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Frisday, July 14, 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006 by

Aquifer board hears annexation briefing

BSEACD could annex areas of western Travis County

In a move that could possibly expand its territory by as much as one third, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is studying the issues involved in annexing a large portion of Western Travis County

At last night’s meeting, General Manager Kirk Holland gave a report to the district’s Board of Directors outlining the various considerations involved in annexing the area, which is part of the Hill Country Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA), but is not covered by a groundwater conservation district (GCD). The PGMA is an area designated by the state that is experiencing, or is expected to experience, critical groundwater problems including shortages of surface water or groundwater, land subsidence resulting from groundwater withdrawal, and contamination of groundwater supplies.

Led by the Hill Country Alliance, residents in the area—generally south of Lake Travis and north of the Hays County line—began discussions with elected officials and state and local officials over the possibility of forming a GCD in the area. (See In Fact Daily, May 22, 2006) Though most of the area is served by surface water, without a GCD to control the amount of groundwater pumped the so-called "Rule of Capture" applies, allowing landowners to pump unlimited amounts of groundwater.

The Hill Country Alliance has reported in recent weeks that several landowners in the area have said their wells are going dry. (See In Fact Daily, June 13, 2006)

"We think this can work financially," said Holland. "It looks like there is an economically viable path. But we need to look at a number of other factors involved with this."

Holland gave the directors a fact sheet regarding the area, including the estimated number and type of wells, an approximation of annual pumpage and other factors. He divided the numbers into two categories: all of Southwestern Travis County and an area called Preference Zone 1.

"Preference Zone 1 includes areas most likely to ratify annexation," he said, outlining an area on a map closest to the Hays County line. "It avoids the highly developed areas near Lake Travis, Barton Creek and Davenport Ranch, which are very unlikely to vote for annexation."

One board member, Chuck Murphy, expressed some concern that politics rather than science was being used to outline the area to be annexed. Holland said, however, the majority of areas near Lake Travis were already using surface water and were only included in the PGMA because Lake Travis made a convenient geographical border for the area.

The fact sheet showed that there were 19 wells in the Preference Zone 1 area operated by a public water supply, two used for irrigation and golf courses and about 1,000 used for domestic and stock purposes, pumping slightly more than 1.1 billion gallons per year.

The estimated costs of annexing the area included $100,000 for an annexation election, and another $140,000 in annual costs. To offset those costs, he estimated that registration, usage and permit fees from the annexed area would generate about $169,000 each year, covering the additional costs and generating a $29,000 surplus.

Holland told the board that the next step would be to tell the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that they were prepared to annex the area. The TCEQ would then, in turn, "challenge" the district to annex the area, giving it the go-ahead to hold an annexation election.

He emphasized that he was only presenting the board with preliminary data regarding the possibility of annexing the area, and that no firm plans had been made to do so.

NUNA balks at plans to raze, rebuild duplexes

The owner of two lots in the North University Neighborhood will attempt to work with representatives of the neighborhood association to win support for two new duplexes at 306 and 308 W. 34th. The two homes on those lots, dating from the 1960’s, are already being used as duplexes, but owner Chris Wallin wants to demolish those structures to build two new units.

Wallin’s plans are being blocked by a provision of the North University Neighborhood Association’s (NUNA) Neighborhood Conservation Combining District requiring a lot to have a minimum width of 50 feet in order to have a duplex. Wallin’s lots, like many of those in the neighborhood, are both 48.33 feet in width. "All the lots in this immediate area have the 48-foot width…and on these there are quite a few multi-family units," Wallin said. "We did meet with the neighborhood association…we mentioned the fact that our lot was 48.33 and we were told that it was a non-issue." But that initial assessment ultimately proved to be incorrect, so Wallin went before the board to request a variance. "If you could just please look at the findings. I think based on the merits of the case, the variance should be granted."

Several NUNA representatives told the Board they opposed that request. "The position of the neighborhood association is that we want what the NCCD provides," said Bill Bednar, president of NUNA. "What we’ve discovered is that a two-family use may take place on either of those lots without a variance…but for a duplex to be there, a 50 foot front is required. Our preference certainly would be for the two-family configuration rather than the duplex configuration. We were simply mistaken in what we thought the ordinance required."

