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LCRA board hears arguments over water line
Supporters, opponents show up in roughly equal numbersMore than 350 people signed up for the first of two public hearings held by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) on a proposal to run a water pipeline along Hamilton Pool Road in Southwest Travis County. The crowd at Wednesday’s board meeting spilled out into the hallway and the courtyard, at times, as speakers used their three minutes to voice their reservations or support for the line which could provide water to thousands of future homes on land that now sits vacant. Three major landowners controlling more than 1,300 acres who requested the line were joined by dozens of other residents in the neighborhood of Hamilton Pool Road, so the board heard from a sizeable number of people on both sides of the issue. “I believe that the Hamilton Pool landowners have the right to, and are determined to, develop portions of their land. I also believe that these landowners have asked LCRA to build this water pipeline because they feel LCRA will do the best job of protecting the environment,” said Larry Champagne, speaking in favor of the pipeline. “Finally, I believe that this pipeline will be my best chance to obtain much-desired surface water in the near future, and that if nearby homes obtain surface water and I don’t…my property values will surely decrease.” But other residents challenged the wisdom of granting water service to the area, saying it would spur development at a rate that could not be matched by other portions of the infrastructure. “Our concerns go way beyond just environmental issues,” said Connie Henry. “We feel that it’s against many people’s wills that the LCRA can have the power to change the community as it is. We know that the developers, working with the LCRA, can bring this suburban sprawl to the area…which is not necessarily what we’re looking for.” Gary Priour, who owns land next to one of the proposed subdivisions, said he was also opposed to increased population in the area. “We’re keeping our ranch in our family. It’s been there over 130 years, it’s going to stay there ‘til I’m gone. My goal is that we all get together…that we agree to delay the program long enough to address the traffic, the schools. The taxes are going to go up, EMS won’t be able to handle us,” said Prior. “We’re a good community. I think if we all work together we’ll achieve our goal. But I think me finding out about this three weeks ago, and being her neighbor I had never met before, I would have liked to have a little bit more notice.” Priour’s neighbor, Rebecca Hudson, who has spearheaded the movement to bring the water line to Hamilton Pool Road, said the proposal had been put forth more than one year ago. A delay would not solve the problems highlighted by opponents of the pipeline, she said. “I’m so glad to know that there are people in the community that are finally getting excited about regional planning. I have been participating in regional planning at Dripping Springs and here at the LCRA for the last year,” she said. “At those meetings, we have been discussing the possibility of the Hamilton Pool water line. The process has been cumbersome, it involves many jurisdictions, and it has not gone anywhere quickly.” Many of the opponents of the pipeline wore stickers to the meeting with phrase “Regional Planning At Work”, while supporters of the pipeline wore buttons reading “Surface Water Now”. While she praised the regional planning process that has ongoing with the support of Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher and Hays County Judge Jim Powers, Hudson said the LCRA did not need to wait for that plan before proceeding with the pipeline. “They are not addressing any issues other than water quality. The traffic issues we have on Hamilton Pool Road will still be there when that process ends. If you want to get together to work on traffic issues and other issues because of the development that is ongoing, I suggest that we work together as a community on those issues,” she said. “Don’t let this opportunity pass you by to put good water quality measures in place on these properties. The pressure to develop is real. It is there. We have tried to do the right thing on water quality and I guarantee I will work with you on traffic issues. The regional planning process in Dripping Springs will not do that for you.” But the regional planning process did have its defenders, including Jon Beall of the Save Barton Creek Association. “I’ve been participating in the regional planning effort. It is a process that includes all of the different constituencies,” he said. Beall said the group was making progress, and urged the LCRA to consider postponing any vote on the pipeline to allow the members more time to finish their work. “We discussed a very difficult subject at our last meeting and discussed it in a civil manner. Every one of us is going to get more of what we want,” he said. “I am very encouraged, after years of battles, with the process that’s going on…and what’s going to eventually going to come out of that process. That is happening, and I encourage you to support that process.” In response to the strong interest from Southwest Travis County residents and environmental groups, the LCRA will hold another public hearing on the pipeline on at 6pm on May 6 at the Dripping Springs Primary School. On May 19, the board is scheuled to vote on the item. That board meeting is planned for the agency’s Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park in Burnet County. Visit the LCRA web site to make written comments on the proposal at http://www.lcra.org/index.html. Reps question Governor's tax abatement plans North Texas legislators asking the tough questions Lobbying by city and county lawmakers against appraisal and tax caps made an obvious impact on the members of the House Select Committee on Public Education, especially among North Texas lawmakers. Both Reps. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) and Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) sit on the select committee, but it was Reps. Fred Hill (R-Richardson) and Brian McCall (R-Plano) who raised the most questions about those aspects of Gov. Rick Perry’s school finance bill. The full Travis County Commissioners Court has come out against the caps, which would limit appraisal growth on residential property to no more than 3 percent a year. That would force local governments to go before voters if they exceed a standard rate of inflation and the anticipated percentage of growth in the county. County Auditor Susan Spataro, who was in the audience at yesterday’s hearing, called the proposal “disastrous.” Wednesday was the first time many of the committee members had seen the bill. Hill questioned the tax abatement proposal contained within it. According to the bill, existing tax abatements or Tax-Increment Finance districts would be honored but no new abatements would be created after May 1. After some questions from the representatives—who wondered how taking tax abatements out of the hands of cities and counties would encourage economic growth—Perry’s Chief of Staff Mike Toomey said lawmakers might consider some flexibility in the revenue caps, especially if it meant bringing new business to the state. “He wants to encourage those activities, not discourage them,” Toomey said. