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Cypress details plans for

Wednesday, October 2, 2002 by

Rock Creek Subdivision

Wendler explains clustering plan for 2700-acre project

Ed Wendler Jr., representing Cypress Realty, shared the company’s plan to develop the Rock Creek Subdivision in northern Hays County with members of the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) this week. Cypress has received preliminary approval for the 2700-acre residential project that would involve more than 2300 residential units and approximately 100,000 square feet of neighborhood-oriented commercial space, Wendler said.

Although the real-estate company (http://www.cypressfunds.com) owns a total of 2700 acres in the Dripping Springs ETJ, Wendler, the project manager, is proposing a design that would restrict development to only 951 acres, leaving the rest for open space, buffers or water quality protection features and wastewater distribution. “I’m a fan of clustering,” Wendler said. “I want to leave as much of it as open space as we can.” George Cofer noted that Wendler already had experience with a similar development on a smaller scale. “Ed has put on the ground a cluster project. It’s like night and day compared with all the other projects we’re seeing,” he said. “Ed has walked the walk.”

Under a development agreement reached between Cypress and Dripping Springs, the subdivision would have a maximum of 2700 units and no more than 36 acres of commercial development. The company has received approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department for impervious cover of 15.95 percent of the net site area. Surveyors have identified 156 karst features—caves, sinkholes, enlarged fractures, springs or disappearing streams—in the subject area, which will be protected by setbacks. The company’s general land plan filed with Dripping Springs includes a golf course, but Wendler said there was only a small possibility that the course would be built.

The company is still negotiating with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to supply water and will also be required to obtain the appropriate wastewater permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (formerly the TNRCC). Assuming negotiations with the LCRA proceed smoothly, Wendler predicts the first lots could be available in about two years.

Several members at the meeting questioned Wendler on the overall level of development, the benefits or hazards of clustering and the necessity for development over the Edwards Aquifer. Colin Clark of the Save Our Springs Alliance noted that the residents of the proposed subdivision commuting to Austin would likely be forced to take an unusual route. “Realistically, you’ll need a connection to FM 1826,” he said. Wendler said Cypress was exploring that option but faced some obstacles. Some Hays County residents have complained to County Commissioners that directing all of the residents of the proposed subdivision onto FM 1826 would overburden that road. While Cypress does have a proposal to connect a road to FM 1826, it would require construction of a bridge over Bear Creek, which Wendler said could be prohibitively expensive. “We’re proceeding ahead whether another road is built or not,” Wendler said. “Cypress owns the land. They’re not going to walk away from that investment.”

Another option is to have the subdivision’s primary entrance and exit on FM 967. In an ideal situation for the developer, Wendler said, a parkway could be constructed from FM 967 north to Austin with no development allowed along the roadway. “To do that, you have to own both sides of the road,” he said. “That way there could be no commercial development on it, no billboards, no driveway cuts. It needs to be owned by a government entity to make sure that promise is kept. Would we like another road? Sure. But there are a zillion political hurdles.”

Although many of those at the SBCA meeting appeared to prefer the clustering design put forth by Cypress to other plans for development in the area, environmental activist Steve Beers challenged Wendler about the company’s plans to build in an environmentally sensitive area. “It appears everyone wants to live where the community doesn’t want them to live,” Beers said. “What do we need to do to move development off of the aquifer?” Wendler’s reply cited market demand as the largest force spurring development in the area. “It makes a lot of sense for us to say we need to be growing east,” Wendler said. “But the decisions people make are often schizophrenic. Until no one wants to buy a home over the aquifer because it’s going to bring more pollution, then you’re going to have growth over there.”

While Cypress Realty is in control of the 2700 acres it owns, three other landowners control thousands of surrounding acres in Hays County. Those three property owners could be invited to a meeting with environmental groups similar to the process used by stakeholders in the discussions over Stratus Properties' holdings at Circle C. Jack Goodman, a member of the board of directors of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, noted that those three groups have not been actively participating in existing regional planning efforts. “If you really want a regional plan, you’ve got to get into the same room with the land owners,” he said.

If all goes as planned, board members would be named in December

Travis County commissioners are moving swiftly toward establishing a board for the proposed Travis-Williamson County Regional Mobility Authority (RMA), appointing a subcommittee to develop criteria and an application form.

The petition for the regional mobility authority suggests a seven-member board, with three members from each county and an appointee from the Governor’s office. The Texas Transportation Commission is set to consider a minute order to create this, the state’s first RMA, at the end of this month. If the minute order is approved, both commissioner courts are expected to approve the RMA the first week of November.

Carol Joseph of the Transportation and Natural Resource Department (TNR) presented some of the criteria to board members—assembled from the two established toll road authorities and state laws—at yesterday’s commissioners court session. TNR staff has recommended the court nominate people who both reside in the county and have professional experience in transportation, business, government, engineering or law. They recommended that the nominees be balanced by gender and ethnicity.

The staff also recommends that one of the nominees should reside within the city limits of Austin. City Council members have raised concerns that city concerns might clash with the RMA board’s priorities.

