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Water & Wastewater Commission first to see new developments

Monday, October 6, 2003 by

Commission OKs local flavor dominate discussion

Hot spots for new homes don’t always show up on the agendas of the Planning or Zoning and Platting Commissions. Instead, the first place many subdivisions pop up these days is on the Water & Wastewater Commission agenda.

That’s because the current residential trends in Austin appear to be away from the city’s core. The Water & Wastewater Commission frequently reviews a number of requests each agenda involving wholesale water sales to Municipal Utility Districts or water line extensions out to the city’s extra-territorial jurisdictions.

If the agenda of the Water & Wastewater Commission is any indication of Austin development, the new trend is retail plazas and affordable housing toward the northeast and southeast edges of the city. Chris Lippe, executive director of the Water & Wastewater utility, says the Desired Development Zone (DDZ) incentives have had a real impact on development.

Last week, the Water & Wastewater Commission approved the extension of water and wastewater service to two new areas of residential development in the city.

The first motion, approved unanimously by the commission, was to reimburse developers who intend to extend a 36-inch water line out to the 554-acre Johnson Ridge Tract, just east of Austin Bergstrom Airport. Developers, led by Edward Rathgeber, have agreed to pick up the $6.2 million price tag on the water main, which will branch out to various subdivisions.

This area of farmland, within the city’s Desired Development Zone, is a popular area for new affordable housing, Reynaldo Cantu told the commission. Developers on the tract will be Continental Homes of Texas and Milburn Homes. The 36-inch water main will eventually serve 8,000 living units, Lippe said.

Sooner or later, this water line extension would have made its way onto the city’s list of Capital Improvement Projects, Lippe said. The benefit of the cost reimbursement is that the developer bears the risk of development: paying for the water line project in advance of construction. The city also bears a risk extending water lines ahead of development.

Under the agreement, the city agrees to reimburse the developers of the Johnson Ridge Tract for hard costs of the 8,000-foot water main and some soft costs. Soft costs would include items such as financing, accounting and legal services. The developer picks up the cost of water lines out to the individual homes, Lippe said.

The second agreement, approved unanimously by the commission, was a cost reimbursement to Madrone Development for the construction of a 24-inch water main and an 18-inch or appropriately sized gravity wastewater main out to the Zachary Scott Tract. The tract is located on the south corner of Old Lockhart Highway and Bradshaw Road.

The 272-acre Scott tract is located on the east side of I-35, next to the existing Onion Creek subdivision, within the city’s DDZ. Ultimately, the Scott tract will be home to 975 single-family lots.

The water main, to be constructed in phases, will extend the water line 17,200 feet. The total cost of the water main project will be in the range of $3.4 million. The gravity wastewater line is expected to cost about $1.3 million.

In both cases, city staff will review and approve the engineering plans for the lines, Cantu said. The contractors on the project must also meet the MBE/WBE standards. The cost reimbursements will come out of the Water/Wastewater Utility’s Capital Budget..

Homeless advocate says police violating law

Arrests for sleeping not legal, says Troxell

Homeless advocate Richard Troxell is asking the City Council to look into the actions of police officers patrolling downtown. Some officers, Troxell says, are continuing to write tickets to the homeless for sleeping in public in spite of a judge’s ruling overturning that portion of the city’s camping ordinance.

“We found that out of 453 tickets where charges of camping in a public area were issued, fully 195 of those tickets were bogus,” said Troxell. “The police officers issuing the tickets themselves said that ‘sleeping on cardboard’ or wrote ‘sleeping and using a backpack as a pillow’ was the charge.” Troxell told Council members he suspected some officers may be deliberately writing tickets in cases where they are not justified and asked for an investigation into the practices of downtown officers. “We are left with the question: are some police officers out of control, or is someone controlling a few police officers?”

APD officials said the department is doing its best to properly enforce the camping ordinance and to balance the rights of the homeless with the desires of downtown business owners. “We’ve taken steps to make sure we follow the court ruling,” said Assistant Chief Robert Dahlstrom.“We’ve come up with a poster to train the officers as to what is acceptable and what is not.”

In addition, the department has adopted policies requiring documentation for each ticket written for violation of the camping ordinance. “We’ve required the officers to take pictures and write an offense report, which is one of the only minor tickets that we require that on,” said Dahlstrom. “We did that specifically at the request of city legal so they would be able to define which part of the ordinance they were violating.” Violation of the city’s camping ordinance carries a fine of up to $200.

In a brief conversation between Troxell, Dahlstrom and Assistant Chief Rick Coy, the homeless advocate said he believes that certain downtown property owners are asking some officers to issue tickets for sleeping on their property. Dahlstrom and Coy said every officer on the street has recently undergone training so that they know what activities are illegal and which should not be used as the basis for ticketing.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Lechner moving on . . . Friends said farewell to biologist Matt Lechner at a Zilker Park cookout this weekend. Lechner became known in environmental and development circles for his strong stance in protecting the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. He has taken a job with the US Forest Service in Harrisburg, Illinois, where he will be mediating disputes between wilderness advocates and equestrian interests. Lechner said one advantage of the new job is that it is only a few hours from his elderly parents, who live in Springfield . . . Meetings tonight. . . The City Council will hold the second of three annexation hearings for Springfield Phase C area at 6:30pm at the First Independent Baptist Church, 8401 Bluff Springs Road. The annexation area is 56 acres located approximately 135 feet south of the intersection of Alum Rock Drive and Thaxton Road in Southeast Travis County. The final hearing is scheduled for 6pm Thursday . . . The Design Commission meets at 5:45pm at San Jacinto Towers in the 3rd floor conference room. Commissioners will continue to discuss their annual report and work plan for the coming year, as well as suggestions for changes to the commission’s enabling ordinance. Several commission members favor involving the group in neighborhood plan design guidelines . . . Envisioning press conference. . . Mayor Will Wynn and other Envision Central Texas (ECT) board members will complete the regional growth survey to officially launch the three-week public feedback period that starts today. ECT will update the media on the visioning project at 10:30am today at the Palmer Events Center.The Mayor will also participate in a press conference at 2:15pm at Zilker Park to show off Capital Metro’s new hybrid-electric bus. Capital Metro is the first transit authority in the state and one of only a few in the nation selected for a pilot program to test the new buses. Riders are promised “a significantly smoother, quieter ride, and faster acceleration”. . . Committee tweaks restaurant rules . . . Maggie Armstrong, the chair of the Planning Commission’s codes and ordinances committee, says the panel will ask the full commission to endorse the new rules this week. Those would include requiring restaurants in LR zoning adjacent to residential property to get a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). In addition, she said the committee decided that restaurants of 5000 or more square feet and those serving alcohol should be required to get the CUP. She said the committee also has some additional recommendations for reducing parking requirements for small businesses. For example, she said scooter parking might be used as a substitute for two parking spaces and a neighborhood plan could specify reduced parking requirements for specific sites. The full commission will be considering those recommendations at Wednesday’s meeting..

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