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Mueller agreement takes center stage

Thursday, December 2, 2004 by

Advisory panel endorses 1,000-page development contract

Six items relating to the Mueller development deal with Catellus Austin LLP will come before the City Council tonight, including authorization for City Manager Toby Futrell to sign the master development agreement ( MDA) for development of what may someday be known simply as the Mueller neighborhood—as opposed to the RMMA or other reference to the old airport.

A 1,000-page agreement between the city and Catellus, with an eight-point list of issues that will be of ongoing interest, has been endorsed by the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission.

Issues that the commissioners considered to be of paramount importance include:

• regional retail at the corner of East 51st and I-35,

• the architectural review committee, and

• limitation and authority through the community governance process.

A result of almost two years of negotiation between the city and Catellus, the MDA is one of the most complicated binding agreements city leaders will ever sign. Tuesday night was another evening of questions from both commission members and members of the audience. Chief among the concerns expressed was how much flexibility was built into the agreement in case the city or Catellus did want to make changes to Mueller.

This question could be as simple as switching out row houses for yard houses in a neighborhood or as complicated as replacing residential with retail. The Planned Unit Development, or PUD, on Mueller allows about one-and-a-half times the density than is currently being proposed. Additional density could be added to the project if a viable mass transit option, such as rail, is brought to the project.

Project Manager Greg Weaver told the commissioners “The TIA (traffic impact analysis) is the ultimate control on development. If we either hit the ceiling of the PUD or hit the ceiling of the TIA, then we’re going to have to go back to Planning Commission and Council. We can’t do it without their approval.”

The advisory commission also wanted updates on the rail feasibility study and the UT Academic Health Center proposal. Chair Jim Walker said Capital Metro should have its route alternative study underway by February. A spur to the route that would require significant funding would have to go to the voters. The next opportunity for an election is November 2006, so that provides a timeline for likely activity, Walker said.

A greenbelt down the center of the property has been set aside for rail. If rail does not materialize, the swath of land would remain a greenbelt median, Weaver said.

Commissioner Rick Krivoniak, who has been briefed on the UT Academic Health Center, said the potential site is the 14 acres immediately north of the Seton Children’s Hospital. An academic health center is an allowed use of the site under the current zoning. The UT System has been given three years to come up with a viable plan for the Mueller site for the UT-Medical Branch and get it under construction. Any development would be subject to the codes and guidelines already established for the Mueller project.

Walker and Krivoniak said the chief concern of the advisory commission and neighbors is that UT may swallow up more than 14 acres. The city has held out the possibility of some additional acreage for the campus, but only after UT has utilized the 14 acres. Walker said UT has repeatedly stressed that they are not looking at acreage outside of Mueller. Even though it would not be a teaching hospital, local residents also would like to see some aspect of the campus have a community focus or provide services accessible to the community, Krivoniak said.

In Fact Daily, “I definitely believe that the UT presence must be a higher education facility that caters both to medical residents, students and to the East Austin community.” He added, “No one has said UT isn’t wanted at Mueller.”

Commissioner Donna Carter pointed out that getting the MDA signed did raise the stakes in any negotiations on the site. Once Catellus has signed the agreement, the developer has money at risk, and it’s likely the company will step into the fray to stop unannounced or unwanted development whose only announcement is made on the pages of the Sunday paper, Carter said. Non-profit development has been limited to 10 acres on the site, another guarantee that Catellus can maximize its project. Walker said the non-profit cap is not tied to either UT or Seton.

Other questions came from Mary Lehmann of Keep the Land, who wanted to see an independent appraisal of land value apart from city-Catellus negotiations. Commissioners were comfortable with the current wording of the contract, saying that it was likely the city and Catellus would use outside consultants.

Dan Daniels of the JJ Seabrook neighborhood wanted to be assured that the Mueller plan had addressed watershed issues. He said the impact of development on the watershed and flooding was often done in a piecemeal fashion, rather than assessing the impact of major development as a whole. Weaver said Catellus had taken the watershed issues into consideration but that it might take Daniels sitting down with the company’s consulting engineers to get a true level of comfort on Catellus’ efforts.

Daniels said drainage standards should be more stringent than those intended for the urban watershed because of the size and scope of the Mueller project. Pam Hefner, the city’s liaison for Mueller, said the drainage plans at Mueller included both more drainage points and slower drainage. The same amount of water would come off the property, but it would be properly diverted, she said.

Robertson wanted to make sure that smaller independent homebuilders were encouraged to bid on portions of Mueller. Weaver said Catellus’ efforts to zone property should make it easier, not harder, for smaller builders to participate in Mueller.

