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ZAP Chair wonders why 15-foot strip should be a problem

Monday, August 26, 2002 by

The owners of 10 acres landlocked by property owned by Stratus Properties told the Zoning and Platting Commission last week that they have had trouble reaching agreement with the corporation for access to Southwest Parkway. Without the access, they cannot get a variance needed to subdivide their land.

Don Perryman, a planner with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR), told commissioners he was not sure what to do about the case before them. He said he had expected to get a joint access easement document for property belonging to Lynn and Mark Hall and had recommended a variance based on that expectation. A parcel without frontage on a street or highway must have a variance in order to subdivide. “Access needs to be obtained through an adjacent owner—Stratus. Without this easement, staff cannot recommend a variance for lots with no access on a public street.”

Perryman said neither the document nor a postponement request had been filed before last week’s meeting. “Other than not recommending it and killing the case, we’re a little lost about what to do.” Perryman told In Fact Daily that he had never encountered a similar situation during his years reviewing subdivision variances.

Chair Betty Baker asked how long the request had been on file with the city. Perryman told her, “This current version was filed in February or early March. It’s almost at the 180-day deadline.” He noted that the application had previously been withdrawn and resubmitted.

Baker called on consultant Sarah Crocker, who represents the Halls, to answer the question: “Why if you were unable to get an easement signed did you not ask for a postponement?”

Crocker explained that she had been working on this case for the past two years and until Friday afternoon thought the documents would be signed on time. “Unfortunately that process just sort of jumped the tracks,” she said, because the adjacent landowner had prescribed conditions that were not acceptable to her clients. She said the Halls plan to build one or two residences on their property and are seeking a 12-14-foot driveway easement. To make the problem more complicated, the driveway would cross Stratus’ property and then go across property Stratus sold to the City of Austin. Crocker said the city has an exclusive easement across the developer’s land to Southwest Parkway, which her clients would like to use also. But, under the conditions of the easement Stratus granted to the city, the city is not allowed to grant an easement to anyone else without Stratus’ permission.

Baker said, “I don’t mean to be tacky, but didn’t Stratus just get a $15 million package from the City of Austin and (now they) will not give up a 15-foot easement?”

Crocker said, “We’re still in negotiation on the matter and we’re hopeful that we can get something done . . . they are landlocked and without this easement they will not be able to subdivide this property. So we are still talking to Stratus.”

Baker asked Perryman if there was any chance for mediation. She said she didn’t want to postpone the matter only to have it come back to the ZAP with no resolution. “If there’s not going to be any meaningful dialogue, it’s probably going to the courthouse. Is that a fair assumption?”

He agreed that it was. He said the subdivision application would expire in two weeks unless the ZAP postponed it. Baker asked Perryman to provide a copy of the city’s easement to the commission within the week.

The commission postponed the matter until Sept. 17.

Contacted later, Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong said, “I don’t know much about the situation. I know that they have some property near Barton Creek and we’re just trying—as best I can tell—to accommodate them. Clearly, we want to try to understand what they’re doing, but if they want to have access through something that we’re building, we think it’s only fair that they at least pay a pro rata share of the cost that we incur. So, I don’t know why they would describe this as problems—but welcome to the development business!”

Variance for bridge better alternative for trees

The Environmental Board voted last week to recommend a variance that would allow construction of a bridge over a creek to gain access to 17 lakefront lots in a proposed subdivision along the shores of Lake Austin. The development plans call for a total of 392 single-family lots on a 382.8-acre tract.

The project is part of Steiner Ranch Phase One, located in the city’s two-mile ETJ at Quinlan Park Road and Country Trails Lane. Most of the homes would be built in plateau areas up from the lake, but a total of 27 lots are proposed along the waterfront. A middle school is also proposed for the development.

A variance is required for the bridge because it involves construction in a Critical Water Quality Zone. Paul Sanchez, an environmental specialist with the Watershed Protection Development and Review Department (WPDR ), told the board that staff supports the variance, with conditions, because the proposed placement of the bridge would be less disruptive than at alternate locations.

“We worked with the applicant extensively,” he said, and the proposed site of the bridge, which is along an old “truck trail” from previous commercial use of the land, is clearly the best choice. The only tree that will need to be removed, he said, is a 14-inch elm, but the best alternate route would require the removal of 53 trees. “Any other location would result in extensive damage of vegetation and disturbance of slopes over 15 percent,” he said.

Sanchez told the Board the total impervious cover for the development would be 24.4 percent of the net site area. Vice Chair Tim Jones questioned the wisdom of allowing that much, even though it’s below the city’s cap of 25 percent.

“It seems to me that you’re going beyond the bounds of what that stream can handle.” Jones said he had visited the site and observed how the stream meanders sharply through sandy loam, thus being subject to greater erosion with increased development. With a large rain, there won’t be any protection, Jones said. “How do you justify that?”

