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Travis County seeks land preserve agreement with Volente

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Travis County may pick up the reins on another 827 acres of canyon lands in western Travis County, but it may not be what is needed to complete the county’s commitment to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

In essence – and not in fact, as the commissioners chose to put off the vote – Travis County will likely pick up an extra 827 acres of land being transferred from Grayson Volente Investments to Travis County. Those acres, however, are already part of a federal 10-A permit and already are counted in the preserve acreage.

Transportation and Natural Resource Director Joe Gieselman and his staff say the advantage to Travis County is the ability to maintain the property. A number of acres on the site – set aside to mitigate Volente’s development – have various endangered species. From a biological standpoint, that makes them important to protect.  

Commissioners did not appear opposed to such an acquisition – Travis County has hired staff specifically to handle the Canyonlands Preserve – but County Judge Sam Biscoe pressed Assistant County Attorney John Hille to negotiate an agreement that would require Volente to cover, at the least, the cost of maintaining the property.

“I’m looking for …being reimbursed 100 percent of what it costs us,” Biscoe said.

Some aspects of the agreement must still be negotiated between Travis County and Volente — complicated enough that Hille encouraged commissioners to pull the item off the consent agenda.

One aspect was a provision that shifted the burden of the maintenance of the land from Volente to Travis County “once the tax benefit financing mechanism generates sufficient revenue for basic land management,” according to TNR staff.

The agreement lays out a bridge financing mechanism that – for a number of years – the developer would be paying Travis County to manage the property. At some point, enough tax benefit will come off the development on the balance of the property to cover the management of the preserve land, which would be the point at which Travis County would agree to take up the maintenance of the preserve property.

In addition, Volente seeks to maintain limited access to the land. Under the current negotiated agreement, certain limited access to the land would remain along a specific trail. The access would be limited to non-nesting seasons for the Golden-cheeked Warbler. Residents would be required to go through a training program, even to have controlled access to the land.

In the meantime, Volente would be prepared to continue to pay for basic land management. The community also is willing to pay for additional resident access, but only at that point, when access is required. At the point when that occurs, Volente would be required to give six months notice, so the county could ramp up staffing.

Biscoe noted that with such specifics in the air, he would want to see language that is more specific on the agreement with Volente. The item will return to the agenda once the agreement is hammered out between county and developer.

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