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Council hears plan for Green redevelopment

Monday, November 21, 2005 by

Area could be ready for big change in late 2007

The city’s Green Water Treatment Plant is more than 80 years old and is really showing its age, according to Austin Water Utility officials. That means it would cost less to move the water treatment plant (WTP) to another, yet undetermined site somewhere along Town Lake and use the current site for redevelopment, said AWU Director Chris Lippe, briefing the City Council last week.

Lippe said rebuilding the plant at its current site was not a viable option.

“The current plant is jammed onto a six-acre site, with buildings stacked on top of the water facilities,” he said. “Some of the equipment in there is very old and cannot be moved. From a cost standpoint, there’s no comparison: we need to build in a new location.”

Lippe’s staff is recommending that the Green WTP site, once decommissioned, be redeveloped in a process similar to the Seaholm site or Block 21. Their report suggests that an RFP/RFQ could be issued for all of the Green WTP and adjacent Austin Energy properties that would allow respondents to make offers on any or all of the parcels individually.

City Council members passed a resolution last August instructing staff to estimate the cost difference between a retrofit at its current location and building a new facility; developing a timeline for decommissioning and demolishing the current Green plant; and finding an appropriate site to build a new WTP.

In addition, Council instructed staff to develop a plan to extend Nueces and Second streets through the area now occupied by the plant, and develop a planning process to find new uses for the tract on Cesar Chavez between San Antonio and Shoal Creek. Second and Nueces streets would be extended to dissect the area into four city blocks. Some of the suggested uses for the area include a new central library, mixed use residential, office, and retail developments, with emphasis on food and beverage establishments along Cesar Chavez Street and Shoal Creek.

The original facility was built in 1924, and has been modified six times, including that last in 1998, which was only designed to keep the plant operating until 2003. There are also structural problems, with the failure of a retaining wall along Shoal Creek and a deterioration of concrete in the facility, Lippe said. He added that the location of the water tanks close to the fence line makes for security problems, as well.

Lippe said with the start of construction in 2008, the first phase of a new 50 million gallon per day (MGD) Green plant could begin pumping by 2011, with the planned Travis WTP #4 coming online in 2015. That would allow for a decommissioning of the current facility in late 2006, if improvements to the Ullrich WTP on Lake Austin are completed.

And that would allow the Green WTP area to be ready for redevelopment by late 2007, Lippe said.

AWU staff has already begun identifying potential sites for a new location for the plant, which must be downstream from Barton Creek and upstream of Longhorn Dam on Town Lake.

Lippe said there are several major factors in site selection, including the elevation of the water source.

“The more you can use gravity, the less energy it takes to distribute water throughout the system,” Lippe said. “It’s the main factor in where we can locate a treatment plant.”

At 428 feet, Town Lake is the lowest viable source of water for a plant, he said. The elevation below Longhorn Dam, 410 feet, he said, is too low. Ullrich and Davis WTPs are located on Lake Austin, which is at 493 feet, and the Planned WTP #4 will be above Lake Travis at approximately 900 feet.

Council members accepted the report, but took no action..

Leaders grapple with SH130 development issues

Leaders along the State Highway 130 corridor continue to grapple with how to move beyond the basic issues of traffic flow and storm water management – or as Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) called it, “happy cars and happy rainwater” – to a comprehensive vision of a corridor that 50 years from now could rival Interstate 35.

That’s not easy. The 49-mile stretch of the first four segments of SH 130 holds promise, but much of the route falls outside the jurisdiction of the cities that it will touch, into the “no man’s land” known as county jurisdiction. Counties, unlike cities, are given little say-so by the state to regulate land planning and development.

Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, representing the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, called SH 130 corridor “the single greatest economic development opportunity in Central Texas in a lifetime,” as well as the single greatest opportunity to protect the environment. The private sector, as well as the various communities along the route, has an obligation to push the process of a regional plan for the future of the SH 130 corridor, Watson told the crowd that gathered for the Saturday seminar at the TDS Exotic Game Ranch & Pavilion in Creedmoor.

The need is to replace the “quick dollar” with the shared vision, Watson said. No one wants SH 130 to look like the Katy Freeway, but the development along the freeway will clearly be a private sector response to the transportation project, Watson said.

“The county doesn’t have enough planning tools, and what we end up with is a bunch of Circle Ks and Foxy Ladies along SH 130,” Watson said. Watson added later, to some laughter, “I’ve been told the county can regulate the Foxy Ladies.”

Envision Central Texas sponsored the seminar, which brought together planners, local leaders and developers. The clear consensus in the room, especially after a keynote speech by Robert Grow of Envision Utah, was the need for some kind of mechanism to drive and regulate the regional plan for the area around SH 130.

Towns like Pflugerville don’t want Austin to dominate the discussion. And developers will be best served by some kind of certainty in planning, said Krusee, pointing to Mayor John Cowman’s success in gathering land owners together for land planning in Leander around the commuter rail stop. That certainty, however, may require state legislation.

Sandy Rae of Tejas Land Development, who spoke on one of the panels, returned to the concept of a state-approved management district so frequently during his comments that it was starting drawing laughter from the crowd. No one, Rae told the crowd, wants SH 130 to turn into one long stretch of painted cinder blocks and car lots with large American flags on the roof. In other words, no one wants to repeat the mistakes of I-35, a sentiment that drew applause from the crowd.

Pete Winstead said it was imperative to get over the “turf war” mentality of development between the jurisdictions. It’s early enough that the corridor can be planned together – either through a management district or inter-jurisdictional agreement – so that a comprehensive plan unfolds along the toll road.

But as John Langmore, co-chair of the ECT land planning subcommittee, noted in the closing remarks, the first four segments of the toll road are scheduled to open in 2007. The region is probably two years behind if it was to do everything that Grow has suggested, Langmore said.

