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Waste siting ordinance prompts

Wednesday, June 11, 2003 by

Bickering between Biscoe, Davis

Commissioner who represents WMI, neighbors disagrees with changes

Travis County Commissioners spent another laborious day on the waste facility siting ordinance yesterday, devoting three hours to four amendments—considered minor by their author, County Judge Sam Biscoe, but potentially major to Commissioner Ron Davis. Davis represents Precinct 1, home to the Waste Management, Inc. landfill and scores of angry landfill neighbors. Davis voted against almost every one of Biscoe’s proposals, with the refrain that he didn’t have time to study the proposed changes and he still needed to hear from the community.

Biscoe, who expected yes or no votes on the amendments in short order, was sometimes so frustrated with Davis’ ongoing comments and repeated complaints that he refused to recognize the commissioner to his far left.

“You are not recognized any further because we’re not making progress,” Biscoe told Davis at one point during the discussion.

Two changes discussed at last week’s court meeting were added yesterday: Type IV landfills that collect construction debris will be grouped with Type I landfills under a separate ordinance, at the request of Type IV landfill operators. Those landfill operators include the City of Austin. In its amended version, the waste facility-siting ordinance will only apply to sludge, compost and recycling facilities.

The current flood plain ordinance will be incorporated into the siting ordinance. That drew some opposition from residents who were concerned about a proposed amendment to the current floodplain ordinance, presented on May 30 that would give the county some latitude in granting variances for siting of solid waste facilities.

The simple two-line addition of the floodplain ordinance to the waste-siting ordinance was intended to bolster the authority of Travis County and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to include the county’s floodplain ordinance when considering waste facility applications.

Mark McAfee, who owns the historic Barr Mansion with his wife Melanie, said he could support the addition of the floodplain ordinance with some reservations.

“It’s good to me as long as the setbacks are preserved,” McAfee said. “I’m concerned that maybe later on, however, it might make it easier for you to make modifications to the setbacks within this ordinance, make it easier to make changes.”

After 18 months and many hours of discussion, Biscoe could only tell McAfee, “I assure you it will not be easy.”

That drew laughter from the audience.

Changes under the water quality provisions would also provide that the operator agree to an adequate remediation plan in case any pollutants are released from the facility. That motion drew support from Biscoe and Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Margaret Gomez. Davis and Daugherty voted no, raising concerns about the language in the amendment.

Two other changes to the ordinance proposed by Biscoe included an amendment to base the measurement from receptors to be “from the edge of the individual unit in which solid waste is to be processed or disposed of under its permit” out 100 feet. Receptors would include public water wells, schools or day care centers, places of worship, health care facilities or neighborhoods.

Biscoe also proposed a revision of the appeal process under the ordinance, to bring it in line with other permit reviews. The proposed procedure would now give the Executive Manager the chance to review the permit application, take comments from the public and make a decision on the facility. Either side could appeal the decision, with the appeal heard by Commissioners Court.

Biscoe had support from Sonleitner and Gomez on all his amendments. Davis voted against all the motions, except for reluctant support of the addition of the flood plain ordinance. Daugherty voted against the remediation amendment and receptor distance amendment, but supported the other measures. Sonleitner said she supported the receptor amendment, but only to bring it forward for discussion.

After the meeting, Chief Environmental Officer John Kuhl said there is no doubt that the Commissioners Court’s lingering over the ordinance has pushed waste site operators to rush to file permits. Just last week, JD Consulting filed an application permit for a compost facility on behalf of J-V Dirt + Loam.

The compost facility would be located along FM 973 in Northern Travis County. J-V Dirt + Loam’s application is only one of a number of applications that have come through Kuhl’s office while the county has been considering the waste siting ordinance.

Because the changes were not significant, Biscoe proposed posting the revised ordinance for 15 days before adoption. Commissioners intend to vote on the ordinance on June 24.

BOA allows variance for mosque

But prohibits amplified call to prayer

Church on North Lamar will have traditional dome The Board of Adjustment unanimously approved a variance Monday night to increase the maximum height allowed for the NAMCC Mosque at 11900 N. Lamar Blvd. The board granted the variance to allow for a dome and spires, but added, “No amplification of prayers in the exterior of the building.” Neighborhood associations objected to an amplified call to prayer, known as azan, outside the building. The mosque currently amplifies the azan from its current building at the same location.

Jim Bennett, representative for the mosque, said the building height is 27 feet and in compliance with the ordinance. But the dome, which is part of a traditional mosque, would increase the height to 42 feet. The location is zoned W/LO (Warehouse/Limited Office).

Bennett added that there is a 17-foot downward slope over 272 feet from the Lamar property line to the new building. The board granted the variance citing the slope, stating that in any other zone a church could be constructed with a 35-foot height limit plus 15 percent for steeples or spires. Also, since there is a church to the right and the rear of the property, the building would not alter the character of the area.

