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Stratus Properties suit

Tuesday, July 9, 2002 by

Lengthy discussion brings out new information

Last night the City of Austin sent Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon, as well as water quality specialists and attorneys, to answer questions about the Stratus Properties proposal posed by members of the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA). The questions were so numerous that SBCA President Jon Beall announced that the group would wait until next week to vote on whether to join the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) lawsuit against Stratus and the city.

Jack Goodman, a member of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board of directors as well as an SBCA director, revealed that the developer has agreed to “some form of funding mechanism” for monitoring and maintenance of all water quality controls on their property in perpetuity.

Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong confirmed later that his company would be ensuring continued maintenance of water quality ponds and other engineering features designed to minimize damage to the springs. He told In Fact Daily, “I would characterize it more as performance bonding,” he said. He said he did not know whether the funding would be spelled out in the agreement with the city or not. However, he said the idea would be to “create a revenue stream” through a homeowners association or similar vehicle. He said Stratus had done the same thing through the Municipal Utility District at Barton Creek subdivision.

Attorney Renee Hicks, who has been hired by the city to assist in negotiations with Stratus, explained his theory of why the SOSA lawsuit would not prevail. Elaborating remarks he made to the City Council on June 27, Hicks said the SOS ordinance is to prevent degradation of Barton Springs over the long run, as in a “death by a thousand cuts.”

One member of SBCA who is not happy with either the city or Stratus is Environmental Board Member Tim Jones. He said of the development, “It’s more of a shotgun blast,” than a cut. However, he admitted that he has been out of town and has not kept up with changes in the agreement. Jones was on the losing end of an Environmental Board vote to support the agreement with 14 conditions. Staff members said Stratus has agreed to all of the conditions except for one prohibiting gas stations on all of the property. They said that condition is still under negotiation.

Hicks also said it is his opinion that the SOS Alliance has chosen a bad case to test the constitutionality of the state’s grandfathering law for development regulations. He said he thought the lawsuit would be “very difficult to win.” He also said he thought the City of Austin should not have been named as a party. If the city has already entered into the agreement with Stratus and SOSA wins the case, he said there is nothing in the plaintiffs’ pleadings that would disrupt the agreement.

Mike Blizzard, a member of SOSA and a political consultant who works with environmental groups on various issues, disagreed. He said if the City Council approved the agreement on a 4-3 vote, he thought it might dissolve the deal. If the Council approves the matter with six or seven members in favor, however, the outcome of the lawsuit would be irrelevant to the agreement, since six members can approve exceptions to the ordinance.

Beall said he expects the board of SBCA to vote on the matter next week.The Council is scheduled to take action on first reading only this week. There were 103 persons who signed up to speak at the last meeting who may speak this week, according to Paul Saldaña, Mayor Gus Garcia’ s executive assistant.

CAMPO PAC votes to

Give Aulick more authority

But executive director cannot change funding time

The region’s transportation planning organization has agreed to grant greater authority to the agency’s executive director in an effort to streamline decision-making.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Advisory Committee agreed last night that decisions on amendments to the region’s Transportation Improvement Program—those that simply approve a change in project sponsorship or in federal funding categories—can now be approved directly by Executive Director Michael Aulick without PAC review.

Most decisions take three months from start to finish in CAMPO’s attempt to include a public hearing process. After a review of the policies of other Metropolitan Planning Organizations around the state, however, CAMPO staff recommended that the PAC delegate some administrative decision-making to the director.

Chair Gonzalo Barrientos described the policy change as moving “basic housekeeping” amendments such as sponsorship changes over to Aulick, thus allowing the CAMPO PAC to concentrate on policy matters that are more significant.

But the policy won’t have the teeth that were initially proposed. Some PAC members, like Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatright, were concerned about allowing Aulick the opportunity to shift the timing of projects from one year to another—as Aulick had initially suggested in a memo.

“If I promise a constituent that we can secure the project and it’s going to move forward . . . and then it doesn’t; it’s going to come back to the PAC,” Boatright said. “If we have a highway or bicycle-pedestrian project that’s being delayed, that reflects badly on me.”

When State Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) suggested a process for moving amendments from the administrative to the public arena, Aulick backed away from his suggestion. He proposed instead that all deferrals and delays in road projects in the five-year Transportation Improvement Program be forwarded to the CAMPO PAC.

“Basically, I do not desire more power,” Aulick told board members. “I’m just trying to simplify the process.”

Frequent critic Roger Baker voiced concern over a proposal that would allow Aulick to change phases in project development, extending planning, development or construction on projects. Baker said delays could effectively kill projects. Although no PAC members expressed objections, Aulick readily agreed to delete the option of “change in phase of project development” from the list of his suggested administrative amendments.

The shift in policy was approved unanimously, after it was moved by Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe and seconded by Hays County Commissioner Bill Burnett.

Aulick also agreed to provide annual progress updates on bicycle-pedestrian projects, which will be presented around the time CAMPO files its annual federal funds obligation report, generally between December and February.

Both Capital Metro and the City of Austin had expressed objections to changes in the policy on how project cost increases would be handled. Aulick recommended delaying a vote on the option. Under the memo handed out by Aulick, “any increase in the cost of a project is the responsibility of the sponsoring agency.” The amendment states that CAMPO’s funds are a fixed amount each year and sub-allocated, and could not be used to cover project cost increases.

In Fact Daily was on vacation last week. For news from June 24-June 28, click here. Click

Thursday

, Friday .

Mayor goes to Washington . . . Mayor Gus Garcia is in Washington, D.C. today to testify before the House subcommittee on water and power. Congressman Lloyd Doggett has filed a bill ( HR 4739) to allow Austin to receive federal funding for the Austin water re-use initiative, according to Paul Saldaña, one of the mayor’s executive assistants . . . Short ZAP meeting tonight . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission, which had planned to take a holiday this week, will be considering two zoning cases that are part of the Stratus proposal. After initial approval, the commission learned that the process would have to be repeated due to a notification error. The meeting is expected to be brief since the only other item on the agenda is appointment of two members to serve on the gentrification task force recently created by the City Council . . . More Stratus today? . . Look for more announcements on improvements to the agreement between Stratus Properties and the City of Austin—perhaps as early as today—from Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman.

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

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