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Contractors join Lowe's boycott

Monday, November 8, 2004 by

Yesterday, the Save Our Springs Alliance stepped up its boycott of Lowe's Home Improvement Centers, holding a press conference with contractors who have pledged not to shop at the world’s Number 2 home improvement corporation. SOS began its boycott with consumers in January and filed two lawsuits to stop stores Lowe’s is building in the Barton Springs watershed.

“This is the way we can vote with our dollars and I'm not going to give any more of my dollars to Lowe's until they understand what we want as a community and accept that,” said contractor Robert James, owner of Inhabitation, Inc. James estimated that he had spent about $50,000 a year at Lowe’s in the past. Most of that money will likely be going to Home Depot now. James said he had just spent $2,000 at Home Depot, which has not run afoul of Austin’s environmental community or the SOS Ordinance.

Home Depot is the world’s largest home improvement retailer—with more than double the yearly income of Lowe’s. Lowe’s corporate strategy is to site stores as close as possible to Home Depot’s—thus the desire to build the Brodie Lane store, which is over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The Home Depot on Brodie did not abide by the ordinance either, but is in Sunset Valley and was built before that small city adopted an ordinance similar to SOS.

James said, “I feel like if I was purchasing products from Lowe's I would be hypocritical as a Green Builder.” Green Builders use recycled materials and design structures that are energy- and water-efficient. Lowe’s, he added, is “blatantly ignoring our request as a community to protect the Springs. I actually am in the process right now of taking orders that I have with Lowe's,” and finding alternatives for them.

Ron Beal of Austin Building Services explained his reasons for joining the boycott. “We have a Congress here in Texas and the U.S. that seems to have some kind of mandate from the building community that 'anything goes,' and this has to stop somewhere, and this is the best place to start that,” he said.

Another Green Builder, Robert Zirkel of Shelter Design and Consulting, said, “I think it's important for us to consider the actions of our suppliers and how they act in the community—whether or not they going to be responsible citizens of the community. I don't think Lowe's is being a responsible corporate citizen right now, and I'm hoping this boycott will get the attention of the decision makers in their company so they realize that doing the right thing can be economically advantageous.”

Brad Rockwell, assistant director of SOS, released the names of 11 contracting companies that have agreed to boycott Lowe’s. More companies have made the commitment, he said, but some did not want publicity and others could not be reached to for permission to use their names. The organization has only been recruiting assistance from the industry for about two weeks, he said.

A judge issued a temporary injunction last summer preventing Lowe’s from continuing construction on its Brodie Lane site. (See In Fact Daily, June 21, 2004). The case is set for trial today, but attorneys for both sides said it is likely to be postponed because the plaintiffs have asked for a local judge and apparently only visiting judges will be available this week. Although District Judge Darlene Byrne granted the temporary injunction based on a showing that the plaintiffs would probably win the case, the question of which law actually applies to the site—the SOS Ordinance or House Bill 1204—has not been decided. A judge dismissed the organization’s claims related to a Lowe’s store in Bee Caves that will anchor the Shops at the Galleria.

Goodman seeks changes to code, neighborhood planning

At the urging of Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, the City Council has approved a resolution directing staff to draft changes to the city's neighborhood planning process and the Land Development Code (LDC). Goodman wants neighborhood plans to include more transportation planning and also wants changes to the definition of "mixed use" zoning found within the LDC.

Transportation planning, Goodman explained to her fellow Council Members, was originally intended to be part of the neighborhood planning process adopted in the mid-1990s. "When transportation got separated out on its own, those folks didn't participate," she said, referring to the reorganization of city departments which created the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department. "Staff told neighborhoods they could not do transportation planning in their neighborhood plans. So this is to integrate that back in now that the planning departments are back together again." She cited concerns by residents of the Morningside-Ridgetop Neighborhood involving 51st and 53rd Streets as examples of areas where transportation planning and neighborhood planning should both be used to address neighborhood concerns (see In Fact Daily, January 21, 2004).

Goodman also said the definition of "mixed use" needed to be refined to more clearly reflect the intent behind the creation of the zoning category. "Mixed use was originally supposed to be how we were defining within a building…but we kind of stretched it out," she said. "So now it's up to interpretation, and in three years or five years, whoever is interpreting that on a map will have no idea what it is…so we need to be more specific when we're using it on the land use map."

Staff will also be working on revisions to the LDC that would allow neighborhoods to keep some intense uses, such as industrial uses, normally prohibited near residential areas, as long as there is neighborhood support. "When we worked on the Govalle-Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Plan, that's where we encountered the need for looking at our zoning categories," explained Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planing and Zoning Department. Residents there specifically desired to keep an arts and crafts studio, which because of some of the equipment involved was classified as an industrial use. "The update of the zoning ordinance will give us an opportunity to look at all these elements and hopefully will help us with implementation of the neighborhood plan re-zonings," said Glasco.

