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Judge says quarry permit invalid

Monday, September 19, 2005 by

Effect of ruling on KDBJ may be clarified today

A ruling by an Austin judge is being called a major victory by Northern Hays County residents in their battle to shut down a rock crushing plant operated by KDBJ Inc. near Buda. Travis County Judge Margaret Cooper ruled late last week that KDBJ’s permit for a water pollution abatement plan, issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), is invalid.

Members of the group Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment, or NOPE, had filed suit against the TCEQ challenging its approval of the abatement plan. The ruling sends KDBJ back to the TCEQ for another permit hearing, though there is some debate whether the ruling will force the company to halt its operations.

“We believe that this is big step for us,” said Dick Schneider, director and one of NOPE’s founders. “The key is that this is not just for us. This is for everybody who draws water out of the aquifer, because this water runs from here into the Barton Springs pool. This is a major win for every user of the aquifer.”

The lawsuit was joined by the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, which filed an amicus brief in support of NOPE. In its brief, the groundwater district argued that in granting KDBJ a permit, the TCEQ ignored its own rules, and in doing so, put the environmentally sensitive aquifer and those who use it for drinking water at risk.

NOPE was formed more than two years ago by a group of citizens in the Ruby Ranch subdivision near Buda shortly after KDBJ began planning for the rock crushing plant near the intersection of FM 1626 and RR 967. The primary objection by area residents was the operation of the plant over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer, though secondary problems such as air quality, noise and heavy truck traffic on two-lane rural roads had citizens concerned.

Schneider said NOPE’s attorney believes that the ruling means the quarry cannot operate until it receives a valid permit from the TCEQ. But KDBJ spokesperson Kirsten Voinis said company officials believe that they are allowed to continue operations while they await a new permit from the TCEQ.

"There is no requirement to our knowledge that we stop operating while these issues are being answered so, until we are told otherwise, we are going to continue," Voinis said. She said the company continued its operations last Friday and plans to resume today.

Both sides expect that a written ruling from Judge Cooper—which could come as early as today—will clarify whether KDBJ can continue to operate without a valid permit.

Schneider said that there was evidence that the TCEQ had originally turned down the water pollution abatement plan, but that the administrative decision was overturned by the commission. “They did not have any technical back up for what they said was going to happen,” he said. “There was no technical data, and that’s the reason that the judge threw it out. “

Permitting has been a problem for KDBJ. In addition to last week’s ruling, the company recently had three water well permit applications before the BSEACD ruled incomplete because company officials did not meet the district’s requirements for notifying adjacent landowners of a public hearing on the permits.

KDBJ has since reapplied to the BSEACD for the water well permits. A contested case hearing on KDBJ’s TCEQ permit is scheduled in November, and the company also has an application for a site development permit pending before the Dripping Springs City Council. The quarry is in the Dripping Springs ETJ.

Variances granted to remedy lot size problems

Building permits granted before error was noted

The Board of Adjustment has granted several variances for the new Colonial Park subdivision in South Austin. The Mainstreet Homes community of 109 single-family lots needed variances for eleven lots that did not meet the city’s current standards for minimum lot size.

According to agent Jim Bennett, the fact that those lots did not meet the city’s minimum requirement of 5,750 square feet slipped through several stages in the plat review process. “You go through a preliminary subdivision approval. Once that preliminary was approved then we do a final plat. Between the final and the preliminary apparently there was an error made,” he said. Building permits had already been granted for some of the lots, and the foundations for new homes have already been poured. “When you have a slab already in place and you try to move that lot line over, it creates a problem with the lot next door,” Bennett said. For those lots that are still vacant, Bennett said shifting the lot lines would be a complicated and time-consuming procedure. “We feel that’s an undue hardship to go through that process.”

Board Member Herman Thun, filling in for Betty Edgemond, questioned whether the smaller lots would require additional variances in the future, such as for side-yard setbacks for those homes constructed on those lots. “We have houses that fit on these lots,” Bennett assured him. Thun moved to approve the variances for the eleven lots, and the board approved the motion on a vote of 5-0. His motion included the stipulation that Mainstreet Homes not seek any additional variances for those properties. However, that would not prevent any individual homeowners from seeking variances in the future.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

The “Real World” of parking . . . The Board of Adjustment last week granted a parking variance for a new restaurant that will move into the downtown warehouse space once occupied by the cast of MTV’s Real World show. Melissa Hawthorne represented the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant at 301 San Jacinto, which plans to use a valet service to help meet customer demand for parking. Hawthorne added the owners expect a great deal of pedestrian traffic from the nearby Austin Convention Center . . . The board also granted a parking variance for Foundation Communities' new single room occupancy facility at the site of the Hearthside Suites on IH-35 near St. Johns. Once the facility is converted from a hotel into transitional housing for homeless clients, part of the sizeable parking lot could be converted into a courtyard or green space. Since few of the clients are expected to have cars, the building won't need to have the normal amount of parking spaces that would be required by city code . . . Meetings . . . The Zoning & Platting Commission’s Spring Condominiums Subcommittee meets at 5:30pm in the fifth floor conference room at One Texas Center. . . The Urban Transportation Commission meets at 6pm on the eighth floor of One Texas Center. . . The Austin Arts Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. . . The Electric Utility Commission meets at 6pm in Town Lake Center. . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors meets at 4pm at Capital Metro Headquarters, 2910 East Fifth St. . . . The Austin Community College Board of Trustees meets at 6pm in the Highland Center, 5930 Middle Fiskville Rd. . . . Better communications . . . Communications between Williamson and Travis counties should improve significantly thanks to a $6 million U.S. Department of Justice grant. The funds will cover the purchase of communication equipment and improvements to communication systems. The majority of the grant money, or $5.55 million will go to Williamson County and $450,000 will go to the City of Austin. The total cost for the updates is projected to be $8 million. In addition to the $6 million federal grant, there is a $2 million non-federal match requirement. Williamson County Commissioners Court approved spending $1.85 million for the upgrade to the digital system with the City of Austin contributing $150,000 to upgrade software. . . New recycling center . . . Williamson County’s new Recycling Center is now open. The center is located on two enclosed acres at the entrance to the Williamson County Landfill on FM 1660 north of Hutto. The center is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8am to noon. The facility is a drop-off center that accepts used oil, scrap metal including washed tin cans, cardboard, newspaper, aluminum, plastic and e-waste including computers, monitors, keyboards and cables. There is no fee to use the facility. . . . Job fair Tuesday . . . East Austin residents and Hurricane Katrina evacuees seeking jobs may attend a job fair tomorrow. Employers and representatives of local educational institutions will be on hand from 9am to 8pm at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Center, 1156 Hargrave St., to provide information about jobs and training. Among the employers who will be in attendance will be various departments of the City of Austin, including the Police Departmen t recruiters; Capital Metro; Travis County; Spherion, which recruits for Dell; MCI and Goodwill Industries; Randalls; Brinks Home Security and Federal Express. http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/news/2005/jobfair_eastaustin.htm

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