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Council fails to approve Senna Hills annexation bid

Thursday, January 22, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

The City Council last week rejected a bid by the Senna Hills Municipal Utility District to annex a small sliver of land that has been embroiled in litigation related to development regulations for several years. Because the property is currently subject to the Save Our Springs Ordinance, and the release of the land from city jurisdiction would mean the ordinance no longer applies to it, six Council Members had to approve the release.


Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Sheryl Cole, Randi Shade and Brewster McCracken voted in favor of the release. Council Members Laura Morrison, Mike Martinez and Lee Leffingwell voted against annexation of the 0.7-acre parcel of land in the city’s ETJ to the Senna Hills MUD.


City staff had recommended release of the property to the MUD and the Planning Commission had agreed with staff.


Although the city, the property owner and the MUD thought they had reached a resolution to their litigation, some Council Members, including Leffingwell, thought the solution might eventually cause more problems than it would resolve.


“Even though it’s a small piece of land, I think it’s a precedent-setter,” Leffingwell said.  Such a release, giving up SOS controls in case of future redevelopment, “violates several pieces of existing city policy, and so for those reasons I’m also going to oppose.”


Created in 1988, the Senna Hills MUD is 322 acres in the Austin ETJ. It is required to comply with the Barton Creek Watershed Ordinance, Lake Austin Watershed Ordinance or the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance by the consent agreement. It will ultimately be annexed into the city.


The MUD Board voted in May of 2008 to annex the parcel at 10324 FM2244 known as the “Weaver Property.”  In August, the Austin Water Utility, Watershed Protection and Development Review Department and the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department staff reviewed the request.


They determined that the city did not have the facilities in the vicinity to provide service to the property; that annexation would not have an adverse environmental impact and that further development on the tract was unlikely. Currently the property is used for a landscaping company and occasionally for a metal sculpture fabrication business.


Currently the property has a septic system, which is thought to be 30-40 years old. The property owner buys water from the LCRA. Because the property was a residence for what Steve Bowers, an attorney representing the Senna Hills MUD, called, “a very long time,” it has a grandfathered homestead exemption.


In 2002, the city red tagged the property for development without a permit due to an additional 2,000 square feet of impervious cover erected by paving and building an outer wall. In 2004, the MUD sued the landowner over use of the property and in 2005 the city intervened to force the consent agreement and address the development.


As part of settlement agreement, the MUD would annex the .7 acres, and would remove the property from the jurisdiction of the Save Our Springs ordinance.


City Environmental Officer Pat Murphy said the existing impervious cover is approximately 39 percent and would still fall in line with the 40 percent limit of the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance. SOS would only have allowed 20 percent, which would only kick in if there were a new site plan or redevelopment.


Morrison commented, “So we’re really giving up that control over future development, which concerns me…. my preference would be that we see if we could get folks to the table and actually make that agreement a little bit stronger with regard to future redevelopment.” Because the current plan would not comply with the SOS Ordinance, she said she would vote against release of the property.


The staff recommended that City Council resolve the dispute through disannexation, “and approve a site-specific amendment to the application of SOS to the .7 acres.” It is required, according to Murphy, “because the consent agreement allows it to comply with older regulations . . .”


Planning Commissioner Jay Reddy, who voted along with his colleagues to recommend the release, said, “To be clear, the endgame from an environmental perspective is that we’ll be able to enforce additional water quality controls otherwise not available were we not to agree to this.”


Murphy agreed and said without the city’s disannexation, the dispute will continue. He said it was possible that the MUD may seek approval of the annexation through TCEQ.

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