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SH45 plan poses threat, say water experts

Monday, March 27, 2006 by

Environmental board, aquifer district want to talk with TxDOT

With construction scheduled to begin on the Southwest leg of State Highway 45 as early as September, a number of environmental groups are becoming concerned about critical environmental features in the planned path of the proposed toll road. State Highway 45 will eventually form a loop from SH130 east of Round Rock through western Travis County, cutting across the southern part of the county and reconnecting to SH130 near its junction with US 183.

A portion of the SH45 SW alignment—which runs from Loop 1 (MoPac) to FM 1626— runs close to Flint Ridge Cave in Southwest Travis County, a critical environmental feature that drains directly into the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

A subcommittee of the city Environmental Board is studying the issues surrounding SH45 SW. That group met last week and heard from Ed Peacock with Water Protection and Development Review on the city’s discussion with the Texas Department of Transportation on the roadway’s potential impact on the Flint Ridge Cave and the city’s adjacent Water Quality Protection Lands.

Peacock told the subcommittee members— John Dupnik, Julie Jenkins and Amer Gilani—that the city favors implementation of so-called “non-degradation” structures to capture and treat runoff before in enters Flint Ridge Cave. However, there appears to be a difference between the city and TxDOT over what the term non-degradation means, said subcommittee member Dupnik.

“To the city, it means no impact on the groundwater and no additional pollutant loading,” he said. “But TxDOT defines it as no more than 20 percent degradation of the groundwater. We are going to have to come to a meeting of the minds on what non-degradation means.”

Dupnik, who is an Environmental Permit Specialist with the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD), briefed that group’s board on the SH45 issues last week.

He told the aquifer board that another alternative, not supported by the city, is to realign the highway. But TxDOT would likely fight that, as it is getting ready to finalize the roadway’s design.

“As one engineer put it, ‘It’s just a bad place to put a highway,’” Dupnik said.

Another issue surrounding SH45 SW is transmission lines planned through the area by the Lower Colorado River Authority. The proposed Friendship to Manchaca line is planned to run parallel to SH45. The rights for the line have been transferred to the Pedernales Electric Company, and were intended to run along the old Austin Energy easement.

The AE easement is between 80 and 150 foot wide adjacent to the north side of the SH 45 easement. City officials are concerned that adjacent water quality protection lands will be disturbed by the clearing and construction of the transmission line. The city would prefer that the transmission line be built within the SH 45 easement, but TxDOT says that is not possible in the scenic easement of a parkway right-of-way.

The Environmental Board subcommittee plans to meet within the next few weeks with both TxDOT and the LCRA to discuss its concerns over SH45. BSEACD board members expressed an interest in being involved those talks. No date has been scheduled for the discussion.

Clarksville bungalow stays for now

Owner wants new 2,500-square-foot home; neighbors want structure preserved

The Historic Landmark Commission is fighting to save one of the last remaining larger bungalows in the Clarksville neighborhood, a home the current owner is intent on demolishing in order to replace it with a much larger structure.

Owner Patrick Sutton’s choice is not, technically, a McMansion issue on the scale of those noted in Tarrytown and Hyde Park. Sutton wants to tear down his 800-square-foot house and replace it with a suburban-sized, 2,500-square-foot house. That’s allowed within the interim ordinance.

But while the size may appear to be comparable to much of the new construction in the city, it’s out of scale with many of the homes in a freedman’s community, Commissioner Julia Bunton told her colleagues in her protest of Sutton’s demolition permit.

Bunton said she would no more tell the people of West Austin she intended to build a modest 800-square-foot home in their upscale neighborhoods than she would expect someone to come into Clarksville and say he was building a West Austin type ranch style house in the city’s original freedman’s community. Sutton’s proposal, while appropriate in West Austin, was out of character in Clarksville, Bunton said.

In his presentation, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said the bungalow at 1710 West 10th St. has one of the last intact structures of the third phase of the development of the Clarksville community. The first phase, built at the turn of the last century, included the smallest homes, no more than rudimentary structures, or shacks, for freed slaves. That was followed by a second and third phase of development, with larger bungalow-style homes.

As the income increased in the neighborhood, the size, stature and fashion of the bungalows grew, Sadowsky said.

This home on 10th Street, Sadowsky said, was historic in that it mirrored the evolution of Clarksville into a community with its own tastes and wealth. It captured some of the early character of an historic Austin neighborhood.