Further amendments to be drafted by staff will include a mediation process for citizens involved in neighborhood planning and the ability to enforce design standards once they are adopted within a neighborhood planning area. Work on those amendments may take weeks or even months. The Council requested an update on the work from the staff in January of 2005.

Aquifer directors worried about rock crushing company

The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is exploring its options in the case of a rock crushing operation in northern Hays County. District directors met with their attorney in closed session for more than an hour at their last meeting, discussing what role the agency should have in the controversial case.

The operation in question is a rock quarry planned for the Ruby Ridge subdivision near Buda by KBDJ Company. One adjoining landowner and a coalition of neighborhood groups have both filed lawsuits to halt the operation, despite the fact that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has already approved the company’s water pollution abatement plan (WPAP) for the site.

“We spent a lot of time tonight talking about what is our legal recourse and what type of actions are possible in this situation,” said Board President Bob Larson. “The plan needs permits for both air pollution and water pollution–—and because it sits over the aquifer, that’s where we come in—the water part.”

Harold Daniel, president of the Save Barton Creek Association, presented the board with a letter strongly encouraging them to oppose the permit for the quarry.

“Studies show that withdrawals from the aquifer may soon exceed sustainable yield,” Daniel said, quoting from his letter. “…Allowing KDBJ to pump 300 million gallons a year is not a beneficial use, in our view.” The district is required to grant permits for wells dedicated to “beneficial uses,” and there are seldom challenges to applications for such permits.

Daniel pointed out that KBDJ’s projected volume was more than the current 200 million gallons per year used by the entire city of Buda.

Larson said it’s a matter of where the TCEQ’s authority leaves off and the district’s begins

“We specifically discussed District Rule 3.3, which addresses surface pollution,” Larson said. “It states that no person or activity may negatively impact groundwater. The district has a series of options it may take to stop such activities before or after they take place.”

Board members instructed staff to initiate a study of the potential impact to the aquifer from the quarry project, in the project is required to garner and permits from the district, and whether the district should file for a rehearing of the permit issued by the TCEQ.

Board members also approved a resolution an introduction to the final version of its Sustainable Yield Report, which will be published next week on the district’s website ( http://www.bseacd.org) and in print and on CD about a week later. The report is the culmination of hundreds of hours of research to evaluate the effects that pumping a certain volume of water in one part of the aquifer has on other parts. District staff says it will be a key tool in determining the allowable rate of pumping in the future, especially during times of drought.

Struss wins post . . . Warren Struss, who has served with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for the past 25 years, was appointed director of the department last week. Struss has been acting director since February. Among the challenges Struss has faced during his tenure with the department are helping coordinate saving the Treaty Oak after it was poisoned and planning for the Austin City Limits Festival and the yearly Trail of Lights . . . Petitioners sighted . . . Linda J. Curtis, one of Austin’s most successful governmental petitioners, was outside the Celtic Festival on Saturday hoping to add some more signatures to her petitions seeking recall of the Mayor and two City Council members. Also gathering signatures on Saturday was a representative of the American Cancer Society, who was asking visitors to Book People to help place a referendum on next spring's ballot to outlaw smoking "in all workplaces." That would include bars, of course. Meanwhile, the Filling Station on Barton Springs Road closed its doors last week. According to a story on News 8 Austin, the eatery and bar had seen revenues decline for the past four years, but the owner said the last straw was the smoking ordinance. . . It’s still campaign season . . . Although many Austinites are no doubt weary of politics, the subset that pays the most attention to City Hall is just gearing up for six months of campaigning. Today is the first day that a candidate may file papers naming his or her campaign treasurer and begin collecting and spending money for next May's election. In Fact Daily expects to see a higher volume of candidates filing for Place 3, currently held by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman than for Place 1, held by Council Member Daryl Slusher. Lee Leffingwell, who just stepped down as chair of the Environmental Board, plans to file the initial papers to run for Slusher’s seat, probably today. His status as an environmental leader who has learned to work with the development community, has scared off a number of potential candidates in that race. Council Member Betty Dunkerley intends to seek re-election. Only perennial candidate Jennifer Gale, who has run against many of Austin’s popular politicians, has indicated an interest in contesting Dunkerley’s place on the Council . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The CAMPO board will hear from the public beginning at 6:15pm on the proposed 2008 Transportation Improvement Program. They will also decide when to set hearings on an amendment to the toll road plan that would eliminate tolls on most of MoPac, as well as Capital Metro’s request to change the 2025 transportation plan to accommodate commuter rail and the rest of the agency’s plan . . . The Board of Adjustment will meet at 5:30pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center . . . Gay lobby to hold press conference . . . The Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas will be hosting a press conference at 11:15am today in the Speaker’s Committee Room at the Capitol to denounce what they say are plans by some legislators to pre-file legislation to add “a mean-spirited and discriminatory amendment to the Texas Constitution, defining marriage as between one man and one woman.”

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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