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Neighbors fear loss of land for Balcones Canyonlands Preserve

Monday, November 18, 2002 by

The Zoning and Platting Commission has approved another request to subdivide land at Medway Ranch in western Travis County. The subdivision request for Phase 3 of the project would allow the creation of 62 single-family lots on 126 acres. “As all of us know, on subdivisions, if they meet ordinance requirements, the commission has no discretion,” Commission Chair Betty Baker reminded fellow commissioners at the start of discussion on the controversial tract.

Members of a group called Concerned Citizens for Medway Preserve have opposed most of the requests made by the property owner, citing the city’s desire to include the land in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCCP) along with several other objections. (See In Fact Daily, May 14, 2002 .) They again protested Phase 3, challenging the item’s presence on last week’s ZAP agenda. “The developer’s application for Phase 3 is illegal, and we have not been able to find the written justification in the records,” said Don Gardner. “Code requires written justification in the file from the developer, although it was asked for two weeks ago.”

ZAP Case Manager Joe Arriaga told commissioners, however, that the file was in order. “The application was granted an extension . . . they requested a 30-day extension and it was granted” he said. Commissioners decided to hear the case after consulting with staff on the requirements for extending a subdivision request and public notification.

Consultant Sarah Crocker, representing the landowner, told commissioners her client was negotiating with the city and county to sell the property. “Medway has been number one on their purchase list for a number of years,” Crocker said. “My client put up a willing seller letter . . . If the negotiations are successful, then the city and county will jointly buy Medway Ranch. However, until that occurs, my client is entitled to obtain his entitlements to develop his property.”

Commissioner Diana Castañeda noted that ZAP approval for a subdivision of the property could affect its value. “If that’s the case,” she asked, “doesn’t that mean the city and county and the BCCP will end up paying a higher price for the property?” But Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry reminded commissioners that they could not take that into account when making their decision, and denying the subdivision request with the intention of making it easier to purchase the lot would be improper. “You may not use your regulatory authority to deny or grant or otherwise cause property values to increase or decrease if it will put you in a better position vis-à-vis purchasing that property,” she said.

The final vote to approve the subdivision application was 5-0-1, with Casteñada abstaining. Gardner warned that the group would not abandon its efforts to prevent development there. “We are preparing a legal challenge here because we have asked and asked and asked and have not received the answers to our questions,” he said. “Many people now understand that the Balcones Canyonlands itself is on the verge of collapsing, because the City of Austin has permitted too many acres to save the endangered species. If the City of Austin permits Medway Ranch, this one single tract could cause the whole Balcones Canyonlands Plan to collapse.”

Most neighbors support local eatery's request

Residents of South Austin lined up to support the owner of Taco Xpress on South Lamar at Thursday night’s meeting of the Board of Adjustment. The community backing helped restaurant owner Maria Corbalan secure a variance to allow her to continue using two gravel-covered areas for customer parking. The board voted 4-1 to grant the variance, with Board Member Betty Edgemond opposed. The variance will reduce the number of required number of off-street parking spaces for the business from 40 to 17.

Although a city zoning inspector had notified Corbalan that her parking did not meet code, she told board members it had not been a problem. “What I’m asking from you is to allow me to continue to park in the gravel area like I’ve been doing for six years without causing any problems,” she said. “Obviously people don’t think it’s a problem . . . I’ve gathered over 700 signatures.”

South Lamar Neighborhood Association President Bryan King and Michael Heffernan of the Zilker Neighborhood Association led the list of neighborhood activists supporting the South Austin restaurant. “The business in question actually has access to the required parking, but is unable to pave it because it’s located within the right-of-way,” Heffernan said. “In this case, the city’s retroactive application of paving requirements has definitely created a hardship for existing businesses.”

One area resident did sign up to oppose the parking-space variance, citing the effect of business-related traffic on his quality of life. “We have cars consistently parked in front of our house on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Leland Decker. “Since she’s come in, we’ve had beer cans and other trash show up in our yard that didn’t show up before. It also blocks the street with cars on either side. It creates a hazard in the neighborhood.”

Edgemond moved to deny the variance, but that motion failed for lack of a second. The motion for approval came from Board Chair Herman Thun. “They’re not going to be able to pave the right-of-way,” Thun said. “If we were to deny it, we’d put her out of business.” He also noted that the peculiar parking situation along that stretch of Lamar was not unique to the area. “That’s what makes South Austin, quite frankly, and I’m not going to destroy it.” He suggested that Corbalan work with Decker to find ways to discourage people from parking in the neighborhood. But Decker did not seem to embrace the idea, telling Corbalan on the way out of the meeting to “stay on your side of Lamar.”

