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Council to consider anti-big box ordinance

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 by

Moratorium for large buildings over aquifer on this week's agenda

This week the City Council will consider whether to place a moratorium on issuance of site plans and building permits for construction of “big box” retail over the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer. After the struggle with Wal-Mart over the site at Slaughter and MoPac, environmentalists set their sights on an ordinance that would not be impacted on the state’s grandfather law, Chapter 245. They believe this ordinance is the answer because it does “not affect lot size, lot dimensions, lot coverage, or building size,” as required by the statute. As Brad Rockwell of Save Our Springs Alliance points out, “Property owners are free to build big boxes and even shopping malls. What the zoning ordinance would do is limit the use of a building and prevents one retailer from having an operation that exceeds 50,000 square feet.”

The ordinance would apply to retail uses exceeding 50,000 square feet and grocery stores exceeding 75,000 square feet, but would not impact any property that had been the subject of an agreement adopted by city ordinance. That means land owned by Stratus Properties or Gary Bradley and his successors and the Forum Planned Unit Development would not be included. Those agreements already limit single retail uses.But the moratorium would not prevent the Council from reaching an agreement with Lowe’s Supercenters either, according to Assistant City Attorney Deborah Thomas. The Council is likely to consider that matter at next week’s meeting.

If approved by five Council members, the moratorium would take effect immediately and expire on December 8. At that time, city staff members would come back to the Council with a permanent ordinance that would include similar limits.

Council Member Daryl Slusher, who is co-sponsoring the ordinance with Council Member Raul Alvarez, said he would probably move to amend the ordinance, so that grocery stores could be larger. “You want it to be a real number, based on what size grocery stores are these days,” he said. Slusher said he would propose that grocery stores be allowed to build to 90,000 or 100,000 square feet, which he said would be more realistic than 75,000.

Rockwell told In Fact Daily in an email, “We have supported a limit of 50,000 square feet, which is one of the limitations in the Stratus agreement. (Much of the language is taken from the Stratus Agreement.) To give some kind of perspective, property tax records indicate that the Office Depot at 2101 S. Lamar is about 34,000 square feet. The Academy on Highway 290 is about 53,000 square feet; The Randall’s at Brodie and Slaughter Lane is about 60,000 square feet; most of the Austin HEBs are around 65,000 to 72,000 square feet, and the Target at 5300 South MoPac is about 125,000 square feet. The Lowe’s center in Sunset Valley is supposed to be about 160,000 square feet.” The Wal-Mart proposed for MoPac and Slaughter was to be more than 190,000 square feet.

Rockwell said similar ordinances in other jurisdictions that have imposed square footage limitations include: North Hampton, Massachusetts (90,000); Taos, New Mexico (80,000); Coconino County (Flagstaff), Arizona (70,000); Rockville, Maryland (65,000); Easton, Maryland (65,000); Ashland, Oregon (45,000); and Lake Placid, New York (45,000). These figures, among others, may be found at: http://www.newrules.org/retail/size.html

SOS sends open records request to Savio

Homebuilders' representative says he has no conflict

The Save Our Springs Alliance has sent an open records request to Harry Savio, who leads the Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin and serves as proxy for Rep. Jack Stick on the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board.

SOS Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch sent a letter to Savio yesterday asking for any correspondence between Stick and Savio or anyone else concerning CAMPO, as well as Savio’s notes and calendars. Bunch also asked Savio to consider the non-profit status of the SOS Alliance and waive or reduce any charges for providing the information as provided by the Texas Public Information Act.

Savio, who has sat as Stick’s proxy for the past two months, said he was quite surprised by the request. “I’ve been in and around government for 30 years. This is the first time I’ve heard about a private citizen getting one of these,” Savio said. He noted that he bills at $200 per hour, but added that he would gladly accept half that price. More seriously, Savio said, he would have to consult with an attorney to determine what documents might fall under open records laws, but that much of what Bunch had requested would be readily available through CAMPO.

Savio said he does not believe that he has a conflict of interest when sitting in for Stick. “My guys are not out building roads. We don’t stand to gain if a road is built in one part of the city or other.” That the majority of CAMPO board members have staff that fill in as their proxies does not impress Savio, who believes that his transportation expertise makes him well suited to the position. “I would gladly step aside for someone else with that expertise. What I don’t see is the credibility given to SOS . . . so I don’t see how that kind of input and critique gains credibility.”

