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City insists Lucas tract not viable for WTP4

Thursday, August 24, 2006 by

The Lucas tract – and whether it presents a viable alternative to the Cortaña site – has arisen as one of the more interesting side discussions on the siting of Water Treatment Plant 4, and it highlights what might become a rather large schism between Austin and Travis County in ongoing negotiations over the city’s impending water plant decision.

The Lucas tract is not, as the In Fact Daily erroneously reported initially, the Georgia Lucas tract that contains the Brightleaf State Park. (See In Fact Daily, Aug.23, 2006) Instead, it is a 340-acre parcel owned by developer Joe Lucas off Comanche Trail Drive and in the target area for acquisitions to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. According to county staff, Lucas approached Commissioner Gerald Daugherty about two weeks ago to suggest a deal in which he would sell 140 of those acres to the county in exchange for the right to develop the balance. A portion of the county-owned acreage, Lucas suggested, could be the treatment plant.

This development was unexpected but not unwelcome, said Environmental Officer John Kuh l. The Lucas tract always has been considered a key potential acquisition for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, which the county continues to struggle to complete. Given the opposition to the Bull Creek and Cortaña sites, Travis County saw the site to be viable, at least for some further consideration, especially given the likely approval by the US Fish and Wildlife Department for some type of Section 10A mitigation permit.

Kevin Connally, who runs the county’s Balcones Canyonlands Preserve program, said the idea even arose that the city and county might share in the acquisition costs. About 37 acres of the site – with less than a 15 percent slope – is on one side of Comanche Trail. On the other side of Comanche Trail is another 80 acres with minimal slopes, he said. One idea floated was the city and county could purchase different sides of the property and the road might be realigned. That would be helpful, given that the county probably only has about $9 million or so to spend on the acquisition from a state grant.

County Commissioners took the proposal into executive session last week, with the city’s legal team standing by to offer input. By the time the proposal reached the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve’s Scientific Advisory Committee the following day, however, it was clear the city considered it an unworkable solution, citing slope issues on the site. It was the opinion of the city that no more than 30 acres were workable as a plant site, a piece too small to accommodate the full build-out of the water treatment plant.

“The county does not want to be viewed as not cooperating with their partner,” Kuhl said. “The county might rule out Lucas as a site – the city holds that there isn’t enough flat land out there – but since I haven’t seen how Carollo Engineering might put the plant together on this site, I just don’t know.”

City Manager Toby Futrell says the city has walked the Lucas tract. The karst and slope features on the site are difficult, at best, with a maximum of 30 acres for development.

“It’s a very difficult tract to develop, and it doesn’t have a big enough flat space,” Futrell said. “It’s great habitat, which is why the county wants it. It was originally assessed and not graded in the second round (of the Alan Plummer Associates’ assessment). We’ve been back twice at the county’s request,” each time finding the tract unsuitable.

The city and county would have to go through a number of steps before it was clear whether the Lucas site was a viable alternative, not the least of which would be a negotiation of development rights and an appraisal of value on the Lucas site, Connally said. Even then, the environmental features could make the site out of the question. He said the city is currently evaluating whether Lucas has a right to develop under state grandfather laws.

So, consider the Lucas tract from two points of view. From the county’s view, the city could both resolve its own water plant issue and help the county make a key preserve acquisition. From the city’s point of view, the county is asking the city to help pick up what ought to rightly be the county’s liability. And the city already has spent good money to acquire other sites it considers to be a “sure thing” while the Lucas tract is still a question mark in the minds of both city and county staff. The acquisition of the 102-acre Bull Creek site, even back in 1984, was $20 million.

This week, county officials took the topic into executive session again, to no avail. County Judge Sam Biscoe came out and said the county still had legal issues it needed to discuss with the city. That hasn’t stopped the city, though. Council Member Brewster McCracken said he expects the Council to vote today to direct the manager to move forward with WTP4 on Cortaña unless Travis County refuses to agree. In that case, she will be told to move forward with a plant on the original Bull Creek site, which is home to the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler Cortaña has 10 nesting pairs of Black-Capped Vireos.

