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Environmental Board rejects Villa Muse request for ETJ release

Monday, February 11, 2008 by Mark Richardson

The city’s Environmental Board voted last week to recommend against a request by the developers of the Villa Muse project in East Travis County to be exempted from Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. Board members generally praised the project and its potential to boost Austin’s economy, but in the end said they simply did not have enough information to make an informed recommendation.


Villa Muse is planned to be an 1,100 acre mixed –use development that will provide infrastructure for the growing digital media industry, with studio space and facilities in place to develop movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos and other projects. And its developers are in a hurry.


“What’s driving our schedule is the need to be open by late 2009 or first quarter of 2010,” said agent Jerry Converse. “We need to be up and running with the main soundstages by then, and we have a huge floodplain reclamation project to take on. We need to be underway very soon.”


In order to speed things up, the Villa Muse developers are asking the city to allow them to “opt-out” of the city’s ETJ, in order to avoid having to go through the Austin’s time-consuming development process. Converse said when all is said and done, it will be a major benefit to the city’s economy and tax base.


“When completed, Villa Muse will be home to some 9,000-plus permanent residents, and 1,000-plus studio jobs,” he said. “There will be another 5,000 created in support of the studios, such as vendors, lighting companies, caterers, all the standard stuff.”

He added that according to an economic analysis by economist Ray Perryman, the nucleus of Villa Muse could eventually spin off 40,000 jobs. Converse said Villa Muse would use a public infrastructure district to develop the infrastructure for the project, which would sell bonds to pay for roads, power, drainage ponds, and more. That would be paid off in 20 or 30 years, Converse said, and after that, Austin could annex the area, have a ready-made community, and would receive a “tax windfall.”


City Environmental Officer Pat Murphy told the board that staff could not recommend the project to them because, as of last week, it did not meet the criteria the city has set out to evaluate an ETJ release.


“Does the project provide equal or superior development standards to those that would apply in the city’s ETJ?” Murphy said. “We cannot answer that in the affirmative.”


Board Member Rodney Ahart said it was a tough decision, even though it was a clear one.


“This is exactly the type of project that East Travis County needs,” he said. “But I view this project as an anchor for the SH 130 corridor, and we need to have some assurance beyond what I see here that it is going to be developed right.”


Chair Dave Anderson agreed. “This has the makings of a tremendous economic boon for this region,” he said. “It’s the right kind of industry, it makes a lot of sense.  My rub here is that I can’t recommend this is as a good project if I don’t know who’s going to regulate the treatment of water and who’s going to protect the environment. I can hope, I can assume, but I can’t recommend it to City Council.”


Board member Phil Moncada moved that board not recommend the project. Anderson added a friendly amendment to state that the Board’s vote was not a reflection on the quality of the project, but just that there was not enough information available to make a decision.


The board voted 7-0 to deny a recommendation. The project will now go to the Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

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