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Woodbine still looking for $140 million to build resort

Friday, June 14, 2002 by

Developers plan to echo Hill Country architectural styles in the $140 million golf course resort community planned on land once owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority. All they really need now is investors.

Dallas-based Woodbine Development Corp. optioned the 635 acres adjoining McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Bastrop County in late 2000. A deadline of Dec. 6, 2002, has been set for obtaining all the permits necessary on the project. Windmill Ranch will include a golf course, a 500-room hotel, a major restaurant and a day spa.

Woodbine has pledged to build a resort that is focused on the natural environment of the McKinney Roughs area and blends with the neighboring nature preserve. Activities beyond golf will include guided canoe trips along the Colorado River, as well as horseback riding and nature hikes. The resort will include convention and meeting space for corporate events.

The $3.3 million Woodbine will pay for the Bastrop County property is being used by the LCRA to purchase 1,600 acres at the ecologically fragile mouth of the Colorado River in Matagorda County.

Architect John Hill of Palo Alto-based Hill Glazier presented a site plan to the LCRA board which will include the hotel and restaurant, as well as pools and cabins. The character of the property—the grove of pecan trees and the banks of the Colorado River—will be incorporated into the design, he said. The ethnic architecture of the region, Hill said, will inspire the design of the resort’s buildings. Developers presented a slide show of the German-style architecture of many of the small towns of Central Texas, citing them as inspiration for the project’s design.

The work on Windmill Ranch could generate up to 1,200 construction jobs, and 600 payroll jobs once the work on the project is completed. Those jobs will run the gamut from wait staff to hotel managers, said Les Melcher, senior vice president of Woodbine Development.

Bastrop County already has granted a 10-year 100 percent ad valorem tax abatement on the project. Melcher expressed gratitude for the commitment of local governments and said Woodbine was moving slowly toward its goals. Melcher said Woodbine already had spent $700,000 on the project. The company will commit up to $4 million before a single spadeful of earth is turned on Windmill Ranch, Melcher said.

Melcher was optimistic about the project but admitted the company was still $140 million away from raising the necessary capital to complete it. Assuming investors sign up for Windmill Ranch, construction on the project could begin in August 2003. According to the company web site, http://www.woodbinedevelopment.com/overview.html, Woodbine is associated with Hunt Realty of Texas, which is directed by Ray L. Hunt.

Planning

Commission

Change for zoning chip facilities

Decision on Planning & Zoning

The Planning Commission voted unanimously this week to support changes to the City Code to allow testing of microchips outside of industrially zoned areas. The proposal would allow chip testing in W/LO (Warehouse / Limited Office), CS (General Commercial Services) and CH(Commercial Highway Services), in addition to the industrially oriented LI, IP and MI zoning districts (a list of the city’s zoning categories is available at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/development/zoning.htm).

City staff had previously categorized the testing of microchips as a light manufacturing use, as it can involve small amounts of hazardous chemicals. The recommendation endorsed by the Planning Commission calls for creating a new “electronic testing” use, which would allow that function to be performed in an office-park setting. The requested change, according to officials involved in the microchip industry, is being driven partly by the growth of so-called “fabless” semiconductor firms ( http://www.fsa.org/). Those companies are involved in the design of microchips but leave the actual manufacturing to another company because of the expense of setting up a semiconductor fabrication facility.

“An increasing amount of the semiconductor industry capacity is starting to come from these fabless companies that are focused on design,” said John McGovern, CFO of Austin-based Silicon Labs. Although those fabless companies typically focus on design and testing of new chips, they can also be called upon to test chips returned by customers. That process, said McGovern, does involve some chemicals. “By using very minute amounts of chemicals, we may go into it and try to determine why a customer is not happy with a chip,” he said. “The quantities we use are exempt under TNRCC regulations because they’re so minute.” Greg Guernsey with the city’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department told commissioners that companies performing chip testing would still have to comply with city regulations. “This type of use would have to meet the city’s hazardous materials codes, building codes and fire codes,” he said.

