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Organizers of the first-ever regional summit meeting to promote regional cooperation to protect the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer are describing it as a success. The summit, initiated by Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher and Hays County Judge Jim Powers, saw extensive participation from governmental and non-profit entities from Travis and Hays Counties.

Monday, December 9, 2002 by

“We have people from all over the Barton Springs Zone and beyond,” said Slusher. “That’s what we need to get a regional plan that’s going to protect the aquifer and help the region be sustainable as it grows. I’m pleased with the turnout and also the cooperative spirit of the group.” In addition to representatives from the City of Austin, Hays County and Travis County, representatives from Kyle, Dripping Springs, the LCRA, TxDOT, Guadalupe- Blanco River Authority, Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council, Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, Edwards Aquifer Authority and the SOS Alliance attended the meeting along with private citizens and activists. “Just about everyone agreed that we need to have some kind of regional protection for the aquifer,” Slusher said, “and we laid out some of the differences we have in getting there. That’s the fist step to solving those differences.”

Craig Smith, a member of the board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, applauded the cooperation between different parties working to protect the region’s groundwater. “One of the most important issues is recognizing that our common goals and interests are beyond our parochial interests,” Smith said. “If we can look for those common interests we can find common solutions.” But as the group looked for solutions, Smith also cautioned against a possible backlash from new residents dealing with new regulations. “We need a program for retrofitting the existing development,” he said. “There are issues of fairness that are involved in trying to load all the burden of protecting our environment onto people who are moving into the area, while not doing anything about those people who have lived here for years and may live in a house that was built before there were water quality controls, such as my house. The burden needs to be shared through the whole community.”

After a morning welcome session and remarks from a panel of experts, participants gathered for smaller work sessions to discuss different ways to protect the aquifer and formulate recommendations. Suggestions from those groups included: • Focusing on collaborative approaches,

• Recognizing equal status for all political jurisdictions within the Barton Springs Zone while recognizing the rights of land-owners, • Considering the use of incentives for desirable development instead of heavy-handed regulation,

• Boosting public education efforts, and

• Securing additional funding for groundwater conservation districts and money to preserve open space.

Some of those efforts, Slusher noted, could require action from the Texas Legislature. “Most legislation takes at least two sessions to make it into law, so it’s important to try to get something filed this time that we can agree on,” he said.

Participants of the summit left the door open for future action. Some delegates were in favor of a series of public meetings modeled after those held by Envision Central Texas, while others focused on efforts to get different jurisdictions to adopt conforming development regulations. There was also some discussion of creating a Regional Planning Commission as allowed under the Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391 ( http://www.du.edu/transportation/MPO/pdf/Vol_II_Sec_VI_G.pdf). Such a commission would only have the ability to do studies or plans, and would not have any regulatory authority.

However, a bill passed into law during the last session of the Texas Legislature could grant new authority to counties to regulate development. Hays and Travis Counties could attempt to adopt new subdivision regulations similar to those used by cities to regulate lot size and setbacks, impose impact fees and establish right of way under the provisions of SB 873. (See In Fact Daily, October 24, 2002)

Until the passage of Senate bill 873 in the last session, counties had very little regulatory authority. But now, some counties in the state have the same authority to regulate subdivision development as cities—something officials in Hays County hope will help the county work with others in protecting the environment while also promoting economic growth, officials said at the Central Texas Regional Environmental Summit on Friday.

The bill—which has not been implemented by any county yet—applies to counties with a population of 700,000 or more, as well as counties that are adjacent to those and share a metropolitan statistical area with the larger county and border counties with 150,000 or more inhabitants. There are 30 counties that meet these requirements, including Travis, Hays, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties in Central Texas.

“This is an opportunity for counties to step into a richer and more detailed role in planning,” said Jeff Barton, the community relations and planning manager at Doucet & Associates, Inc., an engineering firm. Barton, a former Hays County commissioner, spoke about county powers at the summit. He said that the bill would help counties become more involved in regional stormwater issues, water regulation, tree preservation and the placement of commercial signs. But he said that counties have been slow to implement the new authority because it is a major change and the bill’s language is hard to understand.

Hays County Judge Jim Powers is looking forward to implementing the authority into the county plan. “What we have to begin doing is putting some teeth into this legislation and to apply the rules right so we don’t end up with a lawsuit,” Powers said. He said county officials are still brainstorming ideas and putting together timetables, and hope to have a long-term plan in six to eight months. He was also optimistic about the future of regional cooperation that many at the summit stressed is the main way to preserve the landscape of Central Texas.

“It’s kind of the beginning of a process that has been needed for some time,” Powers said, “Even though we might disagree—that’s ok. Let’s find a way to make a better community.”

