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Golf course requests 450,000 Gallons/day from Trinity wells

Thursday, August 7, 2003 by

Hays Trinity district to weigh Polo Club proposal

By Bob Ochoa

The president of the board of the five-member Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District said Wednesday he wants to carefully weigh input from the community and the scientific data before deciding whether to approve groundwater permits totaling 450,000 gallons a day for the exclusive Polo Club residential community in northern Hays County.

According to permit applications filed with the district by the Polo Club last week, the groundwater will be used to water the club’s golf course, a prospect that has many of the area’s surrounding residents worried about the effects such a large volume of pumping will have on their own private wells.

Results of pump tests done last February show the effects would be negligible on surrounding residential wells because the Polo Club’s wells are considerably deeper. But it has also been noted that the tests were conducted during a period of heavy rainfall.

“I’ve discussed the (request) with the developers of the Polo Club. Now I’d like to get input from the community. I’d like to use our meeting to gather evidence,” said Al Broun, the new president of the Hays Trinity district. “We may not come to any final decision tomorrow night because this is an issue that needs considerable discussion.”

The Polo Club’s request for three well permits, each for 150,000 gallons of groundwater a day, will be the only discussion item at a district board meeting scheduled at 7pm tonight at the district office, located at 14101 Hwy 290 West. District officials may be reached at 512-858-9253 for more details.

The district’s general manager, Trent Jennings, said the Polo Club’s applications represent by far the largest permit requests ever brought before the young groundwater conservation district. It was formed only three years ago by special legislation and in May of this year won official confirmation in a local election by a two to one margin.

“That’s the one thing we do have, is a two to one vote from the people that we want to manage this groundwater responsibly and under local control,” said Jack Hollon of Wimberley, who served as temporary board president for the district prior to the May confirmation election and now serves as vice president.

The Hays Trinity District bumps up against the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District on its eastern boundary. It covers most of the western half of Hays County. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 county residents depend on the Trinity Aquifer for their drinking water. Officials with both districts have often noted that the use and management of groundwater in one district can significantly impact the other.

“There’s a fair amount of flow from the Trinity to the Edwards, so they (Barton Springs District officials) are very interested in this” request from the Polo Club, Hollon said.

Under current rules, the Hays Trinity District has ten days to decide permit requests after they are filed, but there is plenty of leeway in how a permit is finally structured and approved to encourage conservation.

In the case of the Polo Club’s request, Hollon said he expects some in-depth discussions, for example, on how much water and the number of days during the year the club thinks it will need to water its golf course.

“One of the things I think we also need to talk to them about is that there are golf courses being designed around the country that don’t need as much water and that’s something we can urge the owners to consider,” Hollon said. “It might influence the way we deal with this permit. I’m also hearing that a lot of people think we’ve over-built the number of golf courses around this area . . . that we have more golf courses than the market demands.”

The district’s board president, Broun, a geologist who worked 42 years in the petroleum exploration business, said he agrees with the idea that area golf courses need to be more water-friendly.

Broun said he, his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren all use well water and live within two miles of the proposed Polo Club wells, so he has a personal understanding of the concerns of residents who live closer in and also depend on the groundwater.

“I cannot conceive of coming up with a (decision) without getting input from all sides,” Broun said. “There’s been considerable expenditure by the Polo Club doing this (pump) test. It was a well-run test. Now I want to see what the community wants to see. I feel strongly about this. I want to see development and growth, but I want to see it well managed.”

Council to eye tax costs of historic zoning

The City Council last week approved historic zoning for a number of homes, but two Council members asked that city staff present information on the tax implications of such zoning. Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “I’m concerned about how different some of these houses are than the rest of the houses in their neighborhood, and that with our tax policies on that we could end up with getting a whole lot of houses zoned historic and damaging the city tax base.” He noted that Council Member Betty Dunkerley had already requested a report on the subject.

Slusher then asked Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky about a house at 110 W. 33rd Street. “What distinguishes that from some of the other houses in the neighborhood?”

