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Arguments continue over grass carp in Lake Austin

Friday, April 30, 2004 by

City seeking state permit to release more fish

Staff of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department heard from residents around Lake Austin and fishermen from around the state Thursday night at a public hearing on the City of Austin’s request for a permit for additional Asian grass carp. The city is seeking a permit for an additional 6,400 of the fish to help control the spread of hydrilla.

The fast-growing weed was first detected on the lake in 1999. So far, the city has put 4,825 of the fish into the lake as part of an integrated, multi-pronged approach to stopping the plant from spreading. While it’s possible that no additional fish will be needed, the city is seeking the option of adding fish if the ones currently in the lake are not effective at reducing the overall acreage of the weed. Both the hydrilla and the carp are non-native species in Texas.

“Part of it is an efficiency or a paperwork issue,” said Mary Gilroy with the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department.“If we don’t have an approved permit, and all the partners together decide that we need more fish in the lake . . . we would have to go back through the submittal process and wait for Parks and Wildlife’s decision. It’s all just really a matter of timing. What we’re trying to do is get ahead of the hydrilla growth, and if we had to wait and go through the public hearing process and go through the permitting process, it’s just a matter of taking more time than we might need to take.” Gilroy stressed that the city did not desire to add more fish, and any release of the sterilized carp would require approval by TPWD of a separate treatment proposal.

TWPD scientist Earl Chilton began the meeting with an overview of the hydrilla problem in Lake Austin and the impact the grass carp have had on the vegetation. He told the audience that 90 percent of the fish tagged with radio transmitters were still in the lake and were concentrated in areas with the most hydrilla.

But anglers from across the state took exception to Chilton’s statements and criticized the introduction of the non-native species into Lake Austin and other lakes. “When the grass carp start really lowering the level of hydrilla, the carp keep getting bigger,” said Carl Atkins. “They eat all vegetation and they have no way to remove them. Eventually they will eat everything in the lake.” He also questioned the claim by TPWD that a majority of the fish released into Lake Austin had remained in the lake. “How dumb do you think we are? The first study by Southwest Texas State . . . they lost 12 of the trackers . . . they were never allowed to track downstream. There are 12 fish that they don’t know where they are,” he said. “You put no trackers on the spillway of the dam to see if grass carp escaped that’s radio tracked.”

Representatives of several statewide anglers groups attended the hearing, including SMART (Sensible Management of Aquatic Resources Team). Other groups similar to Friends of Lake Austin also sent representatives to support the city’s permit request. One organization, PLAT (Protect Lakes Across Texas), even chartered a bus for its members to attend.

Several local residents spoke out in favor of the city’s permit request. “Having fought weeds since about 1942 on Lake Austin, personally, as a property owner on Lake Austin, I know how much damage they can do,” said Dudley Fowler, who urged the state agency to grant the city’s request.

Lake Austin resident Shirley Coleman was more adamant. “We’ve had a severe problem with hydrilla on our lake front,” she said. She criticized the hydrilla management plan the agency had previously approved. “It was a conservative plan to begin with, and we’ve been a little gun-shy about really fully implementing the plan. In the long run, I think it costs everybody more not to get the problem dealt with. Businesses on Lake Austin have a very difficult time with the annual draw-down and we need to just move forward and really do what I think most of us know needs to be done, which is stock the lake with enough grass carp to bring it back to the condition before hydrilla was found in 1999.”

The agency did not make a decision about the permit request at last night’s hearing. The next survey of hydrilla in Lake Austin is scheduled to take place in May.

Board endorses changes to Stratus plan

Grocery store move would lower number of apartments

The Environmental Board has unanimously passed a resolution in support of a proposed amendment to the 2002 agreement between Stratus Properties and the City of Austin. Stratus is seeking to move a proposed grocery store from one location to another. The measure has the support of nearby homeowners and so far has not generated significant opposition from the environmental community.

Stratus had originally planned to build a grocery store on Tract 107, which lies on the southwest side of the intersection of MoPac and Slaughter. “What we heard from a variety of the neighborhoods . . . was that they needed neighborhood retail services, and in particular a grocery store,” attorney Steve Drenner told members of the Environmental Board. “As we moved through the due diligence cycle with grocery users, including HEB, all of those users came back and said the same thing to us . . . which is because there is no access to this tract from MoPac, that it did not work well for them for a grocery store site.” After studying their options, representatives of Stratus then proposed locating a grocery store on Tract 103 at the northern end of Escarpment Boulevard. A map of the tracts is still available on the city’s web site at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/news/02/downloads/schematicdrawingofland.pdf.

