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County hears from residents on Lake Travis development

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Nothing brings the county’s interim water quality ordinance into sharp relief like new development on Lake Travis on the outskirts of Travis County.


County officials have long lamented the lack of development controls the state has granted them under state law. However, the control the county has seized – the interim water quality ordinance in the wake of the Lick Creek debacle and the Southwest Dialogue – may serve the county well in negotiations with developers in western Travis County.


Some of that argument made it into Tuesday morning’s discussion about Lakehurst Loop in Spicewood. Homes on Lakehurst Loop haven’t seen much development since the subdivision was platted in 1941. As one resident admitted at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, it was a sort of poor man’s version of Lake Austin. People who couldn’t afford the high prices built along the bend in Lake Travis out in Spicewood.


But this area has been a hot bed of recent development. And development has brought challenges, such as the recent traffic deaths on SH 71 near the Bee Creek Road bend. That’s enough to have local residents up in arms about what too many houses on local land might mean to residents who have been in the area for two decades or more.


One example is the simple easement vacation on Tuesday morning’s agenda. Toll Brothers is building a number of upscale luxury homes in the Spicewood area. The easements were necessary to build out the roads in the area. The Toll Brothers intend to build 58 luxury homes on 107 platted lots acquired from the Butler Trust.


Local resident Tim Heddig showed up at Commissioners Court to talk about the easement vacations requested by the Toll Brothers. He was concerned about what new development in the area would mean, especially along local roadways.


“We have the cops showing up after the kid is dead,” said Heddig, referring to many of the recent traffic tragedies along winding stretches of the rural SH 71. “The pressure is going on in the neighborhood now.”


Agent Jim Witliff showed up to represent the views of three families who own property on Lakehurst Loop and were concerned about future development. Witliff, who was just retained on Monday, noted the Toll Brothers’ efforts to get drainage easements down to Lake Travis with limited compliance on water quality — specifically the use of a type of aqua centrifuge rather than a sand filter – would limit water quality.


Drainage plans on the new development indicate that two acres currently drain through one property owner’s property. According to Witliff, that jumps to 12 acres under the new plan proposed by the developer. That’s a concern to property owners.


Local residents would prefer sand filters — those that could contain some of the more cumbersome contaminants — rather than simply stop trash from getting into the river. That means animal feces and fertilizer runoff rather than simply stopping the Styrofoam cups that might make their way down to the water.


Many people, including the local homeowners, use the local cove for swimming. That swimming would occur in the same place that effluent from the new 60-home development would be discharged, Witliff said.


Witliff admitted the developer might be grandfathered from current Travis County regulations, but he wanted to raise the issues associated with development.


County Judge Sam Biscoe immediately called for some type of dialogue between the developer and homeowners before considering the easements for action. While planner Anna Bolin noted that the easements had nothing to do with water quality – and everything to do with roads – Biscoe said it was important to address concerns early.


Yes, the development might be grandfathered, Biscoe said. But it also was possible to urge the developer to implement measures. There is what the law requires, then there is what it takes to be a good neighbor, Biscoe noted.


Danny Martin, representing the developer, wanted to present an initial case before the commissioners, noting that the landowner had significantly downsized what he could build on the land and intended to be a good neighbor to existing properties.


Martin insisted a centralized water system would address many of the concerns raised by neighbors. He promised that the developers had made a good effort to try to address some of the concerns raised by local homeowners.


Biscoe agreed that the Toll Brothers might have done everything necessary to address neighborhood issues but still needed to meet with local residents. The item likely will be back in the agenda in another two to three weeks.

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