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Environmental Board recommends OK for Wildflower PUD

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 by Mark Richardson

By carefully crossing all their t’s and dotting all their i’s, the developers of the 265-acre Wildflower Commons planned unit development (PUD) earned a recommendation for a number of variances from the Environmental Board last week.


The project, located at the intersection of MoPac Boulevard and SH 45 South, is on property in the Barton Springs recharge zone that is subject to not only the Save Our Springs Ordinance but also the complex Bradley Agreement. The developers of the property managed to package the site plan so as to conform with the regulations so that board members could only quibble with a few small points.


The Bradley Agreement, negotiated between the city and developer Gary Bradley following his bankruptcy in the late 1990s, stipulates a variety of development regulations for the land in that area. Bradley and the city fought numerous battles over development of the land in southwest Travis County in the 1980s and 90s.


Only five members of the board were available to hear the case. Chair David Anderson and Board Member Jon Beall recused themselves because of possible conflicts of interest. The case had been delayed twice because the board could not muster a quorum to hear the matter.


The project consists of five tracts of land, which include some 49 critical environmental features such as caves, sinkholes and others. Attorney Steve Drenner said the project was designed to respect the environmental limitations of the area.


“We did our studies on the critical environmental features in this area up front,” he said. “Most developments put together a site plan and then deal with environmental features when they come up. But we laid out our project to avoid as many CEFs as possible, In fact, there is only one in the construction zone, and we will be setting a buffer zone around that.”


The project is planning for a mixed-use development on a small part of the tract, limiting the construction zone to 15 percent of the area to comply with the regulations in the SOS Ordinance and the Bradley Agreement.


Drenner added that 100 acres of the area would be donated to the Hill Country Conservancy for a portion of a hike and bike trail through the area. He also noted that there would be no construction in the Bear Creek water quality protection zone.


SOS Alliance Director Bill Bunch, who spoke in opposition to the project, said he was concerned that the total number for CEFs had not yet been discovered.


“There are a number of features in that area that could be covered up or buried under other features,” he said. “This is in a critical recharge area over the aquifer and we need to make sure that all of these features are found before we allow any construction on this site.”


He said that despite the developer’s claims to the contrary, the plans were a violation of several parts of the Bradley Agreement.


“You should not allow yourselves to be rushed into approving this,” he said.  “The agreement was the result of eight months of brutal negotiations, and it is very complex. The businesses in anything built in this area are supposed to provide local services.”


He also said the location was inappropriate. “SH 45 was intended to be a route to get across the recharge zone, not a place to locate strip malls and draw traffic,” he concluded.


The mixed-use project will include 124,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 sq. ft. for a supermarket, 360,000 sq. ft. for a shopping center, 40,000 sq. ft. for restaurants, along with about 400 town house-condominiums units.


Board members asked several technical questions about the project. Board Member Mary Ann Neely asked Drenner if the developer might consider cutting back on the amount of commercial space planned in the construction zone.


“We have carefully calculated what we can build on this property,” he said. “What we are building is the minimum we can and still maintain our profitability.


The board voted 5-0 with two recusals to recommend the project. It will now go back to the Zoning and Platting Commission tonight and then on to City Council.

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