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Attorney says failure to extend Escarpment would open city to suit

Friday, March 21, 2003 by

In spite of pleas from dissident members of the Circle C Homeowners Association, the City Council voted 7-0 yesterday to fund the extension of Escarpment Boulevard from its current termination point to SH 45. The road will be the site of a new fire station for the area and is part of the Circle C annexation service plan. Two weeks ago, the Council postponed funding the $2.3 million project at the behest of those same residents. (See In Fact Daily, March 7, 2003.) Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry warned the Council that they would be violating their settlement agreement with the homeowners association if they failed to extend the road. The group could file suit to have the area deannexed as a result, she said. The city agreed to extend the road as part of an annexation plan, which is governed by state law, Terry added.

Brad Rockwell, attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance, interpreted state law differently than Terry, saying the Council has a constitutional right to change the roadway plan and should avoid extending the street, which is over the Barton Springs section of the Edwards Aquifer.

The main thrust of remarks from Circle C residents was that the homeowners association does not represent the will of the residents, but instead serves development interests. Carl Kernodle, who is running against homeowners association Vice President Steve Bartlett, an associate of Gary Bradley, told the Council that he gathered about 365 signatures on a petition opposing extension of the road before the petition drive was squelched by the current board. Kernodle said, “What I had found was that 70 percent of the neighbors were not in support and 10 percent said they didn’t have enough information and 20 percent were emphatically in support” of extending Escarpment.

Homeowner Susan Schaffel said, “We invested our money in our homes and have elected a board to act in our interests and then they decided to withhold information from us.” She said the three-member board was acting in the best interest of development interest such as Gary Bradley and Stratus Properties because the extension would allow more development in the area.

But Circle C resident Royal Masset told the Council he was shocked when he saw people testifying against the roadway extension and accompanying fire station on TV two weeks ago. He said he, his children, and his elderly mother need a fire station closer than the 4.6 mile distance between his house and the station that is currently closest to them.

Bill Gammon, a strong opponent of the current board, told the Council they should postpone their vote until next Thursday, the day after the homeowners association’s annual meeting and election of officers. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman asked Gammon how many board positions would be elected and he told her just one—which she no doubt considered in reaching her decision.

Gammon told In Fact Daily later that if the current board’s opponents can get Kernodle elected it will reflect a fundamental change in the climate at Circle C. “If he is on the board, the other two would realize that they have to stop treating people like children,” he said, adding that he believes the homeowners in general would not support filing the suit.

But Ken Rigsbee, the association’s treasurer, said, “Two to one is no different from 3-0.”

Old West Austin neighborhood argues against landowner

A California owner has failed in his efforts to convince the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) to go along with removal of the historic zoning designation on his Old West Austin property, even though the house burned to the ground eight years ago.

The empty Armstrong-Odom House was a certified eyesore in that neighborhood a decade ago when the city labeled it substandard. A 1992 inspection report from the Department of Building Safety determined the house was “badly vandalized,” with open access to vagrants. At the time, the Buildings and Standards Commission stepped in to save the Victoria-era house, over the objections of neighbors.

According to an article in the Austin-American Statesman in 1993, William Chuang of Chuang’s Investments bought the Armstrong-Odom House in 1991 for his son, who was then a student in the University of Texas’ School of Architecture. Chuang wanted his son to live in the house, but he believed it was too dilapidated to be occupied. Chuang twice asked for approval to demolish the house, both times receiving denials from the city.

At this week’s HLC meeting, residents from the Old West Austin neighborhood (OWANA) argued that the property at 614 Blanco St. still deserved its historical designation. With or without a house, the ground itself was historic, neighbors said. OWANA leaders said the homestead had been shamefully neglected and had burned down under suspicious circumstances.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to keep the historic zoning on the property. Chair Lisa Laky recommended taking no action on lifting the Historic designation on the property. Doing nothing would give the HLC some latitude in the development of the property. Commissioners could wait until a Certificate of Appropriateness comes to the HLC after development plans are drawn.

Homeowner Wayne Orchid brought photographs of the house, which sits on over an acre of land in the middle of the Old West Austin neighborhood, only blocks from West Austin Park. Architect Arthur Watson built the house in 1895. Austin banker William Armstrong owned the house first, followed by petroleum engineer Will Odom. The land on which the house sat is valued at a little more than a half-million dollars.

Judy Lee, who represented Chuang at the hearing, denied he had had any role in the arson of the house, calling it “a shame.” She admitted that Chuang had not filed any plans for the property yet, but wants it zoned for a commercial use.

