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McMansion ordinance wins Planning Commission OK

Monday, August 28, 2006 by

After three hours of debate, the Planning Commission voted last week to recommend proposed amendments to the City Code – a.k.a. the McMansions ordinance – developed by the Residential Development Task Force reformatted in the form of an ordinance.

The draft ordinance, written by planners at Clarion and Associates, codifies the task force’s Report, as approved by the Council on June 22. It will now go to the City Council for a final hearing and vote on Thursday

The McMansions Task Force was appointed after complaints earlier this year that many developers were buying moderate-sized homes in inner-city neighborhoods, and either remodeling them to three or four times the original size or demolishing them and building massive homes in their place. Neighborhood activists said it was ruining the character of many of the city’s older neighborhoods.

The ordinance didn’t get out of the Planning Commission without a couple of last minute amendments. One amendment to the ordinance sought to have staff clarify height limits as they affected affordable housing and the other would allow owners of homes on corner lots unable to meet the setback requirements to be able to develop up, or add a second story, to the property.

Since the City Council’s June 22 approval of the code amendments, the task force is recommending that the Council approve Clarion’s rewrite of the regulations; adopt amendments specifying how building height is measured; adopt amendments that govern how and when one can rebuild and modify a non-complying structure; and clarify that demolition is not permitted by a building permit, and that a demolition permit is not required to demolish all or part of an interior floor, wall or ceiling.

Of those speaking at the public hearing, many expressed concern over how the height of a building would be measured. The amendments call for a building’s height to be measured from the lower of the natural or the finished grade, as opposed to just the finished grade, as current City Code specifies.

But the Bouldin Neighborhood’s Cory Walton said that still leaves some room for abuse.

"The current loophole has extended beyond a few feet," he said. "I am aware of an approved site plan that adds five stories on top of a four-story garage, by piling a rock façade against a parking garage and measuring from the top of that."

Others were concerned that regulations aimed at duplexes had a loophole that allows some fairly non-traditional structures to fall under the rules. Task force member Kate McGraw said developers were putting two equal size structures on a standard 7,000 square foot lot, loosely attaching them and getting them approved.

"Because of the loophole, people were able to build two separate buildings and essentially subdividing the lot into two 3,500 square foot lots," she said. "And the city’s condo law allows both to be sold separately. That undermines the neighborhood planning effort."

The commission voted 5-2 to recommend the ordinance to City Council with Commissioner Mandy Dealey and Chair David Sullivan opposed.

Board to allow test well for rock crusher

Permit to pump must be done separately

Opposing parties have apparently reached an agreement in an appeal of the denial of test well permit for a controversial rock crushing operation in the Ruby Ranch area near Buda. The Barton Springs Edward Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors in January denied the permit for KDBJ Inc. The board now plans to issue the permit at its next scheduled meeting.

KDBJ appealed the January denial, based on the fact that an incomplete transcript was made of the hearing. The district board held a hearing on Saturday to allow the parties – KDBJ and Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment (NOPE) – to raise objections to written evidence previously submitted in the case.

According to Board Secretary Craig Smith, attorney Bill Dugat, who advises the district, said that the basis for the board’s earlier denial – that pumping water from the aquifer for the rock crushing operation would likely pollute the aquifer—was not relevant to a permit to drill a test well.

KDBJ is seeking to drill a test will some 2,000 feet down into the middle level of the Trinity Aquifer, which sits below the Edwards Aquifer. The rock crushing company wants to test the pressure, quality and availability of water from that level for possible use in its operations.

Dugat advised that the permit application before the board in January was not for a production well, for which KDBJ is required to file a separate permit application.

That objection was upheld by BSEACD Board Chair Bob Larsen. Following that, Smith said, the parties asked the board for time to discuss an agreement. An hour later, NOPE and KDBJ announced that NOPE would drop its opposition to the test well permit in exchange for some conditions, including steps during the drilling to prevent water from the Edwards Aquifer from mixing with the Middle Trinity Aquifer

Smith said once KDBJ has drilled the test well and performed the necessary tests to prove the well, it can apply to the aquifer district for a separate permit to pump the water from the ground. Eventually KDBJ hopes to pump up to 25 million gallons per day from the Middle Trinity. The operation would use the water to control dust on the site.

NOPE and Crush the Quarry are two citizens groups that have fought the KDBJ operation for most of the past three years, saying its location directly over the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer is a hazard to the area’s drinking water. They also claim the quarry operations, noise and the traffic from its trucks degrade the quality of life in the area.

