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Commissioners approve flood

Wednesday, July 16, 2003 by

Plain changes for BFI landfill

Neighbors fear changes will cause site to expand upward

County commissioners approved flood plain modifications to Browning-Ferris Industries’ landfill site yesterday over the objections of neighbors who fear it will pave the way for a landfill expansion.

Representatives from BFI had to spend a lot of time denying that their proposal to relocate the flood plain channel on the Sunset Farms site was intended to prepare the landfill for expansion. Neighbors at the meeting argued that the channel project would shrink the footprint of the landfill and give the operator more space to use for an eventual vertical expansion of the site.

At this point, the BFI landfill has from six to seven useful years left. An expansion permit could stretch that life another nine to 12 years, according to BFI estimates.

Yesterday, commissioners were asked to approve a restrictive covenant for maintenance of the proposed flood plain modifications on the BFI site, at 10200 Giles Road. The agreement would set standards for BFI to both modify and maintain a flood plain area formerly maintained by Travis County . Residents of the area, who have been plagued by odor problems, were suspicious of the plans.

“It is apparent to all of us residents that the only reason this measure is necessary is that they are wanting to expand,” resident Joyce Best told the court. “My concern is making sure that whatever that channel does is going to be able to handle all of the drainage from the great deal of developing going on in the area.”

Trek English expressed her continuing frustration that the landfills move on expansion plans while the county continued to hammer out details of a landfill ordinance. She pointed to the hundreds of acres already permitted for construction around the landfill site and said the current channel drained to the east and filled a cell of land that is intended for landfill expansion.

“I do not know whether or not the water can be contained in this channelization,” English said. “I don’t know whether their proposal will enhance this or make it better.”

But county and city ordinances say the channel project must be based on full development, a point made by Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols . BFI’s channel project was approved under a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality . And the landfill operators had agreed to additional conditions set out by the county, such as a second sediment pond and frequent maintenance. Commissioners could offer few objections to a project that could possibly improve the drainage in an area—at a private company’s expense.

“This will improve the drainage characteristics of the property, and it allows for better utilization of a very poorly drained area,” Ray Shull of BFI promised the court in his presentation. “This does not authorization expansion of the landfill in any way. To do that would require extensive public notice, extensive public input and evaluation. This is not a request for that.”

According to written information presented by BFI, the proposed project would be located along an unnamed tributary to Decker Lake from a point just upstream of Giles Lane to a point 3,000 feet farther upstream. The project will consist of filling the flood plain and relocating the main channel. The project met all city, county, state and federal regulations. BFI representatives said the city would release a site development permit once the county signed off on the maintenance agreement.

Shull presented a letter from Applied Materials, expressing its lack of opposition to the project. He promised that the new addition to the property would be aesthetically pleasing. More than 400 trees will be planted in the area, as well as brush, prairie grass and wetland grass. A wetland site on one side of the property will be maintained. Shull said the channel project would be “a very attractive feature” of the site and “one that we can all be proud of, that will really benefit the area.”

That did not put neighbors at ease, but eventually commissioners could find no reason to deny the request. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who drove past the landfills last week, said he was aghast at the smell. No one should be forced to endure that, he said. But Daugherty added that he could support the expansion of the landfills as long as the odor issue was addressed.

Commissioners did want the caveat that the maintenance contract did not imply any support for future expansion of the landfill. The full court approved the contract, with the exception of Commissioner Ron Davis, who represents the area. Davis questioned the compliance history of BFI.

County Judge Sam Biscoe said it is important to approve a project that could be a benefit to the area. He also added that he refuses to consider the maintenance contact to be some kind of tacit approval for the landfill’s expansion. The two are totally separate issues, he said .

Board grants no variances For prime South Austin site

Dawson neighborhood scene of battle over dense project

Nico Ilai may have faced hardships with her Urbane Homes project on West Alpine in South Austin, but it wasn’t the kind of hardship that won over the Board of Adjustment .

Ilai is both a developer and the vice president of the Dawson Neighborhood Association. Three years ago, she submitted site plans to put 18 tightly spaced single-family homes on two acres of vacant land in the 300 block of West Alpine. The project would have been similar to some of the other cottage home developments along Fifth Street and St. Elmo.

The site, however, is one of the few pieces of undeveloped land in South Austin, located between Oltorf and Ben White just off Congress Avenue. Its prime location makes it especially attractive to the city, looking for a permanent home for the Twin Oaks Library. The possibility that the city would condemn the land, however, has put the single-family detached home project in limbo.

Three years later, with no library in sight, Ilai is resubmitting the plans for the development. With a neighborhood plan in place, the project will now require variances for both height and setbacks. Ilai wanted to add another five feet in height to the property and cut setbacks on two sides—one for a detention pond and the other for placement of the residential homes in the project. On one side, the variance would be cut from 25 feet to 7 feet; on the other side, it would be cut from 25 feet to 10 feet.

The West Alpine property is zoned MF-2, which Ilai pointed out would allow her to put 46 multi-family units on the property. And while the property next door is also zoned MF-2, it has a single-family home on it. That brings the height compatibility issues into play, Ilai said. The plans refiled in February were the same ones filed three years ago, but now they require variances.

Opponents from the Dawson Neighborhood Association such as Kelley Smoot were opposed to the Urbane Homes project, questioning the amount of impervious cover, the accuracy of the site plans and the encroachment on neighboring single-family homes. Smoot also doubted whether emergency vehicles could make it to the back of the property if one of the houses caught fire.

