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Coalition opposes Belterra permit

Monday, April 3, 2006 by

Neighbors hope Belterra residents will join them

A coalition of environmental groups and other entities are coordinating efforts to oppose a permit application by Hays County Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) No. 1 to dump more effluent into Bear Creek.

WCID No. 1, which serves the Belterra subdivision in Northeast Hays County, filed a petition in December to increase the amount of untreated effluent that enters the creek from 100,000 gallons per day to 800,000 gallons per day. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 28, 2006) Water from that portion of Bear Creek enters the Barton Springs recharge zone section of the Edwards Aquifer.

“There are a number of entities . . . that are undertaking technical assessments and analyses based on the information that’s provided in the permit application,” said Kirk Holland, general manager of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. “We are all taking a look at what that means from various perspectives, such as surface water hydrology, from downstream water quality impacts, stream bios, springs bios, and recharge quality impacts.”

Holland said in addition to BSEACD, entities such as the City of Austin, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, the Hill Country Alliance, Friendship Alliance and area property owner associations are gathering data about water flow in the creek and the effect the dumping might have on water quality there and in Barton Springs. Representatives from those groups met last week to organize and coordinate their efforts.

“They discussed strategy and public relations efforts,” Holland said. “We’re probably less involved with that. We are just keeping our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on.” He said the group plans to meet again this week.

The permit application is still in the technical review phase at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The groups are hoping to convince the TCEQ to hold a public hearing on the permit before a final determination is made.

“We are developing information that we are going to try and get in the hands of the TCEQ technical review folks in a timely fashion,” said Holland. “That’s not a matter of days or even weeks. We still have some months to go on that.”

Other groups in the area are taking a more direct approach, going door-to-door last weekend to talk to Belterra residents about the issues surrounding the permit. Groups such as the Bear Creek Property Owners Association and Nutty Brown Road Neighborhood Organization planned on knocking on about 350 doors on Saturday morning in the subdivision.

“I’m afraid that volume of water is too much to handle,” said Bear Creek POA President Barbara Stroud. “Even if it stays as clean as they claim it will, I think it’s just too much.”

“This is unprecedented in our area because creeks and streams such as Bear Creek directly recharge our two fragile aquifers, the Trinity and Edwards,” said Karen Ford, president of the Nutty Brown group. “We believe Belterra Home Owners want to be good upstream neighbors, and we believe they will join us in opposing direct stream discharge if they know the facts, the science, and the consequences — and understand that viable alternatives to this action do exist.”

Galleria developers seek road district bonds

Daugherty supports, Sonleitner opposes county issuance of bonds

Developers of the proposed $200 million Hill Country Galleria in the Village of Bee Caves have turned to Travis County to issue bonds for road improvements, a plan that appeared to win support from Commissioner Gerald Daugherty last week but little sympathy from his colleague and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner.

Developers of the Hill County Galleria –including Chris Milam in conjunction with Lincoln Properties and Opus West – want the county to authorize the creation of a road district. The road district would issue up to $15 million in low-interest bonds to make improvements to State Highway 71, FM 620, RM 2244 and a newly created road along the north that would be called the Galleria Parkway.

County officials discarded the idea of road districts about 20 years ago, when a handful of ill-conceived districts went belly up, Carol Joseph of the Transportation and Natural Resources Department told commissioners at a work session last Thursday. If commissioners were to put this road district on the agenda and approve it this month, it would be the first road district approved since the new policy in 1988.

If Sonleitner has her way, it’s unlikely a road district will be created now either. Sonleitner raised a host of objections over the creation of the district: The county had little or no role in shaping the development. Some of the items in the proposal – such as signalization and landscaping – had a far shorter life span than the proposed bonds. And Sonleitner raised two more serious objections: She concluded that the Village of Bee Caves should have shouldered more of the financial burden of the infrastructure improvements since the project sat wholly in the city’s limits, and that the county should offer no incentive of any kind for building over the aquifer.

The Hill County Galleria always required some amount of public financial assistance, estimated in the range of $30 million. Under current terms, the Village of Bee Caves has signed a Chapter 380 agreement that provides the developers with tax breaks of up to $21 million over 15 years. That would be paired, they hope, with a road district. For every additional $4 in outside economic incentives the developer receives from other sources, the assistance the Village of Bee Caves would provide to the project would be reduced by $1.

A road district was not the developers’ first choice to assist in financing the shopping center. From the beginning, the developers wanted to see the approval of a municipal maintenance district and a Chapter 380 incentive agreement with the Village of Bee Caves. The maintenance district was among the bills that died at the end of the last legislative session.

Other entities that must offer comments on the district – such as CAMPO, TxDOT and Bee Caves – did offer comments on the project. The road improvements in the project are in the CAMPO 2030 plan. But the comment was offered that the true anchor tenant of the project – the major anchor that would pull in other tenants – is outside the district and would not be subject to the proposed 51-cent property tax rate proposed by the district. Such a tax rate also could discourage leasing of additional tenants, Joseph told commissioners in her review of the comments.