Commissioner David West countered that argument, saying “I hold the owner completely responsible that the house is no longer there,” West said, adding that Chuang had an obligation to maintain the house.

Homeowner Linda MacNeilage presented the commission with a petition by 90 percent of the property owners in the neighborhood, all opposed to removing the historic designation. Homeowner Mark Wood added that most of the property in the area had been zoned SF-3 because neighbors believed it gave them the most input into zoning issues.

Wood pointed out that OWANA is already seeking historic district zoning for the neighborhood. The property could have any number of uses that would be compatible with the neighborhood, including providing a resting place for another historic building.

Upgrade should mean less need for rationing

An Environmental Board vote supporting variances for a Lake Austin area water treatment plant expansion moves the project one step closer to reality—an upgrade that would reduce the need for water rationing that plagued 400-plus Rob Roy subdivision residents last summer.

Board members unanimously approved variances to natural buffer and impervious cover limits after hearing that the project was needed for state water quality regulations rather than to supply new homes. “There’s not much additional demand for homes since we’re hemmed in on all sides . . . we’re not accommodating new growth,” said Dan Ryan, the project’s lead engineer for Murfee Engineering Company.

The plant, which treats water in the Travis County WCID #20, occupies a plot at 1413 Weston Lane. The expansion requires impervious cover over the limits of the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance that regulates the area, so engineers for the project requested a variance. An addition of 1,500 square feet of concrete, buildings and wells would bump the total impervious cover to 32.5 percent of the net site area, much higher than the 20 percent allowed. Additionally, the site would only include a 26 percent natural buffer instead of the 40 percent required.

However, engineers and city staff from the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department—which recommended approval of the variances—noted that the plant was built in 1983 before the water quality ordinance was enacted. Additionally, runoff would actually be reduced with a new rain harvesting system on the building roofs that would funnel water back to be treated for drinking.

“This seems like the way to go,” said Board Member Tim Jones.

The district’s construction plans have received no complaints from nearby residents, who are eager to get a reliable water supply, Ryan said. Construction is slated to start in late summer with completion by the summer of 2004, he said. A $6 million bond measure in the water district will fund the expansion, which still needs Planning Commission approval for the variances.

Ryan said stricter state regulations on turbidity (how cloudy the water is) forced the existing plant to reduce its capacity during last summer’s heavy rains, which left the Colorado River clouded with sediment. The reduced capacity forced mandates for no lawn watering for Rob Roy homeowners and nearly reached a point where residents would be required to boil their water before drinking it, he added.

In yesterday’s edition, In Fact Daily reported that Travis County “has taken over the primary ‘caretaker’ role for the management of the ( Balcones Canyonlands Preserve) land and filed applications for most of the grants, said Environmental Officer John Kuhl.” Not true, wrote Laurie Lentz of the City of Austin’s Water & Wastewater Department. “That is not an accurate representation of who is taking care of BCP lands. Here’s the actual breakdown of which entities manage the BCP lands. Of the total 30,428 acres proposed for BCP, City of Austin manages 13,000 acres, or 43 percent. Travis County manages 2,300 acres, or 10 percent. LCRA manages 9 percent. The Nature Conservancy of Texas manages 14 percent. Other private partners, including Travis Audubon Society, manage 13 percent. Ten percent is yet to be acquired.” She added that the city has been the forerunner in implementing management plans for the BCP, including initiation of intensive population monitoring for Golden Cheeked Warblers and Black Capped Vireos . . . Zoning . . . The City Council, as expected, postponed a majority of the 36 new zoning cases on yesterday’s agenda. They did act on first reading for five properties on Koenig Lane, approving some for LO and some for NO . . . Pipeline ordinance postponed . . . The Council took comments but no action on the hazardous pipeline ordinance which would require new buildings to be set back between 200 and 500 feet from pipelines such as the one owned by Longhorn Partners. City Manager Toby Futrell said staff would like to have a work session on the matter on April 2 and an agenda item on April 3 . . . Covering the war . . . For news hounds and professionals who are curious about how Texas newspapers stacked up on the first reporting on the war on Iraq, the Texas Media Watch web site is a must. Here’s the link: http://www.texasmediawatch.com/warcoverage.htm . . . Forum Saturday . . . UT Campus Independent Texans, which says it is a non-partisan group, is holding a City Council candidate forum in Room 2.208 of the Chemical & Petroleum Building (at 26th and Speedway). Candidates have received a questionnaire. The responses can be found at http://www.independenttexans.org (click on 2003 Austin candidates). For more information, call 303-2704.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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