In the original agreement, Tract 103 was proposed for multi-family development. It was zoned LR-MU-CO. The mixed-use portion of the zoning would have allowed approximately 400 residential units, while the LR category would have been used to allow a small amount of retail on the site. “This is one of the tracts that was controversial in the original plan, primarily because of its land use,” said Drenner. “The New Villages of Western Oaks was one of the neighborhoods that did not support the agreement, primarily because of land use here and they also felt like, I think, the impervious cover being increased on their border was not fair to them.” When it became evident that a grocery store could not be built on Tract 107, Drenner said Stratus reached out to the New Villages of Western Oaks to solicit their input about a store on Tract 103. As a result of those discussions, Drenner said, the neighborhood is supporting the requested change from residential to retail.

The store planned for Tract 103 is a 93,000 square foot HEB. There will also be other, smaller retail uses on the site. Drenner pointed to several other benefits of the new proposal. It will allow greater protection for a critical environmental feature on Tract 107, while removing residential uses on Tract 103. That site is crossed by two underground pipelines and is close to the Longhorn Pipeline. “One of the additional benefits that the fire department is very pleased about is . . . we’re able to increase and do a better job with setbacks from the pipeline,” he said. “I think they’re also a bit more comfortable with a retail project than a multi-family project. In working with the fire department on a retail project, especially a project of this type, we have a better ability to provide safeguards from any problems that might ever occur along the pipeline.”

The switch on Tract 103 from residential to commercial, if approved by the City Council, will result in an overall decrease in the number of residential units allowed in the area. “The development agreement had a ‘bucket’ approach to the number of residential units that could be built,” said Drenner. “In eliminating multi-family at this location, we did not relocate that multi-family somewhere else in the project. What we determined is that it would be preferable to reduce the multi-family and residential bucket and at the same time increase the retail bucket by the amount of square feet that we can build on the site.”

The Environmental Board approved a resolution of support for the proposed amendment with a unanimous vote. Chair Lee Leffingwell said it would be good for neighbors and the environment. “It’s environmentally superior, and it reduces traffic in the area,” he said. “It also increases the setback for the neighborhood to the north.” A briefing on the proposal is scheduled for next week’s Zoning and Platting Commission meeting.

Five homes likely to gain historic designation

Swede Hill Neighborhood expresses concerns

The Historic Landmark Commission recommended designating five homes as historic Monday night, passing four of those houses with no opposition and the fifth with some neighborhood concerns.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky recommended historic designation on all five homes. On the fifth case, however, the Swede Hill Neighborhood Association expressed concern that the historic designation of 1211 San Bernard would lead to zoning changes.

David Cox and Amy Maner want to purchase and renovate the long-vacant Giese Stark Store at the corner of 13th and San Bernard streets. The Cultural Resources Survey of East Austin listed the Giese Stark Store as a “high priority” for preservation, individually eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and as a contributing property to the proposed 13th Street Historic District.

Thomas Buttery, labeled “a character” in his obituary, built the store around 1900, Sadowsky said. He lived and worked on the property. Around 1910, Adolph Giese began operating his neighborhood grocery store from the property, followed by fellow grocer Frank Stark. Stark eventually purchased the store from the Giese family in 1950.

Swede Hill Neighborhood Association President James Medina did not question the historical value of the property. Medina did, however, question whether the designation would lead Cox and Maner to seek commercial designation. This was once, they pointed out, a commercial property that could once again be a commercial building. Already, Cox and Maner were proposing a 2-story addition on the back end of the property.

Medina said neighbors were “paranoid” about possible future plans for the property. The neighborhood plan specifically limits the area to residential development.

The Historic Landmark Commission dismissed neighborhood concerns, saying that the goal of the Historic Landmark Commission was to preserve the history of the neighborhood. Commissioner Patti Hansen pointed out that the historic designation made the building harder, not easier, to bulldoze for commercial development.

Commissioner Julia Bunton, who made the motion for historic zoning, said she was shocked to hear that the neighbors saw the historic zoning as a negative. She said the Harlem Theater, once at the end of the street, was torn down because it was not preserved as historic. Her colleagues eventually joined her on the vote for historic zoning.