County ordinance also still pending after months

The Solid Waste Advisory Commission last week approved a work plan for 2002-2003, which includes considering the expansion of the city’s recycling ordinance. The ordinance currently requires recycling by all apartment complexes with 100 or more units and all businesses with more than 100 employees. The advisory group also postponed consideration of a resolution involving landfills owned by Browning-Ferris Industries and Waste Management Incorporated in Northeast Austin.

J.D.’s resolution—named for longtime SWAC Commissioner J.D. Porter, who drafted it—was tabled until next month so that it could be revised. It was drafted in response to ongoing complaints from the residents of Northeast Austin that three nearby landfills are causing strong odors. Two of the three landfills—which are located near the intersection of Hwy. 290 East and Giles Road—are currently active.

“The landfills are causing total havoc in the lives of thousands of people from Parmer and beyond,” said Trek English, president of the Northeast Action Group. “It’s so strong that you can smell it inside your car with your windows rolled up.” She said that she would like the resolution to stop any further expansion of the landfills. While the commission won’t discuss the details of the resolution, English said that she is happy with its goals.

“[J.D.’s resolution] brings together the city and county to help abate nuisance and other threats to public health,” Rhodes said. The number of complaints has risen since the weather has cooled because the odors burn away during the hotter months, and spread more quickly in cool air, he added.

Porter said the resolution focuses on local control and enforcement. “We’re trying to take initiative that local entities have equal enforcement powers under the law” rather than relying on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, he said. In the past, there hasn’t been local enforcement because of a lack of funding and options. “We are trying to identify a methodology to allow the city and county to utilize the authority given by the state and federal government.” He said they are taking more time to talk to attorneys for both the city and the county. Travis County has for months been trying to reach an agreement with the three landfill companies that will also satisfy the northeast area neighbors. (See In Fact Daily June 6, 2002 ; July 10, 2002. )

Willie Rhodes, director of the Solid Waste Services Department, said that the department would consider lowering the number of units that are mandated to comply with the city’s recycling regulations. Currently about 98 percent of apartment complexes and 96 percent of businesses are in compliance with the ordinance, he said.

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

Looking on the bright side . . . Paul Saldaña, chief aide to Mayor Gus Garcia, believes that DSMBR Director Lino Rivera, who has been reassigned pending the outcome of a criminal investigation, will be exonerated when the investigation is complete . . . No downtown street fight this week . . . The City Council has once again postponed consideration of recommendations for changing the downtown street plan. Consideration of the plan was postponed until Dec. 5 . . . ULI to present Hudnut . . . The Urban Land Institute is hosting a speech by William Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis and former Congressman. As mayor, he gained “a national reputation for revitalizing” his city, according to the. He is scheduled to speak on “Smart Economic Growth” at the ULI luncheon at the Four Seasons, 11:30am-1:30pm Wednesday . . . Neighborhood Plan Committee to meet . . . The Neighborhood Planning Committee of the Planning Commission meets at 5:30pm today in Room 500 of One Texas Center to talk about the Govalle/ Johnston Terrace Combined Area Neighborhood Plan . . . Urban Transportation tonight also . . . The Urban Transportation Commission is scheduled to discuss the 7th Street corridor plan and ways to improve bicycle safety on Lamar Blvd. from 6pm tonight at One Texas Center, 8th Floor Conference Room . . . Arts Commission leadership to be decided . . . The city’s troubled Arts Commission is set to consider a new slate of officers this evening. The nominations committee is recommending Mel Ziegler as chair and Gloria Mata Pennington as vice chair. The commission will also hear committee recommendations on various Arts in Public Places projects . . . Hearing for officer continues . . . A hearing on the indefinite suspension of Police Officer Timothy Enlow has been scheduled for today, Tuesday and Wednesday at 9am in the ABIA Learning and Research Center, 2800 Spirit of Texas Dr . . . Hot tapes of San Antonio conversations . . . The San Antonio Express-News reported yesterday on recorded conversations between alleged bribe recipients Councilmen Enrique Martin and John Sanders. The newspaper reports that the bribery case is based on conversations taped by Peter Estevez, who allegedly handed over money—and promised more—for a satisfactory vote. That vote would have given the law firm Linebarger Goggan Blair Peña & Sampson, a contract to collect the city’s delinquent Municipal Court fines . The story is online at

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc.

All rights reserved.

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