Thomas Mattis, the city manager of Kyle, said that the summit needed to do a better job of helping counties find a proper balance between a city’s growth and natural preservation. He said one way to do this is to bring people other than elected officials into the discussion. “We need to find a way to bring people from the private sector into this,” he said. “Developers play a big part in this question.”

While the population of Kyle has grown nearly five times over the last decade, he said, the problems the city faces are no different than other cities that have undergone a population boom. Water supply, sewage issues and development, he said, are the city’s main issues. He also looks forward to the regional cooperation with other counties to explore the environmental issues of Central Texas.

“We think its imperative from our stand point,” he said. “We’re excited about this opportunity, especially with all that is going on in Kyle.”

Transportation resolution Offers chance for argument

Slusher, bike activist trade barbs over bike lanes

When Council Member Danny Thomas put a resolution on last week’s agenda asking the City Manager to review bicycle route recommendations from the Urban Transportation Commission, he probably thought the item would pass without fanfare or controversy. The UTC wants the city to put bicycle lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca as soon as possible. However, Austan Librach, the city’s transportation director, said his staff had studied putting the lanes in and found those streets unsuitable for such changes in the near term. He pointed out that the pair represents the main arterials for automobile traffic moving north-south through downtown. Council Member Daryl Slusher asked Thomas whether his resolution could be amended to simply request that the city look for a safe north-south route for bicycles downtown and report back in 90 days. He said there is already too much disruption of traffic through downtown at present.

Tommy Eden, bicycle activist and UTC board member, told the Council that activists from the cycling community had met with staff during Great Streets stakeholder meetings. “Every month a member of the bicycling community would point out that staff would put the convenience of drivers over the safety of bicyclists.” Bicyclists are dying on those same busy streets where cyclists are trying to get the lanes, he said, noting that Guadalupe and Lavaca are the streets most heavily used by bicyclists. “And Council Member Slusher is worried about the loss of a traffic lane or some parking spaces . . . That is totally unacceptable” Slusher asked, “But wouldn’t you agree that bicyclists have some responsibility to try to find safe routes?”

Eden was incensed, replying, “I believe that the city has a responsibility to make every street in the city safe for bicycles and pedestrians.” But Slusher wouldn’t let the matter die, taking Eden to task for riding on the Drake Bridge (First Street) instead of using the cantilevered walkway/bicycle lane. “If you want to make it safe for cyclists . . . You’re out there riding in the traffic. . . I just don’t think that’s very responsible, if you want to talk about responsibility.”

Eden said the cantilevers do not take cyclists all the way to Cesar Chavez, so it is his opinion that it is safer to ride in the middle lane of the bridge. Slusher then asked about use of the Pfluger Bridge and more argument ensued. Finally, the motion was approved, but not before Thomas insisted that staff look at Guadalupe and Lavaca, as well as other downtown streets, for safe routes for cyclists.

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

Health care rescheduled . . . The City Council health care committee will attempt to meet again at 3:30pm today. Last week’s meeting was cancelled for lack of a quorum. The Council committee on MBE/WBE matters is scheduled to meet at 6pm Tuesday. The tedious task of deciding what to do about the professional services matrix is back on the agenda . . . Board of Adjustment to hear Hyde Park variance request . . . The Sign Review Board has seven cases, mostly dealing with signs for public schools, on its agenda and the Board of Adjustment has 13, so it could be a lengthy meeting. Consultant Sarah Crocker is asking for a variance in the Hyde Park neighborhood, which frequently brings out a large contingent of naysayers. The Texas Hillel Foundation, represented by Amelia Lopez-Phelps, has requested a variance to eliminate 71 off-street parking spaces in order to enlarge a recreation center at 2105 San Antonio. The foundation is also requesting other variances on the setbacks and height of the building . . . Zoning cases postponed . . . The City Council last week granted indefinite postponements for two cases in the Carson Creek Watershed because the members of the watershed protection staff are conducting engineering studies which may change the configuration of the flood plain, according to Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department Director Alice Glasco. She said the change in the flood plain may mean that some or all of the land being considered is in the 25-year flood plain—where buildings are prohibited. Glasco said the cases would probably come back to Council in June, but Paul Linehan of Land Strategies, Inc. asked to return to Council in January with his LI request for property at 829 Bastrop Highway. Linehan said his client, Anton Equipment, had hired Espey Huston to devise a solution to the flooding problem. He said, “To have an indefinite postponement until the study is done, until June of next year, after we’ve been doing this for four or five months, is kind of nuts because we have been studying it.” Glasco said she would bring the case back sooner if the plan meets approval of city watershed staff. Lauretta Dowd was the consultant on the other case and she had apparently agreed to the postponement before the meeting since she was not present. Shortly after that exchange, irate citizen John Empy got up to harangue the Council for flooding on his property in the Carson Creek Watershed.

©

2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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