The current property tax rate in the Village of Bee Caves is 2 cents per hundred-dollar valuation. The tax rate in the City of Austin is 44 cents. Sonleitner noted that given the scope of the road district improvements and their impact on the region, a road district should have a broader scope of land within its borders.

Attorney David Armbrust, who is representing the developers, said the risk to the county would be minimized under the terms of the 156-acre road district. The developers would shoulder initial improvements out to the project, and then new and expanded roads under the road district would not be built until the construction was completed. Developers expect the road improvements to ”do no harm,” or simply to alleviate traffic in the area to the point where the traffic congestion and progress after the road improvements is either the same or slightly better than the existing traffic on the roadways in the area.

The $200 million Hill Country Galleria is a mixed-use project with a number of different components: 60 town homes valued at $260,000 apiece; 300 apartments valued at $95,000 apiece; a total of 643,000 square feet of retail space at $125 per square foot; 158,000 square feet of office space, with an additional 90,000 square feet of cafes and food courts; a 50,000 square-foot cinema, and a 765,000-square-foot parking garage. The project is expected to open within 12 to 18 months.

Daugherty sees the road district as a possible way to get roads built in Travis County that he believes need to be built anyway. Funding is tight and getting tighter. Sonleitner, on the other hand, thinks the Village of Bee Caves should have stepped up to the plate and taken on more of the risk. But as Brad Young of the city candidly admitted, it has always been Bee Caves’ hope to drive down the tax rate as low as possible. And, beyond that, the terms of the current incentive agreement, with its give-and-take, were the result of many months of negotiation between city leaders and the Hill County Galleria developers—after a successful lawsuit by the SOS Alliance to eliminate the first agreement.

Financial advisor Ladd Patillo noted that the road district, given its structure, was unlikely to be put the county at any financial risk. The creation of the road district, he noted, really was more of a policy question than a liability question.

County Judge Sam Biscoe said the soonest the road district could be on the agenda would be April 11. Without the road district, the developers expect to scale back the project, possibly by as much as $25 million. That could have a direct impact on the tenants and revenue of the project, Armbrust said.

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

City Council meeting today . . . The Council will meet at 10am today to try to remedy the problems with ballot language for Amendments 1 and 2, the Open Government Amendment and the SOS Amendment. On Friday, Judge Stephen Yelenosky signed an order granting plaintiffs a temporary injunction against the city. He ruled orally on Thursday that the Council could not use its cost estimate, among other things, on the ballot. (See In Fact Daily, March 31, 2006.) Those who remember such things would note that fooling around with citizen petitions in Austin generally causes a backlash amongst voters, making it harder for opponents of such measures to convince the public that whatever the signers wanted was a bad idea—the SOS Ordinance, for example, had similar Council opposition. One group opposing the amendments, the Committee for Austin’s Future, sent out a mail piece last week that quotes the ballot language and broadly describes it in negative terms. Ann Del Llano, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, provided a copy of the piece to an In Fact Daily reporter. Del Llano said the piece itself demonstrates the bias of the ballot language . . . The second PAC opposing the amendments, known as EDUCATE PAC, a group of environmental and community leaders, sent out an email last week citing problems associated with the amendments. “While we all support clean water and open government we believe that these amendments are poorly written and have a number of unintended consequences, including a steep cost that will preclude the City from addressing other pressing needs, such as acquiring water quality protection lands, addressing the backlog in parks maintenance, and providing affordable housing,” the email said. Signers include: Jon Beall, Jeb Boyt, Valarie Bristol, George Cofer, Jim Cousar, Fred Ellis, Glenn Gadbois, Jack Kirfman, Council Member Lee Leffingwell, Charlie McCabe, Nan McRaven, Susan Rieff Ted Siff, and Daryl Slusher. . . Early voting begins . . . Early voting begins today in runoff elections from the March 7 primaries. The main runoff races in Travis County are in the District 47 race for the Texas House. Jason Earle and Valinda Bolton are on the Democratic ballot and Alex Castano and Bill Welch are on the Republican ballot. Also on the Republican ballot is a runoff in District 50 between Jeff Fleece and Don Zimmerman. In Williamson County, Republicans Gary Coe and Ron Morrison are in a runoff for the Precinct 4 County Commissioner seat. Early voting continues through Friday. Election Day is April 11. . . Look for the pink dots . . . Capital Metro and the Downtown Austin Alliance are joining forces to reward riders with the chance to win great prizes, including tickets to the second season launch premiere and party of the KLRU series “Downtown.” The “Pink Dot Prize Patrol” will randomly board Express, Limited and downtown ‘Dillo routes during heavy commuting times on Friday and next Monday to give away 25 pairs of tickets to the April 11 event. To be eligible for prizes, bus riders must approach the prize patrol members and say, “I want to go downtown,” or ask about the promotion. The “Pink Dot Prize Patrol” will be easy to spot. They will wear hats with pink dots . . . Get your bike . . . Texas Governor Rick Perry recently signed a proclamation which decrees April 27 Bike & Walk to School Day in Texas. Information is available on the web at http://www.biketexas.org, including resources materials, school registration form and FAQs.

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