Local jurisdictions have other questions they want answered about SH 130. Alice Glasco from the City of Austin, who represented planners along the route, noted the need to address annexation issues, as well as the shift from rural to urbanized corridors. Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said local jurisdictions needed to know, as soon as possible, where the final two segments of SH 130, still unfunded, would land.

SH 130 ultimately will connect to Interstate 10 near Seguin. And TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh, answering a question from a number of speakers, said that SH 45 SE would open in time to provide a south-side connector back to Interstate 35.

After the meeting, Krusee said he was willing to carry any legislation supported by the community to address the planning issue. The Legislature has been reticent to support the expansion of county powers, except in extremely localized ways, because of the fears from the development community that such regulation would simply add “red tape.”

ECT Executive Director Sally Campbell said ECT would continue to play the role of facilitator for the SH 130 discussion, bringing planners together again and providing smaller local jurisdictions with generic planning tools that can be used to address growth needs. Smaller, more localized meetings also will be held in various jurisdictions to discuss the need for planning along the corridor. Krusee supports more rail in metro area.

Krusee supports more rail in metro area

State Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) expressed his continued support for a second referendum on commuter rail for Capital Metro on Saturday, funding those unfunded extensions of the rail line out to Bergstrom International Airport unfunded in the first bond issue and providing streetcar circulators to downtown, South Austin and Mueller.

Voters approved Capital Metro’s starter line from Leander to Downtown Austin in 2004. Plans to connect to Mueller and Seaholm by rail were cut from the plan because of cost, with the intention to limit the rail expenditures to Capital Metro’s cash on hand. Long-term plans to connect to Bergstrom, given the cost, were never seriously considered in the first referendum, although Krusee suggested at the time it was a long-term goal.

During Saturday’s SH 130 forum in Creedmoor, Krusee suggested that the time had come to use the MoKan line, just east of town, to connect commuter rail to Pflugerville, Round Rock and Georgetown. That line also should connect to the city’s airport, Krusee said. Krusee said it was well within the city’s reach to use commuter rail down MoPac to eventually connect Seaholm, with a downtown circulator to the University of Texas, state offices and out to Mueller, which was developed as a transit-oriented community.

Capital Metro is still in the midst of its study of the Mueller and downtown circulator patterns. The results of those studies should drive transit options in those areas.

The actual ownership and interests of the rail lines in and around Austin is a bit tangled. Capital Metro’s commuter rail service, which will run on freight rail lines owned by Capital Metro north and just east of Union Pacific’s MoPac line, will start in 2008. Capital Metro’s freight rail line actually runs further out, to Manor and Elgin.

Sid Covington, chair of the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District, says the rail district is interested in the MoKan line to the east. The Texas Department of Transportation owns the right-of-way on MoKan south of US 79 in Williamson County to the Colorado River. The state agency is in the middle of a study of that rail line, trying to determine what the best long-term use for the line might be.

The rail district is interested in the segment of MoKan north of US 79, Covington said. The commuter rail district would pick up that north-end rail line from Georgetown to US 79. At US 79, the best alternative would be to pick up the Union Pacific line down MoPac. This line would give the rail district access to stops in Buda/Kyle, San Marcos, New Braunfels and, finally, San Antonio. To do that, however, would mean cutting a deal with Union Pacific to move freight off of MoPac lines and onto the SH 130 right-of-way.

Covington says the rail district is still working through its alternative analysis, which should be completed in the next three to six months. Funding likely will be a combination of federal New Starts grant, tax-incremental financing districts around rail stops and possibly some amount of funding that may eventually flow to the state rail relocation fund to move Union Pacific.

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

Saved for later . . . Even though Thursday’s City Council meeting went into the wee hours of the morning, it could have been longer. The longrunning battle over a request to change single-family and office zoning to commercial at the corner of I-35 and Riverside was postponed. The parties are mediating the matter and Ron Thrower, agent for the property owner, had lost most of his voice by 4pm . . . The neighborhood around the proposed Bouldin Meadows subdivision convinced the Council not to hear that case because of continuing questions about FEMA and developer proposals to change the area’s flood plain in the near South Austin neighborhood . . . Neighbors of the Champion sisters’ tracts at FM2222 and Loop 360 also requested a postponement. Attorney Michael Whellan agreed to put the matter off until Dec. 1—which is the day litigation may restart if the sisters have not received a satisfactory resolution to their complaint. The Environmental Board had heard from neighbors on Wednesday night that they should review the matter—even though no environmental variances have been requested. However, the board will not meet again until Dec. 7, so unless there is some surprise on Dec. 1, they are unlikely to hear the case . . . Members of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters voted overwhelmingly to approve the proposed contract offered by the City of Austin's negotiators. Of the 72 percent of union members who cast ballots, 91 percent were in favor of the proposal. It now goes to the City Council for consideration on December 1. "The firefighters are very appreciative of what we were able to accomplish with this new collective bargaining process," said AAPF President Mike Martinez. He is now free to gear up his Council campaign . . . Meetings. . The Bond Election Advisory Committees meets at 6:30pm in room 325 at One Texas Center . . . The Arts Commission meets at 6:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Police Monitor Citizen Review Panel meets at the East Community Branch YMCA at 5315 Ed Bluestein Blvd. . . . . Wilco Town Hall . . . Williamson County Pct. 3 Commissioner Tom McDaniel will hold a "Year in Review" Town Hall meeting from 2 to 5pm on December 1 at the Sun City Social Hall, Two Texas Drive, in Georgetown to discuss his first year in office. All Precinct 3 constituents are invited. Commissioner McDaniel’s office is located at the Williamson County Central Maintenance Building, 3151 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown. He can be reached by e-mail at tmcdaniel@wilco.org or his office number is 512-943-3370.

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