“I would hate to see this house go away,” Sadowsky admitted. “It may not have the historic significance necessary to qualify for historic designation, but I would want to do everything possible to encourage the new owner to retain this structure for the housing project on his site.”

Sutton had a career in the historic restoration of older homes in Alexandria, Va., before he moved to Austin, but he appeared a bit mystified by the commission’s concern. This structure, after much review, did not have sufficient integrity to be preserved, he told the commission. The foundation no longer held up the home, causing it to sag, and the posts themselves in the foundation lacked stability. Because of that, the doors and windows no longer fit securely. And the home simply wasn’t historic, he said.

“I don’t see this as a salvageable structure, and after looking at it, I think the facts are overwhelmingly that this is not a safe structure at this time,” Sutton said.

That was not enough to convince the commissioners. Mary Reed of the Clarksville Community Development Corporation said the home had been rated as a high priority for preservation in the review of Clarksville structures. Community members stepped forward to talk about some of the history of the residents. And Commissioner Patti Hansen pointed out that most of the houses in Clarksville needed foundation repairs.

The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously to initiate a historic zoning case on the structure. Sadowsky will return to the commission in April to present a fuller review and history of the structure. Sutton was asked to present more evidence of the issues surrounding the structural integrity of the home.

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

No decision on AMD case . . . District Judge John Dietz did not release his decision Friday on the SOS Alliance’s request to stop the city from issuing a building permit to allow AMD to build a new campus on Southwest Parkway. Dietz heard SOS’ request for a temporary injunction last week. At issue is whether the city’s Chapter 245 committee made the right decision when it decided AMD does not have to comply with the SOS Ordinance. (See In Fact Daily March 23, 2006) . . . More lawsuit news . . . Several Austinites who support the Save Our Springs Alliance charter amendments relating to development in the Barton Springs Zone and online government sued the City of Austin last week over the lengthy and controversial language proposed for the May 13 ballot. Environmentalist Mary Arnold, one of the plaintiffs, said the language (See In Fact Daily, March 10, 2006) is unlike the language used in previous elections and unlike the simple wording of the other proposed charter amendments. If the Council is concerned about the impact of the amendments, she said, “there are other ways they could make known their concerns rather than putting it in the ballot language.” A hearing on a temporary injunction is set for next Thursday. Arnold said petitioners would not want the date of the election changed . . . Chamber opposes amendments . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce's board of directors voted last week to oppose two citizen-initiated charter amendment on the May ballot. Supporters say the measures would ensure an open government and make it official city policy to steer development to the east and downstream of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. The Save Our Springs Alliance organized the collection of more than 20,000 signatures to place the proposals on the May 13 ballot. But the chamber says the amendments "will have dangerous effects on the quality of life in Austin," said Chair Tim Crowley. "Not only will they severely limit the abilities of our city leaders to help grow our local economy, these amendments will be costly to implement and invade the privacy of any citizen who wishes to participate in civic affairs.” . . . Ethics commission fines . . . The Texas Ethics Commission on Friday failed to require Republican bigwig Bill Ceverha, a trustee of the Employees Retirement System of Texas, to report the size of a check he received (at least $250) from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. Ceverha used to be treasurer of Texans for a Republican Majority and as such was sued by five Democrats who said they were injured by illegal contributions to TRM PAC. When he lost the suit, Ceverha was ordered to pay $196,600 in damages and attorney fees. He filed for bankruptcy. Ceverha told the San Antonio Express-News the lawsuit cost him $850,000 in legal fees and that Perry’s gift was to help with those expenses. Commissioners voting against requiring the amount of such gifts to be disclosed said the Legislature could act if members believed such disclosure should be required. They’ll be here next month . . . More ethics stuff . . . The TEC did decide to fine two local representatives and a PAC. Rep. Mike Krusee was fined $500 for failing to file his financial disclosure information on time, according to TEC spokesman Tim Sorrells. Newly elected Rep. Donna Howard was fined $100, reduced from $500, for filing a corrected contribution and expenditure report after the deadline and Louis Malfaro of Education Austin PAC was fined $500, reduced from the original amount of $1,700, for a similar violation, Sorrells said . . . Meetings . . . The Design Commission meets at 5:45pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Historic Landmark Commission will meet at 7pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . McCracken party . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken will kick off his re-election campaign at 5:30pm tonight at Threadgill’s on Riverside.

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