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ZAP finally OKs Bouldin Meadows subdivision

Monday, August 21, 2006 by

The seemingly never-ending saga of the Bouldin Meadows subdivision ended on a happy note last week—at least for its developers, who will now be able to go ahead with their plans to build 28 duplexes on a 14-acre tract near Barton Skyway.

The Zoning and Platting Commission approved the subdivision request over the continued objections of neighbors that the property was flood-prone and any new development would send runoff water into nearby homes. Last week’s meeting was the sixth time the case had been posted on the ZAP agenda. The staff consistently recommended approval of the subdivision on the grounds that it met all requirements.

"Our position on this has been that this application meets code requirements and there’s a lack of discretion at this point," said attorney Bill McLean, who represented the property’s owners. He pointed to the city staff’s determination and the determination of an outside engineering firm that the land is not within the flood plain. "I want to clarify some things that are fact, that I know are fact because I’ve heard these engineers say it time and time again. None of the lots are in the flood plain," said McLean.

Early in the discussion, commissioners explored the idea of approving the subdivision request with modifications, removing several lots that neighbors claim are in the flood plain. But Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd advised the group that there was no provision under the city code for modifying the subdivision plan from the dais. "I think it would be a denial of the plat as it has been presented to you," he said.

"The statue says you shall approve a subdivision if it meets the requirements." He told commissioners they faced an up or down vote based on the technical specifications of the proposal.

Chair Betty Baker also questioned staff about its grounds for denying the subdivision request that were not related to the contested flood plain maps. She pointed out that the staff had granted an administrative waiver to the city’s requirements on maximum allowable block length for one of the streets in the proposed subdivision. That street, she said, would be too long and pose a problem for firefighters in the event of an emergency. But staff’s response was that the proposal had been circulated to the police, fire, and EMS departments for review and no objections had been filed.

In an attempt to head off some neighborhood opposition, the developers had met with several nearby homeowners in the past week. While two of those homeowners had agreed not to oppose the subdivision request, at least two other homeowners said their concerns had not been resolved.

Edward LeBrun attended Tuesday night’s hearing with pictures that he hoped would be worth a thousand words. They showed him standing on the property on May 6, when he said the neighborhood had received 1.5 of rain. In one photo, LeBrun is standing in water up to his knees. "That’s where the proposed street would cross the fan-out area," he said. He also showed a photo of an area that would be the site of a proposed extension of Barton Skyway. "This is where the water sits on the ground after a flood event," he said. "This is where the water gets absorbed into the ground and doesn’t go into the creek right away. All this water I’ve been showing you, once they pave this area, will be forced to go immediately into the creek, making these floods worse downstream. I believe these photos make it self-evident that regardless of whatever FEMA says, this area acts as a flood plain."

But the city’s engineers, the engineer for the developer, and an independent engineering firm all agree the area is not in the flood plain. The neighborhood’s engineer had a contrary view.

"With regard to the pictures, the first time we saw them we wanted to check them out for their accuracy," said McLean. "We looked at the photographs and compared the vegetation in the pictures to the vegetation on site." The conclusion, McLean said, was that many of the pictures were taken in the wrong location. The picture showing LeBrun knee-deep in water, McLean said, had likely been taken with LeBrun standing in an eroded spot on the lot, which had the effect of making the water level appear higher.

All of those assurances from engineers did not ease the qualms of several ZAP commissioners. "I’m trying to rationalize what I visually see and what I hear from professionals," said Commissioner Joseph Martinez. "Are we making the city liable for some future buyout? That’s my concern. I want to say, with no disrespect to any of the professions that provide services to the city, engineers and lawyers do not run the city. That’s the job of elected officials that you vote for. And we, up here, get appointed to do this. In the place of City Council, we’re asked to make decisions. I just in my heart and in my soul can’t rationalize what I’m seeing. It is a safety issue for me."

McLean pointed out that the developers had taken several steps to minimize the risk of flooding, even though the area was technically not in the flood plain. Their proposal includes keeping five of the 61 lots in the subdivision as undeveloped. Four of those would be listed as open lots, and one would be used as a park. In addition, the developers agreement with some of the nearby neighbors calls for the construction of flood control culverts and other channeling devices, including a rock-lined culvert. "You have the drainage coming in to the site and being handled through a system of culverts and channels, and then directed in an angular fashion toward Bouldin Creek so that flow does not head directly toward any lot," said McLean.

Martinez initially moved to approve the subdivision with significant conditions: deleting several lots, asking the city staff to conduct a study of the flooding patterns on the site, and asking the city to finance the filing of an appeal of the new flood plain maps with FEMA. Chair Betty Baker offered a second to that motion for purposes of discussion, and after a few minutes the Commission went into executive session for a consultation with legal staff.

When they emerged, Martinez withdrew his motion. Instead, he moved to approve the subdivision request as submitted. That motion passed on a vote of 7-0-1, with Baker abstaining and Commissioner Keith Jackson absent. The commission included a separate request to the City Council for the city to pay for an appeal of the FEMA flood-plain maps. That motion passed 7-1, with Commissioner Clark Hammond opposed.

Council committee hears plan for Town Centers

Imagine Austin in about 20 years, with twice the current population inside the same city limits. That’s exactly what a subcommittee of the city Planning Commission has been doing over the past few months in developing the 2035 Town Centers Initiative.

Austin currently has about 925,000 people living within its city limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction, which works out to roughly 3.7 persons per developable acre, according to Cid Galindo, chair of the Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan Committee. Contrast that with another million people by 2035 at Austin’s historic growth rate of 3.5 percent a year, and the population density grows to 8.4 persons per acre.

The Town Centers Initiative is designed to deal with what is being called the "High Growth Challenge."