“It would not surprise me to get that direction. We have to get started on a plant,” Futrell said. “We bought this tract in ’84. We mitigated in ’92. We’ve been planning it for 20 years. We’ve evaluated every piece of direct land in a five-mile radius… It may not be the right thing to do (to develop on the Bull Creek site), but I don’t see that we have any other options if we cannot get any buyoff on any alternative site.”

Austin is well-positioned to move forward with a water supply decision, but the city is actually putting itself in a crisis because it can’t make a decision on a water plant, Futrell said, adding that is not a place where the city should be.

CAMPO touts new regional growth planning

Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization staff is planning a series of public meetings in Austin, Round Rock, San Marcos, and Bastrop next month as part of its Regional Growth Concept. The transportation planning organization is working on its own long-term growth map to help set priorities for future transportation projects.

While the project will have some similarities to the preferred growth scenario developed by Envision Central Texas, CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick said the Regional Growth Concept would have its own focus on reducing traffic congestion.

The ECT map, he said, was a “planner’s paradise. If planners ruled the world, we would organize everybody to that map. That’s much different than the way we’re growing now,” he noted. “The question is…can we get all of the 40 cities and five counties to agree on a pattern…and can we implement that. It’s a joint project. CAMPO doesn’t dictate anything. We’re going to talk and figure out if we can reach a pattern with less congestion. This work will be the basis for our next plan, the CAMPO2035 plan, which we will adopt four years from now.”

CAMPO plans to incorporate the input from ECT along with comments received at public hearings throughout September to craft a proposal for consideration by the group’s board early in 2007. That suggestion will include a focus on “activity centers,” similar to mixed-use style development, which will include both retail and residential in a pedestrian-friendly environment.

The first public workshop on the Regional Growth Concept is scheduled for Round Rock on September 13. In the meantime, anyone interested can provide input on-line at

Affordable housing continues to top the list of concerns for the Saltillo District’s community advisory group (CAG). The group of East Side leaders are likely to provide the most vocal commentary when the city brings in the prime consultant intended to lead the development of the individual transit-oriented development station plans along Capital Metro’s proposed Leander-to-downtown commuter rail line.

City and Capital Metro representatives met with the Saltillo District CAG Monday to review concerns and the timeline for the Saltillo station plan. Members of the CAG include community activists such as Eric Anderson, Susana Almanza and Lori Renteria. The group, which has been meeting for a number of years, has represented the Saltillo-area neighborhoods’ concerns about development, traffic and affordable housing.

The creation of the station plan, especially for Saltillo, will be a combination of multiple past and future planning efforts, liberally sprinkled with ongoing community goals.

George Adams, the city’s liaison on the plan, says the city intends to sign a contract with PB Placemaking, an arm of Parsons Brinkerhoff, by the end of September. PB Placemaking has extensive experience with transit-oriented development around the country, Adams told the Saltillo CAG. About six weeks after the city signs its contract with the company, Adams expects PB to begin work on three initial plans, followed by an additional three station plans, which would give the city six full station plans to consider by the end of 2007, if all goes well.

What makes the planning a bit more complicated for Saltillo is that ROMA already has created a plan for Saltillo, a conceptual overlay for the station site. And the neighborhood already has completed extensive neighborhood planning. As Adams explains it, PB Placemaking will come in and lead the six to nine month planning effort on Saltillo project, taking into account the broad planning that already has taken place.

Even while this planning is going on, another analysis will be taking place. Diana McIver & Associates has been hired by the city to complete an affordable housing analysis of all the station sites, determining what kind of density and affordability requirements can be placed on each of the station sites along the Cap Metro line. Adams says the work of DMA and PB Placemaking will place checks and balances on each other, providing a more complete picture of what might be feasible on the 11-acre site.

The city’s initial estimate has been that the Saltillo site could support 25 units-per-acre. That estimate may be too high or too low, depending on DMA’s market assessment, Adams said. One component of the site assessment will be affordable housing, depending on the density the site might support. Obviously, the more density the site can support, the more ability that developers would have to offer some amount of affordable housing at the Saltillo station.

