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Leffingwell slams Villa Muse ETJ resolution

Thursday, March 6, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Council Member Lee Leffingwell has strongly criticized attempts to remove 1900 acres from the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction for development by a proposed film studio in eastern Travis County. The City Council will vote on the request by Villa Muse to allow it to build outside the city’s taxing jurisdiction at today’s meeting.


Leffingwell said he opposes a resolution put on the agenda by Council Members Brewster McCracken, Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole directing city staff to release the land because of financial concerns and because the land would no longer be under city environmental regulations.


McCracken and the co-sponsors want to release the Villa Muse land from city taxes and regulations for a 40-year period—provided the developers comply with a strict timeline, including beginning construction by the end of 2011 and generation of revenue by the end of 2015.


Leffingwell said the proposed release violates a resolution passed by the Council in October outlining the conditions for release of land from the extra-territorial jurisdiction. “We have a policy and it does not meet the threshold criteria,” outlined in the policy, specifically that the parcel of land has no annexation potential, he said.


But McCracken said that although the Villa Muse case does not fit the criteria for an automatic release from the ETJ, “The policy has the ability for the Council to override it based on the facts presented to us. At least three of us on the Council have looked at the facts and circumstances of this case and decided it’s in the best interests of the city to do this to achieve other public values and goals.”


Leffingwell, who served as chair of the city’s Environmental Board before taking office three years ago, said he was also concerned about possible damage to the Colorado River and  Gilliland Creek as a result of Villa Muse’s plan to build up the area to remove it from the flood plain.


“Their plan is to do a massive reclamation project, which involves, according to their estimates, $8 million of dirt and gravel to dig out the critical zone and the transition zone of Gilliland Creek and use that material to build up existing land so it would be outside the flood plain . . . I think if such a thing is done, it ought to be very closely supervised to make sure that we don’t get some kind of massive siltation of the creek and the Colorado River downstream,” he said.


Architect Gary Bellomy of Land Design Studio said Leffingwell’s concerns are misplaced. Some of the dirt and aggregate would come from Travis Aggregates, which is a current aggregate mining operation, adjacent to the Villa Muse site. A second source for dirt would be what Bellomy described as “the area between the revised flood plain (called the CLOMR flood plain) …as opposed to the existing flood plain …and the Gilliland Creek area.”


Bellomy said Travis Aggregates  has “hundreds of thousands of yards (of aggregates) that they’re already mining over there to do various places in the county.” He also said Villa Muse had delivered to city staff an environmental assessment, the general findings of which were “there’s nothing of any concern from an environmental standpoint…except for three stock ponds.”


Villa Muse has “taken that into account in the design and will preserve those. We believe (the assessment) to be an accurate representation of the situation out there. I doubt if (Leffingwell) has seen it,” Bellomy concluded.


McCracken has previously told In Fact Daily that the city would have nothing to gain financially by keeping the land–which he calls “a hay field in the flood plain.”


“If this project succeeds it will be a major catalyst for film and digital media in the area for generations. If it fails we’ll be in the same place we left off,”

McCracken said. (See In Fact Daily, March 3, 2008.)


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