Council could give final OK to Children's hospital move today

Mueller advisory group declines to take a stand on lease/sale issue

The Austin City Council could give City Manager Toby Futrell authority to execute agreements with the Seton Healthcare Network and Catellus Development Corporation at this morning’s Council work session. Nevertheless, the advisory group for the redevelopment of the city’s former airport is worried that the city will reject the proposed deal.

Chair Jim Walker broached the topic at last night’s meeting of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission. After viewing last week’s Council discussion on Seton, Walker was concerned that the city and health care system might reach an impasse in negotiations, especially over the lease versus sale issue.

“I’m worried, frankly, about losing them at this point, if only because of what that would signal to other major potential employers or employer representatives about Mueller,” said Walker of the prospects. He then joked, “I’m very good about being nervous about very small things.”

As the advisory commission wrote to the City Council and Planning Commission last month, the Seton project would be the first major employer at Mueller and carries tremendous expectations with it. The project, fairly or unfairly, “will bear greater expectations to exemplify the design and social principles in the award-winning, Council adopted Mueller Masterplan,” the commission wrote in its memorandum.

Commissioners agreed last night that the loss of Seton would be a major blow to the redevelopment of the Mueller site. The commission has talked about the Seton deal and its PUD for well over five months now, and the group is convinced the health care system can provide a strong, stable, long-term presence to anchor the northwest corner of the 700-acre redevelopment of the former municipal airport.

The deal also provides some comfort to master developer Catellus. Project Manager Greg Weaver told the group that cutting the deal with Seton would guarantee a revenue stream earlier than expected on the commercial portion of the airport property. That revenue stream—which would be passed from Seton to Catellus to the city to an escrow account—could be used to spur other development on the property.

If Seton is lost, it would be difficult to attract another employer of a similar size in the current office market, Walker said. And it would throw up the “quarantine flag” to any other developers that might have considered the property. Seton also agreed to pay market value for the property, if they can buy, rather than lease, the land. Walker said the “lease versus sale” issue could be a deal-breaker for Seton.

The commission passed on taking a position on the issue. Staff liaison Pam Hefner said such an issue was tremendously complicated and would require a full briefing from city staff. Some non-profits, like Zachary Scott Theater, lease existing buildings from the city. Others, like CSC, have put their own buildings on leased city property. CSC has signed a 99-year ground lease with the city.

The 32 acres for Seton would include a site for a new children’s hospital, an office tower and additional teaching space. A Ronald McDonald House also is planned for the site, as well as a helipad for StarFlight. While the hospital would be off the tax rolls, a number of the support facilities would be eligible to pay tax to the city.

Commissioners did agree they probably needed to tackle the lease versus sale issue at some point in the near future, separate and apart from Seton. The issue is one that has been discussed for years, even if the commission has yet to come down on one side or the other on the issue, Walker said.

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

Wynn’s election team starts firm . . . Mark Nathan and Christian Archer have formed The Archer Nathan Group and they will be moving into the Scarbrough Building at 6th & Congress today. The pair, who managed Will Wynn’s successful mayoral campaign, will continue to assist the new Mayor as consultants. Nathan, a former aide to Wynn, was vice president of Tate Austin before moving to City Hall. Archer has been involved with numerous political campaigns across the state and was executive director of the Texas Democratic Leadership Council . . . Gephardt in Austin . . . Democratic Presidential candidate Dick Gephardt will greet supporters at a rally at the AFL-CIO building at 11th & Lavaca at 9am today. The rally follows an early morning fundraiser at the Four Seasons. The Congressman will be visiting Houston, Dallas and San Antonio as well . . . City Council work session . . . Most of today's meeting will probably be devoted to the Seton Children’s Hospital at RMMA agreement, but the Council is also scheduled to hear from Mayor Gus Garcia on his recent attendance at meetings of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, as well as reports on the Downtown Design Guidelines and activities of the Downtown Commission . . . Round Rock Planning Department . . . The City of Round Rock Planning Department’s move into La Frontera is complete, according to La Frontera’s developers. The permanent address will be 301 W. Bagdad St., Suite 210. An open house is anticipated sometime later this month . . . City seeks commissioners . . . The City of Round Rock is accepting applications for a number of commissions and boards, including the Planning and Zoning Commission, Community Development Advisory Commission, Zoning Board of Adjustments, Ethics Review Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Round Rock Housing Authority and the Building Standards Commission. Applicants must be city residents for at least a year and eligible to vote. The application is available at Deadline to apply is June 20 . . . Call your legislator . . . A report by City Auditor Stephen Morgan to the Audit and Finance Committee of the City Council points to changes the Legislature might make to help Austin recoup more sales tax revenue. Large cities are not allowed to review sales tax data related to individual businesses. Morgan says that errors in the state’s database, including variations on addresses and street names, can mean that local cities do not get the appropriate credit from the state for taxes collected in their jurisdictions. Morgan’s conclusion: “The current laws preventing the State Comptroller from fully sharing sales tax data with the cities are unnecessarily impacting sales tax collection and allocation efforts.”

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