TNR staff also included reasons that could exclude a person from serving as a director of the RMA: those who own an interest in property that could be acquired for an RMA project; those who have a conflict of interest; elected officials; and Texas Department of Transportation employees. Others excluded would be those who are registered as lobbyists, regularly receive TxDOT contracts or own an interest in a business that regularly receives funds, services or goods from TxDOT.

Commissioner Ron Davis raised concerns early in the discussion, saying that the county should be careful how it proceeds in appointing people. Specifically, Davis was concerned about how much financial liability the county would carry if the RMA could not pay its own debts. Davis suggested the county hire an independent consultant to review the issues, saying that the county should address those issues “to ensure the integrity of the project and make sure the taxpayers are protected at all costs.”

Commissioners agreed to put the topic on next week’s agenda. Davis asked that a financial advisor be included in the discussion to review all the county’s options.

“I think we need to look at safeguards,” Davis said. “I think we need to do our due diligence and housekeeping, so that the taxpayers will know what is going on.”

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner agreed that the county must complete due diligence in the process of creating the RMA since this organization will be the first of its kind. But she also stressed the importance of getting board members in place, quoting Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) that it’s better to start the session “looking like we are waiting on the state, rather than the state waiting on us.”

“The expectations are, if they are approved, that it will be much easier for them to press for changes absolutely necessary if there is an actual RMA to talk about and an actual board to point to,” Sonleitner told her colleagues, adding that the counties are probably more than a year ahead of other RMAs in the state.

County Judge Sam Biscoe said, and commissioners agreed, that board members should be appointed by the beginning of December. He asked that TNR staff clearly distinguish between mandatory and optional criteria. Commissioners Margaret Moore and Sonleitner agreed to sit on a subcommittee to review criteria and a possible application, setting a two-week deadline to return to the court.

A number of local entities—the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, City of Austin, Williamson County, RECA, Capital Area Transportation Coalition and CAMPO—will be consulted during the process. Commissioners agreed to aim for board appointments by the beginning of December.

Two public hearings are scheduled next week to discuss the concept of a Travis-Williamson County Regional Mobility Authority. A hearing on Monday is scheduled at the Texas Department of Transportation at 200 East Riverside Drive, Room 1.A-1. A second hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, at the Williamson County Cedar Park Annex Community Meeting Room at 350 Discovery Blvd. Both hearings are set for 6 p.m.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

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

City Council work session today . . . This morning’s work session features briefings from a consultant hired by the city to review its process for funding arts groups and a status report on work of the city’s Office of Dispute Resolution. Thursday’s agenda is feather light, engendering hopes for an early adjournment . . . Water & Wastewater Commission tonight . . . It looks like smooth sailing for members of the Water & Wastewater Commission, with the only discussion item being the annexation of 2 acres into Travis County Water Control and Improvement District 10. Consent items include recommendations on some large contract amendments, including one to Turner Collie & Braden for an additional $11.8 million for construction and engineering services for the South Austin Regional Wastewater Plant Expansion and Improvements Project. The same project calls for execution of a construction contract with Archer Western Contractors Ltd of Arlington for more than $27 million. The department is also seeking a positive recommendation on an amendment of about $87,000 to a contract with Thonhoff Consulting Engineers for design phase services associated with rehabilitation of three wastewater lift stations in northwest Austin . . . ZAP postpones decision . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission last night postponed a decision on a zoning change for land at Pond Springs Road at San Felipe Boulevard until October 15th. Commissioners wanted the extra two weeks to allow agent Jim Whittliff to present more information about the project to the owner of the nearby Martha’s Vineyard Apartments. Whittliff’s client is requesting a zoning change from MF-3-CO (multi-family housing) to GR in order to open an automobile dealership . . . Clerk honored . . . Yesterday Travis County Commissioners recognized a thrilled County Clerk Dana De Beauvoir as this year’s distinguished alumnus of the LBJ School of Public Affairs. The award recognizes outstanding public service. De Beauvoir, who graduated in 1981, reminisced that the early classes at the LBJ School were taken to visit LBJ’s ranch . . . Triangle briefing delayed . . . An update of transit plans on the Triangle retail project was pulled from Monday’s Capital Metro agenda. Rob Smith said the update would be reassigned to one of the Capital Metro committees within the next month . . . Talkin’ trash . . . More than 1,000 volunteers showed up on Sunday for the 8th Annual Underwater Cleanup at Lake Travis. The cleanup of seven lakeside parks netted 5.75 tons of collected trash, including 700 pounds of recyclable metal. LCRA and Travis County co-sponsored the event, with the assistance of Lake Travis dive shops . . . Blunn Creek opens . . . City officials and others yesterday celebrated the grand opening of a new, multi-family, rental housing project, the Blunn Creek Apartment Complex, within walking distance of St. Edward’s University. All 280 units will be reserved for families with incomes at or below 60 percent of the Median Family Income (MFI) or about $42,650 for a family of four . . . Chamber names new VP . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has named its first vice president of education, Jeffrey Richard. He will assume duties previously assigned to John Fitzpatrick, vice president for workforce development and executive director of the Capital Area Training Foundation.

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

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