That goal of higher density may be complicated, though, by Capital Metro’s estimate that it would take an additional $9 million in city infrastructure to support high-density development at Saltillo.

Even beyond DMA and PB Placemaking – not to mention ROMA’s past plan – Capital Metro has hired Economic Research Associates to gauge the fiscal viability and potential at each station site. This, too, will be a part of the process.

Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Mike Martinez have taken a direct interest in the Saltillo planning project. Martinez, who was at Monday’s meeting, has agreed to highlight the station planning effort and affordable housing component, at his town hall meeting on Sept. 7 at the Conley-Guerrero Center.

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

Busy Council agenda . . . Look for a busy day at City Council. Beyond making at decision on Water Treatment Plant 4, Council will hear a briefing on the proposed budgets of all of the city’s public safety agencies, including the police department, the fire department, EMS and the Municipal Court. Expect some hard questions from the dais about overtime and other expenses. Also on the agenda is a briefing on the feasibility of combining the Austin Police Department, the City Marshals, the Austin Park Police and the Airport Police under a central command. Council wall also consider two tree trimming contracts, but members of the Tree Trimming Task Force say that an agency other than Austin Energy should manage the contractors. Austin Energy is expected to remain in charge of the program. Two zoning hearings could draw a crowd. One is a request to rezone the area known as the Spring Lake Subdivision in the Bull Creek watershed from rural residence (RR) to single family (SF-1). There is a valid petition against the zoning change. Another case seeks to rezone a tract on Bluebonnet from family residence (SF-3) to multi-family residence-medium density-conditional overlay (MF-3-CO) combining district. There is some Zilker Neighborhood opposition to the change. But the item most likely to cause some sparks to fly is a public hearing on a proposed ordinance requiring adults to wear safety helmets while riding a bicycle. The ordinance, backed by former Mayor Bruce Todd, has organized opposition, which is expected to show up and be vocal. There are also public hearings on the tax rate and the budget . . . KOOP gets grant for facilities . . . Austin’s community radio station, 91.7FM KOOP, has been awarded $104,553 from an emergency grant by the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP). KOOP submitted the grant application after a four-alarm fire, started in an adjacent building, destroyed its downtown facilities and equipment in February. The total rebuild and upgrade project cost submitted to PTFP is $139,404. The National Telecommunication Infrastructure Administration (NTIA) will contribute $104,553 to the $139,404 project. Every dollar donated by KOOP listeners will be matched by $3 from NTIA. This matching grant will allow KOOP to install infrastructure and equipment to produce more complicated live programming, such as call in shows and live music shows. It will also give KOOP the production capacity needed to pursue new delivery methods such as podcasting. . . . Getting the Governors’ attention . . . Members of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, a bi-national network, will speak out against "the insensibilities of US-Mexico border governors meeting here in Austin" at a news conference at 2pm in front of the State Capitol. "Migrant workers and communities provide a very important asset to the U.S. and global economy. We are protesting at the Capitol to oppose the racist laws that discriminate against migrant families and the military’s low-intensity warfare against border communities." stated Richard Moore, Executive Director of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice . . . Williamson approves budget . . . Williamson County Commissioners adopted the county’s fiscal 2006-07 budget Tuesday. The final department budgets with Tuesday’s changes will be recalculated and made available to the public by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, but equals approximately $102,310,201 for the general fund, $17,012,197 for the Road and Bridge Fund and $46,019,708 for Debt Service. The 2006-07 budget includes a 2 percent cost of living increase for all county employees and a possible 2.5 percent merit increase. Commissioners also held their first public hearing on the proposed 2007 tax rate. The General Fund proposed rate is $0.283355, the Debt Service proposed rate is $0.184137 and the Road and Bridge Fund proposed rate is $0.032165 for a total proposed rate of $0.499657, the same tax rate as 2006. A second hearing will be held at 10am Friday. The court will formally adopt the tax rate on Sept. 5.

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