Other neighbors objected to the proposal to destroy the existing duplexes in favor of larger homes. "These are developers that bought two very small buildings to demolish them to build very giant buildings there. They already knew or should have known when they purchased the property that they were zoned MF-1," said Darren McWhorter. "They were not zoned for duplex use. We spent five years re-zoning everything. This is not a case of hardship. This is a case of ‘hey, I would like to get a different zoning.’ If we’re going to rezone it, then rezone the entire neighborhood the way zoning laws are supposed to work, not spot zoning." Still other neighbors argued that Wallin could get a reasonable use from the properties without the variance by building single-family homes.

Wallin told the board his planned duplexes would not be out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood. "They’re leading you to believe we’re building monster duplexes. That’s just not the case," he said. "We’re not asking for variances regarding size or FAR. The only thing we’re seeking is a variance on the lot width."

At least two members of the board expressed concern about the size of the proposed new duplexes, prompting Board Chairman Frank Fuentes to urge Wallin to request a postponement since he would have to receive votes from six of the seven board members to receive a variance.

Wallin initially resisted that idea. "I think the real issue is, we just need to look at the lot width. All these other items are just clouding the issue. We have met with the neighborhood association," he said, offering the board a copy of the e-mails exchanged between the two parties. "I believe this is just a stall tactic to postpone the project and I don’t feel there is any reason to postpone it. We met with them." But after there was a motion and a second to deny the variance, Wallin requested the postponement, which the board granted.

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

Beaudet to change jobs . . . Planner Annick Beaudet, who has been with the law firm of Brown McCarroll for the past two years, has accepted a position with the City of Austin’s Public Works Department. Beaudet began her city career in Public Works, then moved to neighborhood planning and zoning before joining the law firm. She will return to the city as a project manager, prioritizing sidewalk installation and dealing with ADA issues . . . Fight on MLK zoning . . . One of the clients Beaudet will leave behind is West campus property owner Michel Issa, who wants to build as many as 24 apartment units on the MLK hill overlooking Lamar. Beaudet agreed to a postponement of the zoning case at the Planning Commission this week when a neighborhood representative asked for the delay. Jim Damron said he and his neighbors were surprised to learn that Issa planned 24 units on two lots rather than 12 units on one lot. Beaudet explained that her client made a mistake in his original filing due to misunderstanding. She told In Fact Daily she expects attorney Nikelle Meade to continue discussions with neighborhood representatives before the case returns to the Planning Commission on August 8 . . . Capital Metro open houses . . . Capital Metro plans a series of open houses July 18 through 26 to give the community an update on the All Systems Go Long-Term Transit Plan. The events will feature previews of new transit services coming to Central Texas, including Capital MetroRail and Capital MetroRapid. Citizens also will have the opportunity to provide feedback on train station design concepts in their neighborhoods. The first meeting is scheduled at 11:30am July 18 at the Hilton Hotel, 500 E. 4th Street, and will concentrate on the design of the Downtown – Convention Center Station. The balance of the meeting schedule is available at . . . Cap Metro’s Ferrell named to post . . .Members of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) elected Capital Metro Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dwight Ferrell to its Board of Directors during its annual conference in Austin this week. "Dwight Ferrell has made major contributions to improving the quality of our service in the community," said Capital Metro President and Chief Executive Officer Fred Gilliam. Ferrell joined Capital Metro in January 2005, and directs the operations, maintenance, safety and security activities for its bus, paratransit and freight rail services. He also will oversee the operation of Capital Metro’s Urban Commuter Rail, which begins service in 2008 . . . Global warming . . . Are you concerned about global warming and wondering what you can do to make a difference? Come to the Austin Climate Action Committee meeting July 17 at the Austin History Center from 7-9pm. Enter on Guadalupe and the room is the 2nd door on the right. Meet other concerned citizens and activists to find out what you can do today to make a difference. For more info check out Public Citizen's website at or contact Lindsay LaLonde at 477-1155 . . . New historic street signs . . . Just in time for several large conventions coming to Austin this summer, new street signs identifying Congress Avenue and East Sixth Street as National Register Historic Districts have been installed. The new black and white street signs show each street not only by its current name, but also the street’s original historic names. According to Steve Sadowsky, the City of Austin’s Historic Preservation Officer, each of the streets running east to west were originally named for a species of native Texas tree, but were changed to their current number designation sometime in the late 1890’s. The north/south streets still have their original names for Texas rivers. The signs were funded through a joint effort of the Pecan Street Owners Association, Downtown Austin Alliance, and Old Pecan Street Association with major sponsorship support from Littlefield & Scarbrough properties at Sixth and Congress and the Driskill Hotel.

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