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Hays County adopts goals for development guidelines

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 by

The Hays County Commissioners’ Court took steps Tuesday towards revising the county’s subdivision regulations after hearing a presentation from Tom Brown, the intergovernmental affairs manager for Naismith Engineering. The commissioners, minus an absent Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, voted unanimously to adopt a set of goals, objectives and policies recommended by the Hays County Development Regulation Core Committee that will pave the way for new development guidelines.

As part of a four-year effort to come up with a multi-county water quality protection plan, Hays County Commissioners are trying to overhaul subdivision regulations and coordinate new development. The revision of subdivision regulations is meant not only to minimize pollution of groundwater sources, but also to ensure adequate development of infrastructure like roads, emergency services and utilities.

While the adoption of the group’s goals and policies won’t immediately change the county’s regulations, it paves the way for a July meeting of stakeholders that will include discussions about specific changes.

The planning for what will eventually become a new regional water quality plan, and in Hays County a new subdivision ordinance, started with Hays C ounty Judge Jim Powers and Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher in 2002. When the residential population in the Edwards Aquifer region started to dramatically increase almost five years ago, Slusher and Powers convened a regional summit to begin discussions about the impact of development on the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.

Tuesday’s presentation focused on a broad set of recommendations for Hays County development that stemmed from input from school districts, cities and individuals. Recommended policies included a requirement that developers provide necessary infrastructure for proposed developments and coordination between the county, state agencies, other municipalities and public utilities.

The five goals included recovering fees from the review of applications and permits from developers and the development of a procedure to limit conflict with existing municipal ordinances.

"As we grow, it’s going to be critical that everyone has an idea of who is in charge of what," Powers said.

The July meetings are planned for a time when water availability is an added concern in Hays County. With drought restrictions in effect, groundwater districts are facing high demand from an increasing residential base.

Commissioners talked about the possibility of collecting an impact fee from developers, but Brown said the county doesn’t have the authority to charge impact fees. Instead, Brown said, the county can enter into a contractual agreement with developers.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to hire Stephen Dickman, a lawyer with the Austin office of Kelly Hart & Hallman LLP, to serve as legal counsel for upcoming public meetings about the revision of the county’s regulations and the regional water quality plan.

Upward mobility wins approval

BOA grants variance to accommodate indoor rock-climbing

The developer of a proposed indoor rock-climbing gym at 2631 S. Capital of Texas Highway won a variance from the Board of Adjustment Monday night to allow the facility to exceed the normal 40-foot height limit associated with tracts near a Hill Country Roadway. While the variance is officially for 3.5 feet, the building itself will actually be more than 60 feet high at its tallest point, since the base of the building will be below ground level to minimize the height.

"The Hill Country Roadway Ordinance 40-foot height limit was established primarily to limit typical office building construction to three stories," said agent Jim Wittliff, who represented Uplifting Properties. "I don’t think they considered the unique construction requirements of an indoor rock climbing gym when the ordinance was established."

In order to meet standards for international indoor rock-climbing competitions, the facility’s rock wall must be at least 12 meters (approximately 39 feet) high. "The United States has never had a facility capable of hosting the Indoor World Championships of Climbing," said Steve Goldstein, owner of Uplifting Properties. "Those are held in Europe or China. This would be the first facility in the country capable of doing that. It will be a hallmark for the city. It’s basically a gift to the City of Austin for my hobby."

Some board members were unconvinced by Wittliff’s initial findings of fact for the variance. "On the hardship, you’re asking us to consider the use," said Chairman Frank Fuentes. "What if, the day after tomorrow, it’s no longer a rock climbing place…and we’ve granted this property a special privilege based on the use?" Board Member Bryan King said the hardship was essentially of Goldstein’s own making. "I also think it’s an issue of design," he said. "You’ve got a world-class architect who hasn’t solved a problem here, who needs a variance to overcome his design."

But other members of the board pointed out that other uses with unique design needs had received variances, such as churches or schools. The board gave Wittliff some time to rewrite his findings of fact and return at the end of the meeting. But at that time, Board Members Bryan King and Greg Smith were still reluctant to grant the requested variance. "It’s a 60 foot elevation 200 feet long," said King. "That’s an encroachment, in my opinion, into the viewshed that’s pretty massive." As a compromise, the board voted to support the height variance for 140 feet of the building’s 200-foot length.

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

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