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Most agree Lowe's could have won water issue

Monday, December 15, 2003 by

TCEQ has final say over releasing Sunset Valley from CCN

With last week’s City Council decision to approve the Lowe’s settlement agreement, environmentalists may be thinking about how they could have convinced one more Council member to change his or her vote. One argument that emerged fairly early in the debate—and then virtually disappeared from public comment—was that Lowe’s could not build its store on the site without city water and wastewater service. But it now appears likely that either Austin or Sunset Valley would have been required to provide those services even without the agreement.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issues Certificates of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) to providers of retail water services. Sunset Valley is currently the retail provider for the Lowe’s tract. Chris Lippe, director of the City of Austin’s Water and Wastewater Department, says the Lowe’s site was in Sunset Valley’s ETJ and within its CCN at the time Sunset Valley decided to transfer the Lowe’s tract into Austin’s ETJ. Any holder of a CCN, such as Sunset Valley, must get TCEQ permission to withhold service or decertify an area that it has been approved to serve.

In explaining Lowe’s position, attorney Terry Irion emphasized that when Sunset Valley released the Lowe’s site to Austin, it also authorized Austin to immediately provide water and wastewater service. But last month Austin took the position that the city might not agree to take over such service. Irion scoffed at that idea in a conversation prior to last week’s vote.

Austin sells water and wastewater service to Sunset Valley on a wholesale basis, and then Sunset Valley bills its citizens for retail service.

In November 2002, the Sunset Valley Council approved an STM (sale, transfer and merger) of the 71-acre Garza tract to Austin. The resolution that released the acres also authorized Austin to take over providing water and wastewater service. In February, he says, Austin and Sunset Valley added an amendment to their wholesale water and wastewater service agreement. “Both stated that from and after that date Austin was authorized to provide service to the area on Austin’s terms. In the STM application, Austin said it was accepting an assignment of CCN,” Irion said. But in November, “Austin woke up and said we don’t want to do this by CCN, so we don’t have to serve the property if the City Council does not agree to the settlement. That doesn’t change my position that we are entitled to water and sewer from the same pipe, because I am in Sunset Valley’s CCN until I’m released from it,” Irion said.

Council Member Daryl Slusher, who argued against the settlement from the beginning and never changed his position, said he recognized the irony of the situation. “We’re supplying Sunset Valley with water wholesale. If we turn it down, then they’re in the position of having to provide water to a development they don’t want,” he said told In Fact Daily before the vote.

A participant in the negotiations who wished to remain unnamed said, “Lowe’s uses less wastewater than a couple of single-family homes and the county has already told them that their plan already satisfies the county rules for a septic system.” If the Council had rejected the agreement, there would have been “some combination of court and/or TCEQ action to force Sunset Valley to provide water and wastewater service.”

Auto dealer facing zoning pickle

Neighbors object to home-based business

The owner of a home in North Austin between Lamar and I-35 will have another month to attempt to work out an agreement with his neighbors. One of those neighbors had complained about the operation of an automotive repair business out of a residential garage at 606 W. Grady Drive that is zoned SF-2. The property owner is seeking a change to a commercial category, GR, in order to allow the use to continue.

“I’ve been there 39 years . . . and I’ve owned that lot for 34,” said Carl Gilleland, the property owner. “I never have asked for zoning.” He pointed to other commercial uses in the general area and the heavy traffic on W. Grady, which runs east and west between Lamar and I-35, as reasons why the home was suitable for the automotive repair use. He also presented a list of signatures of people in support of the zoning change.

But Gilleland’s neighbors, Lonnie and Marzella Zumalt, asked the Council to deny the request. “The noise that this business creates is not conducive to the neighborhood. There’s also packing, plastic and paper,” said Marzella Zumalt. “There’s also car traffic where they’re parked while they’re waiting that creates a problem. If this zoning change is granted, it’s only going to be worse. And there’s no way that a neighborhood can constantly deal with this problem without just folding up.”

Gilleland denied his shop was responsible for noise, trash or traffic affecting the area. He suggested that much of the noise and trash could be coming from temporary uses on a nearby parking lot. “There’s a carnival across the street now,” he said. “It’s not my fault they have paper, either. I don’t have no paper . . . and I’m working on my cars. I’m working on my own cars, my personal cars. If I can’t work on my own personal cars, how come?”

Although Gilleland owns the cars that are being repaired at his house, city staff told Council members it still clearly qualified as an illegal automotive use. “He’s selling the vehicles, he’s not keeping them. He’s conditioning them and then selling them,” said Alice Glasco, Director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. “Like any dealership that you buy vehicles from, they usually have trade-ins and they repair those and they put them back on the lot for sale.” Staff also presented information regarding the history of the tract. An aerial photo taken in 1984 showed the lot as vacant.

After the public presentations, the Council initially voted 7-0 to deny the zoning change. Both city staff and the Zoning and Platting Commission had recommended denial. But after the Council’s 5:30pm recess, Council Member Daryl Slusher—who made the motion to deny the change—asked his colleagues to reconsider their previous action. “I think we might have acted too hastily there,” said Slusher. “I would like to ask the staff to try to work with the neighborhood and the applicant . . . to see if we can come to something that works better for both involved. The gentleman has been doing this there for a long time. It seems to be his livelihood. I would like to see if we can work something out.” The Council then unanimously voted to postpone the case until their January 29 meeting.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Baker recovering . . . Betty Baker, chair of both the Zoning and Platting Commission and the Historic Preservation Task Force, is resting at home after having eye surgery. Baker reports that she hopes to lose the eye patch that keeps her from driving when she visits a doctor tomorrow. The ZAP is scheduled to meet Tuesday night and the task force on Wednesday . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Historic Landmark Commission will meet at 7pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The Electric Utility Commission and the Police Monitor Review Panel will both meet at 6pm, the former at Town Lake Center and the latter in Room 304 of City Hall. The Urban Transportation Commission is also scheduled for 6pm in the 8th Floor Conference Room of One Texas Center . . . Vacation for In Fact Daily . . . In Fact Daily will begin its annual vacation this Friday. Thursday’s edition will be the final one of the year. We will return on January 5 . . . Agreement to be announced . . . Residents of the Astor Place Neighborhood and city officials have scheduled a joint press conference 10:30am today to talk about a proposed Smart Growth development in the Astor Place neighborhood. The neighbors had expressed opposition to the planned development but have been working with members of the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department to resolve their differences. The press event will be at the Corner of Astor Place and MLK Drive, south of the Morris Williams Golf Course . . . Brown Santa Needs Your Help . . . Each year Brown Santa gives not only toys, games and stuffed animals to families with children that are in need during the Holiday Season, but also a traditional holiday turkey dinner. Unfortunately, this year the cash and food donations have not been adequate. According to the Brown Santa Warehouse there is now only enough food for about 100 families. They are asking for the public to donate cash and non-perishable food items, like canned vegetables, to help provide a complete holiday dinner to their neediest neighbors. Please drop your food donations at any Brown Santa Barrel, located at Travis County Buildings and any HEB Store. All cash donations should be made to the Brown Santa Warehouse located at 6110 Trade Center Drive Suite 100, Off Montopolis between, Hwy 71 E and Burleson Road or mail your checks or money orders to: Travis County Brown Santa, P.O. Box 207, Austin, Texas 78767-0207. For questions about Brown Santa call 24 SANTA (247-2682). Brown Santa is also on the web at

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