“Three years ago, we fought against zoning because we feared this very type of development,” said Smoot, adding that the project gives Ilai the right to sell “mini-parcels of land” without the need to subdivide the property. “For her (Ilai) to say that she is surprised by our opposition doesn’t make any sense. She’s known of our opposition for three years.”

Chair Herman Thun firmly rebuffed Smoot’s points, pointing out that issues such as impervious cover fell to the Planning Commission and were not within the purview of the Board of Adjustment. Thun added that he had every confidence the city would deal with the adequacy of the proposed detention pond. But then he led the discussion back to the specific variances Ilai requested.

Smoot insisted that she and other property owners had bought their properties expecting to have a 25-foot setback from any project on the land at 304 West Alpine Road. She also wondered whether a variance hearing sign had even been posted on the property, which Thun refuted with a photograph.

Neither Smoot’s arguments nor the city’s delay of the project swayed the Board of Adjustment. Members could find no hardship in the case. Vice chair Betty Edgemond raised the issue, and no one argued the point. Thun said it was ironic that Commissioner Frank Fuentes—always the first to narrow the variance issue down to the specific point in the code—was absent from the meeting when the issue came down to the core issue of hardship.

“This is an empty piece of land,” Edgemond said. “I can’t find the hardship on an empty piece of land. You can build whatever you want, and you don’t have to ask for a variance. To me, it just looks like you’re trying to put one more building on this. And to me, that’s no hardship.”

Thun admitted he liked the project and approved of the detention pond. But, like Edgemond, he had trouble finding any hardship in the case. “You could have designed it 50 ways, but you chose to do it this way,” Thun told Ilai.

The final vote of the Board of Adjustment was 5-0, with Fuentes absent. Thun said the variances could be reconsidered if Ilai would submit some type of hardship on the property.

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

Soifer raises $50,000 for judge race . . . Attorney Jan Soifer, who will announce her candidacy for judge of the 200th District Court next week, has raised $50,000 in three weeks of fund-raising for the position. Soifer, former president of the Travis County Bar Association, has practiced law in Austin for the last 20 years. She also announced that Christian Archer and Mark Nathan will be directing her campaign. Judge Paul Davis plans to retire from the 200th court when the current term expires. County Court-at-Law Judge Gisela Triana has said she hopes to run for the position, but cannot make a formal announcement without giving up her current job. Both are Democrats . . .

Attorney General out of smoking suit . . . District Judge Darlene Byrne yesterday granted a motion by Attorney General Gregg Abbott to be removed from the list of defendants being sued by the American Veterans groups in Austin. The veterans argued that Abbott was a proper party because it is his job to interpret state law. But the state’s attorney said his boss would not be enforcing the law. The lawsuit seeks to overturn smoking regulations in Austin and Dallas. There has not been a ruling on whether the City of Round Rock will be included as a defendant . . . Council meeting schedule changes . . . This week’s Council meeting will begin at 10am—and that will probably be the starting time for most future Austin City Council meetings. Citizen’s Communications, previously at 1:30 pm, will take place at noon. Zoning and neighborhood planning cases will still be heard at 4 pm and public hearings will continue to be at 6 pm. If all goes as planned, the Council will take up the consent agenda right after the morning invocation and consider discussion items before noon and during the early afternoon. The Council is set to discuss all of these scheduling changes at this week’s meeting. There will likely be no Wednesday work sessions in the future, with briefings held around the same time as discussion items . . . Cap Metro board meets today . . . The board of directors of Capital Metro will hold a special meeting at noon today to approve putting $500,000 into escrow for purchase of property to build a new maintenance and operations facility. During a work session at 12:30pm, the board will decide whether to offer a contract to Roma Design Group to develop the Master Plan for redevelopment of the Saltillo District . Capital Metro and the City of Austin will share equally in the funding of the master plan. A more contentious discussion may follow when the directors appoint representatives to the Saltillo Master Plan Community Advisory Group. Members of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood already feel that they will be underrepresented in the group . . . TAMACC convention starts Thursday . . . The Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) will hold its 28th Annual Convention and Business Expo Thursday-Saturday at the Fort Worth Convention Center. This event celebrates entrepreneurship and strives to extend opportunity to business owners throughout Texas. On Saturday, TAMACC will bring two well-known speakers, Henry Cisneros and Alberto R. Gonzales to address the group. Cisneros, Chairman and CEO of American City Vista, is scheduled to speak at the Economic Development Breakfast and Gonzales will close the Convention at the Chairman’s Banquet. Gonzales, counsel to President Bush, is a likely appointee to the US Supreme Court when a vacancy opens . . . Convention garage pulled. . . The Convention Center Garage/Austin Energy District Plan was pulled from the Zoning and Platting Commission agenda last night. The item will be rescheduled, with notification, for a future ZAP hearing date . . . Green Festival has moved . . . The festival, which is apparently too popular for the original location, has been moved to El Mercado Uptown, 1702 Lavaca, from 6-8pm on Wednesday. The event will feature Alisa Gravitz, executive director of Co-op America; Kevin Danaher, co-founder of the Global Exchange; and Greg Roberts from Green Festival Planning Team. For more information see: www.greenfestivals.org or call at Brandi Clark at 477-3311 . . . Democratic Caucus fundraiser . . . The House Democratic Caucus is celebrating actions by the Killer Ds in May at a fundraiser Thursday night from 6-9pm at the Barr Mansion, 10463 Sprinkle Road. For more information or to RSVP, please contact Sally Drews at 472-5715 or sallydrews@earthlink.net . . .

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