"Our goals in the study were to establish a long-range policy objective that enhances Austin’s unique qualities and establishes a population absorption goal within a fixed geographic area," Galindo told the City Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee last week. "We hope to develop a new Mixed Use Center District zoning ordinance, and a Compact Development Master Plan to achieve the long-range policy objective. "

He said the panel asked itself three main questions: How much open space will we have? How will we get around? Where are we going to live? With growth inevitable, he said, the challenge is to find a compact way to grow.

"The challenge is to plan that compact growth in a way that preserves Austin as we know it," he said.

The study looks at Austin as three growth zones: the Drinking Water Protection Zone; the Urban Watershed Zone; and the Desired Development Zone.

The Drinking Water Protection Zone is the more fragile areas west of MoPac and south of US 183, primarily the area over the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The goal is to limit growth in this area to protect the city’s source of water. The Urban Watershed Zone is mainly the central city, where the majority of compact growth should be encouraged. However, Galindo said, it’s important to manage that growth in a way that protects the city’s single family neighborhoods. The lion’s share of growth should be directed to the Desired Development Zone, which hugs the SH 130 corridor east of the city.

The study calls for the use of a number of tools to achieve the necessary compact development in Austin. Some are already in place, such as Transit Oriented Developments and Core Transit Corridors, while others, such as Neighborhood Special Use Infill Options and Mixed Use Center Districts, are new tools.

"Mixed-Use Center Districts will require a population density of at least 15 people per acre to be effective," Galindo said. "There are three current examples of these kinds of centers in Austin. Neighborhood Centers, such as the Triangle, which are between 10 and 125 acres; Village Centers, like West Campus, which has 125 to 500 acres; and Town Centers like the Mueller Redevelopment, between 500 and 2,000 acres."

The key to implementing a compact development plan for Austin is the Mixed-Use Center District zoning ordinance, combined with economic development incentives, capital improvement investments, enabling legislation, and a positive market response, he said.

The long-term result of well-planned Compact Development, Galindo said, would be less traffic congestion, cleaner air and water, more open space, lower cost of city services, more mixed income housing, greater diversity and community culture, all consistent with the goals of Envision Central Texas.

Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley praised the study. "This is something we’ve needed to move forward with our planning," she said. "We really appreciate the hard work you and your committee have done on this."

The report will be presented to the entire Council in September.

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

Helmet heads . . . About two dozen people showed up at Sunday night’s rally and helmet fashion show in opposition to the proposed city ordinance mandating helmet usage for adult bicycle riders. Former Mayor Bruce Todd has been pushing for the ordinance but some members of the biking community have opposed it on the grounds that the ordinance will discourage bike riding. Todd said members of the City Council had been working on a compromise ordinance to require helmet usage only on major highways. That would not satisfy his aim, Todd said. Rob D’Amico, a spokesman for the League of Bicycling Voters, said his group is against such an ordinance also. The matter is set for a public hearing and Council consideration on Thursday. While the Council may vote to ask the City Attorney to return with a requirement that everyone wear helmets when bicycling on I-35, MoPac, US290 and US 183, they will likely follow a recommendation of the Urban Transportation Commission to have comprehensive study on injuries and safety issues before enacting a new ordinance . . . Planning ahead . . . The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s 5th Annual Conservation Development Symposium will be held Aug. 31 – Sept. 1. For more information, contact the Wildflower Center at 292-4200 x124 or by email at dpieranunzi@wildflower.org. . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Coordinating Committee meets at 8am in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . Former Mayor and State Senate candidate Kirk Watson’s State Highway 130 Coalition will meet at 2pm at the Palmer Events Center on Barton Springs Drive . . . The Saltillo District Redevelopment Project Community Advisory Group meets at 11:30am at the Capital Metro Administrative Annex, 624 Pleasant Valley Rd. . . . The Travis County Healthcare District Board of Managers meets in a Community Forum for receiving input on the Draft Strategic Plan recommendations at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . Todd plans gift to Brackenridge . . .Former Mayor Bruce Todd will announce a donation of $10,000 to the Brain & Spine Center at Brackenridge Hospital to help bring world-renowned neuroscience speakers to Austin. The event takes place at 12:30pm today in the second floor lobby of Brackenridge Hospital at 601 E. 15th St. In addition, Team Brain & Spine, a cycling and triathlon team supported by the Brain and Spine Center, will present Todd with a unique gift. Expected at the ceremonies are Bruce Broslat, VP/COO of Brackenridge Hospital; Craig Kemper, MD, Medical Director, Brain & Spine Center at Brackenridge Hospital; Hari Tumu, MD, Neurosurgeon and Todd’s treating physician; Daniel Peterson, MD, neurosurgeon; and Sr. Gertrude Levy, Seton Family of Hospitals. Todd was treated at Brackenridge last year for serious injuries sustained in a bicycle accident . . . Species preserve land purchased . . . The Williamson County Conservation Foundation (WCCF) completed its purchase of land from the Round Rock Independent School District land this week for an endangered species preserve. The preserve is 42.855 acres and was purchased from the school district for $1,339,500. The WCCF purchased the land with an Endangered Species Act Section 6 Grant provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The grant covers 75 percent of the purchase price and associated costs estimated to be $1,021,294.50. The WCCF was awarded the grant in November 2004. The land is on the south side of Great Oaks Drive and west of RM 620 near Cedar Valley Middle School. The tract has several caves that are home to endangered species including the Bone Cave harvestman spider. The Bone Cave harvestman is a small troglobitic (cave dwelling) blind, pale orange, long legged harvestman which is associated with moist karst habitats. It spends its entire life underground and is known only to occur in karst formations in Williamson and northern Travis counties.

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