The advisory commission also had questions about how the Homeowners Association might work. The four neighborhood parks in Mueller will be public parks. The three pools in Mueller will be private, due to liability issues. That definition of private, however, could be as simple as some kind of membership fee for someone interested in swimming in the pool, along with a waiver of liability form, Weaver said.

Carter expressed some concern that Catellus should go further to protect the old airport tower and trussed hangar at the airport. While Catellus has promised to incorporate the two structures into the final plan, Carter said Catellus might go further to protect the structures with fencing or such, to make sure that vandalism was not a problem.

No groundwater, no district, says group

Williamson Water Visionary Panel rejects state pressure

A committee of Williamson County officials and groundwater stakeholders will recommend against formation of a groundwater conservation district, despite pressure from the State of Texas (See In Fact Daily, November 16, 2004). The group, called the Water Visionary Panel, met yesterday to study input from the public and make a recommendation to County Commissioners.

The panel’s recommendation will be presented to the Commissioner’s Court at its meeting next Tuesday. “Most of the people don’t really see the need for a ground water district here,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman. “Most of the counties that have one are areas where water is exported. We import most of our water here, and very little of our water comes from the ground.”

Officials from most of the major cities, MUDs and other utilities in the county participated. Representatives from Taylor said their City Council had already voted against the formation of a district, and the Georgetown City Council has a resolution opposing it on next week’s agenda. Others are on the record opposing it, as well, on grounds that the county doesn’t need another taxing authority.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has studied an area including Burnet, Williamson and Northern Travis counties as a priority groundwater management area (PGMA). Seventeen distinct parts of the area were identified. Of the 17, six have been designated as PGMAs, five were put on a “watch list” for future problems and six were determined not to need management.

The TCEQ can institute a groundwater conservation district in an area if studies indicate that the area will be in a water crisis sometime during the next 50 years.

Burnet County officials, noting that representation in any district formed would be based on population, decided to petition the state to form its own district, rather that compete with the much larger Williamson County for resources.

“Some people feel it’s inevitable that the state will want one (a district),” said Birkman, who recently attended a groundwater seminar at the Capitol. “If we have to have one, we would prefer to form our own, rather than have the TCEQ force one on us. At least we would have some local control.”

Commissioners will work with the area’s legislative delegation to try and keep the state from putting a district in the area, Birkman said.

In other action this week, Commissioners postponed action on a change order for the Parmer Lane South Phase 1 project. County staff was requesting $400,000 to construct entrances to properties along the roadway. Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Boatright said that seemed a little expensive to him. “My math tells me that’s about $18,000 to put a cut in the curb,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s the best way to spend our money.”

County staff was asked to return next week with a breakdown of costs on the change order.

Enviro Board reluctantly endorses variances

Members fear setting a precedent

The Environmental Board has endorsed two variances to allow the construction of a dentist's office on a hill just off of FM 2222. Those variances will allow more impervious cover than normally permitted within the Water Quality Transition Zone and construction on slopes in excess of 15 percent on the tract.

The 4.7 acre lot at 7901 N. FM 2222 has a steep grade, with a rise of over 100 feet between the frontage along the roadway and the back of the lot. There are two plateaus, and it is on one of those that dentist proposes to build a new one-story office and an additional building for lease to another tenant. Agent Jim Bennett told board members that almost any development on the site would require a variance for an access road, and that part of the request generated little debate. Instead, board members focused their questions on the need for a variance to the impervious cover restrictions.

Because part of the site is officially located within the Water Quality Transition Zone, the maximum amount of impervious cover would normally be limited to 18 percent. However, Bennett and engineer Kurt Prossner questioned whether development on the site would actually affect the West Bull Creek watershed. Since the WQTZ maps were created, they said, the Texas Department of Transportation had made improvements to FM 2222, which could have shifted the boundaries of the zone. "We've got an arterial separating us from the waterway, as well as…a concrete embankment," said Bennett. He volunteered that his client was willing to provide facilities to capture more runoff from the site than was required by code if the project were approved.

Board Member Phil Moncada was ready to grant the variance on the grounds that runoff from the site would not affect the 100-year Critical Water Quality Zone. "This site is treating all of their runoff," he said. "All of the runoff that is untreated is coming off of the roadway that TxDOT failed to do a drainage analysis on. To me, I have to concur that the intent of the ordinance was to protect the creek from unregulated runoff and I think that's what makes this particular case unique."

However, other board members were not eager to grant the variance since staff did not recommend it. "Staff looks at this from a precedent-setting point of view," said Chris Dolan with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, "and we simply looked at it as a precedent we didn't want to support." Although Prossner argued that the board would be unlikely to ever encounter a case with the same set of circumstances, Board Members Timothy Riley, Karin Ascot, and Chair Mary Ruth Holder all expressed reservations about opening the door to further impervious cover variance requests. "I have strong concern about a precedent," said Riley. "I think there's a lot of intelligent and wily developers who would try to bootstrap their case."

