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Drenner responds to SOS charges over Wildflower Commons

Friday, January 30, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Attorney Steve Drenner, who represents the developer of the Wildflower Commons PUD, struck back at the Save Our Springs Alliance and other opponents of the development Thursday, telling In Fact Daily that the proposal offers superior environmental protection, requires no change to the Bradley agreement and would not create a shopping mall.


Calling the proposed retail part of the development a shopping mall “is the most absurd characterization I have ever heard,” Drenner said. SOS has said the PUD agreement would allow a “huge shopping center.”


The proposal from Walters Southwest calls for office space, one 100,000 square foot supermarket, retail to serve the residential area, restaurants, and 550 condominium units in a mixed-use project. The city’s big box ordinance will apply to the property and retail is limited to two pods of 125,000 square feet each. The Hill Country Galleria, by comparison, is 1.3 million square feet with 650,000 square feet of retail, according to Michele Haussman, who works for Drenner as a planner. 


The Council postponed a hearing on the PUD request at Thursday’s meeting, with Drenner’s consent. The case is now set to return on Feb. 12.


Bunch calls the PUD plan “an invitation to legal confusion and litigation.”


There’s certainly room for confusion. For example, Walters is asking for MF-6 (multi-family) zoning but the Bradley agreement specifically prohibits apartments. However, because of the city’s zoning classifications, Walters is asking for MF-6 zoning in order to build detached townhomes and/or detached condos.


On Thursday, SOS sent out an email alert to its members saying, “Because of our collective action, the developer of the proposed 265-acre shopping mall/multi-family is offering changes…” Drenner said he had not offered to make any changes but had offered to make explicit in the PUD agreement some restrictions that were written into the Bradley agreement. For example, he said Walters would agree to write in the PUD documents that no major employer would be allowed to locate anywhere that is zoned for office in Wildflower Commons.


That eliminates the possibility of an employer such as AMD locating an office on the site. Under the Bradley agreement with the zoning currently in place, the land could house 1 million square feet of office space—but no major employers. The restriction does not mean that HEB, Wendy’s or Bank of America, or similar companies, cannot locate in the retail areas, Drenner said.


There has been concern that the restriction applied only to certain portions of the PUD. Drenner said Jon Beall of the Save Barton Creek Association had asked for the statement and that he was responding to Beall’s request, not to those who criticized the PUD at Wednesday’s press conference. However, Drenner said he would be willing to write a number of restrictions into the PUD documents that he believes are already dictated by the Bradley agreement—just to make clear what his client’s intentions are.


One of the reasons SOS’s Bill Bunch gave for his opposition to the PUD on Wednesday was Walters’ request for eight environmental variances. But Drenner said five of the eight variances would allow the developer to use the one access point into the property that has already been built. Walters will not be able to build any more access roads—only internal ones—as a result of an agreement between TxDOT and the Barton Springs Edward Aquifer Conservation District.


Bobby Levinski, an aide to Council Member Laura Morrison, said he believes city staff would resolve some questions by requiring the developer to identify where he plans to put the water quality ponds required under the SOS ordinance. Drenner said it would be impossible to build the ponds—and thus comply with the ordinance and build on the property—without the cut and fill variances he is seeking.


The developer is also offering to donate more than 7 acres of land to the Hill Country Conservancy for a hike-and-bike trail. More than 100 acres, including 42 acres to the HCC, will be set aside for conservation. He points out that both the Environmental Board and the Zoning and Platting Commission have approved the proposal.


Bunch will likely not be dissuaded from his opposition. His bottom line: “There’s definitely a lot of smoke and mirrors—games going on here.”

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