“To a large extent, it doesn’t matter to the building community whether they build houses in Georgetown or Cedar Park or Kyle or Austin. A very large part of my members are national and they don’t care whether they’re building in Austin or San Antonio or Dallas,” he said. “I really don’t see us as having a conflict in that area. Now, does it make Austin a better place to live to have better roads?” Savio believes that economic conditions will improve and everyone in the community will prosper with better roads.

He also said that so far he has not voted on any particularly controversial issue and he has not voted differently than Stick would have. “I think what Bill’s worried about is next year when it comes time to start allocating money and there’s a good chance I won’t even be there for those votes. I’ll be glad to share whatever . . . everything he’s asking,” said Savio, except for personal notes and calendars. “I’m only there as a fill-in, and I’m supposed to seek guidance on key votes,” Savio concluded.

Cost of Barton Hills cleanup tops $1 million

The staff of the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department is working on plans for cleaning up contaminated sediment adjacent to the Park Place Apartments on Barton Hills Drive. A consulting firm has explored ten different options for remediation of that location and two other sites where higher-than-usual levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found.

The Barton Hills Drive site is close to Zilker Park, and in certain cases water from that location can run off into Barton Springs Pool. City and independent experts suspect a common parking lot sealant as the source of the PAHs at the Barton Hill Drive location, as well as at a storm sewer outfall below Spyglass Road and at Waterfall Grotto. Once the sites are cleaned up, the city may take steps to prevent further contamination.

Crespo Consulting Services, Inc., has prepared a report for the city outlining the various options for each site and their approximate costs. Of the three projects, the Barton Hills location will likely be the most expensive. The consulting firm is recommending a combination of techniques to treat the site, which could total $740,000. Their plan calls for the construction of two sand filter treatment systems and the treatment of additional runoff from Barton Hills Drive. Removing the contaminated soil from the site is expected to cost about $80,000.

The firm’s report to the city also suggests removing the likely source of many of the PAHs found at the site. “Although the evaluation of alternatives to the coal tar-based seal coating was not included in the scope of this project, source reduction measures would reduce the amount of PAHs at the Barton Hills site as well as the Spyglass and Waterfall Grotto sites,” writes engineer L. Stephen Stecher. “It should also be noted that although use of alternative (non coal-tar) sealants may eliminate the main source of PAHs, changing the type of seal coat will not completely eliminate all sources of PAHs or other contaminants from the parking lot.”

At the Spyglass site, just below Spyglass Road and Barton Skyway, the firm evaluated five options. As with the Barton Hills site, they have proposed two options involving the removal of sediments, diverting some runoff, constructing a filtration pond, building a new storm sewer and conveying some water through the existing storm sewer. The project could cost $150,000, with an additional $80,000 for removing contaminated sediment.

Cleanup of Waterfall Grotto may be the least expensive of the three projects. The cost for preventing future contamination through water-quality control measures is estimated at $100,000, with another $50,000 going toward removal of the already contaminated sediment. All three projects will require careful guidance through the city process along with public input. Some would involve the use of city parkland, while others would require variances to cut-and-fill regulations or permission for construction within the 100-year flood plain. All told, the total is more than $1.1 million.

The Watershed Protection and Development Review Department has already made presentations about the projects to the Environmental Board and the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association. Plans call for several more presentations to city and civic groups over the next two months. The design phase of the projects could run from December of this year through June 2004, followed by hearings before various boards and commissions. Construction is expected to begin in September 2004 and wrap up by March 2005.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Trading places . . . The HEB Company has told the City of Austin it would like to change tracts within the Stratus Development. The grocery was slated for Tract 107, but planners deemed that Tract 103, which is west of Slaughter and directly adjacent to a neighborhood, would be a better location. Further talk is now going on behind the scenes. Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance said the group would not object to the change, “but we start with the point that they should comply with SOS in full, now that they’re changing the project—and that should not cause an increase in impervious cover on any other tract.” There will, no doubt, be arguments over this matter in the future . . . Task force meeting today . . . The Boards and Commissions Process Review Task Force appears to be meeting at either noon or 6pm today. One part of the city’s web site lists the time at 12:00am and another says 6pm. The task force is scheduled to look at an ordinance and final report embodying the group’s recommendations . . . Peacemaker awards . . . The Austin Dispute Resolution Center will be honoring those in the community who have helped bring about peaceful resolutions to disputes at an awards ceremony at 6:30pm tonight at the University of Texas Club. Those being honored include the Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, Andrew Chavez at the Texas Department of Transportation and Sterling Lands II. Also being honored are John Fleming, Cherrie Taylor, Marty Shumaker and the Lemon Law Mediation Inspection Program.. For more information, contact Deidra Davidson (371-0033 x 231) or Kris Donley (371-0033 x 222).

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