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Discussion of WTP#4 on tap at Council meeting

Thursday, June 22, 2006 by

Council Members Brewster McCracken and Jennifer Kim will likely find themselves on opposite sides of a debate today when Council takes up the question of whether to move forward immediately with Water Treatment Plant #4. They do agree on the need to purchase property to replace the aging Green Water Treatment Plant.

Kim said Wednesday that she would have many questions for the Austin Water Utility staff when the question of restarting the design for WTP #4, which would be on Lake Travis, comes up. She has already submitted several pages of written questions. McCracken and Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Betty Dunkerley have sponsored an item directing City Manager Toby Futrell to "move forward on the design, engineering, and construction of a new water treatment plant."

McCracken said the plant would be located on RR 2222 past the River Place subdivision on land the city previously purchased as part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. He said this particular property would be more suitable than the land previously proposed for WTP #4. "The information so far that has been presented to me is that the land swap would take land that is rated poor by the Environmental Board for black cap vireo habitat and instead add in very good golden-cheeked warbler habitat."

Kim said she needs a lot more information—which may not be readily available—about the habitat. She said, "There’s preliminary work that says it's not as bad as the (original) proposed site. But we don't know until we start boring and U.S. Fish and Wildlife does their assessment." But whether the site is appropriate or not is up to the federal agencies, not the city, she added. She said she is concerned that those questions would cause delays.

Leffingwell is also going to be pushing for more aggressive water conservation programs. Kim said she also would question the efficacy of such programs. "Questions for me are the cost and any potential cost savings. How reliable are the numbers for delaying the need for another water treatment plant?" She added that Samsung would be using additional water when it builds its new plant "but they don't know how much that will be."

The LCRA has also proposed that the city co-locate a water treatment plant with one the river agency plans to build near Cedar Park. It is unclear how much consideration that option has received.

Both McCracken and Kim said the discussion about WTP#4 would be in open session although they expect to talk about purchase of the private site for Green in executive session since it is a real estate matter not subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Parched residents push for groundwater district

What began as a discussion of the possibility of starting a groundwater conservation district in western Travis County has become a full-fledged push by area residents who are finding their wells dry even as commercial interests pump huge amounts of water out of the ground.

Members of the Hill Country Alliance are pursuing the issue after discovering that the developer of the Belvedere subdivision on Hamilton Pool Road had constructed roads through the property and built an amenity center that included a one-acre lake with a fountain. According to information from Christy Muse, director of the Hill Country Alliance, the developer of the lake was pumping up to 56,000 gallons per day to keep the lake filled, while several nearby property owners saw creeks and stock tanks run dry due to a lack of rain."

Had southwest Travis County had the protection of a Groundwater Conservation District this situation likely would not have occurred," Muse said. "A well pumping as little as 1500-2000 gallons per day would have been regulated and monitored by a GCD, and millions of gallons of groundwater would have not has been pumped out of the aquifer during a drought solely as a decorative and aesthetic amenity."

The issue of a GCD was discussed at length in May at a meeting in the Hamilton Pool area sponsored the Hill Country alliance and hosted by Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. (See In Fact Daily, May 22, 2006) Representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Lower Colorado River Authority, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and the Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District talked with local residents about the process of forming a GCD.

The issue is also on the BSEACD agenda for discussion at tonight’s meeting. One option for western Travis County residents is to have the Barton Springs District annex the area into its jurisdiction. The other would be to petition the TCEQ to create a new and separate GCD for the area. Either option would require a majority vote by residents in the area. One other option would be for the Texas Legislature to create a district in the area.

Western Travis County is already part of a larger Hill Country Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA), which makes it eligible to be included in a GCD. Bandera, Blanco, Gillespie, Kendall, and Kerr and parts of Bexar, Comal, Hays, and Travis

Counties make up the Hill Country PGMA. Only two portions of the HC PGMA are not represented by a GCD – Comal County and Western Travis County.

Muse said Joel Roebuck, the Belvedere developer stopped pumping when neighbors brought their concerns to him and said he would wait until the LCRA completed a surface water line to the area. But without a GCD, she said he could probably pump as much as he wanted under the state’s "right of capture" law.

"Since the lakes in question are part of a large greenbelt within Belvedere, Mr. Robuck is probably legally entitled to pump groundwater to fill the lakes in question," Muse said. "Although the immediate problem with Belvedere seems to be checked for the moment, there are no binding guarantees that pumping could not resume in the future."

The Zoning and Platting Commission this week approved an alternate zoning recommendation to turn a multi-family four-plex on Lake Austin Boulevard into a potential restaurant site.

The commercial use is compatible with other businesses in the area. As Blake Tollett of the West Austin Neighborhood Group noted, the surrounding neighborhoods have worked with a number of developers to turn homes into businesses along Lake Austin Boulevard, including the Magnolia Café across the street. What was difficult to land on was the appropriate zoning intensity for the site at 2307 Lake Austin Blvd, which also happens to be one of the city’s scenic roadways.

"Most everything along Lake Austin Boulevard has been converted from residential stock," Tollett said. "The neighborhood association has done a lot over the last 20 years to help the process, but we agree with the staff recommendation that the CS zoning is spot zoning and inappropriate for the site."