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Is city campaign finance law enforceable? . . . Libertarian Arthur DiBianca has made a habit of filing complaints against those who do not manage to comply with city and state campaign finance regulations. Now he’s been informed that the City Attorney’s Office will decline to take future complaints unless he can present evidence that the violations were knowing. DiBianca filed a complaint against James Beck, former treasurer of the Austin Police Association PAC, for failing to file a campaign finance report last summer. Beck was found not guilty last week. DiBianca received a letter from Pamela Oglesby, the chief prosecutor, stating, "Based on the court's ruling . . . the prosecutors' office has decided that it will not file other similar cases unless evidence of knowledge and/or intent can be produced. If you have any such evidence and would like to submit it to our office, we would be glad to reevaluate the cases at that time." . . . Kim to host Oak Hill Town Hall . . . Council Member Jennifer Kim will gather with residents of the Oak Hill area for a town hall meeting at 7pm tonight. She will be joined by Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley and Council Member Mike Martinez. The town hall will focus on highlights of the proposed city budget and upcoming bond package. "I encourage Oak Hill residents to join in this discussion and help shape our city's future," said Kim.. The meeting will be held at the Southwest Hills Community Church . . . Board and Commission appointments . . . Council members named a number of people to city boards and commissions last Thursday. Steven Hart is a consensus appointment to the Airport Advisory Commission; Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras was a consensus appointment to the Animal Advisory Commission; Sue Graze was reappointed by Mayor Wynn to the Arts Commission; Michael Ma is a consensus appointment to the Asian American Resource Center Advisory Board; Jose Fuentes is a consensus appointment to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs; Richard Weiss was reappointed by Mayor Wynn and Jeannie Wiginton was appointed by Council Member Sheryl Cole to the Design Commission; Gilbert Ferrales was reappointed by Mayor Wynn to the Electric Board; Shudde Fath was reappointed by Council Member Lee Leffingwell and Cole appointed Chip Wolfe to the Electric Utility Commission; Catherine Kyle is a consensus appointment and Timothy Sulak was appointed by Mayor Wynn to the Ethics Review Commission; Karen Fromberg is a consensus appointment to the Federally Qualified Health Center Board; Wynn reappointed Ron Luccy to the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities; Council Member Brewster McCracken reappointed Mark Vane to the Parks and Recreation Board; Wynn reappointed Cid Galindo to the Planning Commission, Richard Amato to the Resource Management Commission, and Carl Tepper to the Urban Transportation Commission . . . Plug-in Bus grant . . . Austin Energy is seeking to provide $65,000 to the Austin Independent School District (AISD) for the purchase of a plug-in hybrid, diesel-electric school bus. The total cost for the plug-in hybrid school bus will be $209,250. To fully fund the bus purchase, AISD is seeking a grant for $74,250 from the State Technology Advancement Collaborative, with Austin Energy's $65,000 and AISD's $70,000 portion serving as matching funds. For its participation, Austin Energy will obtain its trademarked logo on the bus, the right to use the bus for select city functions, and access to all performance data on the bus operation. Through its Plug-in Hybrid Electric School Bus Project, Advanced Energy, a Raleigh, NC-based nonprofit, initiated a buyer's consortium of school districts, state energy agencies and student transportation providers. As a consortium member, AISD will receive one of 19 plug-in hybrid, diesel-electric school buses being deployed around the country by IC Corp., the nation's largest school bus manufacturer . . . Meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment /Sign Review Board meets at 11:30am in a special meeting in Suite 240 at One Texas Center . . . The Design Commission meets at 5:45pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 7pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . Paper blizzard goes digital. . . Williamson County’s landfill expansion application filed with the TCEQ is now available on-line at http://wcportals.wilco.org/other_dept/landfill/. The hard-copy of the application takes up five binders and is available for review at the county judge’s office. When scanned, the application contains 854 megabytes. The material had to be compressed to 115 megabytes to make the viewing process easier and less time consuming for citizens. "Having the application available on the internet was a request from the public that we committed to fulfill at the last public hearing for the landfill application," said Williamson County Pct. 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman. "It took a little while to accomplish due to its size, but we are happy that it now is more easily accessible to our citizens." The application also is available on the Williamson County Landfill web site at http://williamsoncountylandfill.wm.com.

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