Commissioner Teresa Rabago urged the neighbors to meet with Cox and Maner, since both sides had a common objective to enhance the quality of the neighborhood. Maner, however, told the commissioners that email from some neighbors was so adversarial that they qualified as hate mail.

Other historic zoning cases included:

Sayers House, 709 Rio Grande – This foursquare house, built in 1905, was the home of former Gov. Joseph Sayers. After Sayers’ death, his wife Orline remained in the house until she sold it to Ernest Jackson, president of the Steck Company. Sayers was the governor during the Spindletop oil rush and the Galveston hurricane. After his retirement from office, Sayers established a law practice on Congress Avenue. The house was all but abandoned in 1980. Owner Blair Fox completed a significant renovation of the house.

Splitrock, 2815 Wooldridge – This million-dollar house, named for a swimming hole, was one of the first houses on Shoal Creek. It has a traditional center-hall house plan. The house also is associated with stonemason Thomas Burns, whose work is thought to include construction of the Texas Capitol. The one significant change over time was that the house was reoriented from east to west during the 1920s. The original owner was Burns, and the “free-form” swimming pool in the back yard was the first of its kind in Austin.

Steck House, 305 E 34th Street – E.L Steck, who served both as a City Council member and the city’s first manager, owned this Colonial Revival home. The North University Neighborhood Plan i ncluded the goal of nominating the home for historic designation. Steck was a well-known civic leader, and his wife Lena was the chief clerk of the Texas Banking and Insurance Department at a time before women were given the right to vote. At that time, Lena Steck was the only female banking agent in the country.

Commercial Building, 909 Congress – This was an example of a small-scale business on Congress, and possibly the only building left in the city with its decorative-type of cornice work, Sadowsky said. Owners applied to add three stories on the recessed back of the building, while keeping a two-story presence on the street. Sadowsky said he and the architect on the renovation of 909 Congress had spent hours looking through pictures at the Austin History Center. Most photographs obscured the façade. The architect said the goal was to preserve the property as much as possible.

Helping a fellow Democrat . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken joined former Mayor Kirk Watson and former County Attorney Ken Oden in an effort to raise money to pay off Judge Gisela Triana’s campaign debt. Triana borrowed $75,000 to beat Jan Soifer and John Hathaway during the primary campaign. No Republican is running for the seat, so she will take over the bench when Judge Paul Davis retires at the end of the year. The fundraising trio sent a letter asking for contributions before July 7—the deadline for judicial candidates to accept donations. Triana most recently served as Judge of County-Court-at-Law Number 5, which handles criminal matters. The letter asks attorneys practicing criminal law not to contribute . . . Another Joseph enters the world. . . Lobbyist John Joseph, Jr. and his wife, Heather, are excited to announce the birth of their first child, John Joseph, III. The proud father of an 8-pound son says the boy will be called Tres . . . Meeting today . . . The Design Commission’ s urban open space committee will meet at Schlotzky’s, 218 S. Lamar, at 7:30am today. They plan to discuss “design guidelines for buildings with special attention to urban open space issues” and guidelines for plazas . . . Layoffs at Seton . . . The Austin Business Journal reported last night that the Seton Healthcare Network would eliminate 275 jobs and discontinue some services to deal with “half of an estimated $60 million budget shortfall. A total of 114 employees, including 12 who volunteered to have their jobs cut, were told about the layoffs late Thursday,” according to ABJ. Health Care Distric t supporters say that financial problems suffered by health care providers would be alleviated by the creation of a district since Seton manages Brackenridge and Children’s Hospital, which have been a drain on the City of Austin and Seton . . . Early voting, Day 2 . . . The turnout for Thursday shows that employees at Seton Central are strongly interested in the health care district. A mobile polling place set up there yesterday received the ballots of 114 voters. The Randall’s at Lakeway continued to be popular with voters, with 116 voters registering their preferences. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner pointed out that Lakeway voters are deciding on a proposal to raise taxes by one-quarter cent to fund a new library. Ninety voters cast ballots at Northcross Mall yesterday . . . Todd moves on . . . Former Mayor Bruce Todd has left the Winstead consulting firm and returned to solo practice. As of Monday, he will be at Bruce Todd Public Affairs, 823 Congress, Suite 1505.

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