The staff's recommendation against the impervious cover variance also pointed out that the applicant could simply build smaller buildings, or build one building instead of two. But Prossner countered that the cost of construction on the site, because of the steep slopes, made it necessary for the dentist to build additional space for lease to another tenant to help cover expenses.

After several rounds of discussion regarding the boundaries of the Water Quality Transition Zone, the Board eventually voted unanimously to support both of the requested variances. The final resolution noted the possibility that the site might not be within the zone and also included specific language directing that the unique circumstances surrounding the tract would make it inappropriate for use as a precedent. The vote to approve the variances was 5-0.

City Council meets today. . . This next-to-last meeting of the year could be a long one, even though 17 of 33 new zoning cases will likely be approved on consent since they are owner-initiated historic designations. Among the distinguished homeowners seeking the designation and accompanying tax exemption are Congressman Lloyd Doggett and his wife, Libby, and attorney Terry and Judy Bray. The city is also seeking the designation for the Susanna Dickinson House on Brush Square . . . Champion sisters return . . . The next round in the seemingly never-ending battle between the three Champion sisters, the City of Austin and the northwest area neighborhoods that oppose further density is set for 4pm today. Smart money is betting it won’t be heard until after 6pm, however. The Champions’ attorney Michael Whellan has made no secret of the fact that he considers the case a slam dunk if it goes back to court. There is at least an even chance that it will end up there . . . Annexation case moved to 6pm . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman has asked that the Brandt Road Area annexation near Onion Creek be set for 6pm or after, at the request of area neighbors. One neighborhood representative has said that 100 of her neighbors have promised to sign up in favor of the annexation—which the state opposes. For more information, see In Fact Daily, December 1, 2004 . . . Mueller Master Development Agreement, etc . . . Six items relating to the agreement between the City of Austin and Catellus Austin LLC, including the Council’s authorization for City Manager Toby Futrell to sign the MDA are set for 6pm also. The only opposition so far has come from Mary Lehmann and Robert Singleton of Keep the Land. The city and Catellus have worked with the RMMA advisory commission for the past two years to put together an agreement that would suit almost everyone. Although the Council could choose to postpone action for another two weeks, none of them have indicated publicly that they think the deal is inappropriate or needs more time. Jim Walker, chair of the advisory group, points out that Mueller neighbors have worked on the matter for at least 10 years and are committed to seeing the project through to final buildout—another 10 years—if need be. Council Member Daryl Slusher predicted yesterday that the Mueller backers would be toasting one another while the Council is still embroiled in the Champion case or the annexation problems posed by the Brandt Road Area . . . ‘ Tis the season . . . The Holiday Sing-along and Tree Lighting Ceremony is this Saturday from 6-7pm on the south steps of the State Capitol. Merchants and museums along Congress Avenue plan to stay open from 5-8pm and several Congress Avenue parking garages will be accepting small donations ($2) to the Capital Area Food Bank in exchange for convenient parking. Those are: 301 Congress Avenue – enter at Brazos after 3rd; 100 Congress Avenue Visitor Lot – enter off Cesar Chavez; Littlefield Mall Parking Garage – enter at Brazos & 5th. Additional food items for the needy may be placed under the tree . . . We hope the movie is as much fun . . . The trailer is up on the web for Tommy Lee Jones’ movie Man of the House, which was filmed in and around Austin. The original title of the movie, set to open in February, was Cheer Up. The comedy also features an athletic performance from Cedric the Entertainer. To get a look at the preview, go to http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/manofthehouse/index.html. . . Top tax collector . . . Williamson County Tax Assessor/Collector Deborah M. Hunt has been named the Tax Assessor/Collector of the Year by the Tax Assessor-Collectors Association (TACA). The announcement was made at the annual V.G. Young Conference at the V.G. Young Institute, an arm of Texas A&M University, in College Station last month. Hunt has served as the Williamson County Tax Assessor/Collector for nearly 8 years, and has won numerous other awards for her work. . .

Voting data ready . . . Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Nelda Wells Spears announced Wednesday that her office had finished tabulating its data on the number of voters in the Nov. 2nd election and where they voted. The final report, she said, should clear up any doubts about the availability of voter data. "We are always forthcoming with information," she said. State Rep. Jack Stick cited the lack of that data in his filing with the Texas Secretary of State challenging the election results, which showed him losing to challenger Mark Strama by more than 500 votes.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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