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LCRA figures project westward growth

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 by

Number of Western Travis County homes expected to triple by 2015

The Lower Colorado River Authority’s Board of Managers approved land use assumptions last week for an impact fee to new residents in Western Travis County, offering a look into how many new homes are actually expected in rural areas of the county where local residents are hotly contesting new development.

Agreeing to a calculation of projected future growth is the first of two steps in setting an impact fee. The board has yet to set the amount of that fee, which will be one-time assessment to new water customers. Over the last eight months, a nine-member advisory committee of developers and local community members has studied the impact fee issue, reviewing a detailed planning effort to project future growth in the county.

Last week’s vote sets a projected arc of growth and the utilities needed to serve that growth. It will be followed by a calculation of the impact fee itself, which is guided by standards set out by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Charles O’Dell, president of the Hays Community Action Network, protested the LCRA’s process at a hearing on the growth parameters last week. O’Dell said his group’s review of the impact fees indicated the advisory committee was heavily weighted to developers; that the internal LCRA methodology was biased and unscientific; and that “management confuses data crunching with comprehensive business planning.”

“Utilizing and relying on certain developers to help ‘scrub’ LCRA CIP projections and land-use assumptions promotes an unhealthy relationship leading to the type of utility project failures LCRA has experienced over the last 10 years or so,” O’Dell said. “These failures can be measured in terms of sustained annual increases in water rates, wastewater fees, negative cash flows and scores of unhappy customers. I am referring to LCRA’s real customers, not the developers who management consider its primary customers.”

General Manager Joe Beal and Executive Manager of Water Services Suzanne Zarling defended the LCRA’s methodology. Beal said LCRA followed the letter of the law on the composition of the board. Zarling said LCRA, when it sets the proposed impact fee, will use the specific parameters set out for the agency by the TCEQ.

The board unanimously approved the land use parameters and CIP projections with little discussion of the specifics; Vice Chair G. Hughes Abell abstained because of his ownership of land in the area. A subsequent request produced some of the specific land-use guidelines and projected capital improvement costs for Western Travis County.

According to the documents, LCRA works on a 30-year horizon for water and wastewater services to the region, although the impact fee will apply specifically to the cost of utilities that will occur between 2006 and 2015.

Those assumptions, developed from historical data and local input, include a steady, but not overwhelming, population growth curve projected between 2006 and 2015. The number of projected living units in 2006 is 5,473 in Western Travis County. That is projected to grow to 14,874 living units in 2015. This is a wide swath of 129,997 acres that includes all of Bee Caves, as well as Hamilton Pool Road and Dripping Springs. Colin Clark of Save Our Springs Alliance called the area too wide. Zarling said the actual study area had been scaled back from original estimates for the impact fee proposal.

According to the documents, the LCRA has or will commit $75 million to upgrades across Western Travis County. Given that the total number of new residents to the area is only about 15,000, rough math would show that the water authority would spend an additional $5,000 per home over the next decade to add water service to the area.

The agency assumes it will have to build $36.8 million in infrastructure over the next 10 years to serve the full area. This assumes upgrades to raw water treatment; acquisition of a site for a Lakeway raw water intake, line and treatment plant; major upgrades to the Uplands water treatment plant; and the construction and expansion of the Lakeway plant. The full cost of the Lakeway and Upland improvements, when completed, will be $52.4 million, but that full cost will not be factored into this impact fee.

Capital improvements in the Bee Cave District, which will include the purchase of land and extension of lines, will be $5.2 million over the next 10 years and $10.7 million at full build-out. Capital improvements in the Dripping Springs District, which will include upgrades and the extension of lines to various proposed subdivisions, will be $10.1 million over the next 10 years and $18.4 million at full build-out. And improvements to the Hamilton Road District, which will include a new parallel line and pump stations, will be $3.7 million over the next 10 years and $5.6 million at full build-out.

Staff also has estimated that an additional $19.1 million in past expenditures can be apportioned to new development, which includes $5.7 million in improvements at the Uplands water treatment plant, as well as various improvements that add up to $5.2 million in the Bee Caves District and $8.2 million in the Dripping Springs District.

Downtown planning moves forward

City officials hope to have consultant in place by May to coordinate development process

Planner Michael Knox told the Downtown Commission last week that the city was putting the final touches on a draft outlining the Request for Qualifications for a consultant to oversee the downtown planning process, including the scope of work the city intends to complete.

After a round of input, the final version of the RFQ could be ready by early March, so that a contract with a consultant could be finalized by May. The downtown planning process is expected to take 18 months.

Documents for the RFQ are expected to be posted on the city’s website for input this week.

The Downtown Commission, along with the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Austin Alliance, is eager to be a part of the process. Andrew Clements of DANA, who also is a member of the Downtown Commission, spoke to the commission at its monthly meeting last week and suggested a broad coalition of groups to serve as a single stakeholder voice in the process.