Sadowsky replied that many of the houses designated historic became historically significant not just because of the architectural style, but because of “the people who are associated with that property . . . The house on 33rd Street was associated with Lois Baird Trice, who was very influential in Austin cultural life,” he said.

Slusher asked what percentage of the houses coming before the Historic Landmark Commission were deemed not to meet the criteria for tax exemption.

“It would be a pretty low percentage, but that’s actually because my office makes an evaluation . . . whether we believe a house would be a good candidate for landmark designation,” Sadowsky said.

He said owner-occupied historic homes are entitled to the following: 100 percent of the value of the structure and 50 percent of the value of the land, for city, county and Austin Community College taxes. The Austin ISD gives the same homes half of that exemption. For homes not occupied by their owners, he said, the exemption is half of the above. Slusher said he would like a written report on the impact of such exemptions and wanted to know when Sadowsky could produce one.

Sadowsky noted that he is working alone in the Historic Preservation Office, but could produce a report in about two weeks. His assistant, Lonnie LaBonte, is recuperating from a stroke.

But Dunkerley said she wants the presentation to be a part of the budget process. She told staff to bring the following information: the number of houses that have historic zoning; the tax values that have been abated, the property tax dollars that the city is not able to collect, a summary on the program itself and options.

She concluded, “It’s truly important to preserve the best examples of the various kinds of historical buildings we have—but knowing that, we can’t preserve everything or we’re not going to be able to survive as a city.” Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon said the information could be presented during the August 28 meeting.

Mayor Will Wynn closed the discussion with a quip: “Regardless, Council Member Slusher, based on these criteria, we expect to have your home zoned historic in a few years.”

Slusher responded, “That’s an excellent idea. I'll abstain if you put it on next week.”

Today’s Council agenda includes the Historic Landmark Commission’s request for historic zoning on property purchased by a young couple who wish to demolish the house. The Zoning and Platting Commission voted 7-1 to recommend against the landmark designation on the house. (See I n Fact Daily, June 4, 2003, July 31, 2003.)

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Firefighters may complain . . . The Austin Association of Firefighters has called a press conference for 10am today on the steps of City Hall. Expect to hear complaints about City Manager Toby Futrell’s proposed budget for the Fire Department, which like every department faces some reduction in funds . . . Asphalt plant update . . . KBDJ, the proposed operator of a rock quarry and asphalt plant near the Ruby Ranch Subdivision in Hays County, has dropped its request for permission to build the asphalt plant. However, the company is still asking for a permit for the rock crushing operation from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). That permit relates to air emissions and is still moving forward, according to TCEQ spokesperson Adria Dawidczik. She said KBDJ would still have to go through the agency’s hearing process, Neighbors have organized to fight the operation . . . SOS party . . . Friday is the 11th anniversary of the Save Our Springs Ordinance and supporters of the ordinance will gather at 313 West Mary, between S. Congress and S. First Street, beginning at 8pm. Musical entertainment will be provided by Cooper’s Uncle, Leeann Atherton, Tucker Livingston and special guests . . . Liveable City . . . A new study commissioned by LiveableCity shows Austinites are divided over the idea of local governments providing economic incentives for businesses. But when offered more specifics about proposed incentives, 76 percent would support incentives to direct growth away from the Edwards Aquifer. Nearly 90 percent of people survey would support incentives to encourage the development of renewable energy. Support was much lower for incentives for large national retailers or luring major employers . . . Austin among the meanest to homeless . . . The National Coalition for the Homeless ranks Austin as number eight on its list of ten Meanest Cities for homeless people to live. Las Vegas, San Francisco, and New York were the top three. The report criticizes cities for passing ordinances targeting homeless people. “It’s illegal to sit or lie in the sidewalk . . . it’s illegal to be an aggressive panhandler,” said Richard Troxell of House the Homeless. “How can we be passing laws against people for a condition over which they have no control?” Troxell says a full-time minimum-wage job won’t cover the cost of housing in Austin’s real estate market, leading to a growing population of “working homeless.”

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