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Work begins on development mitigation policy

Monday, February 23, 2004 by

Policy would provide guidance for development agreements

Members of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department have begun work on a policy to guide the city in dealing with future requests for development over the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The policy would be used in cases like the Stratus, Bradley and Lowe’s development agreements in which landowners claimed exemption from strict compliance with the SOS Ordinance.

Some work on the policy was done in 1998 when the city made an agreement with the developers of the Forum PUD. That work will be incorporated into the new policy, according to Nancy McClintock, chief of the Environmental Resources Management Division. She told In Fact Daily, “We will certainly return to the work we did earlier for possible use. We also have some new ideas, so it will probably be a melding of old and new ideas. We’re just getting started.”

At the last City Council meeting, Colin Clark of the SOS Alliance expressed concerns about initiating such a policy. Clark told the Council, “We’re glad that the sponsors are interested in directing staff in thinking about Barton Springs and developing a plan for the city to do something in the Barton Springs Zone. But city staff’s time and resources are limited.” For that reason, he said, staff time and resources “would be better spent thinking about how to save the Springs rather than the way this is posted as how can we allow for more development, more impervious cover in the Barton Springs watershed.”

Council Member Betty Dunkerley said she thought there had been some misunderstanding in the environmental community about the policy proposal. “I think a mitigation plan is a good tool for property owners and for the community to have. We have many properties within the city that are grandfathered either through legislation or through court proceedings. We respect the outcomes of those, but many times we have property owners who want to do something in order to achieve something else on their land.”

Dunkerley said she would support development of the policy “as a tool for people to use to see how they can better achieve some of the goals of this community.” In addition, she pointed out that city staff is designing and building infrastructure in both in the southeast and northeast areas of the city to lure businesses into the Desired Development Zone.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Mayor Will Wynn sponsored the item. Goodman took exception to Clark’s comments, saying, “That was an amazing way to have read this resolution . . . The priority for me is the aquifer. And although I don’t want to offend anybody, the priority for me is not SOS, the priority is protection and preservation of the aquifer.”

Since the SOS Ordinance only addresses development on a site-by-site basis, she said, there are opportunities to protect more of the aquifer than can be accomplished one site at a time. “I don’t want to in any way pass up an opportunity that protects” an area that is more threatened by development “through something that goes beyond SOS. So . . . for me, absolutely, the priority here is the aquifer—not necessarily a piece of paper that we can do better than. SOS was a statement and it was a pretty good attempt to codify what in essence had to be a cookie cutter ordinance. But in these crucial times especially, where so much developmental pressure comes from outside our boundaries of authority, it’s time for us to look and see what else we can do. And that is my goal here. On some sites even complying with SOS does nothing for the aquifer as a whole, whereas through some mitigation offers and some mitigation acquisitions, we can do much, much more for the aquifer by stretching out the protection. And so far only in special agreements have we been able to do that.”

Wynn stressed the need to maximize staff resources by directing them to work on the policy while other agreements are still fresh in their minds. He said an additional benefit of codifying a policy would be to “protect staff time and resources in the future.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher took the opportunity to scold some members of both the environmental community and the business community. To SOSA, he said, “You act like the city never does anything to protect the aquifer, criticize what it does get done (and) don’t acknowledge state laws that play heavily into this. And I think that’s demoralizing to some of the citizens who listen to them.”

But Slusher said some members of the business sector were causing greater problems. “What I see as the larger problem right now in the community on environmental issues is that I see that some of the business community leadership no longer acknowledges the long held community values which are that we want to have sparse development over the Edwards Aquifer and steer the more intense development to what we’ve called the Desired Development Zone since 1998.” He said he has recently heard some business leaders saying, “We’re sending the wrong message, that Austin doesn’t want jobs, that Austin is closed for business,” when the community opposes variances to ordinances such as those proposed by Temple Inland and Wal-Mart.

Former Council Member Bill Spelman remembered the policy debate from 1998. He said “the technical folks” favored having such a policy, but “the politicals were against it.” He recalled that SOSA was opposed to the adoption of such a policy at the time, even though most in city management agreed that it would save staff time when dealing with future development agreements.

Soifer responds . . . Democratic judicial candidate Jan Soifer’s campaign released a statement Friday about their flyer concerning opponent Gisela Triana’s past affiliation with the Republican Party. Soifer’s campaign sent the following remarks, “For months, I have been responding factually to Triana’s ongoing attacks over my law firm’s work for the State during the 2001 redistricting litigation. I have said, over and over and over again, that my firm’s work on that case did not and does not reflect my personal political beliefs in any way—and still the attacks continue.” Soifer campaign consultant Mark Nathan pointed in particular to remarks by Triana’s campaign consultant Glen Maxey in the Dec. 4 Austin Chronicle: “She [Jan] consorted with the enemy and now she’s got blood on her hands.” Maxey is a former state representative who retired from the House rather than run against fellow Democrat Rep. Elliot Naishtat. The third candidate in this race is John Hathaway, an associate judge who handles divorce and associated matters. He has racked up support from a number of family law attorneys . . . Curiouser . . . The anti-Soifer web site referenced in last Friday’s edition is not registered to any campaign. According to information at whois.net, the site is registered to Oscar Garza of San Antonio. Mr. Garza was not at the phone number listed online, so In Fact Daily has not been able to contact him . . . McNeill wearing out shoes . . . Sheriff candidate Duane McNeill visited his 35,000th home Sunday in his grassroots campaign for Travis County Sheriff. According to consultant Ron Dusek, “Nearly every day, for more than a month, and through all kinds of weather (except snow), McNeill has been visiting homes in predominantly Republican neighborhoods delivering his literature and talking with residents when convenient for them. McNeill, an APD commander, is running against Drew McAngus, Joe Martinez and A.J. Anthony Johnson for the Republican nomination . . . Early voting begins today . . . Those who have made a decision in all the upcoming primary battles can register their preferences starting today. Early voting locations include a number of those that were popular in the past, including Northcross Mall, Highland Mall, the Travis County courthouse, The HEB on South Congress, Albertson’s at I-35 and Stassney, Randall’s at MoPac and William Cannon, Randall’s on Research, Randall’s on Bee Cave Road and the Home Depot on Brodie Lane. These locations will be open daily through March 5. Election Day is March 9. For information on early voting locations and sample ballots, visit www.co.travis.tx.us/county_clerk/election. . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Design Commission will meet at 5:45pm in the 8th Floor Conference Room of One Texas Center. The commission has a single item on its agenda: “Discussion and possible action on the identity, mission, goals, objectives and activities of the commission in preparation for rewriting the commission’s enabling ordinance.” The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 7pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center and will consider a number of requests for recommendations for historic zoning. The Capital Metro board of directors will meet at 4pm today at their offices on East 5th Street.

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