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Coppell) repeated the question later in the discussion, asking whether taking the ability to grant TIFs away from counties might discourage the activity that most cities and counties are eager to do to attract economic development. Of course, if the business rolls go to the state, the desire to bring in business might be less pressing. McCall was concerned about high-growth areas, where the front-end demands of infrastructure put a heavy burden on counties and cities. Toomey said the governor’s office would be open to discussing some flexibility on that issue, too, but pointed out that bonds would be sold and handled separately from caps on the operating budget. Rural lawmakers were concerned that the new statewide property tax would be handled by the tax assessor-collector’s office. In some counties, the local appraisal district collects property taxes. Toomey expressed an openness to adjusting tax collection according to the needs of each particular tax collection agency. The goal was to make sure the function of tax collection was not duplicated. Terri Wegner, who presented the property tax portion of the governor’s plan, said inflation under the tax cap would be determined by the Consumer Price Index. As it currently stands in the bill, inflation would be defined as the average of the last three years of the CPI. Wegner acknowledged that the Bureau of Labor Statistics might provide a more accurate rate of inflation to take into account the inflation associated with local governments, such as escalation of health care costs. Another section of the legislation appoints a board of elected officials to review the appraisals of the non-elected chief appraiser. Rep. Ruben Hope (R-Conroe) said that taxpayers often perceive that elected officials are ratcheting up property values to pay their bills. Hope said he would certainly run the other way, given the chance to serve on such a board. The House Select Committee on Public Education will continue to review the bill today. Noise ordinance returns . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken and Betty Dunkerley want to make sure that no future band playing during SXSW runs into the problems encountered by Ozomatli—running afoul of the law and being arrested. So they have proposed an amendment to the city’s noise ordinance that applies to an area bounded roughly by Cesar Chavez, Lamar, West 29th Street and I-35. Dunkerley describes that area as the Central Business District. Rules requiring a permit and governing when sound equipment may be used would not apply in that district during the festival. Rules for outdoor music venues outside of the district would not change. Those currently allow amplified music up to 85 decibels during SXSW between 10am and 2am . . . Keep the Land opens office . . . The organization working to insure that the city leases the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, Keep the Land, has opened an office at 3710 Cedar Street, number 218. Communications Director Robert Singleton and Executive Director Mary Lehmann are signed up to speak on today’s Council agenda. Their theme is a continuing plea to the Council to lease the land at Mueller rather than sell any of it. The Council will discuss the matter in executive session and could take action with little public comment. However, the matter seems unlikely to come to a vote today . . . Earth Day is today . . . To celebrate the day, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will open the region’s first 24-hour self-service propane vehicle fueling station. The airport’s shuttle buses use propane and the Aviation Department predicts that the new fueling station will save $27,000/year in costs associated with driving the buses to off-site fueling stations. Joining the City of Austin in funding and building the new station are the Texas Railroad Commission, the Propane Education & Research Council and Central Texas Clean Cities. The station will be open to the general public as well as private businesses and government agencies. Ribbon cutting begins at 10am . . . Kyle voters to decide alcohol question . . . On May 15, Kyle voters will be asked to decide whether local businesses that make at least 50 percent of their profits from serving food may also serve liquor. John Hatch, a consultant for the group Better Business for Hays, first began pushing the issue in 2001, when he failed to get enough signatures to force a vote. He tried again in 2002, but his petition failed due to legal problems with signatures. Hatch delivered a successful petition to Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan in mid-January . . . Design standards vs. incentives . . . “You can’t legislate quality,” architect Stan Haas told his colleagues on the Downtown Commission last night. Urban Design Officer Jana McCann presented an overview of the city’s recent survey on commercial design standards. Haas said he would prefer an incentive program or demonstration project to promote good design rather than setting down a list of prescriptive regulations. McCann said Round Rock, Pflugerville and Cedar Park all have design standards; Austin has none. McCann said city staff wanted to provide enough latitude to give developers some options . . . Plans for the weekend . . . This Saturday is jam-packed with events to fit every taste and interest. Among the activities is the “It’s My Parks Day,” a fundraiser for the Austin Parks Foundation. More information is available at http://www.austinparks.org. The day will include the Parks Boards trail repair at 2600 Shoal Creek Blvd . . . Keeping Austin weird. . . The Art Car Parade is scheduled at 11:30am on Saturday. The parade will go down Congress and be followed by the Art Car Ball. For more information, check the website: http://www.austinartcar.com . . . Also downtown . . . The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association is showing off downtown homes of the rich and beautiful with a loft tour from 11am-5pm. A reception will follow at Austin City Lofts. And, finally, Eeyore’s Birthday will be celebrated at Pease Park on Saturday . . . Rainey returning . . . The Downtown Commission wants an update on Rainey Street rezoning. The City Council has given city staff a June deadline to provide plans for higher-density zoning along Rainey Street. Doggett announces funds for youth programs . . . Congressman Lloyd Doggett yesterday announced that Southwest Key Programs, Inc., a local community-oriented non-profit, will receive $3,633,205 in continued federal support for its work assisting at-risk youth and their families. Doggett said, “Southwest Key is helping communities through independent living programs, juvenile tracking services, residential treatment for youths affected by abuse and other programs that ensure at-risk youth and their families are given every tool they need to succeed.” The program impacts an estimated 5,000 people every day, operating more than 40 programs in Arizona, California, Georgia, New York, Wisconsin and Texas. For more info go to www.swkey.org
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