McGovern said that creating a chip testing use for non-industrial tracts would help fabless companies locate in Austin. “Over the years I’ve been working on facility issues here in Austin, I’ve found my alternate sites have been restricted into some very narrow IP or LI zoning,” he said. McGovern was asked by city staff to testify as a resource witness, as Silicon Labs is not currently requesting a zoning change for any of its facilities. Instead, the proposed ordinance change was brought to the Planning Commission at the direction of the City Council after a zoning case last spring. (See In Fact Daily, April 27th, 2001) There is also a tract associated with the proposed Stratus Property rezonings ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/news/02/2002stratus.htm) on which the company is seeking permission to allow chip testing. While the Council is tentatively scheduled to consider the Stratus rezonings on June 27th at the same meeting as the chip testing rule change, the two cases are not connected. “This is something we’ve been interested in for a long time,” said Commission Chair Ben Heimsath.

Commission members seemed satisfied that chip testing was compatible with certain types of office developments. “My biggest concern has always been what’s happening with the hazardous material, and obviously that’s been addressed,” said Commissioner Silver Garza. “So long as we have specific criteria as developed by our own hazardous materials folks, then I don’t see any real problems with that aspect of it.”

The Commission voted 8-0 in favor of recommending the change, with Commissioner Cynthia Medlin absent. If the City Council decides to allow chip testing in non-industrial zonings, the zoning change that spurred study of the new rules could be rolled back. That site is at 4501 Monterey Oaks Blvd.

Green brings in the green . . . Austin Energy’s Green Building program is in demand. The utility has signed contracts with Memphis Light, Gas and Water and Frontier Associates, a consulting firm for the California Public Utility Commission. Austin Energy staff will provide consulting services as those two groups work on their own Green Building programs. Austin’s Green Building program was launched in 1992 to help developers build energy-efficient homes and offices. Council Member Daryl Slusher says the consulting contracts, which are worth a total of $550,000, come at a good time for the city. “Not only does it help with the budget, it helps build a cleaner environment around the nation.” Slusher said . . . Hired . . . Barrett Sundberg, who has spent the past two years working as a “temporary” assistant in the office of Council Member Beverly Griffith, was bubbling with happiness yesterday. He’s landed a full-time permanent position at Municipal Court. Sundberg will be an administrative assistant to Municipal Court Clerk Rebecca Stark . . . But Jeff Jack may have more fun . . . Jack, an architect who served as Griffith’s executive assistant, is headed to France to help some would-be castle owners select the right home-away-from-home . . . Engaged . . . Tina Bui, executive assistant to Council Member Daryl Slusher, has promised to marry Nathan Doxey, who works in the Green Building program at Austin Energy . . . Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office receives award . . . Austin’s NHCD Office is among six winners of the 2002 John A. Sasso National Community Development Award, meaning the department is a shining example of educating the public and elected officials on the importance of Community Development Block Grants. Events that brought the award to Austin include the Second Annual NeighborFest, Participation in the Second Annual Housing Fair, the FY03 Action Plan public hearings, and numerous other public events . . . South Austin tree lovers angry at PARD . . . The Parks Department’s decision to take out trees to build a new disc golf course at the Mary Seawright Park in far South Austin has other parks users up in arms. They are complaining to both the department and the Parks and Recreation Board about the 15 to 30 foot wide swaths being cut through the natural parkland. They say the park has become a haven for wildlife, as well as for tree lovers. The department has decided to suspend tree cutting, at least temporarily, in light of the protests. The old disc golf area in the park has become virtually denuded and the department was hoping to allow the grass to come back while still furnishing facilities for disc golf enthusiasts . . . All we want for Christmas is a train . . . Mayor Gus Garcia and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman have sent a letter to President Bush asking for his help in keeping Amtrak service for Texas. The loss of the train system could seriously disrupt plans by the Austin-San Antonio region to pursue development of a commuter rail system, as well as transport of NAFTA-related freight, according to the letter. Amtrak is seeking emergency funding to continue current operations nationwide.

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

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