary of the settlement offered by Dobson. “This settlement is certainly not perfect,” he said. “It's certainly not everything the city could have hoped for out of it. From an environmental standpoint, it's not as good as taking 60 or 70 or 80 million dollars and simply buying the land and never having anything on it. However, given our realistic alternatives, I believe this is a good settlement….primarily because it gives certainty about the outcome on these tracts.”

Opponents told In Fact Daily they were not surprised by the Commission's approval. “I thought there would be some dissent,” said Bunch. The 14 zoning cases and the settlement agreement are both scheduled to go before the City Council on June 27th.

Final action still several weeks away

Travis County Commissioners continue to hash out the details of the landfill-siting ordinance, trying to balance between neighborhood desires and landfill owners’ rights.

Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols said the landfill-siting ordinance is intended to fulfill dual purposes. The ordinance was intended to exercise all the county’s rights under the revised state Health and Safety Code. And, separately, the ordinance articulated Travis County’s position on landfills as applications were filed before the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

Some of the finer points the commissioners hammered out included the landfill operators’ rights to due process under operating agreements. That due process was a chief concern cited by attorney Paul Gosselink, who represents Browning Ferris Industries.

Other points were more minor and often tied to definitions. Place of worship, for instance, was intended to be a structure owned by a religious institution or organization, rather than a space leased by a church in a strip shopping center. Landfills are defined as Types I through III, excluding the Type IV landfills that accept construction debris. And expansion of existing landfills beyond permitted limits is considered “inappropriate land use.”

The final section of the ordinance allows the county to consider scientific and technical data that could support a finding of a significant threat to human health and safety. Commissioner Ron Davis was emphatic the language be included, citing the concerns of neighbors about possible long-term health implications of the landfill sites in Northeast Travis County.

Commissioner Margaret Moore was more concerned that the language provided be definite on how those studies would be used, or the ordinance “wouldn’t do a damn bit of good.”

Only three members of the court were present this week. Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Margaret Gomez are out of town for continuing education programs. Chief Environmental Officer John Kuhl is also on vacation through next week. And only three members will be present next week. The commissioners said they would review the model agreements and a specific agreement with Texas Disposal Systems, but would wait until the full court was present for a vote to post the ordinance. The ordinance must be posted for 30 days before it is approved.

Transportation panel voices

General disapproval of Stratus plan

Commission makes few traffic recommendations

The Urban Transportation Commission has voiced general disapproval of the Stratus Properties project in Southwest Austin, but added few specifics about how to deal with transportation in the area.

Principal Planner Teri McManus presented an overview of the transportation aspects of the Stratus project, which is scheduled to have its first City Council hearing next week. McManus’ conclusion was that the project would not require additional capacity on Loop 1 South.

The traffic planner’s overview, which was not intended as a traffic impact analysis, pointed out that the one million square feet of commercial usage proposed by Stratus is only half of the square footage allowed under the SOS ordinance. Estimates for total traffic on South Loop 1 generated by the multi-use project are between 27,190 and 44,230 trips per day.

McManus pointed out that most of the traffic from the office project would exit on La Crosse or South Bay, rather than directly onto Loop 1. Tract 110—the tract dedicated specifically to office space—is expected to generate a little less than 9,000 trips per day onto the two roadways.

Engineer Mike McInturff of WHM Transportation Engineers, which completed Stratus’ own transportation analysis, was also at the meeting. McInturff said the design of the project “was intended to forestall the demand on upgrading MoPac as long as possible.”

Making sure the project is within the capacity of the roadways is important. While TxDOT has approved the expansion of Loop 1 South, the state has not approved new design plans for the expansion since 1989, and no funding is available to improve the roadway or its interchanges. A consent decree between the Sierra Club and TxDOT has also limited the extent of expansion of Loop 1 South and the Slaughter, LaCrosse and South Bay interchanges.

Commissioners agreed they could not support the Stratus project, in concept. Commissioner Patrick Goetz criticized the development as one that would add to the “edge city” effect. Commissioners agreed that the Stratus density compromise, referred to as a “better than the worst-case scenario,” did not necessarily make the project palatable.

Goetz said he would prefer to see the city oppose any zoning change at all and let Stratus take them to court, but Commissioner Michael Dahmus countered that the fight over development on Barton Creek had been taken all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. The city eventually won, Dahmus said, but the development remained.

“The practical matter is that they can pave the land and we can fight it all the way to the Supreme Court and win all those cases, and the buildings are still there,” Dahmus said.

But if the project were to move forward as commissioners expect, they offered some recommendations. First, commissioners like Dahmus want to make sure the interchanges remain open so that the project does not shut off access to major arterials. McManus told commissioners the consent decree requires the city to maintain access off the various arterials. Commissioner Carl Tepper, who made the motion, also wanted mass transit, bicycles and pedestrians to be a priority in transportation planning. With Chair Jay Wyatt absent, the commission unanimously approved the motion to oppose the project, while setting those few priorities for transportation. For more on transportation around Stratus Properties, see In Fact Daily, June 11, 2002.

Thursday,.

Grilled in the hallway . . . A number of southeast area residents came to the Zoning and Platting Commission last night, to talk about a Smart Housing development in their neighborhood. One asked that the case for the Pleasant Valley Villas be postponed to give others more time to learn about the development. After the postponement was granted, a group of the neighbors stood in the hallway outside the meeting to question the developers. One question was about the quality of background checks the developers would run on would-be residents. Brian Potashnik of Southwest Housing said they check on felony criminal convictions, verify employment and make sure that residents’ kids are in school. Most developers don’t run any kind of background checks at all, John Noell of the Urban Design Group told In Fact Daily . . . Juneteenth celebration . . . County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Ron Davis are the hosts of today’s Juneteenth celebration at Wooldridge Park. Today’s event, running from 11am to 2pm, is the county’s 13th annual celebration of the day slaves were freed in Texas. The county is expecting 34 food booths of food. Entertainment includes the Gospelaires and blues artist Tim Peterson . . . Burn ban continues . . . Weekend rains were not enough to end Travis County’s outdoor burning ban. County Commissioners voted yesterday to continue the ban through next week . . . Changes on Doggett’s staff . . . Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, communications director for US Rep. Lloyd Doggett has recently married and will be moving to Denver with her husband. Michelle Milford, a UT graduate, has joined the Austin staff to take over the communications post. Milford reports that she previously worked for Citigate Cunningham Public Relations, a Palo Alto-based firm specializing in high tech corporate clients . . . Council Member Dunkerley settles in . . . New Council Member Betty Dunkerley and her staff, Stephanie Beckett and Gloria Aguilera, were busy at work yesterday while workmen arranged the desks in her office. One of Dunkerley’s visitors was Republican County Judge candidate Bob Honts.

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

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