Sanchez told him the developer does not intend to alter the floodplain enough to create runoff problems. “They’re not going to modify the floodplain,” he said.

Susan Scallon, with WPDR, explained that the development was proposed with “buckets” of impervious cover for the entire Steiner Ranch project.

Jones seemed only partially satisfied. “Clustering is a good idea but I can see how it could get out of control,” he said.

Tony Shaleesh of Cunningham-Allen, representing the applicant, said the drainage would be spread out extensively so it would not flow into the creek in one concentrated area. “We feel the result is a minimal impact on the environment,” he said.

Chair Lee Leffingwell said he would support the variance with conditions. “The compelling reason for me to vote for this variance is that it’s better than the other way,” he said.

Jones concurred. “This bridge design is far superior to what would be coming down that hill,” he said, referring to an alternate route that would have a road cutting through more dense vegetation on slopes greater than 15 percent.

Board Member Phil Moncada made a motion for recommendation, with staff conditions relating to water quality measures and tree replacement. He added a condition to use the existing truck trail.

Leffingwell added a condition for a deed restriction requiring one of the lots to remain undeveloped, to serve as part of a greenbelt. The vote was 7-0 with Board Member Ramon Alvarez abstaining. Board Member Susana Almanza was absent.

In other action, the board voted unanimously to recommend approval of the WPDR budget for the next fiscal year. Jody Hamilton, a division manager in the department, gave the board a presentation on the proposed, $52.6 million budget.

In terms of revenue for the department, Hamilton said, “we’re predicting a stable amount for next year, no further drop.” She cited an increase in building and remodeling permits as an indicator.

The board also listened to a presentation on air quality and engine idling. Fred Blood, with the Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department, told board members the city has taken some steps to reduce the amount of time motorists spend idling their engines. “We try to encourage people to park their cars to go into the bank, or McDonald’s,” he said.

Air quality and auto emissions

Leffingwell said the city’s long-term objective should be an ordinance restricting engine idling. “I’ve heard there are some cities that have anti-idling ordinances,” he said.

Blood wasn’t sure, but he thought he recalled instances in New England where motorists had been fined for illegal idling. Jones said he thought there was a law in Frankfurt, Germany, to prevent people from letting their engines idle while stopped at traffic lights.

The city has three programs for city employees that contribute to better air quality by reducing auto emissions, Blood said. Flextime work hours, tele-commuting and compressed workweeks, usually by way of four, ten-hour days, save17,000 vehicle miles a week, he said.

Leffingwell said the issue was too complex for the board to draw any solid conclusions without more research and information. He suggested the board’s air quality subcommittee look into the subject and come back with a report so the board could eventually make some kind of recommendation to the City Council.

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

Agreement finished . . . Federal Judge Sam Sparks has signed off on an agreement worked out between the LCRA, the SOS Alliance and federal agencies to end the lawsuit filed by environmental groups over the LCRA’s Hays County water pipeline and water quality control measures. Sparks had directed the parties to work out additional language before he gave his stamp of approval to the settlement. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 15th, 2002.) SOSA Executive Director Bill Bunch says they were able to do so without an additional consultation with Sparks. “We addressed his concerns,” Bunch said. The wording limits the judge’s continuing jurisdiction in the case to overseeing the environmental consultation deadlines set forth in the agreement . . . Raising the roof about raises . . . The Travis County Sheriff’s Officers Association has put up three billboards in the city with this message: “ Officer Layla Rendon is standing between the bad guys and your family. Wonder why the politicians think she is unimportant?” Rendon, an 11-year veteran corrections officer with TCSO, is part of an ad campaign to bring the pay of corrections officers into line with that of other members of the sheriff’s department. The association’s web site, says, “Last year, officers from TCSO law enforcement units met secretly with individual members of the Commissioners Court and struck a deal that gave significant pay raises to specific workers. The court also promised to give the same group an additional boost in pay in the 2003 budget. The majority of officers working in the jails were left out.” The web site also says corrections officers took over the association after last year’s budget deal, so now there are two sheriff’s officer organizations . . . Postponed . . . The City Council postponed action on second and third readings for a zoning case for a grocery store at 4604/4606 Teri Road in South Austin Thursday. They decided to postpone the matter after hearing from a concerned neighbor who had visited a North Austin grocery store owned by the applicant. Emma Hanna, president of the Franklin Park Neighborhood Association said she had found the La Hacienda Market on North Lamar dirty, with produce on the floor. She also expressed concerns that the grocery store might really be a convenience store—which they do not want. Hanna told the Council there were eight convenience stores within a mile radius of the proposed location, in addition to a Sam’s and a Wal-Mart.

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

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