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Jefferson plans to ask Council about appeal of Sparks' order

Wednesday, July 24, 2002 by

City Attorney Sedora Jefferson said Tuesday that her office is weighing whether to appeal last week’s decision by Federal Judge Sam Sparks dismissing the city’s lawsuit against the Longhorn Pipeline . The city and the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District sued Longhorn, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Transportation to force the parties to do an environmental assessment. That assessment found that the pipeline would have “no significant impact” on the environment or on humans. Longhorn asked the judge to dismiss the city’s claims that a more extensive environmental impact statement was needed and the judge granted that wish.

Jefferson said her office received an amended order from Sparks this week. The city will have 30 days to decide whether to seek a hearing at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. “We want to get input from the City Council,” before making a decision, Jefferson concluded.

The Save Barton Creek Association voted Monday night to thank the city and the conservation district for pursuing the lawsuit and ask them to appeal. Jon Beall, president of SBCA, told In Fact Daily, “The second thing is we want the city to adopt some kind of ordinance for safety and welfare of citizens and restrict certain uses within the danger zone of a pipeline.”

Beall said the group heard from political consultant Mike Blizzard, whose clients include anti-pipeline activists. Blizzard told In Fact Daily that Redmond, Washington; Fulton County, Georgia; and Edison, NJ have approved minimum setbacks for some buildings, such as schools and apartment buildings. However, the different local governments have approved varying distances. Blizzard said Edison’s setbacks vary from 75 to 125 feet, while Redmond’s ordinance prohibits some buildings within 50 feet, but requires a 500-foot setback for schools and apartments.

The Stratus connection

Blizzard is also active in the Save Our Springs Alliance and spoke at last week’s City Council hearing on the settlement agreement with Stratus Properties. He told the Council they could approve an ordinance limiting development within “a radius of 600 to 1,000 feet of the Longhorn Pipeline right-of-way,” which would affect at least Tracts 103 and 106. The settlement agreement would allow Tract 103 to be developed with multi-family units north of the pipeline and small retail stores on Slaughter, south of Longhorn’s easement. Tract 106 is also slated to become retail.

Beall said it was his understanding that restrictions would apply to “retail establishments that will have more than 50 customers at one time, nursing homes and assisted living centers that are real hard to evacuate at time of emergency,” as well as apartments.

“Everybody’s going to say this is intended to get Stratus,” but that is not the reason SBCA supports the ordinance, he said, predicting that the city would pass an ordinance affecting properties “all up and down that pipeline. It may be six months, it may be three months, but the city will go through a process and adopt something. It just kind of got moved to the front burner with the judge’s decision last week,” he said.

“SBCA also passed a resolution asking me to contact Stratus and have an official conversation with them, which I have had,” Beall said. Both CEO Beau Armstrong and attorney Steve Drenner were out of town, Beall said, but he spoke with Stratus representative Laurie Swan “and they are looking into it.” Beall was part of a stakeholder group of environmentalists and neighborhood representatives that met with Stratus representatives to work out a deal.

Jefferson said the city understands there are limits to what types of ordinances can be approved that will not conflict with federal law. “I don’t want to get into whether we can or cannot,” enact such an ordinance, she said. “We have been exploring all kinds of issues about the pipeline.”

Consultant says church needs flexibility to grow

After a one-week delay, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted 6-1 to grant two variances allowing St. Alban’s Episcopal Church to build a new Parish Hall, parking facility and driveway. The commission had originally voted 4-2 in favor of the variances (see In Fact Daily, July 17, 2002 ), but took up the matter again this week since any action by the commission requires at least five affirmative votes.

The existing church buildings are on a hill in the middle of a 22-acre tract at 11819 I-35 South, which is outside the city limits but within the ETJ. City staff had recommended against a variance for construction of the new buildings, suggesting instead that the church redesign its project so it could be built without construction on slopes greater than 15 percent.

Sarah Crocker, representing the church, told commissioners that changing the project in accordance with the staff recommendation still might not meet all city requirements. “If we didn’t build the buildings on top of the hill,” Crocker said, “there would be no connectivity; and I would still be back here asking for more variances because there’s no way to get up that hill without doing construction on slopes in excess of 15 percent.” The variances, she argued, did not amount to giving the church a special privilege because of the unique geography of the tract. “Our development’s already there,” she said. “The church has to expand.”

Commissioner Jean Mather was concerned about erosion on the hill, especially since some trees would have to be cleared to make room for construction. “Those trees, when they’re removed, will affect the slope,” she said. Project engineers assured the commission that the project would be structurally sound and said they would also be installing erosion-control measures, including a rock berm.

Mather rendered the only dissenting vote.

And then there were seven . . . Since the City Council appointed two Zoning and Platting Commission members to the Planning Commission last week but failed to appoint new members to the ZAP, the former will have to make do with seven members. Last night a number of cases were postponed for one to three weeks . . . What’s good for the environment . . . is good for Downtown, says Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance. He will be addressing the Downtown Austin Alliance at its monthly luncheon next Tuesday. Those planning to attend the luncheon should call 469-1766 by 5pm Friday to RSVP . . . Daryl Slusher show returns . . . City Manager Toby Futrell was the featured guest on this week’s show. Futrell said she did not understand why it was so hard to convince some people that the city was not part of Stratus Properties' stakeholder process in the beginning, adding that there were several stakeholder groups meeting simultaneously before she was asked to join the deliberations. The show will replay tonight at 10:30pm and Thursday at 11:30am . . . What’s in a name . . . Travis County Commissioners have agreed to start the process of renaming the Stokes Building, which houses the Commissioners Court. The building was named after the former owner. A hearing to consider options will be posted in three weeks . . . New fund for public defenders . . . The Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense is releasing $7 million in grant money to Texas counties with systems in place to ensure the quick appointment of defense attorneys for the poor. Since Travis County meets the guidelines set out by the Texas Fair Defense Act, it will receive $239,641. The money will help cover fees for court-appointed attorneys, which escalated when the Texas Fair Defense Act went into effect. Travis County’s system for appointing lawyers for indigent defendants received a favorable rating from the Austin-based Equal Justice Center ( ) . . . Jockey Club tract back in lineup . . . The property at 7300 Riverside, known as the Jockey Club tract, will be back on the ZAP agenda next week. Its owners are requesting a zoning change to allow some multi-family development on the site within the Montopolis Neighborhood Planning Area. (See In Fact Daily, August 02, 2001 .) . . . Griffin lauded . . . The Austin Redevelopment Authority has approved a resolution recognizing Rev. Marvin Griffin for his work to clean up East Austin. Griffin’s work has included the development of a day care center, office building and senior center on one end of East 11th Street.

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


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