Owner Denver Dunlap, wanted to rezone from MF-3 to CS-MU, primarily because of a need to put a parking lot on the site for a restaurant. Case manager Jorge Rousselin said the zoning category was not compatible with surrounding businesses along Lake Austin Boulevard and proposed an alternate recommendation of GR-MU-CO.

The difference in development standards between CS and GR comes down to impervious cover and floor-to-area ratio. Both CS and GR allow a maximum building height of 60 feet, but the maximum building cover is 95 percent under CS, compared to 75 percent under GR. The maximum impervious cover is 95 percent under CS, compared to 90 percent under GR, and the floor-to-area ratio under CS is 2-to-1, compared to a GR accommodation of 1-to-1 on floor-to-area ratios.

The 90 percent impervious cover will require a variance because the site is located in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. Under the current Land Development Code, the impervious cover limits on the site for a commercial building would be 40 percent of the net site area or 55 percent of the net site with transfers.

Given that the impervious cover was needed, primarily, for parking, the change in standards did not appear to be exceptionally steep. Neighbors, however, also were concerned about the height of the project, wanting to see the limits scaled back to 40 feet along Lake Austin Boulevard instead of the 60 feet allowed under GR zoning.

Tollett said WANG had come to a similar conclusion with Magnolia Café, giving the restaurant a bit more impervious cover but limiting the height to the heights under LR zoning. That was far more compatible for the area, especially given the fact the tract was located in the Deep Eddy sub-district of the Waterfront overlay. Everything the applicant wants to do could be accomplished with those limitations, Tollett said.

"This applicant is going to face quite a few obstacles if he wants to get to 90 percent impervious cover," said Tollett, noting that Dunlap will have to seek an environmental variance to get his project done. "There are going to be hurdles that are out there for him to jump over, but there are plenty of examples where hurdles have been met. The GR is quite an intensive zoning for us. If we went for LR, the FAR would be .5-to-1."

ZAP agreed to GR-MU-CO with a height limit of 40 feet on the site. The conditional overlay would also prohibit a number of uses, including automotive rentals, repairs, sales and washing, along with commercial off-street parking, pawn shop services and service stations. ZAP also recommended prohibiting a drive-through on the site.

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

McMansions vote highlights Council agenda . . . Four items on today’s Council agenda relate to the Single-Family Development Regulations, a.k.a. the McMansions Ordinance. The public hearing on the ordinance has been closed and Council will consider the ordinance on third and final reading. Another item before the Council will extend the life of the Task Force for one year to consider recommendations regarding residential occupancy limitations, use and site development regulations for flag lots, and modification of the site development regulations in neighborhood areas other than neighborhood plan zoning districts. A third item will extend the interim ordinance until October 16, when the permanent ordinance will take place. And finally, there will be a resolution to consider several amendments to the City Code by the Task Force to clarify compatibility and building permit provisions in the City Code; modify non-complying structure and height provisions; and to add any additional amendments necessary. All of the items are scheduled during the 10am session of the meeting . . . Another major item on the agenda that is likely to spur much discussion at the dais is a proposal to instruct City Manager Toby Futrell to study consolidating the city’s Park Police and Airport Police with the main body of the Police Department. Cost will be a major concern, since neither Parks nor Airport officers are currently subject to the meet and confer contract process. . . . Two more items expected to draw a crowd are public hearings involving two high-rise condominium projects. One is the Pavilion, a controversial project on US 183 near the Arboretum, and the other is the Star Riverside Residential, at the corner of Riverside Drive and I-35. Both have neighborhood opposition . . . Apartment case postponed . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission has agreed to postpone consideration of a site plan – actually an environmental variance to construct driveways and utilities – on Fairfield Residential at Woodland Park, until August 1. During discussions, attorney Michael Whellan noted that the property, if constructed, would be the first multi-family development under SOS ordinance standards to be constructed in the Barton Springs’ water quality transition zone. The project is located at 3226 W Slaughter Lane on Slaughter Creek . . . Career change for McCracken . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken said Wednesday that he has decided to give up the practice of law. His job on the City Council keeps him busy full-time, McCracken said, leaving him little time for his old occupation. He did not agree to give up cross-examining those who appear before the City Council, however. McCracken is with the law firm DuBois, Bryant, Campbell & Schwartz . . . Campaign kickoff . . . Libertarian Rock Howard will kick off his State Senate Campaign at 7:30pm Thursday with a press conference upstairs at the Ventana del Soul coffee shop, 1834 East Oltorf. He will face Democrat Kirk Watson in November . . . Dessau Lane update . . . Amy Link provided an update on medians on Dessau Road between Parmer Lane and Braker Lane at Tuesday night’s ZAP meeting. The mismatch between the medians and the roads in Pioneer Crossing – especially at the intersection of Dessau Road and Shropshire Boulevard — was a point of discussion at a prior meeting, and Commissioner Keith Jackson wanted a fuller explanation of the road’s medians. Link explained that the medians were constructed by Travis County prior to the construction of the Pioneer Crossing subdivision and prior to the annexation of the area into the city in 1997. The medians do not meet city standards, nor match the subdivision, but the bottom line on the discussion was that to adjust the medians to current city standards and lengths would require widening a bridge in the area, which the city considers to be cost-prohibitive.

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