For its part, the Downtown Commission’s downtown development subcommittee has begun to meet on the issue of planning for affordable housing. The city’s goal, at ultimate build-out, is an additional 25,000 people downtown, which Architect Stan Haas calculates to be 25 additional blocks of intense development. Haas told the group that members of the Downtown Commission are uniquely qualified to offer input as to where development would and would not make sense in the downtown grid.

The consultant’s work on the downtown plan is intended to meld the many disconnected efforts made on behalf of downtown. Knox describes those as two different categories: the issue-specific plans for parking, transportation, mass transit, retail and the like; and the project-specific plans for areas of downtown such as Seaholm or Green Water.

The consultant also will address issues that are specific to downtown such as live music on rooftops in the wake of the city’s “no smoking” ordinance. The goal is to craft policy that can address the true compatibility issues of a mixed-use downtown.

The consultant will bring all the efforts together into one overarching plan that takes downtown 10 to 20 years into the future, Knox said. Work product is intended not only to be a vision for downtown but also specific recommendations and policies for the city. This is not intended to be a document that sits on a shelf, Knox said.

The city’s budget is limited to $400,000, which will come from some of the last Capital Metro quarter-cent sales tax dollars. Such a limited budget means that the contract between the city and the consultant is likely to be a compromise on what the city wants done and what the consultant considers feasible for the available budget.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Campaign news . . . Place 2 candidate Mike Martinez has won the support of all the groups that have endorsed so far. Those are: the Austin Police Association, the Austin/Travis County EMS Employee Association, the Travis County Sheriff's Law Enforcement Association, the Austin Small Business Group, and the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin. Martinez said, “These first five endorsements represent a very broad spectrum of support, and I’m going to continue to work hard to earn even more backing from every part of this community”. . . Place 6 endorsements . . . The Austin Police Association (APA) and the Austin/Travis County EMS Employee Association (ATCEMSEA) and the Hispanic Bar Association have each endorsed Sheryl Cole for Place 6. We hear the Small Business Group endorsed her opponent, Darrell Pierce . . . The attorneys group and the business group also endorsed Mayor Will Wynn for re-election . . . Switches teams . . . Sandra Ramos, who has served as Kirk Watson’s campaign manager, has left that campaign to work with the campaign of Sarah Eckhardt’s. Eckhardt is running against incumbent Pct. 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner for the Democratic nomination for that post. Watson, who has no Republican opponent, will face unknown Libertarian Robert "Rock" Howard in the November election for Senate District 14 . . . NXNW Democrats . . . Some 50 members of North by Northwest Democrats gathered last night to make recommendations for the March 7 primary. Among the winners were Pct. 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner; House District 47 candidate Valinda Bolton; Eric Sheppard, who is running for County Court-at-Law #2, and Charlie Baird, who is seeking a return to the bench as Judge of the 299th District Court. The group also endorsed in each of these races: U.S. Senate- Barbara Radnofsky; Congress, District 10 – Ted Ankrum ; Governor – Bob Gammage; Lieutenant Governor – Benjamin Grant and Agriculture Commissioner – Hank Gilbert. . . . Early voting begins . . . Today is the first day of early voting for the March 7 Texas Primary. In Travis County, there are more than 20 locations for early voting, plus a mobile voting booth that will be in a different location on a daily basis. Early voting ends on March 3. For information on early voting, go to http://www.co.travis.tx.us/county_clerk/election/default.asp or contact the County Clerk’s office in your county . . . Davis brings water/wastewater providers together . . . Providers of water and wastewater services along SH130 came together Friday to discuss how the corridor will be served. Organized by Commissioner Ron Davis, the meeting drew representatives from 10 local water utilities, including the City of Austin, Manville Water Supply, the Lower Colorado River Authority, City of Pflugerville, Aqua Water Supply, Hornsby Bend Water Supply, Aqua Texas Inc., Round Rock Utilities, Travis County and the Creedmoor Maha Water Supply Corporation. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to plan for urban-style development in a rural setting . . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Urban Transportation Commission meets at 6pm on the 8th floor of One Texas Center . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meeting is cancelled . . . KOOP fundraiser . . . Community radio station KOOP (91.7 FM), burned out of its downtown studios, has raised more than $20,000 towards getting back on the air. The fire two weeks ago destroyed $100,000 in equipment, and left the station looking for a new location and new equipment. Several fundraisers are scheduled over the next few weeks, including: a screening of “Top Gun” on Thursday at the Alamo Draft House South, 1120 S. Lamar; screening of “The Take” on February 27 at Monkey Wrench Books, 110 E. North Loop Blvd; the Ruta Maya Monday Concert Series, each Monday in March; and the SXSW Day Show on March 18 at Obsolete, Inc., 2207 East 5th St. KOOP officials hope to be back on the air with borrowed equipment sometime later this week.

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